An estimated 54,000 babies are born, on average, in the UK in December – so while you’re desperately trying to get your kids to sleep before Santa arrives, or stuffing your face with turkey and sprouts, there’ll be wards of busy midwives tending to the women who are about to become mums. And yep, while you’re vegging out in front of the ‘Call the Midwife’ Christmas special, their real life counterparts are hard at work.
“It’s uniquely different,” says Amina Hatia of working the festive period for Tommy’s at a hospital in north west London. She has been a midwife for nine years. “It’s just the way you feel it, essentially. It’s a special time of year.”
At Christmas on a maternity ward, there are some things that never change. Amina’s night shift begins at 7.30pm with a handover at 8am. She’ll work 12 hours with a one-hour break (but that break rarely happens, she says). And she’ll birth about three babies during that shift. At 7.30am the next morning, she’ll prepare to hand over to the next midwife.
So in some respects, a Christmas shift is like any other – birth is birth and babies are babies. “But there is greater generosity and kindness because wherever you are, it’s the time of year people go that little bit extra,” she says.
Everyone in the ward is aware that they would like to be somewhere else. “But that makes it special,” she says. “Patients will reach out to us, even if it’s just saying Merry Christmas and it’s that interaction people don’t tend to usually have.”
“Patients will reach out to us, even if it’s just saying Merry Christmas ... that interaction we don’t tend to usually have."”
There’s also a sense of bonding between the staff on shift while others are at home with their families. These units are predominantly run by women and most midwives are of child-bearing age or have their own families, so the impact of Christmas is big in midwifery – “if you’re working, you really are in it together.”
Hatia’s team do what they can to give it that festive feel. The Salvation Army pays a visit on Christmas Eve every year and sings carols, reminding everyone it’s almost the big day. The team puts Christmas trees up, crackers are served with patients’ lunches, the ward is strewn with decorations and tinsel and, best of all, midwives wear their best garish festive earrings.
There’ll be carols on the radio and smiles exchanged when people lock eyes walking past one another. These little touches made in the moment make a huge amount of difference during this time, says Hatia, especially because you might not get a break when you need it.
On the ward, everyone brings in Christmas dinner (taking it in turns or all bringing in different parts of the feast) and midwives grab moments when they can get together to sit down, eat, and have a natter so they don’t feel like they’re missing out.
Holiday babies benefit from the festive touches, too. Babies born on Christmas Eve night or Christmas Day get little presents from the hospital – often a mini pair of mittens and a hat – to mark the occasion.
Are the mums happy to be there at Christmas? It varies. Parents fall into one of two camps: some are desperate to have a Christmas baby – “I see them antenatally and they hope their baby will be overdue so he or she will come on the 25th!” says Hatia – while others want the complete opposite.
The midwife recalls a woman whose due date fell between Christmas and New Year and desperately didn’t want to have a Christmas baby. “Despite going into labour on Christmas Day, she amusingly tried to convince herself it wasn’t happening,” says Hatia.
“It was funny, because when she came in she was fully dilated and ready to push. She came in begrudgingly with her husband to be checked out and had the baby a few hours after that! She was really happy, of course, to meet her baby, but also said it was literally the one day she didn’t want to give birth.”
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, she once delivered a baby on Christmas Day to a young woman who sobbed happy tears and said to her: “I now have a family at Christmas.” She was bursting with pride.
Christmas on a maternity ward, then, is new life with a little added sparkle. “Everyone gets excited about a Christmas baby,” Hatia adds. “There’s just something quite nice about that.”
If you’re heading for a Christmas baby, Hatia has some advice for you:
:: Make sure you’re prepared and have enough things you need, as many shops won’t be open
:: Dedicate someone to not drink if they’re going to drive you to the hospital
:: But also, don’t stress about it – “We are prepared and you are safe and you will be well looked after. Enjoy, it’s a special time of the year.”