By day, Grumpy Midwife is, amongst other things, an educator. She is rather proud of one particularly innovative session which she facilitates 2-3 times a month with multi-professional groups. Her opening slide is of a Pre-Raphaelite painting (Thoughts of the Past): a vision of smokey eye shadow, blue velvet, and tumbling auburn locks, dripping with the cloying sentimentalism beloved by Victorian intelligentsia, full of arty symbols; grey clouds of gloom, crumpled violets, sickly plants. Grumpy Midwife uses this and other images of increasing ickiness to demonstrate the importance of holistic assessment, of seeing the whole person, of context, of listening, touching, smelling.
GM then interjects Vermeer’s exquisite Girl with a Pearl Earring – all naked expression and vacant background – to represent how we hospital-based midwives and doctors see the women for whom we care; stripped of their own clothes, belongings neatly stashed, tidy on a narrow bed, partner sitting to attention.
The session seems to work. At least, nobody falls asleep. Even after lunch.
Another of Grumpy Midwife’s day jobs is that of Supervisor of Midwives; part-time hours, full-time headache. Part of the remit is helping to reconcile the needs and desires of individual women with the realities of risk-adverse, cash-strapped, modern-day maternity care. In this capacity Grumpy Midwife recently went to visit a woman at home. (Needless to say, details have been blurred to protect the privacy of everyone concerned, not least GM herself.) This woman (let’s call her Shirley – or Sherry) wanted to give birth to her third (or maybe fourth) child at home, in spite of having a well-controlled medical condition with the possible potential of repercussions on the well-being of herself and her newborn baby.
Grumpy Midwife wasn’t exactly wearing a twinset and pearls (I think she was, in fact, wearing fitted black, ankle-grazing trousers and tan loafers) but she felt like should have been thus garbed; sitting there, at Sherry’s dining room table, surrounded by Sherry’s family photos, being sniffed by Sherry’s dog, with a sheaf of clinical guidelines and risk assessments, pen professionally poised, prepared to be firm but – ultimately (since Sherry had the law on her side) fair. It was therefore rather a shock when Shirley (or Sherry) and her husband, rather than exhibiting due gratitude at GM’s magnanimity, refused to sit meekly and proceeded to tell GM how the midwives had ruined this pregnancy with their probing and testing and warnings, until Grumpy Midwife began to feel … not nervous … but decidedly uneasy.
The Francis Report (2012) recommended a period of hands-on caring for nurse applicants. Grumpy Midwife would like to suggest that what we all really need to do is get out there and see our so-called patients in their homes, with their loved ones and loved things to realise the extent of the emotional vacuum in which we work in hospitals and clinics.