It is a question that we midwives get asked all the time. “What’s it like?” “How many births do you go to?” “What kind of hours do you work?” I never completely know how to answer it because the answer varies depending on the day or the week. Some days, being a midwife means a quiet afternoon at home watching movies and having quality family time. And other days, it means ten calls, three births, and a handful of home visits. And so, since variety is the spice of midwifery, here’s a sample of what a week in my own life as a midwife looks like, to give you a small view of how dynamic, challenging, tiring, and fun it can be!
But first – it’s important to make a disclosure regarding the photos and stories included in this post. By laws of confidentiality, I can’t represent a ‘real’ week, or share the stories or identifiers of any of my clients. The photos included (posted with permission) are not connected to the stories within the post, but they are of myself and my colleagues at work.
So let’s begin……
Time to go to the gym. I’m off call right now, slept all night, and had a great weekend off. I’m ready to go!
5am: Gym time. I’m off call right now, slept all night, and had a great weekend off. I’m ready to go!
8am: Time for clinic. Today I’m seeing 11 people in the next 7 hours. Some of these appointments are 2-6 week old babies and their mothers, but most are prenatal appointments.
Today, we’ve got many clients who are thriving and growing their babies nicely, and also a couple who need to see a physician for various reasons. During this time I liase with the hospital or OB clinics to arrange consults or any procedures that my clients need. Sometimes this is things like inductions or planned c-sections, sometimes its for mental health concerns, or genetics for the baby.
4pm: Done clinic for the day and heading home. I go on call tonight at 8pm so “technically” I have 4 hours off! I have to admit, I start to get some anxiety at this time of day. I don’t always know if there’s anything already happening that I’ll need to jump right into, or if it’ll be quiet!
8pm: I’m on and there’s nothing happening. My call partner and I give eachother a detailed report of what everyone needs, and we switch roles. She’ll now be the clinic midwife for the week, and I’ll be on call taking pages, attending assessments, postpartum home visits, and births.
5am: Off to the gym again! Slept all night with no calls. An easy start!
7am-9am: Home, getting the kids ready for school, rocking this parenting thing!
9:30am: Practice meeting time! My highlight of the week. This is when the wheels turn within our group of 5 midwives.
We make almost all decisions together as a group, review situations that we need guidance on, and maybe a teeeeny tiny huge dose of just enjoying eachother’s company. Some of these ladies are the funniest people I’ve ever met! And sometimes the nitty gritty of our job means we see very little of one another without Wednesdays.
11:30am: Scheduled work for the day is done! I’m going to go home and have a nap! Zzzzzzz
2:30pm: I get a page from someone with a question about labour. Neither of us are convinced that what she’s experiencing is labour at this point yet, but my radar is up. This means there’s a higher likelihood I’ll be working tonight. Good thing I had that nap! Because now it’s time to get my kids home from school and get as much in order as possible, “just in case….”
5:30pm: The other midwife on call with me lets me know that she also got what we call a “heads up” page. This is when someone pages with possible labour, or early labour, but it’s too early to assess them yet.
We don’t ask our clients to page us with this routinely since early labor sometimes takes a very long time, or stops completely, but sometimes they have questions or fears that they need our guidance for. The other midwife on call will be taking care of that woman during her labour, but she’ll need me to help at the end and support her if she’s been working all night. But here’s a problem: The woman who called me earlier is planning a home birth. The one who called the other midwife is planning a hospital birth. Two midwives have to attend every birth, and there are only two of us on call. This is a tricky situation that we run into often. 99% of the time it works out perfectly. The other 1% of the time we have to ask both women to be in the hospital so that we can attend to them safely.
8:30pm: Getting my butt to sleep!
12:30am: There’s the call from my client. She’s having regular contractions now and wants to be assessed. My bags are already in my car and I make my way to her home.
1:30am: I’m back at home now. It was too early to stay with her but I know I’ll hear from her again tonight.
3:30am: She’s called me again now and it’s time to go. I stay with this woman and take care of all of her clinical needs until her baby is born and the first couple of hours afterward. Everybody takes a moment to feel lucky because this woman’s labour was quick. My backup midwife joined us just before the baby was born. But she also had a call or two in the middle of the night, and I woke her up very early in the morning, so we’re both going to be pretty tired today.
7am: My backup midwife leaves the birth and gets called immediately by her own client in labor. She’s off to the hospital now to take care of her client while I wrap up with mine.
9am: Leaving the birth, it’s time to squeeze in some gym time! Noticed a theme yet? Burnout is a real problem in midwifery, and self care is 100% essential. For me, that means planning a trip to the gym, regular meals, and a shower every single day. It makes me feel human and gives me a release from stress that gives me stamina and strength of mind for the rest of the day.
11am: My backup midwife doesn’t like to ask for help but I know how hungry I am and she’s been up almost as long and I have. It’s time to get some food and bring it to her at the hospital.
2:30pm: We had our second baby of the day while I was dropping off lunch! But phew, with only a small handful of quality sleep hours under my belt, it’s definitely time to go to bed! The midwives who are in clinic have been made aware that we can’t take on any more until we’ve slept, so they’re on standby in case anybody else needs care while we are asleep.
5:30pm: Feel like I’m waking up for the day. My husband and kids are so awesome. They’ve stayed quiet for a few hours, and dinner is being made for me. I’m so lucky.
9pm: It’s time to go to bed again. Who knows what is coming next?
5am: You guessed it! Gym time again. Busy days like this are often followed by a day or two of “birth hangover” – basically a headache and fatigue that follow me around through the day.
8am: Time to check on the mom and baby that was born yesterday. We talk about breastfeeding, baby wellness, warning signs, and do newborn testing that would otherwise get completed at the hospital after 24 hours of age.
10am: I’ve got a call from a client with a concern. She needs to be assessed, so we’re meeting at the hospital to do all of our checks. Hope I can finish in time, because admin booked me to do some clinic this afternoon!
12pm: Luckily all is well, and I’m off to see 4 more babies at clinic now for weight checks.
3pm: I even squeezed in a massage. This is the best!
3:30am: Good thing I went to bed early. I received call from another home birth client and it’s time to go!
8am: I’m back home, the baby has been born, the kids are still asleep, so I’m snuggling into bed and taking my sleep where I can get it.
2pm: Once I wake up, I’ve got the day to myself! No home visits planned today, and I’m not really expecting any more of my clients to labour.
4pm: Nevermind. Backup midwife just got another heads up call. But I wont be needed for a long time yet – I’ll just need to be ready when the time does come.
9am: No word back from that heads up yesterday. I guess it never turned into labour! Well then, off to the gym, a few home visits, and we’ll call it a day!
5am: Slept all night! Gym time again. Self care!
8am-3pm: I attended a labour today that finalized in a c-section today. It’s a much misunderstood part of midwifery – people think that we only support natural births, but informed choice and safety are our real priorities and those shape many different types of births. No matter how the birth results, we work our very hardest to make each of the experiences as safe and as positive as possible.
5am: Slept all night again! I’m on a roll! Time to celebrate at the gym! Sometimes I feel like a cheat when I manage to get 6 days into the gym in a week, especially when it’s been this steady! But there is no shadow of a doubt – the only side effect to this “cheat” is that I give better care because I am happier myself!
7am: Lots of home visits today, and a lot of driving for some of them. I’m going to have to leave the school routine to my husband and get started because my to do list today is a long one, and what if I get called to a birth??
1pm: All of the home visits done, and just in time, too, because someone paged with concerns that warrant an assessment in hospital. Off we go!
3pm: Assessment is finished, and this client needed to transfer care to the obstetrician and have an induction of labour. So I am back home, but I will be called back whenever my client is ready for me to return. Sometimes inductions can take a while before the woman is even in labour, so this can sometimes mean a fair bit of waiting.
8pm: The call comes in to support my client at the hospital, but it is also time to switch roles with my call partner again! It looks like she’s going to have a busy night!
And there you have it! Yes, the sleep is sparse sometimes. The hours are strange and unpredictable. The family situation is complicated by the “what ifs” associated with the job title. But you know what? I love it.
Melissa Nowell is a Registered Midwife with the Midwives of Headwater Hills in Orangeville, Ontario. She has been practicing as a Registered Midwife for almost 5 years and was a birth doula before becoming a midwife.