This month, MIDIRS stops to chat to Octavia Wiseman, who trained as a midwife at King’s College London following an arts degree from the University of York, a career in publishing and four children.
She now works as a caseloading community midwife at King’s College Hospital and has been awarded an NIHR fellowship to undertake an MRes. She has written articles for the BJM and Essentially MIDIRS, blogged for the Royal College of Midwives and presented posters at RCM, BMJ, RSM, and British Maternal and Fetal Society conferences.
MIDIRS: Octavia, you have written an article this month for Essentially MIDIRS about motherhood. Can you tell us a bit about your own background and how your interest in this topic developed?
I became an adult at the tail end of the feminist movement in the 80s. My girlfriends and I were not prepared to accept the inequalities of our mothers’ generation and we threw ourselves into becoming independent and building careers. We thought we could put off motherhood indefinitely and were not aware that our fertility would start to halve every year after 35. The sad truth is that many of my closest friends have missed the chance of becoming mothers or have been trapped into cycles of IVF. I believe the new generation of young women is much better informed than we were, but there are still battles to fight. I am shocked that all these years after the feminist revolution, many of the inequalities we thought would have been eradicated still exist: women still do the lion’s share of caring for children and the elderly, often alone; domestic violence is better recognised but no less prevalent; we exploit women’s appearance and we underpay them in the workplace. Many of these issues coalesce around motherhood – you can see issues of choice, power, finance, ambition, independence and strength coming to bear on every decision women make around reproduction. The more we can empower women, the better they will negotiate change and make good decisions for themselves and their families.
MIDIRS: What made you decide to become a midwife?
I was lucky enough to have four children in my late 30s and the experience changed my life. Not only did I grow and learn through the wonder of pregnancy and birth, but I discovered the nurturing strength of my local community which opened up to me in a new way once I became a mother. I got involved in Sure Start and witnessed how a new team of caseloading midwives transformed our inner-city community, building bridges between women of very different backgrounds. Their work was inspiring and when my partner came up with the bizarre suggestion that I should leave publishing and become a midwife, I immediately knew that he was right. Here was a career which combined academic challenge, community working, advocacy, managing change and empowering women. I retrained to become a midwife at King’s College London (KCL) in my early 40s and loved every minute of it. I qualified in 2011 and now work as a caseloading midwife at King’s College Hospital with the Aylesham team which has taken over the Albany’s old patch – very large shoes to fill!
MIDIRS: Which areas of maternity care or research interest you the most?
Everything interests me! I am a great believer in interprofessional communication. The articles I have written for Essentially MIDIRS and the British Journal of Midwifery are an attempt to disseminate relevant research from different fields to midwives. I feel there should be a great deal more cross-over between the different professionals involved in maternity care, from education to training to research. Although this is something which the new Academic Health Science Networks such as King’s Health Partners are trying to address, there is still great division on the ground.
I am excited about having been awarded an NIHR fellowship to do a Masters in Research starting this September. The programme is specifically designed to train future researchers in a multi-professional environment with a focus on clinical (rather than purely academic) research. I will be doing the Masters part-time at KCL in order to continue to build my clinical skills. I look forward to a career which integrates maternity care and research.
MIDIRS: Can you tell us a little bit more about your work as a caseloading community midwife?
I am a passionate believer in caseloading midwifery. It is a privilege to be able to offer this gold standard of care to women from varied, complex and sometimes deprived backgrounds. Providing women-centred care to this demographic requires a flexible, holistic approach and a close working relationship with other professionals – the work is always challenging. I am interested in the lives of migrant women in the UK, especially undocumented migrants whose lives are hidden from view, even from researchers. Midwives may be the only professionals to have contact with this underground population, which is a big responsibility. Equality of access to maternity care is an important issue for me, and the ethics of charging these uniquely vulnerable women for maternity care is something which I feel deserves more public debate.
MIDIRS: When you are away from work, how do you spend your time relaxing?
Relaxing is not a big part of being a mother of four, but I love cooking, crafts and games and we try to do things together whenever possible. I love travelling, reading, swimming and spending time one-to-one with my children whenever possible.
MIDIRS: And finally, if you could give one word of advice to newly graduated midwives, what would it be?
Be kind to yourselves, be kind to each other and be kind to your women.
Article and photo: Octavia Wiseman