When I was training to be a midwife, I trained with a variety of fabulous women: school leavers, grandmothers and mothers of children.
We all came to midwifery for a variety of reasons but all bought a different perspective to profession.
“I didn’t really think that whether I had children, or not would be an issue for the women that I cared for, until one day a woman on my caseload, said ‘ I don’t want you to be my midwife, how would you know what it feels like to give birth”.
At the time I was a bit taken aback. I explained that I had completed a degree, had experience throughout my training and if she had experienced a heart attack, would she expect the nurse to have experienced a heart attack to offer her care? (Funnily enough, I recently spoke to a cardiac nurse who said it is a common question from those that she is caring for as to whether she has ever had a heart attack!)
So this made me think; does lived experience mean a different level of care, a deeper professional relationship or common ground that results in a different outcome for those that we care for?
Roll on 7 years and I had my daughter. I realise that I am potentially going to be biased to my own experience, but overall I think experiencing pregnancy and childbirth has resulted in me having more empathy, a little more understanding (especially to the transition to being a new mother), more awareness of the potential difficulties with breastfeeding and how postnatal depression is something that needs further discussion.
I don’t know what it is like to have an instrumental birth, a caesarean section or a baby that ‘feeds like a dream’.
We are all going to be shaped by our own experience, but I also realise the importance of not sharing my experience (unless asked) as every woman is writing their own version of their story, which will have a different ending to mine.
As a midwife that likes to build relationships quickly (and this is often done by finding common ground) this has been difficult!
Although I may have a different understanding now than I did before my own pregnancy and birth, I still stand by my initial thought that you do not need to live that experience to give care – in fact sometimes having your own experience can make you (unknowingly) biased.
Even if someone has the exact same experience as me, they will process that experience in a different way.