Thursday, 24 February 2011

Life in clinic

Since last week I have been working in antenatal clinic. It's a completely different experience in so many ways to what I have already done. Every day there are clinics run by the consultants, who may or may not be in attendance. I am well aware that it doesn't sound right that someone can be booked for a consultants appointment and for the consultant to not actually be let me explain.

I had heard of the terms SHO, Registrar and Consultant but had absolutely no idea how it related to seniority....although I assumed that the Consultant was the most senior position. I assume that I am not the only person to have found it a little confusing as to who is who.

So an SHO is a Senior House Officer. This is a junior doctor who is undergoing training within a specialised area, supervised by the consultants and the registrars.

A Registrar is commonly called the Reg for short, and is a doctor who is undergoing advanced training in a specialised area in order to become a Consultant.

And finally the Consultant is the senior doctor who has completed all training in a specialist field and is deemed to be an expert in their area.

So if you are booked into the antenatal clinic for a Consultant appointment, it may very well be that it's not the consultant you will see. However rest assured, for if the SHO or Reg decide that the Consultant needs to be involved in any decision making, then they will not hesitate to bring him into the room.

So anyway being in clinic is very different from my community placement where we'd run clinics. The midwife there is autonomous and makes decisions regarding care herself, though of course, if she has any concerns, she would send the woman in to the hospital - whether it would be to see a consultant, or fetal assessment unit, or maternity assessment unit, or triage - it is the midwife that makes the decision. In antenatal clinic, it is very much the doctor that makes the decisions. Mostly I have been taking blood pressures and testing urine, and on some days I have also been palpating to check the position of the baby, and measuring the fundal height (the height of the uterus which gives an indication to the growth of the baby when compared with previous measurements) and listening in to the baby's heartbeat.  This has given me the opportunity to practise my basic skills and improve on them.

However I have also had the opportunity to listen and learn about care of more high risk women. The women coming into clinic are all coming for very different reasons - previous Caesarean Sections, bleeding in pregnancy, thyroid problems, sickle cell trait in the family, previous stillbirth, high blood pressure, recurrent urine infections and the list could go on and on. As you can imagine there are varying degrees of severity, which is why for some women, seeing the SHO is perfectly suitable and for others, seeing the Consultant is essential. It's not a case of special treatment, it's merely a case of medical requirement. You have to remember that in order to become a doctor, the SHO has already undertaken years of training. So if it turns out that when you thought you were seeing a Consultant, and you actually saw a Junior Doctor, it doesn't mean you are any less special, it just means that your care for the moment, is not as high risk as it may be for some others. And just to flip the coin, if you did see the Consultant, it may not be that you are extremely high risk, merely that he had already seen his highest risk patients and was now seeing anyone else waiting for their appointment. Confused? Yep I was too......after nearly two weeks there, I think I am just about getting to grips with it all.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

What do women want?

I've talked quite a lot about the kind of midwife that I want to be but the other day I was considering the kind of midwife that women want? I am in the unique position of knowing a variety of women, who have all had very different labours and experiences, positive and negative, so I took the opportunity to ask them just how they felt about their births and how they felt about the midwives involved in their care. The response was very mixed, as you'd expect but there were some common answers that seemed to run through their replies. The responses made for very interesting reading, and sometimes very emotional reading.

It came as no surprise that the women wanted to feel listened to; that they were more than just a number and treated as an individual. It's a well researched fact that women in labour have better outcomes when they receive one to one care and yet this doesn't appear to be happening for all women. Their are midwifery shortages throughout the UK which places a huge impact on the services that midwives are able to provide and the subsequent experience that women will get. Although it cannot be denied that staff shortages are not the sole reason that some women do not receive one to one care and despite listening skills being highlighted as an essential requirement for any midwifery student candidate, it appears that some midwives have lost the ability.

The vast majority of positive experiences were during labour and planned caesarean births and the women spoke of calm, reassuring midwives who kept them informed. There was disappointment spoken of, if a midwife who had been present for their care, had come to the end of her shift and a different midwife had taken over. Again I was reminded of the importance of one to one care and how much of a difference it made to women.

I was particularly sad to read that for most women the postnatal care, and in particular the breastfeeding support was declared to be awful. This is where there was frequent mention of a lack of staff, the staff that were there being in a rush because of the number of women they were caring for, coming across as uncaring and uninterested. It also seemed that whilst midwives had the knowledge about breastfeeding and support, they didn't have the time to spend with women supporting them.

Another factor in whether or not women had a positive birth experience, appeared to be their expectations of how things would be. I have heard it said many times that for the woman with the explicit birth plan, strict dos and don'ts of what they want, is a straight to theatre kind of woman. Whilst this is said very tongue in cheek, there can be a bit of truth in that statement - in particular for the first time mother. If you've not experienced it before, then how can you truly know what you'll need? If you aren't expecting labour to be hard work, then it's unlikely that a choice of no pain relief is going to work out. If you are expecting to jump straight back to normal following a Caesarean section, then you will get a bit of a shock.

There are no gold medals given out for childbirth and whether or not you use pain relief, whether you "manage" without an epidural, whether or not you give birth vaginally or your baby takes the sun roof! Yet I have heard many women speaking of feeling like a failure because things didn't go to plan.

My advice to women would be to be as open minded as you can be about pain relief, and positions and what you might need. It's good to know roughly what to expect but don't get fixed on a plan.

My advice to myself and any other aspiring midwives would be to always listen to women; to always remember the value of time and try wherever possible to provide one to one care, to keep women informed, be honest with them and let them know what is happening. When you can't spend time with someone, explain why not but try to organise something so that they do get some time with someone who can help. I know this won't solve the problems of staff shortages but we can all do our best.

And finally I just want to say a huge thank you to all of you that contributed answers to my questions about your experiences. I think I have learnt far more than I have put into this post, and I value each and every reply.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

11 births and farewell MLU.

I've now finished my time on the MLU and next week I am off to the antenatal clinic where the experience will be extremely different. It's hard to believe that before this placement, I hadn't "caught" my first baby and now I've caught eleven. Eleven very different woman, who coped in very different ways with their labours. Eleven different birthing partners who supported their wives/girlfriends/daughters in a variety of ways. So many of the birth partners say how useless they feel whilst the woman is labouring. They simply don't have any idea of how valuable just being there can be.  And lets not forget the eleven very different babies. Six boys and five girls.

I'm not sure I can put into words just how much I feel I have learnt in such a short space of time. I've worked with different people and they all have their own ways of how to deliver and no doubt over time, I will choose my own preferred way. I like to think at the moment that I will work with whatever is appropriate at that time but ideally, maybe even idealistically, I'd like to be fairly hands off in my approach....allowing women to be in charge of their own bodies and deliveries. I think back to the births of my children and how I feel that my eldest was delivered by the midwife, and how my second was delivered by me....I know which experience I'd rather women have.

However one thing I have learnt is that no matter what I think, the woman has the right to make her own decisions. Whilst for me, being continuously monitored or unable to feel the contractions would be awful, for another woman, this is very important to them and part of being a midwife is taking a holistic approach and recognising what is important and why; ensuring that women have all the information they need to make an informed decision so that after the baby is born, they have felt a part of the decision making process and supported in their choices. What I would do is actually irrelevant in so many ways. So as well as all the clinical skills I am learning, I am also learning how to listen to women and support their choices.

Today I am feeling on top of the world, so pleased with all I have learnt and achieved. I'd love to bottle it - I could make a fortune! Or just have a little sip at those times when I am wondering if it is all still possible. For now I shall bathe in this happy feeling, enjoy a few days off and look forward to another new experience on Monday!