I really wanted to be a midwife. As soon as I stumbled across the idea, I knew it ticked all the boxes for what I wanted to achieve and what skills I had. My plan was to complete my degree, and either work a few years as a midwife or go straight into a health visiting course.
The problem is that I am not good at hospitals. The NHS, at least from the perspective of someone who works on the ground as it were, is run as a tight ship with strict hierarchy, lots of policies and guidelines, and shifts that seem specially designed to make it almost impossible to live a normal life. Perhaps some people thrive in an environment like that. In fact I know they do – I met dozens of them on placement; women (mostly women, although some men) who breeze through a thirteen hour shift giving endless amounts of energy and care and achieving more than would seem possible without ever complaining, and then coming back in 10 hours later to do it all again.
I can’t be one of those people. Physically, I can’t cope with the lack of sleep, the hours spent running around and the fact that you’re lucky if you get a sandwich and five minutes to go to the loo during the entire shift. Mentally I was struggling too – I couldn’t quite find my niche in the ward environment, I didn’t understand the nuances of working as part of an interdisciplinary team and I could never quite get the documentation right. I was increasingly feeling like a total failure, and failing two placements in the same year just confirmed that feeling. The university decided I needed to take some time out to improve my mental health and signed me off for the entirety of the summer.
It felt like history repeating itself, to be honest. I really did not want to have any time off, not even a couple of weeks, because I thought that if I stopped for a moment everything would collapse. Perpetual motion and constant perseverance seemed like the only way I’d keep all the balls in the air. Once the option was removed, though, I was so relieved. I didn’t have to go into the hospital again for three and a half months. I could sleep when it was dark and get up in the morning and eat meals at normal times and have weekends, and no one would tell me that I needed to write more in the notes but be more concise, and take the initiative more and become more independent but remember that I’m just a student and not push myself forwards and speak up inappropriately.
I promised myself I’d wait a month before I made any kind of decision, but after a few days I knew I wasn’t going to go back to the course. I hadn’t realised quite how far from sane I had been feeling until the stress was lifted and I realised I felt so much better. Trying to fit into an environment which isn’t set up to accept deviation from the norm was grinding me down. It’s not that the NHS hospital structure is inherently bad, or that I am inherently incapable. I have lots of strengths and abilities, and the NHS achieves a great deal through its sheer size and volume of organisational layers. People complain about endless bureaucracy and inefficiency but you can’t run a service that serves 65 million people without a lot of paperwork and a lot of managers. But I was being crushed by the weight of being a very, very small, peculiarly-shaped cog in an enormously large machine that is precision-engineered and knocks the corners off wonky cogs without even pausing.
That’s a lot of metaphors. The upshot is that I have quit. Technically I haven’t actually quit yet – I am going to contact the university and do whatever I need to do to make it official, but I’m not quite ready to do that just now. Officially I’m on intermission for health reasons, and that would have been reviewed in September. I’ll tell them before that. I’ll probably tell them next month. The decision is made though.
What am I going to do instead? I’d have predicted that if I had failed my placement retake and been thrown off the course I would have fallen to pieces and been in financial disaster without my bursary. Fortunately, thanks to having started using YNAB to manage my money, and having some money in a savings account that I tried to forget existed so I couldn’t spend it, I’m not in that position. I’ve got time to make choices properly as long as I live frugally. Really, the choice wasn’t that difficult to make. I’m going to do something I’ve been doing for nearly a decade, something I enjoy and am good at, something that suits my lifestyle and is both flexible and secure.
So I’m going to be a full time nanny. I’ll carry on looking after the two boys I already pick up from school three times a week, and am negotiating with two families to arrange a part time nanny share which seems to be progressing quite promisingly. I’ve also got work as an audio typist, which I can do from home when I have a spare few hours, and as an occasional dog walker for a woman who provides doggy day care. I still can’t quite believe people will pay me to walk their dogs in the park!
I’m happy. Life feels more relaxed. Things will get busier in September when the new nannying job starts, but even then I will essentially only be working three days a week, with a few hours on the other two weekdays. A couple of years down the line I’ll hopefully find a job working for a children’s centre or charity, something where I will be able to support families and help new parents to adjust. That’s what I loved about midwifery, and there are other ways to do that. Better ways, for someone who has grown to really dislike working in a hospital! Right now though, I’m just looking forward to spending my time doing things that I love and being able to make my health and wellbeing a priority. No more night shifts! If nothing else, that is enough to make me jump for joy.