Compassionate midwifery makes a difference to women, but it is just as important to midwives.
These are difficult times for the midwifery workforce. The WHELM Study was commissioned by the RCM and carried out by a team from Cardiff University, led by Professor Billie Hunter, to explore the relationship between the emotional wellbeing of UK midwives and their work environment. It was a serious effort to find out more about what factors contribute to the ever growing problem of low morale and attrition. The results, from around 2000 midwives surveyed, indicated worrying levels of emotional distress and burnout. Those in the greatest need of support had the highest levels of burnout. Younger and less experienced midwives and also midwives with a disability seemed to be particularly at risk.There is more, and if you have not read it yet then please click on the link above and take a look.
The RCM Conference in Manchester last October was a great success in many ways. BUT I was expecting the RCM to discuss the WHELM Report and respond with a way forward. As the only trade union and professional organisation dedicated to serving midwifery, I (and many others) thought that the RCM would want to address this in some way, but it didn’t happen. Many people were baffled by this. I wrote a blog expressing my disappointment that Gill Walton (RCM CEO) had not used the conference to highlight and respond to the study findings. One thing led to another and Gill Walton invited me to meet up with her. She seemed interested in my research on compassion in midwifery and how I believed it linked to the WHELM Report. It took a while to plan our meeting, as Gill is very busy in her RCM role. During that time I had discussed this subject with lot of midwives to find out more about what their views were on WHELM. I wanted to make sure that I was able to represent, not just my opinion, but that of other midwives.
Anyway, on Thursday it happened! I went to London to see Gill in person at RCM HQ.
I was made to feel very welcome and Gill was clearly keen to hear what I had to say. I talked to her about the findings of my research: Women’s Lived Experience of Compassionate Midwifery and how it has shone a light on the importance and impact of compassionate midwifery, for women. Then I turned to the WHELM Report. It became apparent that Gill wants the RCM to respond but the question she was taking time to consider, is how? She talked about how the recommendations from WHELM link with The RCM Caring for You Campaign and how this could be a constructive way forward. I agreed, I think it should reinforce Caring for You and take it to a new level. I was impressed by the way that Gill was really listening and considering the best way forward now, given the really very concerning findings from WHELM.
I invited Gill to consider a compassionate response to WHELM. Compassion involves the recognition of another’s suffering and the emotional connection, motivation and actions aimed at relieving that suffering (Menage et al 2017). I explained that, as I see it, WHELM is evidence of midwives suffering as a result of their workplace experiences and conditions. Therefore a compassionate response must start with recognition and acknowledgement of that suffering. This should, of course be followed up with an action plan but the recognition has to come first. We know that this is true when we show compassion for women who are very frightened, in emotional or physical pain, depressed or distressed for any reason. As midwives we know that we have to recognise what is happening first and acknowledge it. Only then can we work with the woman to try to find ways of relieving it. As human beings, we know that when others ignore or disregard our own suffering, it is a painful experience in itself. Recognition of others’ suffering and standing with them in that suffering is a compassionate human approach, and what is more, it helps!
I was heartened by Gill’s response. Clearly the RCM do not have all the answers to a seriously over-stretched and under-resourced NHS, and midwives do get that. But Gill was very open to considering what the RCM could do. She seemed genuinely enthusiastic about a compassionate way forward.
Only time will tell if the RCM can demonstrate their compassion effectively for midwives who are clearly suffering. I believe they can. I left London feeling optimistic that my suggestions were heard, understood and will be seriously considered.
Thank you so much for listening Gill Walton.
Ménage, D., Bailey, E., Lees, S., and Coad, J. (2017) ‘A Concept Analysis of Compassionate Midwifery’. Journal of Advanced Nursing 73 (3), 558-573