Why midwives “talk shop”

My husband has been known to complain about this from time to time: get two or more midwives in a room together during any social occasion, and inevitably the conversation becomes nothing but “shop talk”—pregnancy, birth, babies, birth, rotten clinic hours, birth, national politics as pertaining to midwifery, birth, local midwifery jobs, birth, attendings we love and hate, birth, classes we’re taking, birth…you get the picture.  So much so that my husband sometimes tries to weasel out of midwifery gatherings for this very reason (although only sometimes; most of the time he is the staunchest supporter of all things midwife, and has expertly and enthusiastically educated countless dinner guests on midwifery and the midwifery model of care without me even having to open my mouth).

Why all the shop-talk, though?  I was wondering about this today.  I think it serves two purposes.  First, I truly believe that for the majority of midwives, this is a calling.  It’s not just a job, it’s not just something we “do”, it’s something we love, something we all think we were born to do, something which feeds our souls on a deep and primal level.  Midwives LOVE birth.  LOVE it!  I truly feel like I could happily talk about birth for 8-10 hours a day (and honestly, when you’re working a 12 hour shift, you pretty much *are* talking about birth that entire time, educating, teaching, explaining, encouraging, supporting, etc. etc.)  I remember reading an amazing quote once from some obstetrician back in the 1800s saying that if the energy and enthusiasm of women assistants at birth could somehow be harnessed,  the entire profession could be changed, because the passion and enthusiasm of these women was really something extraordinary.  (Does anyone know which quote I”m talking about?  I feel like it must be pretty famous.  And I also feel like he was referring to midwives, basically, without calling them such).  We talk about birth all the time because it’s truly one of our favorite topics, and every birth story is unique and exciting and worth sharing and hearing, so talking shop in this way is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

But I think it serves another purpose too.  When I was a new midwife, I would regularly gather with 4-5 other new midwives once a month for dinner and shop-talk.  This was partly inspired by our love of birth and all things midwifery, but it was also a support group—a way for us to voice our concerns and talk about different situations we had encountered as they came up.  I remember the weight of so much responsibility settling on my shoulders in those first few months.  Suddenly, with no preceptor in the room with me, I was the one calling the shots, responsible for ensuring that the life of both mother and baby were safe while trying to allow for the most natural birth possible to unfold.  It’s a huge weight, and took some getting used to, and those early new-midwife support group dinners were invaluable.  But we spent as much time talking about births that had gone wrong as we did talking about births that had gone right.

Today I had a catch-up phone call with midwife colleague who is also a relatively new midwife (3+ years of experience, similar to me….still seems relatively new in the grand scheme of things, if you ask me), and she shared with me the story of her first true shoulder dystocia which lasted for six whole minutes (an eternity, in shoulder dystocia time!).  She’s just started practicing as a homebirth midwife recently, and what she was describing is one of my biggest fears as a future homebirth midwife.  She took me through the entire delivery, blow by blow: what she did, what she did when that didn’t work, then what she did after that, Gaskin maneuver, woods screw, attempt to deliver the posterior arm, more woods screw etc. etc.  And then what the baby had looked like, progressing from pink faced to blue faced to grey and ashen faced, and then the scary but ultimately successful resuscitation afterwards.  I should say right now, for the record, that thankfully everything turned out fine, and the baby is doing very well, with good arm movement and no other evidence of damage.  And my colleague feels very proud of her skills, after the fact (as well she should–there is no emergency scarier or more challenging than a shoulder dystocia, and it sounds like she did an incredible job with this!)

Needless to say, she had my full attention throughout this story, and I’m so glad she shared it with me.  And this is the other, slightly darker but much more important side of shop-talk: the passing on of valuable information.  Every story we share, the scary ones and bad outcomes as well as the good outcomes, is the sharing of vital information among other birth professionals.  I have not yet experienced a six minute shoulder dystocia.  I hope that I never do, but if/ when I do, I will have my friend’s story filed away in my memory, full of examples of what worked, what didn’t work, and how she got out of that very tight corner.  And even though I might end up using different maneuvers or doing things differently, the more stories like hers that I hear and have tucked away somewhere in my brain, the more I’ll have to draw on when the time comes for me.  Shop-talk gives midwives much-needed tools which they can use.

And actually, I’ll add a third important aspect of shop-talk—when you’re the one with the scary story to tell, every time you re-tell the story, it eases some of the stress and trauma of the experience for you, and gives you a chance to evaluate what happened from a more objective standpoint.  So, in my opinion, shop-talk isn’t idle chatter by any means, but a very important and vital aspect of working in this field.  Which is why whenever there are more than two midwives in the room, it’s not just inevitable, but necessary!  Sorry, dear husband, but you’re just going to have to deal.

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