Midwives: Celebrating Our Unsung Heroes

I can vividly remember the expression on my wife's face when I told her that - due to a staff shortage - the local hospital couldn't send a midwife out to us for a home birth. It was an odd look: disappointment mixed with a contraction mixed with please-get-this-baby-out-of-me-right-now.

And so, 10 minutes later, we found ourselves in the delivery suite of Warwick Hospital with a midwife who has since gained legendary status within the Wakeling family. Knowing that we had planned for a home birth, she stayed with us throughout the entire labour - despite the lack of staff. She was cool, calm, and collected; and, for my part, she gave me things to do which helped me not to feel utterly helpless whilst my wife lay in pain.

May 5 is International Day of the Midwife, and with it comes an opportunity to celebrate those tireless souls who work long and often stressful hours, making sure that a mother and father's first experience of parenthood is as wonderful as possible.

They are the unsung heroes of the maternity ward, travelling from suite to suite to calm mothers in agony and fathers who don't know what to do. They are the ones we look to when we need help, encouragement, direction - and, in some instances, a bit of tough love.

Jo Gould has been a midwife for nearly 15 years; a career choice inspired by her own experiences when giving birth to her second child. She was studying architecture at the time, and after a traumatic first birth paid for an independent midwife to assist with her second.

"The difference she made was beyond measure," she says. "I suddenly understood what a critical role a midwife plays...I couldn't imagine a more important or fulfilling role. I ditched the architecture for midwifery!"

Listing decision making, good communication and research awareness amongst the skills required by any midwife, Jo adds one very important attribute: emotional intelligence.

"The ability to empathise with women and their partners/families and to see the process from their perspective is essential," she explains. "Midwives are more likely to focus on the emotional & psychological aspects of birth than doctors."

A good midwife can make all the difference, and often it's a simple act of kindness which sticks in a parent's memory. Sarah Petrie's midwife, John, chatted and laughed with her between contractions. After a traumatic birth which resulted in Sarah haemorrhaging, John stayed with her husband to reassure him and keep him updated.

Sarah was in hospital for five days, during which John visited several times. "John made me feel like he genuinely cared and was interested," she recalls. "Our second baby is due in a couple of weeks and I would be thrilled to have him there again!"

Sometimes, it's the little things which make a lasting impact. Amy Tilston was having a home birth, during which she felt incredibly uncomfortable. Her midwife, Ali, was on hand to help.

"Ali (along with my husband) would rub my back and my legs, using massage oil which was just amazing. She was so positive and reassuring the whole day, and while I wasn't experiencing a contraction we were able to chat about everyday events - and even watch some of the Wimbledon final which was on that day!"

Ali, like many midwives, also made a lasting impression by checking in on Amy and her baby boy in the days following his birth. "She came to see us at home. Again her positivity and over-whelming warmth were just what I needed, as I happened to be at my most hormonal that day!"

Other parents' memories echo those held by Amy and Sarah. For example, Leyla Brooke's midwife made a small gesture which meant a lot. "Instead of going home when her shift finished she stayed with me until I had given birth to my daughter. She treated me with respect and made me feel comfortable."

Karen Kelly had two midwives helping her during her home birth. "They got to know my husband and children and this made a huge difference on the day," she says. "They really trusted me and could read my body language. I trusted them and the atmosphere was completely calm."

Every parent wants to feel like their baby is the only one in the world being born at that particular moment; and midwives play an incredibly important part in making this happen. So let's hear it for midwives: male and female, young and old, experienced or student. A good midwife can help create memories that last a lifetime.