Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on midwifery. We interviewed Jessica Allason who works as a Midwife and a private hypnobirth teacher.
Jess Allason has been a midwife for six years and recently trained as a private hypnobirth teacher. She is passionate about informing and empowering women in their choices around childbirth, because a woman will never forget how she felt on the day of her birth and may impact her for the rest of her life! Jess has worked in all settings of midwifery, including a busy delivery suite, postnatal ward and in a community setting offering continuity of carer and home birth services.
For more information on working in the healthcare sector see:
For more information about Jess: https://www.justbebirthing.co.uk/aboutme
You’re listening to the What Do You Actually Do podcast. Each week, we want to bring you an inspiring interview, a useful tip, or an encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world. Hello and welcome to this episode of What Do You Actually Do!? My name is Kate Morris and I’ll be your host today. In today’s episode, we’ll be talking about working in healthcare, both within the NHS and private practice. Today, we’re joined by Jess Allison via Skype who works in an NHS hospital as a midwife, and as a hypnobirthing coach for her own hypnobirthing company.
So Jess, what do you actually do?
So I’ve been a midwife, probably best just to tell you a bit about myself. I’ve been a midwife for about six years now. And I’ve practiced in all areas. So I’m in really, really busy delivery suites, where I kind of cut my teeth as a junior midwife, and then slowly started to make my way out to more community and birth centre – based midwifery. And that is where I sort of stayed and really enjoyed working with women in the community. So when they first find out that they are pregnant, they would come to us and say I’m pregnant, and then we would put them into the system and get all of their health care, kind of sorting their scans, etc. So there is a lot of public health stuff that we do as midwives and the community, which I love. And then we do a lot of sort of antenatal classes with them. So we’ll do our breastfeeding chats, and we’ll do active birth workshops, and all of that sort of stuff.
So you’re not just there at their bedside kind of thing. There’s all the preparing beforehand?
I think that’s a really common question I get, and I think a lot of the misconception about midwifery is that it’s all about delivering babies. And obviously, that is the crux of what we do. But anyone can really deliver a baby, because if they’re going to come, they’re going to come. So I think a lot of what we do is we’re looking after the women. So it’s not really that much around, I mean obviously the babies are important. But a lot of what we do is about caring for women, making sure they are safe and well, healthy, and then obviously helping them to birth their babies in the best way that they can. And then also to make them the best mothers they can be. And it’s also about working with family. So you are never just working with a mum, you’re working with her partner, you’re working with her other children and the grannies and grandads and the rest, the whole family, which is what’s so lovely about it.
So where did your interest in healthcare and midwifery in particular come from?
So my granny was an assistor on a surgical ward. She worked in the big AIDS hospital in South Africa, so I’m from South Africa. And she was a sister on the ward called Grey’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, which is a massive, General Hospital. And she’s telling me stories about her patients back in the day, on the very kind of busy, scary AID wards, and then she’d say how much she enjoyed going over to maternity. And she would go and sort of help out because I think back then they were kind of crossing between the two. They were women of many talents. And so I used to sit and listen to her stories about her delivering babies. And that has always been in my consciousness. And I guess I had a different career before I came into midwifery, but what I found was that I was really drawn to women’s health, health care, whatever that format looks at. And so that sort of steered me towards becoming a midwife. And that’s I guess how I sort of ended up here.
Yeah, definitely. Because you worked in the theatre sector, didn’t you before?
I was a stage manager in West End and touring for, yeah, years, like eight years, nine years. But actually, I had started to think about midwifery, quite early on during that career. And fantastic as it was, it was a really fast paced kind of game. And what I loved the most was caring for the people. And I noticed that I would look after the actresses who were pregnant who were coming into work or had just had babies, I gravitated towards them. So it came to the point when I was in my late 20s, when I thought right, either kind of now or never. And so I made the change. So I started training in 2010. So it’ll be nine years.
That’s interesting, though, there’s a connection between some of the skills that you used in your previous life, so to speak, and what you’re doing now. You mentioned the sort of the caring and the sort of interest in women’s health. What other kind of personal strengths or qualities do you think is useful to have if someone sort of wanted to be happy and successful as a midwife?
That’s a really good question. I think resilience, it’s one of the greatest skills anyone can learn. And whether that’s about learning how to care for yourself, or whether that’s learning how to say no, and to step back from things. Being a midwife, it has its stresses as do all jobs. It’s quite an acute, intense time, especially if you’re a new midwife, and you will be working on busy labour wards. And you are on the wards themselves, so antenatal and postnatal wards, and you’re learning a hell of a lot. Because as much as training is a safe and lovely space to be, even as a student on delivery suites, you get a snapshot of what’s there, and when you are qualified, you have that responsibility on your head of the life of a new-born baby. It’s quite daunting, but also, you know, there has to be a sense of it as a vocation. I wouldn’t say anyone goes into midwifery thinking, they’re going to make lots of money and be a star, you go in because you want to care for people and you want to make people’s lives better.
So how did that lead into setting up your own business, and you’re obviously really passionate about women’s health and really enjoying the role of the midwife and as you say, developed the resilience to deal with the lows as well as the highs and how did that lead into setting up your own hypnobirth company and doing the coaching?
When I was a junior midwife, I saw a women going to theatre for an emergency caesarean and she was completely calm. And she was sort of breathing her way through it. And it was such a different picture from what I’d seen before, when we were really scared. And I asked my mentors, what’s that and they said she’s hypnobirthing. And so that kind of started & piqued my interest, I should say. Because, you know, we are sold this narrative that birth is a drama, that birth is, and it is of course, it’s a drama, a new person comes into the world, of course, there is an element of theatre about it, but we’re sold, that it’s painful, that it’s scary, and that women die, that babies die, you know, all we hear are the negative stories in the press. And I so strongly believe that if we can change the narrative and our brain, about how we approach growth, and anything, really anything that’s quite a challenge or daunting, but actually, it will impact on our conscious mind, which will then allow our bodies to become calmer, and help us birth our babies easier. And I have seen it in practice. I know it works. And so about a year ago, just under a year, I decided to do my training, and we can’t, as midwives in the NHS, we cannot promote ourselves. So I have to be quite careful and clear around my role, in terms of this business is very much on as a private practice. But I think my experience as a midwife, obviously, is a really great backup. So you know, anyone can be a hypnobirthing instructor, but I would suggest that knowing something around birth, having been in both rooms, is really important. And also about how to navigate the NHS system. That’s a big part of what I’m you know, kind of people, women come into the fold, having never been pregnant before and then are faced with, you must do this and you must do that, and this is what your body should be doing and what’s it is not doing that, so it’s wrong. And actually, what hypnobirthing does is allows women to sort of, and their partners to really kind of remain calm, relaxed, however that looks for them. And so they can make their own choices that are kind of best for them and their baby, which are safe as well. So I do that, on the side, and it is starting very slowly to pick up. But I have had such wonderful feedback. And it’s such a joy for me to be able to do this for women, because it’s difficult for midwives in the NHS, to have the time to talk through the things I can talk through.
I guess that must be nice for you to have that outlet. So you can do your job at the NHS as well as you possibly can. But to have a space in your own practice where you can do the much more intense, involved, supportive work.
Hugely. It is such a good release for me and it can be frustrating in the NHS because you want to give the care that you want to give and you come up against brick walls, or time pressures or you know, guidelines or protocols, which I understand are there for a reason, but equally as a rather large blanket to put over all women. So what’s so nice about having a birthing is that I get to individualize someone’s care outside of the NHS at then they, are empowered to go back into the system and say, right, I believe this is the best way for me to birth my baby. And also just to be a sounding board for them you know and yeah, it’s oh, it’s lovely. I love it.
So just picking up on that point about the sort of lack of time sometimes with the NHS, what other sort of key challenges do you think there’ll be in the sector over the next few years for, for people wanting to develop a career as a midwife, you know, I’m conscious of cut backs, Brexit, that kind of thing? Is there anything in particular that’s on your radar as something that people should try and anticipate?
Yeah, definitely. Funny, you say that actually, we’re all going for consultation, so a lot of the hospital trusts, I wonder if York are as well, go through consultations around a new focus called better births. This is around the continuity of care act. So this is not a new concept, but it’s something that was in around the 80s, 90s, and then kind of went out of fashion and has come back in, because all of the research suggests that if a woman knows a very small group of midwives, so one – to – one care with her midwife from the time she books, all the way through pregnancy, labour, and then afterwards, she has far higher rates of satisfaction. But there’s also much lower rates of say, early labour and premature birth and low birth rates and stillbirth, and maternal mental health is massively improved. So there’s some really great caesarean rates actually found to be lowered. So how we’re planning to work in the future, is to work in a small team of midwives. And all I can say is an example of what we’re talking about, which is sort of six midwives in a team having a caseload of one midwife to say 35 to 40 women throughout the year, but then also being on call for other women as well. So those women may know me mostly, but then they might also meet my colleagues. So they might know two or three midwives very well, and then the idea being they’ll know somebody that they see every time they go to see a midwife, they’ll know someone at the birth of their baby, they will know someone afterwards when someone comes to visit them. Because a lot of the stuff that we hear is women say I don’t know who my midwife is, I see someone different every time and that used to be the way that GPS where, you know, it used to be that you’d have a family practitioner, and that they would know everything about your family, and they would deliver the babies and kind of follow that family through, but we don’t work that way anymore. And so the NHS is trying, I guess a maternity sector to implement some of that, of course, there’s challenges around that, because it requires on-call commitment, a great level of flexibility. And I would say for your students who are in their training now wanting to become midwives, flexibility is essential, really. It’s not so much a case of you’ll go in and be a midwife or a community midwife. It’s a case of kind of having a little bit of everything, and working in different areas, which actually, I think, is a really good way to work personally.
So it sounds like it’s an interesting time to be joining them that, you know, hopefully things will improve both for the women giving birth, but also for the midwives themselves. And as you say that resilience is so important, hopefully, stress levels within people’s own teams will go down if they feel that they know who their patients are, and they know who they can sort of count on in their little teams rather than just having to be part of a bigger situation as well. So, any sort of final tips for students who are thinking about trying to break into midwifery as a career, or anyone who’s perhaps in their midwifery training and thinking about maybe doing the hypnobirthing – any sort final tips for anyone?
Oh, just do it. And I guess anyone wanted to come into midwifery, I would just say, because I’ve done a bit of work, interviewing people at my old university, for the course. I would just say read, just make sure you read around the subject. Midwifery covers such a vast area, it’s political, you know, it’s economic, it’s health, it’s as we know, Brexit, that’s going to make a big difference in terms of staffing. And I think perhaps less so for midwives, but certainly in our theatres, you know, in theatres on day surgery, and all those sorts of things. So they will make a difference. And so staffing levels may drop slightly. Tips for midwives in the trade already. Just read, find your why, find your reason why you’re doing it. And all the days when you think why am I doing this when I haven’t had a wee for eight hours or anything to eat! Just try and remember why you’re doing it. And remember that it’s for the women, and then you know you’re perfectly within your rights to say I would like a break. It is hard to do. And I find it very hard to do. But I think we have to support each other. And we have to be able to say, if I can cover you, you can cover me so that we can have that level of calm on the unit and in terms of hypnobirthing, it’s my hope that we can get them into NHS trusts all over the world. Let’s start nationally, because I know it reduces everyone’s stress levels just as hypnosis does for childbirth. And it’s such a lovely way to look after somebody because you’re very much just there as a support, you don’t really have to do very much as a midwife. Just sort of understanding what’s happening. So, I think the more we can promote a way for women to feel empowered and to feel safe, and to trust their bodies, the easier birth will become and hopefully, the more normal births there will be.
Brilliant. Well, thank you so much for all those insights that you’ve given us – it is really useful. And thank you very much for joining us today, Jess.
Thanks for joining us this week on What Do You Actually Do? This episode was hosted by myself Kate Morris, edited by Raquel Bartra, and produced by both of us. If you love this podcast, spread the word and subscribe. Are you eager to get more tips? Follow University of York Careers and Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All useful links are in this episode’s description.
This has been produced at the University of York Careers and Placements. For more information visit york.ac.uk/careers