Regulations regarding uniforms have been tightened up at work. We can wear nothing below our elbows apart from our wedding rings. Our bright, comfy crocs have been replaced with black leather shoes, Visible tattoos are frowned upon. and we can only have one earring per ear. We are being encouraged to adopt a corporate image and look like nurses. There’s nothing wrong with being a nurse, you understand. I was a Registered General Nurse before I became a Registered Midwife. I started nursing in 1986. This photo was taken in my very first week. I wore a paper hat and a starched linen apron. My blue cotton dress had detachable metal buttons that needed removing each time we washed our dresses, and we had paper collars attached to our dresses with collar studs. It took an hour to get dressed in the mornings when we started and our first lecture was about how to wear that uniform. We were proud of our uniforms and the sense of identity it gave. Thirty years later it is hard to feel enthused about striped tunics and navy trousers.
If you have midwife friends on Facebook the posted images of rings and nail varnish can mean only one thing. Annual Leave. I’ve never had gel nails, and my nails don’t grow long enough to warrant a professional manicure.
But I wear the uniform. I have black shoes. I wear my name badge and ID badge. I stick to the rules. But there is something in midwives which doesn’t want to conform. We tell women that they are strong, special and unique, but coming with this mindset we find it hard to be pressed into identical moulds. I miss wearing my own clothes as a community midwife, and I miss wearing my engagement and eternity rings every day. I liked wearing sky blue crocs but I miss wearing my glass and silver heart necklace the most.
My husband gave me my heart necklace for an anniversary. It is warm against my skin, and smooth and I enjoy running my fingers over it. There is a line of silver running across it, as if it has been broken and repaired. As midwives our hearts do break over the things we see and share with women. And sometimes it takes time for us to mend. Midwifery is difficult and tiring and full of risk. A midwife makes herself vulnerable every time she delivers a baby because sometimes something happens that will send that midwife home in tears, worrying about the decisions she made, and wondering if she could have done anything differently. It takes time to mend, but we do heal. My glass heart reminds me that we, and the woman we care for, can recover.