Hot Topic: Learning from the past and building a better future through the lens of a professional midwifery advocate; healing wounds from a decade of midwifery

By Kayleigh Darling

This reflective piece comes with a ‘trigger warning’ and contains references to post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health concerns, obstetric emergencies and bereavement care (in midwifery).


I am a midwife and the following is a reflection of my personal journey in a decade of midwifery, and growing understanding of the ways in which we can begin to recognise, understand and support frontline staff. This piece of personal reflection explores the experiences and challenges that I, as a midwife, have faced throughout my career and the impact they can have on well-being as practitioners. There will be suggestions for future necessary training and understanding in order to better support midwifery staff. I have been considering writing something surrounding my experience and exposure to the growing concern of the mental health of care workers in the NHS for some time and the following statements speak for themselves:

  • Three East of England Ambulance Trust workers die within the last 11 days: suicide (Selby & Brown 2019)
  • Over 300 nurses have taken their own lives between 2011 and 2017 (Milne 2020)
  • At least one in 20 midwives have experienced PTSD and this is likely to be a gross underestimation (Sheen et al 2015)
  • Stress, anxiety and depression scores well above population norms in midwifery and 66.6 per cent of midwives have been thinking of leaving in the last six months (Hunter et al 2015).

The above statistics are not new findings, yet I can find very little regarding any strategic and standardised change to practice aimed at simply providing the right care to our care providers within the National Health Service (NHS). Too many are suffering and it should not have taken a global pandemic to finally begin to explore how we can care for staff.

We are human, people, individual and never ‘just a midwife’. In the beginning…

Midwifery training is like learning how to drive: you gain the knowledge, the skill, and even pass the test, but you never really know what it’s going to be like until you start driving alone and develop your own lived experience of the world.

During my midwifery training I recall being particularly concerned about what to say and how to behave when caring for bereaved families so I asked to have exposure to delivering this kind of care. I read the appropriate books that explored language and behaviour and the ‘What not to say.’ I remember being frightened at the thought of being a qualified midwife on a shift unsupported in this situation, as the hospital I was employed by was often busy and short-staffed. I knew I’d be helped with the paperwork of bereavement care, but not in the emotional and physical support needed for a family experiencing such a loss. So, in my final year of training, I ‘took the bereavement lady’ alongside an experienced mentor.

Read the full article here.

Darling K. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest, vol 31, no 1, March 2021, pp 6-13.

Original article ©MIDIRS 2021