Four years ago, I was a midwifery student in my first semester of actually “catching” babies. It was an incredibly intoxicating experience. I waited eagerly for my phone to ring, summoning me to the hospital to help care for a woman in labor. I was so happy to finally be doing what I wanted to do, that sleepless nights and crazy hours didn’t bother me at all. I wore the dark circles under my eyes with pride. I was inspired, motivated and truly wanted to make a difference in health care for women.

Flash forward to the present. Between my on-call time and my office hours, I’m scheduled to work anywhere from 48 hours to more than 96 hours per week. Right before my last vacation, I worked six 24-hour call shifts in a 12-day period.  I still have those dark circles, but I’m not so proud of them anymore.

I struggle to make all the other pieces of my life fit around my work schedule, but juggling the demands of being a wife, a mom and a midwife at the same time isn’t easy. Add in the challenges of having an autistic child and a husband who also works crazy hours, and life becomes a precarious balancing act. 

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I know I’m not the only one struggling with finding balance in my life as a midwife. In the past week alone, two friends from midwifery school have lamented to me that their career choice is negatively impacting their lives in serious ways.

Maybe it is a natural slump? The shiny newness of midwifery has worn off a bit, and we are seeing the realities of our profession without the starry-eyed attitude we had as students or new graduates. Most midwives work long and highly irregular hours. Sleep becomes a luxury. We deal with non-compliant patients who seem incapable of helping themselves, despite the nurturing care we provide. Many midwives feel underpaid, overworked and somewhat powerless to change anything in our practice settings, let alone in the overall U.S. health-care crisis.

Despite these realities, midwifery is still my calling. I may grumble a bit when I get called back to the hospital for a mom in labor only hours after I’ve crawled into bed after the last birth, but the awe I continue to experience over the entire birth process still gives me a high.

Although my office hours are often overbooked, I still enjoy getting to know the women I care for and seeing them year after year. I may not be making an impact in national health care, but most days I feel like I helped make a small change for the better in the lives of the women I serve.

Finding balance between work and the rest of my life seems to be the key, but that balance is often elusive. I try to make sure I always find a little time to nurture myself, whether it is a taking a run or taking a nap. I try not to think about work or my patients on my days off, though that can be a challenge. I’m trying to say no to extra work or responsibilities, and yes to more free time or leisure activities.

My biggest worry is that my husband and children suffer for my career calling. But I remember talking to a friend a few years ago, who is also the adult son of a midwife. When he recalled that having a midwife for a mom meant that she missed many of his birthdays and soccer games, my heart fell. Would this be all that my boys remembered as well? That I was never around? But then he grinned with pride and said, “But I can deliver a breech baby in an elevator.” His mom must have spent some quality time with him after all!

Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.