Reflecting on Covid, working as a midwife, and Lipoedema

NHS Stars Series

‘Having had my second leg operation, I continue to wear full leg compression underneath my scrubs’

Last year consisted of a lot of change for me. I graduated from Brighton University with a degree in Midwifery, I was single for the first time in five years, and I was adjusting to my ‘new legs’ following two liposuction operations for my Lipoedema.

Just three weeks after my surgery, I flew the nest and moved to Cambridge to work at The Rosie Hospital as a newly qualified midwife. New legs, new city, new housemates, new job, new hospital, new colleagues, new guidelines, new everything! This was one big move. For me – and am aware this may be relatable for some of you reading this – ‘change’ is a trigger for emotional eating. I’m not certain if it was this which encouraged my upper body to alter its shape after my leg surgeries or if it was my body’s way of adjusting, but it made me very self-conscious again.

However, at around that time it was hard to focus on anything but Covid-19.

I was living alone in Cambridge far from family and friends and working as an NHS midwife, with Lipoedema, during the global pandemic. In such a challenging time, it can be hard to be positive. Something I learnt to do every day is to think of three things I am grateful for. Today, I am grateful for:

* Advanced technology that allows us to see our loved ones even if it is on a screen
* I am grateful for my family and friends’ health
* I am grateful for this beautiful weather bringing some sunshine and light into our lives at a time is it most needed

Doing this every day helped me so much. You don’t need to write it down; thoughts are powerful enough on their own sometimes.

My life is dedicated to working as a midwife. During Covid, I continued to work my normal hours, days and nights just as I did before. However, the change that took place at work was overwhelming. The word ‘midwife’ means ‘being with woman’. We always try to keep everything as normal as we possibly can, because childbirth is a life event that many women choose to embrace. When things deviate from normal, we obviously escalate care but remain clinically and emotionally connected with the women in our care.

One hard change with Covid was that we had to learn to adapt to wearing PPE. All that women could see were our eyes, which made it difficult for us to connect with them on an emotional level. This was at a time when I believe women needed midwives emotionally more than ever before. Women were coming to the labour ward to labour alone until the midwife confirmed they were in ‘established labour’, at which point their birth partner could be present. This meant they experienced many contractions alone, when the midwife could have provided a friendly face and a hand to hold.

Once the baby had been born, the birth partner had to leave the ward two hours later, and could only return when both mum and baby were well. This could be in six hours’ time or six days. Women are so strong, but it was a lot to deal with, with the adaption of hormones to stimulate milk production and a crying baby that might not settle in a cot or with a cuddle. I have always felt it’s important to empower women to make them feel good enough and that they can do it, and during Covid I had to say that behind a mask and goggles. I am grateful for the women’s patience and how amazingly they adapted their mind and focus around the fact that their partner wasn’t there. Women are truly incredible human beings.

Having had my second leg operation in September last year, I continue to wear full leg compression and compression socks for my lower legs underneath my scrubs – it gets hotter than hot to say the least. However, as someone who has Lipoedema, I am so grateful to just have legs that work. Yes, they swell, and yes, they ache when I stand on them for too long – but they help me cycle to work, they help me stand strong beside women when they need me, they ensure I can pace the wards to get the right equipment and help when needed. I can only be appreciative of my legs and thank them for keeping me standing, moving and able to do my job. Whatever body image issues and thoughts I had were pushed into perspective during Covid, as I recognised what really is important – protecting women’s physical health and looking after my mental and emotional health.

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