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Real Life: A midwife's life in time of coronavirus

Giving birth is an emotional rollercoaster, never more so than now. Amanda Rowley, Head of Midwifery at Cambridge’s Rosie Hospital, tells Alice Ryan about life on the maternity unit in the midst of Covid-19

Inside the Rosie in time of corona (stock image) (35359442)
Inside the Rosie in time of corona (stock image) (35359442)

Walk into Cambridge’s Rosie Hospital and you’ll find a Who’s Who of headshots pinned to the wall. There’s a named photograph of every member of staff; the only way expectant mums can put a face to their midwife.

Thanks to strict Covid-19 protocols, the Rosie’s 250 midwives and 60 support workers have to wear full PPE - Personal Protective Equipment, which includes face masks - at all times while on duty.

“We’re actually looking at having photo stickers printed for the front of our uniforms,” says Amanda Rowley, the Rosie’s Head of Midwifery since 2018. “We’re supporting mums through one of the most emotional experiences of their lives. So to have that sense of personal connection is really important.”

Across its delivery unit and alongside birthing suite, plus at-home births, the Rosie sees more than 400 babies born every month. It’s a place where, even in tough times like these, there’s joy to be found every day.

“What we do, playing a part in this special moment in a family’s life, is a real privilege,” says Amanda, who says every happy, healthy baby born is a reminder that “this is such an amazing job”.

That’s not to say life in the time of coronavirus hasn’t posed challenges. “The early stages were the hardest, as we were learning new things about this virus every day and had to draw up guidelines to keep mums, babies and our staff safe,” says Amanda. “We were hoping for the best-case scenario and planning for the worst.

“In fact we’ve been very fortunate: we’ve seen only a very few Covid cases here at the Rosie. And because of the protocols we’ve been able to give those women the very best care.”

Amanda has worked for Cambridge University Hospitals for 30 years, completing her nurse training at Addenbrooke’s in 1992 before moving over to the Rosie as a student midwife. It was never her plan to stay put, “but every time I thought about leaving, another opportunity came up”. Amanda’s midwifery career has been notably diverse: before taking on her current role, she spent eight years as a midwife-sonographer, doing scans.

Amanda Rowley, Head of Midwifery at the Rosie (35359455)
Amanda Rowley, Head of Midwifery at the Rosie (35359455)

With three sons of her own - now aged 17, 19 and 21 - Amanda says she was lucky to have three low-risk pregnancies, all resulting in straightforward births. “I knew my midwife very well. In fact, she ended up becoming my sister-in-law! For me, I think that made a big difference,” she adds.

A new scheme which will see mums designated their own midwife, who will lead their care from the early days right through to delivery and beyond, is about to be rolled out in Cambridge: in line with the NHS Better Births directive, the eight-strong Emerald Team will start providing end-to-end care in July.

There’s no doubt, says Amanda, that coronavirus has increased stress for mums, both pre and post-birth. Although pregnant women are currently on the Government’s vulnerable list, meaning they should self-isolate strictly, she’s keen to point out that “there’s no evidence pregnant women are more likely to get Covid-19, or to suffer more significant symptoms”.

Mums are allowed to bring a single nominated birth partner into the Rosie, “because that’s of enormous importance”. But it’s hard for them not to have visits from the wider family, “so we’ve been taking little videos of the ultrasound scans for them to send to parents and grandparents, which has been lovely”.

Lockdown has meant that life for new parents has been lonelier than normal, without physical and practical support from friends and relations. “We tell mums to make as much use of today’s technology as they can: FaceTime really is the next best thing,” says Amanda, who also links new mums to virtual peer and support groups.

Though she recently stepped in to work a night shift, Amanda admits her management role means she’s not actually delivered a baby for a while. A big part of her job, more so now than ever, is keeping the team connected, informed and motivated. Replacing her normal team meeting, the weekly ‘Rosie Report’, with video updates circulated by email and a closed social media site has been a surprise success.

The team have, Amanda adds, pulled out all the stops to continue giving both mums and babies the best care and most positive experience possible. One member, Catherine Barlow, has just been awarded the prestigious Cavell Star for her service during the pandemic: adopting a crossover nursing and midwifery role, she’s done everything from critical care to teaching colleagues how to fit their PPE.

Amanda also credits the wider community with helping keep the team’s spirits up: children have drawn rainbows to decorate the Rosie’s walls, bakers have delivered cakes, makers have supplied PPE and, of course, everyone’s come together for the Thursday night #clapforourcarers.

“I’ve been at work and joined in the applause outside Addenbrooke’s a couple of times, which was pretty special. But the most emotional Thursday night was when I happened to be arriving home at 8pm. As I pulled onto the drive, all our neighbours were at the end of their drives clapping and cheering. . . To know we’ve got that support is just amazing; it’s the best possible morale boost.”

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