Recently I cared for a lady who had extreme emetophobia. The midwife handing over to me explained she was really scared of being sick. I looked at her, held her hand and explained I completely understood how she felt. Sometimes this is a white lie we tell our ladies to reassure them, but in this case I really did understand how she felt.
Every contraction she looked at me absolutely terrified. Not because of the pain, but because the contraction itself was making her feel sick. She asked me for an epidural, I got an anti emetic (anti sickness) injection and epidural for her as soon as I could. Sadly by the end of my shift I had just confirmed her cervix was fully dilated. I didn’t get to meet her baby, but I left knowing I had made a huge difference to her birth experience. I showed her my blog about emetophobia and her eyes lit up, knowing she wasn’t alone.
This blog is not about caring for women with emetophobia though. This is about my journey into becoming a midwife and how my phobia affected that journey.
In 2003, I worked full time in a call centre setting up mortgages for people. I wanted more than that, my boyfriend had joined the military and was loving it. One lunchtime I filled in an online survey into what jobs would suit my personality. It suggested teaching, nursing and midwifery. I remember the light bulb moment so vividly, where I was sitting, and thinking “why have I never thought about midwifery?” From then on I spent every spare minute researching how to become a midwife. This is what I was going to do!!
It wasn’t a quick or easy journey. I ended up going back to college full time for a year, applying for jobs as care assistants. Going to 2 university interviews to get declined from one and put on the reserve list of the other. I was gutted. However, not too long after this disappointment, I received a call offering me a place. Not at my local hospital or university, but it was a place and I took it straight away.
I had 6 months before I started my midwifery. It gave me plenty of time to get nervous about starting the course. I joined a student midwives sanctuary forum and spent a huge amount of time reading about all the experiences which would soon be facing me. I was excited, but guess what, nobody had mentioned sick yet!! Of all the things I could be scared about in this massively responsible job where I was going to be caring for 2 peoples lives. I was petrified of facing somebody being sick!! The messages on the forum talked about this emergency and that emergency, the smell of birth, the amount of poo women can produce giving birth. I absorbed all of this amazing information that would soon be my reality, but still nobody mentioned how awful sick was!!
In January 2005 I became a student midwife, I faced the normal anxiety of getting on a bus for 2 hours (what if I’m sick?) to meet all these new people (what if I’m sick?) It was amazing though. My cohort of student midwives included a whole 14 of us and we were all there for the same reason, we wanted to be midwives!!
We shared our time between academic sessions at university and placement sessions at the hospital and in community. Placement started, the majority of my first term was in community, I felt comfortable with this setting immediately. I also had one week on delivery suite which equally terrified me and thrilled me. When I set foot onto delivery suite, I was expecting noise and to see action in every direction I looked, but, no, it was calm, quiet and positive. What happens behind those individual doors is for that person and midwife to know about. So I was scared about going behind one of those doors and finding out what did happen. It was a surprise, some women screamed, some women smiled, some women were quiet and some women slept.
One thing I soon learned about women in labour, is that sometimes they need to evacuate!! By evacuate I mean they get rid of whatever is in their body. Not many years ago, women were given enemas to help this process, but these days, women do it by themselves. This tends to mean they have loose stools or they are sick. I can’t remember the first vomit bowl I took to the sluice, but I soon learned to quickly gauge how much was in there (fluid balance) and to chuck it into the masher. As tipping it in was not a good idea and looking too hard made me gag!!
I remember one lady and which room she was in, vomitted her way through the pushing process. Her abdominal muscles working so hard, pushed her baby out with little forced effort.
It no longer terrified me. I couldn’t be infected by their vomit, I wasn’t going to physically catch their germs, as there were no germs. It was their bodies doing what they needed to do. My only job was to make sure I had a vomit bowl close enough so nothing else got covered which I would have to clear up. They are the tough times when I have to clear vomit up and try not to gag myself. I hold my breath, I suck my polos.
Not only did I have to face vomit, but I soon learned being responsible for a woman giving birth can be pretty scary. It is unusual if I don’t have at least 1 shot of adrenaline pumped through my body per shift, from either helping a woman birth her baby or from the emergencies which can go alongside it. I learned to embrace the feeling, and many of my colleagues have commented on my calm personality, even if inside it doesn’t feel so calm.
In this picture I have just helped bring somebody very important to me into the world. His Mum a special friend of mine apologised after she read my first blog about being sick during her labour. I can honestly say I can’t remember that moment. What I remember is how long he was, and us chuckling about me saying “keep pushing” he seemed to go on forever, and looking across at them all, feeling so privileged to have been a part of it.
Midwifery has massively helped my phobia. The things which get to me at work now is when my colleagues are suddenly ill or there is norovirus in the hospital. They are the things I can get infected with, but this is part of everyday life. When norovirus is about, it’s not just in the hospital, it’s everywhere, it just makes me wash my hands, eat less and suck polos more than normal.