The benefits of Continuity of Carer (CoC) within antenatal and postnatal care, and the implications for patient safety are well reported.
As a midwife, to know the person from booking to postnatal means I am aware when their mental health may be deteriorating, or when they may be experiencing relationship difficulties. It also makes me feel more confident to challenge situations, including potential safeguarding concerns or welfare issues. If a person trusts in their relationship with their midwife, they are more likely to confide that they are struggling, and we'll be better placed to support their health needs.
Supporting people within their wider context
Community midwifery is not just caring for a person’s physical needs. It’s knowing their family, their housing situation, their past social history, understanding their vulnerabilities and hearing them when they tell us that something isn’t right – whether that be in relation to their pregnancy, their relationship or their mood. This is incredibly difficult to achieve without CoC and is frustrating for both midwives and pregnant people. Midwives want to offer excellent care and pregnant people deserve excellent care.
I recently visited a family who were struggling financially. Although I was aware of their financial predicaments, I had no idea the extent of the issue. I went one afternoon for an antenatal visit. The atmosphere was very tense, and I had heard raised voices upon approaching the house. When I entered the house, their child was crying and shouting, and the parents were distressed. Because of the strength of the relationship we had developed during the pregnancy, I felt able to challenge the couple about what was happening and what I was experiencing with regard to the tension between them.
I was informed they had no food and had to get through the weekend with nothing to eat. The mother had been too scared to tell anyone in case her children were taken away from her. This opened up a conversation about their welfare generally and we were able to work together, with other support services, to meet the immediate crisis and attempt to start dealing with the ongoing issues.
Monitoring mental health
Another person disclosed at booking some historical mental health issues. She had been fine for a few years and had not required treatment recently. During an appointment a few months later, I felt I wasn’t experiencing her like I usually did. It wasn’t anything obvious just a ‘sense’ that she was holding something back. I gently probed her, and she informed me she had been struggling with anxiety in relation to hypervigilance regarding the baby’s movements.
We spent some time working on strategies to manage this anxiety and, aware of the clock ticking during a short antenatal appointment, I arranged to see her for a double appointment at my next clinic and referred her to the mental health midwife for ongoing support.
In times of loss
Something we rarely talk about as midwives is loss.
Caring for a family from booking, to finding out the baby had died, to birth and beyond, taught me a lot about the power of CoC. Being present when the couple met their baby and supporting them for as long as they needed postnatally was an enormous privilege. Although challenging because of the depth of grief, knowing I could make a small difference to their experience, because I knew them and they trusted me, meant we were able to discuss very difficult decisions over a cup of tea whilst the other children ran around us bringing a level of normality to a very awful situation.
I have received some amazing feedback from families regarding CoC. Recently a woman said that the strength of our relationship was important to her because she trusted my judgement and ability to advocate for her. She said her experience of CoC had made something that was terrifying to her “not so scary”.
Thank you cards I have received always comment on the strength of the relationship. Over and above any other element of care a person has received during the pregnancy continuum, the relationship and the patient feeling like I ‘know’ them is what they reflect on when we are saying goodbye (which is the hardest part of this model of care!).
As a midwife I get amazing job satisfaction from taking a family from booking to birth to discharge. The privilege of being present during such a life altering time in a family’s life whether it be a first baby or tenth baby, leaves a mark.
Every family I look after leaves a footprint.
If you'd like to share your thoughts on the Midwifery Continuity of Carer model, you can join the conversation here.