I think like many other people, I was partly expecting the March lockdown in response to the Global Pandemic, but paradoxically it was also a big shock.
Suddenly the things we have always taken for granted, like seeing friends and family, hugs and touch were forfeited for social distancing, facial coverings and masks and the rigours of lockdown.
In maternity services this meant that midwives, students and maternity support workers had to get used to being socially distanced and masked, speaking with their eyes and coping with reduced visiting and different rules for partners to be with women for antenatal visits, labour and birth and postnatal care. This was at the same time as the fear and worry of Covid-19 affecting ourselves or those we love.
A whole new vocabulary evolved – PPE (personal protective equipment) the R number (infection reproduction number), tiers and Zoom meetings! Some people were prevented from going to work, but many people including clinical midwives, managers, midwife lecturers and students felt just as busy – but in a different way!
The Maternity & Midwifery Hour was born out of a desire to provide continuing professional development (CPD) for midwives along with information and support in the context of the new reality of some midwives having to self-isolate or shield, while many others were working longer hours, at the same time as large gatherings were becoming impossible.
The first was held on a Friday, and then we settled on a Wednesday evening slot, inviting leading voices to share their experiences, views, research and development with a very special audience! You may not have seen the team keeping everything going smoothly – Kathrine Stewart in charge of the technical details, making sure the zoom and the recording went smoothly, Karen and Neil Stewart organising behind the scenes, and Paul Rushworth and Debra Murray making sure everyone knew the sessions were on and that the questions from the audience came through to me. The Forum Advisory Group have been fantastic in supporting the Hours, and so generous with their time.
Though it has been hard work, I have felt privileged to curate the hours, and chair the sessions, and it has been a delight to meet colleagues in a zoom setting, which feels somehow warm and intimate, and also to reach midwives all over the world. Speakers have been superb, and we have had sessions looking at ways of caring for ourselves, supporting each other; the impact of Covid-19 on student midwives and on education; a really interesting and scary discussion on Long Covid and the wonderful Dame Elizabeth Anionwu talking about her life and times.
There has been a focus on Covid-19 – there had to be – it is affecting all of us, in the work we do, and also for some, impacting our friends and family. But there have been discussions on a wide range of other topics such as addressing racism in education and midwifery practice; reverse mentoring, which addresses inequalities in a very real way; attention on reducing the use of plastics and waste management in the maternity service and haemoglobinopathies. So it has been a full and busy year!
Participants have been superb and have joined the discussion and debate wholeheartedly, and the combination has made the Maternity & Midwifery Hours a huge success.
The face to face conferences and Festivals have moved totally online, and we already have the January London Festival and the February All-Ireland Festival organised, with great speakers and topics. All online – all free to attend – and remember your free on demand box set if you attend (or if you can’t make it on the day!)
And now, as we face a Christmas time which has been impacted by Covid-19, and a new variant, most of us will not be having the festive period we had envisaged. We need to remember that it has been the same for other important festivals – Orthodox Easter, Eid, Diwali, Vaisakhi Hanukkah.
AND as midwives and student midwives, we are creative, flexible and dynamic, and together, we will all adjust to ensure that as well as caring for women and families, we can link with our loved ones. It might be through Facetime, Skype or Zoom, or on the telephone or through letters, but we will manage it.
Over this year, I have been so incredibly proud of the NHS and the Universities, the midwives and student midwives and others in the maternity care team who have already risen to the challenge, and have worked so hard and closely, to ensure that women, babies and families, and also students have been cared for and supported. The most important thing for us all, is to care for ourselves and each other, and to cherish the most important folk in our lives. I do wish everybody the very best as we leave what has been an incredibly difficult and challenging year and enter hopefully happier times with the vaccines taking effect.