In March of this year, channel 4 aired a documentary focusing on maternal health care that Black women receive throughout the UK. The documentary was presented by Rochelle Humes, who spoke to different women about their experiences of pregnancy and birth under the NHS. The documentary revealed that Black women are four times more likely to die during pregnancy than white women. Mixed ethnicity women are three times as likely to suffer maternal death while Asian women are nearly twice as likely. This is, in part due to the systemic practice of overlooking and undermining the symptoms that ethnic minorities experience. Ultimately, this lack of understanding stems from the lack of diversity across the midwifery profession, which impacts the mortality rates of women of colour. But how do we address this lack of representation, and create a sector that is better able to work with the patients it is currently failing?
The University of Manchester have taken action in addressing this systemic issue by developing an early intervention project as a way of creating wider diversity in the midwifery sector. Their With Women book is a collection of stories of 9 Black and Asian midwives from across Manchester, who have shared their personal journeys to becoming midwives. Catherine Millan, Student Recruitment and Widening Participation Officer for Black Asian and ethnicity minority young people at the University of Manchester, spoke of how this early intervention works to address the barriers she often sees in her role as widening participation officer. “A lot of the time I hear young people of colour say to me they just don’t see themselves represented in something, so therefore they don’t really have the ambition to go into that profession, because it’s not something they see themselves doing”. The book highlights the stories of midwives from different cultures and backgrounds, and provides role models for young people and students of similar backgrounds who may also be considering a career in healthcare or midwifery.
The University of Manchester worked in partnership with pupils from Loreto High school in Manchester, who interviewed the midwives on the university campus to capture their stories and learn more about midwifery. These interviews were then documented and collated into the With Women book by Catherine Millan, Dr Christine Furber (Reader in Midwifery at the University of Manchester), Kathy Murphy (Director of Nursing and Midwifery at St Mary’s Hospital) and Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent OBE (Chief Midwifery Officer NHS England). The book forms part of a larger project that The University of Manchester are doing in partnership with the NHS in order to create more authentic representation across the midwifery sector. By sharing the stories of these 8 midwives from the Manchester area, it is hoped that more young people of colour will learn more about this fulfilling sector, and become inspired to train as a midwife themselves. In doing so, we can begin to address the shocking mortality rate that faces women of colour in particular both during and after pregnancy.
Catherine Millan spoke of her ambitions for this project, and how she hopes it inspires young people in Manchester and across the country. “My goal for this project is to get a copy of the book into every school across the UK and share these inspiring, and powerful stories of these incredible women and the Midwifery profession. We’ve seen such a transformational change in the young people who took part in the project, going from not really understanding what the midwifery profession was, to then being inspired to pursue it as a career. I, believe if we can get in as many young people of colour reading this book we have a chance to really create a change within the profession”.
If you’ve been inspired by this project, and want to hear more about the stories of these incredible midwives, With Women is available to read now, and can be accessed online.
If you want to know more about becoming a midwife, take a look at the NHS careers page, the Royal College of Midwifery website, and the course guide for midwifery at The University of Manchester.