Guest Post - The Dyspraxic Midwife @HermioneMidwife
I was inspired to write this blog after reading the blogs of DyspraxicCopper and DyspraxicDoctor.
My journey to midwifery I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia aged 7. I was given a computer for my lessons and exams and left school with very good grades.
I chose a 'practical' career in nursing, little did I realise how academic nursing degrees really were. I was relieved to be offered an assessment at university to review my dyslexia and what support I would need. It was in this assessment (now 18 years old) that dyspraxia was mentioned. A few short tests later, and a review of my childhood, and the educational psychologist was convinced that I was also dyspraxic.
I coped well through my degree thanks to the use of my computer but was shocked at how difficult I found nursing when I had to rely on my handwritten notes as well as juggling complex information about 8-12 patients per shift. This was more multitasking than my brain could handle.
I had never considered myself academic but ambitiously took on a second degree to study midwifery. I think I noticed my dyspraxia more as a midwife than ever before in my life.
I’ve got to catch babies? I’m scared to even hold one!
On my first placement I realised I had never held a newborn baby before, they seemed so tiny and delicate and I was clumsy and awkward. My mentor was so understanding and supported me to hold every single baby we met. She challenged me to overcome my fears and clumsiness by increasingly doing more, from underdressing the babies to weighing and re-dressing them.
Within a few weeks I was confident and proud of myself. I hadn't considered something so simple as holding a baby would be so difficult. I really appreciated the mothers who took the time to allow me to awkwardly undress their babies while the baby cried and everyone in the room knew it would all be over so much quicker if someone just took the baby off me. I still can't get over how many awkward poppers there are in a baby grow (I have recently discovered baby grows with zips and will be only buying this type for my children).
Finding my niche
I qualified and rotated around the different departments within the first year as all newly qualified midwives do. I quickly realised that community midwifery was where my heart lay. There were many reasons for this, but on reflection my dyslexia and dyspraxia definitely influenced my decision.
The community allowed me work at my own pace, spending as much or as little time with each family as was needed to meet their needs but also to complete my own documentation. I was not forced to juggle the history of multiple clients simultaneously and could put all my focus on the family in front of me. I found that whilst with the family I would always write my notes as I went, explaining each time that if I didn't write down straight away what they were telling me I might miss something important. This actually seemed to improve my relationship with each family as they could see that I valued everything they were saying and wanted to ensure that everything was clearly documented.
I am now well into my career as a midwife and unsurprisingly to myself I have taken on the role of IT Specialist Midwife. This stems from years of relying on computers to make my life easier. Whereas most of my colleagues seemed scared and overwhelmed by the technology I found it a relief. I was so grateful for a spellcheck, typed words instead of my handwriting and the prompts built within the system to ensure that I didn't forget to document anything.
I do also find in this role that my experience of having learning difficulties helps me to teach. I know how hard it is for me to learn a new task and retain that knowledge. I am repetitive and rely on building patterns in my mind and using order and structure to my practice. I am aware that not everyone learns in the same way, so I teach the same task in multiple ways. I wish more of my lessons had been practical and related to my day-to-day job, so I have changed how I teach the technology so that it is visual, practical and relates to their job.
My role as an IT Specialist Midwife does come with challenges that I hadn't anticipated. I am expected to juggle many different projects simultaneously. This is a nightmare for my dyspraxic mind. I struggle to move between these and remember all the different components.
I have trialled many different techniques to ensure that I don't forget what I am doing, but I would say that 15 months in, I am still working to find the perfect solution. I am more aware than ever of how tiredness and exhaustion affect my work. I have to be very conscious to get sufficient sleep and not overload my weekends with too many exciting things when I know I also have a very busy week. Sometimes I am so exhausted by the weekend I can sleep for 12 hours on a Friday night very easily.
Worries for the future - how will I cope with a baby of my own?
I increasingly worry about having children of my own. I know from the women I have cared for how utterly exhausting having a child is and how you need to have fantastic multitasking skills. Even the most accomplished people tell me how having a child was the hardest thing they have ever done. How might I manage with my dyspraxia?
My biggest concern is around sleep – like many dyspraxic people I find that if I haven't had a good night’s sleep I usually notice my symptoms are much worse. In particular: spatial awareness, language skills and memory.
I also have some concerns with the practical tasks – folding a pram, fitting a car seat, even holding and dressing the baby still raises some concerns. For most people these tasks are simple and every day. For me I know I will need to practice over and over again and will still increasingly struggle with the lack of sleep.
Finally multitasking and memory – I struggle to get myself out of the house on time every day and remember basic things like my keys, my purse, my glasses and my phone (I currently forget at least one of these most weeks). The idea of having to not only look after myself, which I can barely manage, but also a baby who will grow into a child with their own timetable which I will be responsible for remembering to take them to, is an incredibly daunting prospect.
So in preparation, these are my top tips from observing and advising other parents, and how I plan to cope with my own baby.
Tips for parents with dyspraxia
1. Self care
Your own wellbeing is incredibly important – looking after yourself will allow you to look after your baby. This is true for any mother, but more so for us.
If you are tired, exhausted, malnourished and stressed, all of your symptoms are likely to be worse and a cascade of chaos will follow. Taking time out for yourself must be a priority. Especially sleep!
2. Limit visitors
Visitors – these can both be a benefit and a massive burden. To any new mother I would always advise limiting unhelpful visitors.
The only visitors you want are those that will change your baby's nappy, cook you dinner and do the washing up. Any visitor who wants to cuddle your baby, be served tea and take photos is not welcome! Having visitors can be exhausting not only for your precious time, which you could spend napping, but also as a new mum learning the basics of holding a baby and changing a nappy having 'helpful' visitors standing over you offering suggestions on how you could do it better can be very demoralising.
With the many new tasks you will suddenly have to simultaneously master you will not pick these all up quickly and you do not want anyone in your house who might judge how cackhandedly you put on a nappy.
3. Sleep whenever you can
Napping – all new mums are advised to sleep when your baby sleeps. I know that for my dyspraxia that sleep is one of the most important things. Achieving 8 hours sleep with a baby can be difficult. Babies naturally want to be awake at night and sleep in the day. If sleep is important for your symptoms I would recommend adopting this lifestyle. Day time naps can significantly help you cope during the day. This relates again to those pesky visitors I warned you against. Although no doubt you’ll be desperate to show off your beautiful new baby, you may find that entertaining visitors day after day completely absolves any opportunity to nap. Even if you only get 40 minutes lying awake with your eyes closed you will find that you do feel a tiny bit more rested.
The good news is this doesn't last forever (although it often feels like it might) and you usually find within a few weeks they are sleeping more at night.
4. Feeding tips
Whether you choose to breast or bottle feed, or a combo of both, there will be dyspraxic hurdles. Breastfeeding requires dexterity to ensure that you hold your baby in the correct position to achieve a comfortable latch – for this method you need support, advise and a really good pillow or set of pillows. There are no definite do's and don'ts but my advice is to seek help early and definitely don't beat yourself up if it is difficult, because it’s difficult for absolutely everybody, even the neurotypical people.
The tricky thing about breastfeeding is that you can’t particularly practice in advance, it’s definitely a learn on the job skill. However you will get an opportunity to practice the new skill 8-12 times a day so hopefully you will overcome that awkwardness pretty quickly. If you are using a bottle (formula or express milk) then you have the world of sterilising, storage and putting together bottles to overcome (who knew some bottles have 4-6 separate parts). In some ways this method scares me more, as preparation and organisation is key. You need to develop systems to ensure that you always have a sterilised bottle at hand, milk available and that you can remember how to construct a bottle without half the milk leaking out the first time you turn it over. I know that all these took me a long time to master as a midwife, I would strongly recommend buying in advance and practising.
For the milk storage, feeding schedules and sterilising you need organisation to ensure that you know what is going on. Purchase some good quality dry wipe pens. You can use these to write on all the plastic containers, sterilising machines and milk bottles the time and date that it was used. This will pay dividends when half asleep in the middle of the night you need to make up a bottle and can’t remember when you last sterilised, or whether the milk has been in the fridge for too long.
5. Tech is your friend
I am a massive fan of technology, in case you didn't already realise. I would strongly recommend investing in a good app to help you remember what is going on with your baby. When you are sleep deprived and home with a baby that does the same things on a 3 hour cycle it can become difficult to remember the simplest of information. A good app will help you to remember when you last fed your baby, it will add up all the feeds in a day to give you a 24 hour overview of the feeding. It should also allow you to record your baby's bowel movements and when the baby has passed urine.
6. Find people you can talk to
Think about your close friends, family, partner. Find someone or a few people that you feel comfortable confiding in. Tell them before your baby is born what your concerns are about how you might cope. Speak to them regularly after the baby is born and share with them the struggles you are having.
When anybody has a baby it is an extremely emotional time that forces a lot of personal reflection and expectations of ourselves. It can be a time when people feel most judged by society and also most lonely. It is the most important time to engage with our support network and be honest about how we are feeling.
Every new mum, even those who are neurotypical feel like they are struggling and they cannot cope. The feelings usually do pass, but having a support network around can make those difficult days a little bit more bearable. Having a baby is not like the movies with lots of cute smiles and cuddles. It is really hard work and really exhausting for everybody. One difficult day does not mean the next will also be a difficult day, so my advice is always to take it one nap at a time!
Dr Emma Tremaine trained as a medical doctor and psychiatrist before starting up a social enterprise specialising in comprehensively supporting adults and young people with Dyspraxia (The Dyspraxic Doctor). She also provides regular emotional and social skills therapy for children and young people who have a neurodevelopmental diagnosis (including Autism/Aspergers and ADHD). Dr Emma has Dyspraxia herself and is a passionate writer and speaker about neurodiversity, mental health and her own experience becoming a doctor with a hidden disability. She also enjoys horse riding, yoga, amateur sewing and making people laugh.