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On-call Life: A Personal Story of its Unsustainability

When I moved back home after completing my training, I got in touch with a young midwife a few people had suggested I reach out to in looking for a partner. I emailed her telling her what I was looking for. I wasn't surprised when she wrote back letting me know that, in her words, "I am back working with a hospital based midwife group because, drumroll, the solo practice call schedule about killed me!" As soon as I started this site, I knew I wanted to have her share her story.         Here it is:

This is a personal story of where my life passion met the reality of an on-call lifestyle. Let me back up and say that I am a happy, enthusiastic woman with a warm and friendly heart. I am a dreamer and believe that with hard work and good support that anything is possible. I naturally am drawn to women and childbearing. I was the little girl in the grocery store that would excitedly exclaim, “Mom! She’s pregnant!” I still, even though it’s my day in day out job, stop pregnant women and hear their stories and birth intentions. In particular, I was drawn to home birth. I am a minimalist at heart and feel that pregnancy and birth are generally normal processes that should be supported with a watchful and wise eye of a midwife. I thus began a very long, tough road of a bachelor’s degree followed by 20 months of an apprenticeship followed by 24 months of graduate school. Then I gathered my savings and began my own home birth practice, researching how to make this a safe, humane, affordable option for all families regardless of their circumstances. I put together a business model that included nurses signing up for assistant call according to their own schedules. Months of building up the practice proved that despite their best intentions, the on-call lifestyle coupled with unpredictable income drove most all of the nurses away. I continued delivering many babies and having many wonderful experiences, watching women realize their own power and deep love and seeing their partners and families celebrate life alongside them. It came at a cost: to always be within a simple drive of any one woman due, to always have a cellphone on and interrupting every aspect of my personal life, never having time for vacation except for the rare couple days when babies allowed for it but even then to have every day interrupted by constant business needs. Sleep became an art, when and how to get enough which included sleeping in my car in parking lots because I was too exhausted to safely drive home. Finally, there is a more silent aspect to the on-call life. This is the slow realization that I am giving up my own personal life, my own family, my own dreams of partnership and motherhood so that I can give others that opportunity. That was a tragic irony. I avidly began reaching out to other midwives, asking them to partner with me and share the on-call burden. However, interestingly and tragically, many caretakers’ egos feed off the idea that their clients desperately need them and only them which results in the perpetuation of this workaholism, solo-practice and on-call life. Finally, I had to lay down my passion of home birth midwifery and seek out a job that would take care of me so that I could continue to take care of my community.
 
- Natalie Whitworth, CNM