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May 11, 2015

A taste of independence

The first independent midwife I ever came into contact with was the lovely Annabel Bryant, we began chatting in early 2014 through a Facebook page and she sent me messages of support during my application process for university and my big move to London in 2014, not even always about midwifery, but always so supportive and genuinely caring. Fast forward a year later, 7 months into my course when I’d hit a bit of a rocky patch, I had that same lovely support and kindness from her and it was at this stage I thought how wonderful it would be to learn from her and to get a little taste of independence. I remember reading her blog on IMUK and thinking that I felt that her words and philosophy spoke so deeply to the midwife I want to become, it was almost like reading my own thoughts, just slightly more concisely then my overloaded 1st year student midwife brain could muster. So I contacted Annabel to ask if I could spend some time with her during my Easter break to help lift my spirits and she very kindly arranged this for me.

I know Annabel, along with the rest of the independent midwives, receive countless emails daily from people requesting work experience, so I am very lucky indeed. I completely acknowledge the fact that it’s a big step to introduce someone new into the special intimate relationships that are built between a woman and her independent midwife, but she welcomed me, very much with open arms, because I think she knew it’s what I needed.

We had a busy day, I was up at 6am and home at 10.30pm but it didn’t feel like work, apart from climbing 9 flights of stairs at the start of the day as I missed that there was a lift up to where Annabel lives. I don’t think she was quite expecting to open the door to a wheezing, out of breath, red faced mess of a person I’d become during those 9 flights of stairs, especially as she’d actually directed me to where the lift was, which I totally missed. My Gran has always said to me that Midwives are the angels of life and in that very moment, I’m pretty certain I saw the twinkle of a halo over her head as she handed me a cup of coffee, a croissant and a seat to let me find that breath I seemed to have left on the stairs. I must put ‘start jogging again’ on my list of revision procrastination possibilities… at the bottom… after the obvious more important things, like mastering the art of fort building and learning how to bake every cake Mary Berry has a recipe for… I digress!

“What I witnessed was very much about putting the woman in complete control and keeping her there and allowing her to make all the decisions about her body and her birth without bias or judgement”

Michala Marling

Once my heart rate was back to an acceptable level we set out to our day of appointments, transported in what I can only describe as a portable midwifery sleigh filled with goodies, kind of like Santa’s sleigh except this one was much more awesome as it had a satnav instead of Rudolph and was driven by Annabel. It was filled to the brim with every delightful thing a midwife on the go could possibly need, from educational books and leaflets to the birthing pool and equipment to go with it. I don’t think we had a moments silence in that car, or at any point in the day in fact, as there was just so much to talk about and so much I wanted to learn from the oracle of knowledge sat next to me.


I spent the day chatting to the lovely ladies (thank you to any of you reading this) who were kind enough to welcome me into their homes and I soaked up everything Annabel was teaching, whilst also learning from the women. Watching Annabel interact with her clients was inspiring; she is so down to earth and reassuring and her clients hang on her every word, as did I. Throughout the day she battled through all sorts of worries and anxieties with total ease, whether that be breastfeeding difficulties, problems with a constantly hard uterus or the fear of pregnancy being treated as if it were a pathological illness. The day was spent settling nerves, discussing detailed birth plans, providing reassurance with evidence based information and giving solutions and suggestions to help overcome any hurdles, amongst many many other things.

“What we want from our job is for women to feel empowered, in control, and able to make the best decisions for them so that every experience is positive and they can form a close and loving attachment with their babies.”

Annabel Bryant

She spent the day clearing the minds of the expectant mums giving them a solidly positive foundation for the birth, so that the whole pregnancy experience is positive. This didn’t stop at the women we met but also the women who were texting, calling and emailing her throughout the day and beyond when I went home. In between appointments Annabel was following up on referrals and advice she had previously given to make sure every one of her clients had everything they needed and were happy and confident, because as was very evident, the relationship with her clients isn’t confined to the appointments, she’s there for the long haul.

“It is really much more than a job, it is who we are.”

Annabel Bryant

I watched on as she tailored her care based on individual circumstances and needs whilst making sure each and every decision from each and every client was one that was well informed, making sure they were the ones in full control every step of the way, which is so important at a time when a woman can feel at her most vulnerable. I also noticed how she never forgot about looking after Dad, giving help and advice for them to help build their confidence and make sure they were very much involved.

I learnt a lot more about keeping pregnancy and birth a physiological and spiritual journey, as opposed to the pathological event we see it being portrayed as on our TV screens that so many women are frightened by. I watch programmes on TV and see birth portrayed as a pathological illness giving the impression that it is about medicalisation, clock watching and placing women on their backs leading to a conveyor belt of interventions, which couldn’t be further from the reality of physiological birth or midwifery led care.

The clients we saw were advised on all sorts of evidence-based techniques, classes or even alternative therapies that can be introduced to help those who made the decision that they didn’t want any part of their pregnancy or birth medicalised, from fighting off Group B Strep+, learning how to remain calm and positive about birth or coping mechanisms during labour. One of the lovely ladies was telling us about the rather amazing sounding hypnobirthing class that Annabel had recommended that I’d quite like to go to myself, but alas, I’m not pregnant! Through talking to the clients on the day I heard and saw the benefits of information and referrals that had been given by Annabel and also some which the women had found themselves. It really emphasised how important it is for me, even as a student midwife, to keep up to date with new and current research to help advise women in a balanced manner. Annabel taught me the epitome of informed choice by demonstrating how to give women the information from different view points to help them properly weigh up all the pro’s and con’s in an unhurried environment. She discussed looking at different sides to evidence without bias, leaving that information with them to digest it and coming back to them at a later date for a decision, knowing that that decision they have made is completely the right one for them and subsequently respecting those decisions, whatever they may be. What I witnessed was very much about putting the woman in complete control and keeping her there and allowing her to make all the decisions about her body and her birth without bias or judgement.

What draws me to Independent Midwifery is the connection that is built through continuity of care and the time that is able to be given to the women and their families, time in the comfort of their own homes totally relaxed and unhurried, with the frequency and length of each visit being based on a client’s individual needs and wishes, and beyond this, a friendly voice at the end of the phone 24/7. The combination of all of these things enables the opportunity to build a really special and lasting bond, enabling women and their families to talk openly to someone they know and trust, someone that knows them, their background and their wishes. It’s hardly surprising how many of the clients get recommended through word of mouth or return in their next pregnancy as this special connection was so evident throughout the day, not just from clients we saw that day that were turning to Annabel for guidance at their most vulnerable time, but also from the contact from previous clients who turned to Annabel for support well beyond the birth and postnatal period. The beautiful bonds that are built clearly remain with Annabel and the families long after the baby is born and this really is a testament not just to the type of midwife Annabel is, but to the compassion and care that is so clearly engrained in her and many other midwives out there.

The picture above is of me with the lovely Anne, whose booking appointment we did at the end of my day with Annabel. We both came to the conclusion that we are both very lucky indeed to have such wonderful support from Annabel, as a midwife to Anne and for me as an inspiration and someone to aspire to. I saw repeatedly how she instilled confidence and self-belief in her clients and this was actually the same effect the day with her had on me as a student midwife.

I know from the feeling in my heart at the end of the day as I stepped onto the train home, that midwifery is where I belong; it was partly a feeling of sadness that the day was over but also an overwhelming surge of appreciation for the position I’m in. As I went off home reflecting over the day, Annabel went home to continue her work well into the night and probably well past when I got home at 10.30pm, following up with emails to the clients she had seen or spoken to during the day with anything she had told them she would do, such as chasing up blood results, sending birth plan templates or looking for evidence based research on vaccines in pregnancy.

I finished the day feeling like I had got back to that excited positive student that I started at, she renewed my midwifery energy and made me feel so sure that I’m heading in the direction that is definitively meant for me. Midwifery truly speaks to my soul and connects with me in a way I could never imagine was possible from a career.

Watching the wonderful Annabel was very much an uplifting experience for me and reminded me just how lucky I am to be training in what is by far the most privileged career out there, along with some of the most inspirational midwives and families! I am so incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

Michala Marling is a first year student midwife and member of IMUK. All of our members accommodate work experience wherever they can but out of necessity we do prioritise student members so join us here!

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The first independent midwife I ever came into contact with was the lovely Annabel Bryant, we began chatting in early 2014 through a Facebook page and she sent me messages of support during my application process for university and my big move to London in 2014, not even always about midwifery, but always so supportive […]

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