Midwifery can be a very lonely job.
Most people would never guess this truth, and you might never guess that this might be the case by merely viewing our lives and lifestyles from the outside….but that can only serve to make it lonelier.
I actually wrote a very long blog post related to the dichotomy of being in a very public profession as well as a very isolating profession and how it can affect the midwife, and yet I never published that blog post. I still have it, in fact I still read it occasionally, but I’ve never published that blog post for fear of it being misunderstood. The post explores the personal journey we take with our clients and how it can feel to the client and how it feels to me and I do think it’s a rather insightful post that I may yet still find an appropriate time to share it publicly, but not today.
Fairly recently I had one of my birth professional colleagues remark to me this challenge of having a public yet lonely life – thus the motivation to write this post.
On the outside:
Midwifery is an exciting career full of anticipation and babies! We are racing to this birth or helping this baby or solving that problem. Of all the things that midwifery can be called, it’s never been called boring. We gleefully meet with people every day, are surrounded by so many families (some new, some quite large), we get invited into their lives, spend a period of time being allowed to be a part of their most amazing journey, hold and snuggle their babies with them, celebrating birthing days and triumphs. We assist, we solve, we nurture, we love, we weep, we stress, we encourage….
On the inside:
And then, after this long journey….it’s over. We have spent week after week after week listening to the client, helping them, being a part of their lives, going to their home, helping their family. It’s not about the midwife (and it shouldn’t be!)…and while we attack this job with a passion and commitment that is difficult for some to understand, it can often leave us feeling alone. We are not the important person in the room, and after a few months or years it can start to feel like we aren’t important at all.
About a year and half ago I wrote my never-published blog post….after falling into a depression that surprised myself as well as my family. I tried being friends with some of my clients who expressed an interest in being my friend, only to feel like a disappointment. They wanted to be with the midwife who always put them and their lives first. They wanted to be with the person who always listened to their lives, always made it about them – just like we did in appointments. They didn’t seem to understand that there’s so much more underneath that we don’t share in appointments because it shouldn’t matter to the client. It hurts to have someone love you as a midwife, then become disappointed in the person behind the midwife because I am real and have faults and when it comes to relationships outside of my job, I need to matter. It’s not often that a person can comfortably make the shift from having the relationship be 100% about them….to the relationship suddenly being 50/50. They want the midwife appointments back, and instead they get a lunch date with Stephanie.
So my journey consists of months of listening to the inner lives of my clients, hearing them vent in our safe space of my office about their husbands, children, lack of sleep, stress at work, anxiety over having another baby, ups and downs of breastfeeding…hours scattered over months, hours condensed down into one night as we watch her birth her baby, 2am phone calls because baby won’t latch, 3am visits to their home to help that baby latch, text messages and phone calls – and then it’s over. And I am alone. I have hundreds of people around me, very few who actually know me.
And so – I feel lonely. Sometimes people new to this profession wonder why they have depression or wonder why they feel lonely – wondering how they can be lonely when they know so many people. It’s because nobody knows US. We give…and give…and give….and actively work hard not to take. We pour from our soul into theirs, listening, giving, nurturing….the energy goes from us to the client as it should. But if we aren’t careful, we find ourselves feeling drained, tired, and lonely. We wonder why we have so many people in our lives and yet feel so alone.
That’s never more evident than when something big happens in our personal lives. I’ve had big things happen….I pick up the phone to call someone and realize that there are MAYBE 3 people I could call. I have HUNDREDS of phone numbers in my phone, and only 2-3 people who wouldn’t find it weird to have me call to tell them that my daughter broke her arm or that my son just got an award. There are only 2-3 people I could call to share about personal events at all….and I feel lonely again.
It’s getting worse as the years fall behind me, not better….once upon a time I might have been able to convert some of those relationships to friendship, but now the age difference is becoming so that they it’s becoming less and less possible. I am no longer a young woman having babies like my clients are…I am a 44 year old woman who is done having babies and is now in the waiting-for-grandkids phase of life. My clients are becoming a different generation to me, we now have even less in common.
So I continue to serve, to give, to make it about them….I do my best to be the BEST midwife they could possibly have and for this journey to always be only about them. I understand that I am not their friend, that is not my role in their life. I understand that forever I will be seen as “This is Stephanie, my midwife…” and I’m okay with that. I’m not your friend, you are not my friend…and that’s okay. My life became much less lonely when I realized and accepted this fact as truth. I am not your friend, I am your midwife. You probably don’t have any desire to be my friend, any more than you want to be friends with your mechanic or your waitress, and that’s okay. I don’t expect you to care about my life – I am your midwife, not your friend.
So my advice to new midwives and students would be this: Don’t give up your personal life for this job. Work hard at it. Maintain your true friendships – call your girlfriends, go out to lunch on a regular basis, remember to date your husband, dedicate yourself to keeping your hobbies and personal interests in your life. Don’t give it all away because this job has made you used to giving yourself away….it’s a lifestyle but at the end of your life it is still ‘just a job’. You matter, and not just as a midwife but as a person. Don’t forget that.