You might say Harriet is the unofficial poster girl for Birmingham Women’s Hospital. A proud Brummie, she was born at the hospital where she now works, and gave birth to her daughter there. But Harriet also knows more than most what it’s like to suffer major complications around pregnancy – and to come out the other side.
At the age of 29, and 31 weeks into her pregnancy, Harriet was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. At 36 weeks it had spread to her lymph nodes. She was induced but that failed, and an immediate ‘crash section’ was required.
After the birth, Harriet underwent a thyroidectomy and had her lymph nodes removed. Subsequent radiotherapy treatment not only confined her to a lead-lined room for three days but also meant she couldn’t breast feed her daughter – and for two weeks afterwards she couldn’t even go near her.
Now, with Harriet having had the all-clear, and her daughter healthy and happy too, she’s back on duty at BWH as Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute returns for a new series at a new hospital.
We spoke to Harriet about why she loves being a midwife, her philosophy of life and what makes Birmingham Women’s Hospital, and the people who work there, so special…
“My grandfather was my inspiration”
I have wanted to be a midwife since I was a child. My grandfather was a GP and he had a really close working relationship with the midwife at his practice and a huge respect for the profession. He was my inspiration.
“Midwifery allows you to witness love at its rawest moments”
There are so many reasons I love being a midwife. I love meeting people from all different walks of life and being able to help them get through one of the biggest events of their lives. I love working with women, their strength is amazing, and it is a privilege to witness it on a daily basis. I love working with families, midwifery allows you to witness love at its rawest moments. And I love my colleagues, midwives are a special breed – eccentric, humorous, mad, quick witted and clever, they are a total pleasure to work alongside. Our team is very close and a lot of us describe it as a work family.
“I want people to know that I genuinely care”
I really want people to know that I do genuinely care about what happens to them. I often use touch, if that is something the woman responds well to, regularly involving aromatherapy massage in my practice. When it is all done and these women are at home with their families, mulling their births over, I want them to understand what happened and feel accepting of the events that transpired. If they can feel good about them that that is wonderful. I try to be open and honest with people. I also try and bond with people, using humour and reassurance to help me with this.
“Treat everyone with kindness”
I believe that everyone deserves respect and time. No matter where they are from or who they are, they deserve to be listened to. I will try and be diplomatic and empathetic. Treat people as individuals. I will try not to make generalisations. I try to treat everyone with kindness. I think these are golden rules of the job, making an effort to be non-judgemental is so important. I love working for the NHS, free at the point of use, caring for you regardless of who you are and how much money you have.
More golden rules of the job are think ahead, think quickly, write quickly, never lose sight of how amazingly strong women are – and hug your colleagues.
“Some of the women I looked after will remain in my memory forever”
I had the absolute privilege to work with the dedicated homebirth team at Birmingham Women’s Hospital for eighteen months. The only reason why I left was because I was starting my own family. Some of the women I looked after on that team will remain in my memory forever. I looked after one woman at home and it just so happened that I had looked after her in hospital with her first baby. She was having her second baby, her daughter, at home. She was utterly fantastic and it was a whirlwind of a birth but amazing to be part of. I got to look after her postnatally too and she and I have remained friends since. I also cared for another woman who was very soon going to face an induction of labour for going overdue. I was visiting her every day and then eventually got the call early one morning. I was her midwife at her amazing waterbirth in her kitchen, I emerged to fresh morning summer sunshine to drive home having witnessed something fantastic.
“Life is tough but so are you”
Life is tough but so are you. I did not write this, but I like it. Treat people with dignity, respect, compassion and care regardless of who they are. It is such a privilege to work with people especially when they are becoming parents, or making someone a parent.
“Birmingham doesn’t get enough credit”
I am a Brummie, born and bred, and incredibly proud of my city. Birmingham doesn’t get enough credit. The people who live in this city are friendly and really good humoured and I love meeting them and looking after them. I love the Women’s Hospital. It is a centre for excellence and does some really ground-breaking work. It is at the forefront of maternity care and it is wonderful to be part of that team. We care for women and babies in really high risk situations and it is awesome to make a difference.
My heart is with the Midwifery Led Unit. I have spent most of my career at our Women’s Hospital and I now feel part of the wallpaper. The team there are truly special, we work really hard to help women feel empowered to achieve spontaneous birth and use water and aromatherapy a lot.
The teams on both The Birth Centre and Delivery Suite are brilliant. The Delivery Suite team took such good care of me when my daughter was born and I have total faith in them – not only working with them but being looked after by them as well.
See Harriet and her colleagues in action at Birmingham Women’s Hospital in episode one of the new series of One Born Every Minute – on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight, Wednesday 7th March