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Midwife Naomi O'Donovan, from Bantry, who lives in Shanakiel
Midwife Naomi O'Donovan, from Bantry, who lives in Shanakiel

Life as a midwife... why I’m going on strike

I AM a nurse and a midwife and have worked in Cork University Maternity Hospital for over five years.

I have worked in almost every area of the hospital and am based in the birthing suite now. I really love being a midwife, it is an honour to be with women and their families during such a special time.

As midwives, we love supporting normal birth but we also care for women with complex pregnancies and various serious medical conditions. I could be filling the pool in the morning or assisting emergencies in the theatre. Whether you work in the outpatients’ department or the ‘Floors’, you are kept going all day.

We all work as a team and depend on each other. We high five when we attend a beautiful birth and we console our colleagues when we have a hard day, like dealing with major emergencies or pregnancy loss. We are very close, it’s like having another family.

However we miss our own families a lot as we work 24/7. At Christmas, people missed meals and the opening of gifts to keep the service going. Last year I missed my niece’s christening because I couldn’t swap out of my work shift.

Our job is physical and emotional, we work 12-13 hours on our feet, missing meals and toilet breaks. If I leave work after looking after a woman in labour, I think about her when I am at home. It’s difficult to switch off from the responsibility of caring for women in labour. It’s unpredictable. I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I dream about work regularly — usually major emergencies or about delivering my own baby alone and needing help but there’s nobody there. It can be difficult to sleep.

Night duty means we get up in the dark and go to bed in the dark too. I can usually hold it together at work and put on a smile but when my partner picks me up at work I burst into tears as I close the car door. Often I can’t even talk about it but I have to bring those tears home because my work family is just as weary. This takes a huge toll on my relationship and my home life.

If I know I’m going into night duty I feel so down in the dumps, it’s not like the real me at all. My boyfriend brings me a cup of tea in bed in the evening. Sometimes I just cry when I wake up because I am so tired. But I hop in the shower and try to paste a smile on my face for mums and families.

I am one of the lucky ones at work, I don’t have a long commute or young children or sick family members to be worrying about. I worry about them driving home after night duty. We are short staffed every day and have lost a lot of senior midwives to retirement or relocation, so our skill-mix is affected which adds to the stress.

We are counting the days till the next group of student graduate and our staffing levels ‘improve’. It’s only a temporary fix. No sooner are we welcoming new graduates than we are doing a collection for them because they are emigrating. We don’t blame them, travel is great but conditions and pay are so much better abroad, there is very little incentive to return.

 "If I leave work after looking after a woman in labour, I think about her when I am at home. It’s difficult to switch off from the responsibility of caring for women in labour."

"If I leave work after looking after a woman in labour, I think about her when I am at home. It’s difficult to switch off from the responsibility of caring for women in labour."

We don’t feel safe and we all worry about losing our registration and our livelihoods.

I’m qualified ten years and even with an extra allowance for my midwifery registration I’m not on much more pay that when I was a student nurse in the Mercy Hospital in 2007. Night duty and weekend pay doesn’t make a difference because we just get taxed more. Once, I worked an extra four hours doing overtime in a gynae clinic. I came out with €20 less the next pay cheque. FEMPI legislation meant we had pay cuts, increased taxes, longer working hours and worsening conditions at work.

It’s gone on for long enough. I’m not looking for a pay increase but pay restoration. I just want to be treated the same as other public sector workers, particularly other allied health professionals.

I recently ended up in an emergency department feeling very sick and in a lot of pain. The staff were excellent. I spent only one night miserable a trolley. I heard all the goings on, there was no privacy for parents of sick children or young people admitted with serious self harm. The staff rushed off their feet but were so kind to me, I will never forget it. It’s an inhumane system of ‘Care’ and the staff suffer as much as the patients. The way things are going, I wonder who will be left to look after any of us.

This week, I am going on strike because I’m tired of not being able to do my job to the best of my ability because of the staffing levels and workload. I’m sick of watching fantastic young colleagues emigrate because they are so valued in other countries. I’m a professional. I am skilled, experienced and highly educated as are all my colleagues around the country. If the Government want our skills and expertise they are going to have to pay for it.