Midwifery, a Masters and Multi-Chained viruses. A reflection of survival

By Muna Ward on 08 April 2024


Studying a Master’s and working part time can be stressful, I no longer need a reference to know that (Ryff and singer, 2003). Do a Master’s she said, that will be a good idea, she said. You want out of the NHS, but you love safeguarding. Well, how about this then.

Our course started the year of COVID-19 which came with challenges I don’t think any of us were prepared for. We were still figuring things out as we arguably still are. Managing online life and working in ways that many of us could never have imagined a year ago. Between the life we had, the frozen faces of the god awful “reconnecting” or “buffering” screens, to the anxiety of “oh please Jesus don’t tell me I had stuff in my teeth that close to the screen the WHOLE time??!!”. And we all began to figure out the virtual classroom and what pedagogy will look like in this entirely otherworldly existence (Henry and Brown, 2021).

I have avoided facetime and virtual calls due to personal insecurities of not liking my face. For the most part we go through our day and don’t have to be confronted by such issues. We can pretend to be faceless. So, what then, becomes of a person who is thrust into a world where this has to be the case. Not only can I see my face, but I am very consciously aware that strangers can to. And so, the mask I didn’t even know I was wearing, is broken. Every call a negotiation of anxiety, adrenaline, and the desire to want to be involved; and that ever human attribute rears its head. The longing to belong (Meehan and Howells, 2019).

And then there is what lies beneath that. The disharmony and disconnection of a world that does not know where it is any more. Of people trying to get on with things whilst figuring things out, not having the time or space to be kind to themselves when this was not the world they knew (Hanna-Wayne, 2020).

Not travelling to university was a godsend. I truly believed that the life of lockdown would enable me to study more, and then the fatigue kicked in of being a frontline worker who did not have the luxury to work from home. I say luxury – I would probably have hated it (Curse or Boon? Joarder and Mustafi, 2021).

I was diagnosed with an underlying autoimmune condition in 2019 which I have managed very well throughout with diet and lifestyle change. “Avoid stress and you can avoid Lupus”, my then consultant told me. Challenge accepted, Sir. I compressed my hours to 08.00-18:00 4 days a week and lectures were one day a week. I also fell in love and got engaged and am facing planning a wedding in all of this. I didn’t see a health relapse coming in December 2021. And now its time for the dissertation. Oh dear.

The Details

It took a long time to choose a topic for Masters. It’s a lot of money to do this course on a whim as an adult with a mortgage. Students have often said that finances are a struggle during their course (Smith and Zwaan, 2019). Whether that’s because you are working less or have taken out a loan, it added more pressure to the fact that I wanted this to mean something. From psychology to anthropology to medical law. Each topic was something I was interested in but didn’t see giving me the path for future career prospects that I wanted.

An article by the Independent recognised that only half of UK graduates were working in a field that related to their degree and I didn’t want to be one of them that didn’t put my hard work to use (Garner, 2014). And so, I decided. Safeguarding. As a midwife this course has given the opportunity to learn about mother and unborn. This course has been useful. It has encouraged me to think in ways I would never have without it, which many have shared as an experience of study (Ryff and Singer, 2003). It is often through challenge we are able to grow and expand our viewpoints (Simpson, 2019). I learnt things I already knew but needed reminding. I am an extrovert and so will speak up in class – breathing and letting other people lead at times when I feel passionate was important. Managing my guilt when I don’t speak up and the lecturer experiences the tumble weeds was also a challenge.

The disorganisation of second year was frustrating. No fault of anyone’s, simply the challenges of timelines and deadlines and the movement of life. A study by Prashad et al., (2020) highlighted that it was the responsibilities of the employee (in this case university) to organise and structure working from home well in order to reduce the psychological impact of stress relating to the changing variables. But how can this be expected when employers are also trying to figure things out? Give and take sounds wise.

October 2021, a couple weeks in. My clinics were on Mondays and Wednesday and now classes are on Wednesdays, and we have a class we are asked to be on campus for starting at 5pm on a Monday next week. I finish work at 6pm. So, I try to get through my work, rush the last heavily pregnant client out the door with sincerest apologies, log on late from clinic because there is no way I will make it home, whilst eating my lunch. Yes lunch. And on October 10th we had our first dissertation virtual class. As many of us experience as they year went on, virtual and remote working just meant we worked harder. Not smarter.

Throughout this experience I must say that similarly to work. This sense of “just get on with it” comes through though, I am not entirely sure that is clouded by my own bias. For instance, I do not care for extensions. My own feelings of imposter syndrome aside, I feel like I have failed by asking (Collin et al.,2020; Vaughn et al., 2020). So things felt harsh and sad and disappointing.

My topic throughout first year was on the emotional intelligence of teenage parents. I felt like through a research proposal and literature review this wasn’t the story I wanted to tell with my dissertation.

Whilst working with an asylum-seeking family being case loaded by social care due to physical chastisement of their older child, I realised this is personal for me. It was a similar story to my parents and one I feel passionate about so my topic has now become exploring migrant understanding of UK laws on physical chastisement. I would like to start a charity one day before retirement and this seems to be an area requiring some attention from agencies.

8th December 2021 amongst another assignment, I reach out to my dissertation supervisor. He sounds kind and friendly as much as one can over email. I ask some questions about ethics applications and attempt to fill one in. In the handbook it states don’t do any work on the study until it has been approved. So, I didn’t. Unfortunately, this meant one still needs to do the consent letter, questionnaire if qualitative, approval etc my application is understandably rejected but I understand where it went wrong. I sent it to my supervisor for discussion. And have learnt a lesson in having your work checked before submission.

16th February 2022 – first phone-call with my supervisor. We introduce ourselves and he says, “it’s a pet peeve when students say ‘research says’ then don’t share the research” … I did that in my ethics application. He won me over. The honesty and authenticity in working relationships has been documented as having a positive outcome (Aitken et al., 2020).

I have a slight resistance to authority and by extension feedback from those in positions of authority, I fully blame this on an authoritarian father and Islamic upbringing. I have learnt that directness helps with this as it allows me to trust the person giving me that feedback. It may not sit comfortably due to my own self-critical narrative, but it has been helpful already. For instance, as much as I would like to do primary research my supervisor wisely helped me understand that an ethics application is a whole piece of work in itself. And I will likely have to do another one for my trust. Interestingly, our department’s governance lead didn’t even know this based on an earlier conversation. Whilst I am disappointed that I couldn’t juggle everything, I offer myself some kindness in thought given the circumstances and rest assured knowing that I will not be the only one bested by an ethics application and need to consider a better work-life balance. I want to enjoy my learning.

The Literature review for the formative assignment was really useful. It helped me realise I couldn’t form an argument based on the original topic I had in mind for primary research in the same way and so the focus of the review became physical chastisement. The good news was there is a very clear gap in the research on my original question so this will be great for future research.


I can’t say I will ever like face time, but I am more tolerant of it now. I can’t say I enjoy the strain I feel on my mind when having to review literature when I am tired, but I am trying. I can’t say my Master’s title won’t ebb and flow with my energy levels. What I can say is, I am learning.

Do a Masters she said, that will be a good idea she said. I can honestly say I won’t be fooling myself like that again.

She says.

(Since the completion of this reflection, author has completed her MSc with distinction and whilst the wedding did not go ahead she is starting her PhD, of course.)

Muna Ward RM has been a London based midwife for over a decade. Her passion and background in health and child protection has led to the last 7 years of working in NHS management and safeguarding. She currently manages a team specialising in the care of the socially complex. Muna has special interests and expertise in the fields of migrant families accessing healthcare, and understanding the barriers to preventing the use of physical discipline.

Instagram: @phdpeaksnpits 

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