by Sam Perkins, Midwife.
My name is Sam Perkins. I have been a midwife for more than ten years and for the past three have worked with Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders). I feel great pride about the impact we make by providing obstetrical care and reproductive health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world.
It had always been my dream to work as a midwife with a humanitarian aid organisation. I saw it as an opportunity to do the job I love, experience new cultures, share my clinical experience and travel the world. My dream finally came true in May 2008 when I passed the interview with MSF and was assigned my first mission in a camp for people displaced from their homes, in Uganda.
Despite being sent on a two week training course, nothing can ever really prepare you for the first time you arrive at your first MSF hospital and suddenly the lives of all the women and babies become your responsibility.
My team in Uganda taught me immense amounts about caring for pregnant women with malaria and HIV. In turn I could share with them my experience of managing obstetric emergencies through hands-on training and support. This exchange of experience and technical skills was the key to my success as a first-time supervisor of a large team of Ugandan nurses and midwives. What’s more, I had the incredible opportunity to work alongside 40 traditional birth attendants who had been delivering babies in the bush and the camps for decades.
There were several days when I thought “What have I done?!” The new level of responsibility, the high stakes and the exhaustingly long days – I clearly remember returning to our MSF house after 12 hours on my feet delivering babies in the intense African heat, drenched in amniotic fluid, in desperate need of a shower, only to find no electricity and no water. But it was an incredible experience and, despite the hardships, I knew MSF was for me.
Last year I returned from spending nine months in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where I supervised a busy maternity ward. Masisi is in a conflict zone and the workload was to be my biggest and most challenging by far. There was a huge maternity unit, with eight to ten births every day, 36 postnatal beds, a large neonatology room full of sick and premature babies, a gynaecology wing, a ‘waiting home’ for up to 70 pregnant women with high-risk pregnancies, a sexual violence service, and MSF ambulances referring women with obstetric complications.
As I entered the delivery room on the first day, several women were about to deliver, an emergency case was being carried in on a stretcher, and a baby was being resuscitated in the corner.
“Bienvenue” said one nurse, “Karibu” said another – French and Swahili for welcome. A harassed doctor looked at me and said, “Quand commencez-vous?” Reaching for a pair of gloves I answered in the best five-weeks-of-language-school French I could muster, “Je peux commencer maintenant.” I can start now.
If you are a midwife and want to work in an environment where every hour of every day is different, where your work will touch the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable women and babies, where you will gain and share experience and work with inspirational people, come and join MSF’s team of midwives.
About Sam Perkins
Sam Perkins is from Kettering. She has been a midwife for the past 10 years.
She graduated from a four year degree programme (direct entry) in midwifery at Southampton University and spent the next two years as a caseloading midwife in a Sure Start programme with asylum seekers, refugees, and other women from ethnic minorities. After that she spent a year in New Zealand and a year in Australia, where she worked in a small outback community with an Aboriginal population.
In May 2008 she was assigned her first mission, as a midwife (Supervisor of Reproductive Health) in a camp for internally displaced people in Uganda.
Her second mission was as the women’s health technical referent in the Kibera slum, Nairobi, Kenya. Her responsibilities included the supervision of large PMTCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV) and sexual violence programmes.
In 2010 she was sent on her third mission, 9 months in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo. She supervised a busy maternity ward where MSF provides obstetrical and neonatal care to the women and babies in Masisi health zone for a population of 370,000.
Médecins Sans Frontières MSF (Doctors Without Borders) is an independent international humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency medical aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural and man-made disasters or exclusion from health care in more than 60 countries.
Every year MSF sends around 3000 doctors, nurses, midwives, water-and-sanitation experts, administrators and other professionals to work alongside over 25,000 locally hired staff. Together they run medical projects in more than 60 countries around the world.
MSF was founded in 1971 as the first non-governmental organisation to provide both emergency medical assistance and bear witness publicly to the plight of the people it assists. MSF is an international network with branches in 23 countries, including the UK.
Contributor: Sam Perkins, Midwife
Photo Credit: Yasuyoshi Chiba/Duckrabbit