From mother to midwife
Bachelor of Midwifery graduate Angelica Efu was inspired by her own birth experience to return to study as a non-school leaver when her own daughter was still a toddler. So far, her work has taken her from Brisbane to rural Queensland and now England, where the country’s nationwide lockdown presented challenges she never saw coming. Even though she contracted COVID herself, Angelica said she’s right where she needs to be.
“I approached my degree like the old saying, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!’”, said Angelica, who came to ACU as a non-school leaver.
“Before I started my midwifery studies I had to first get my Certificate IV in Adult Tertiary Preparation at TAFE as I’d been out of education for some time and I didn’t officially complete secondary school. It was there that I first learnt about midwifery at ACU.”
Angelica came along to Open Day at the Brisbane Campus with her husband and daughter in tow.
“I was struck by how it was like an oasis of calm in the middle of the Brisbane. Right away I could imagine myself on campus and picture myself in class in the lecture theatres.”
As an older non-school leaver, Angelica was nervous about making a start on her midwifery dream.
“The toughest part of my degree was building my self-confidence and practicing self-compassion. It was hard to push myself, but I continued to put myself in challenging situations throughout my studies.
“I was afraid of failure, but my curiosity far outweighed my fear. So I showed up, took action and built my midwifery skills, one step at a time.
"I kept going and when I overcame each stumbling block, I made sure I celebrated my achievements. Now I try to look at hardship as a learning opportunity and I definitely built resilience and self-confidence from the experience. I learnt that I have a voice and I can challenge ideas and perceptions. I was also taught how to approach difficult conversations with fierce compassion.”
Learning from experience
As a mother already, Angelica said her own birth and parenting journey inspired her studies.
“I discovered midwifery during my childbearing experience. I suffered with postnatal depression and I really struggled with the transition into parenthood.
“At the time I was living in the UK with my partner in the small seaside town where he grew up. I stuck out like a sore thumb being a young mixed-race mother in a predominately white British area. I carried a lot of guilt and shame at that time. I was embarrassed of my roots and worried a lot about what people were thinking of me being a young pregnant mother.
“I now recognise the conditions that led to my postnatal depression and severe social anxiety. Having a better understanding of this time helped me heal. It got me to see how I could live a purposeful life.
“I also came to see how midwives have the potential to really make a difference. The information relayed to mothers at their point of transition into parenthood is so important. And midwives are crucial to helping vulnerable women and their families, which is why I wanted to pursue it myself.
“Now, I know the importance of the midwife’s role in protecting women’s rights and human dignity.
"My job is not to deliver babies – the woman delivers her own baby. My job is to offer guidance and support during a time of vulnerability.
"It’s so important to empower women on their own journey, and my favourite part of being a midwife is giving vulnerable women a platform to speak.
“I think all midwives need to remember to go back to basics – midwifery is about being with women. We must work to suit the individual needs of each woman because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. I want to help by creating a space that feels safe for all women to be open and honest.
"For me, it’s so rewarding to see vulnerable women flourish in their birthing experience.”
Finding the balance
As a busy mother herself, Angelica said she’s had to work hard to find balance between home life and a demanding career.
“Creating a healthy home has really made an impact on my role as a midwife. In my first year I became really burnt out. I could see the amount of stress I created for myself and I was completely exhausted trying to juggle everything.
“Now I’m grateful for this experience because I was able to learn from it and it really helped me during the pandemic. I now know my boundaries.
"I know the signs of burnout and continue to use healthy coping strategies to prevent it from happening again. I practice mindfulness meditation daily with my daughter before bedtime and this helps me stay grounded and focused at home and at work. I know I’m juggling, but I do know what works for me and rely on my wellness toolbox to stay focused.”
After Angelica completed her studies, she made a decision to pursue a rural posting in Rockhampton.
“Going rural was a family decision. It felt like the right time, with my partner wanting a career change. Rockhampton was a whirlwind outback adventure. I was given lots of opportunities to practice clinical skills and I learnt rapidly as it was a small maternity unit. This meant I was in the delivery suite a lot more.
“I was definitely thrown in the deep end – but with enough support to swim. It was daunting at first, but the more I practiced, the more my confidence grew.
"And my family and I loved exploring and living the outback lifestyle.”
After Rockhampton, Angelica and her family returned to her partner’s home in England, which has been particularly hard hit by COVID-19.
“We both had to adapt to working through a lockdown while navigating our new life,” Angelica said. “I was still lucky enough to get a dream job working as a registered midwife for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
“Unfortunately, I ended up getting COVID myself and had to self-isolate over the Christmas period.
"There was a COVID outbreak in my maternity unit, which put a lot of pressure on everyone with many midwives absent from work. It also increased the risk of working midwives experiencing burnout thanks to the added workload.”
Angelica said contracting COVID was a terrifying experience.
“I was so scared. I had unbearable headaches with fevers and I’d see on the news that COVID cases were going up and the death toll increasing. Eventually I was able to recover and return to work.
“Looking back, I’m so grateful for the challenges I faced working as a rural midwife in Rockhampton.
“I knew the signs of burnout, I was better prepared, more aware and have good self-compassion. This helped me reduce my own risk of developing compassion fatigue.”
Time to reflect
“It’s tough here, but I’m so grateful my family are safe, I have good health and I’m practicing as a registered midwife – home is wherever my little family is. It wasn’t easy to get to this point. I continue to feel gratitude when I show up to work,” she said.
As tough as the pandemic has been for Angelica, she still makes time to reflect on what she’s achieved.
“For me, a midwife’s role is a privilege, not one I’m entitled to. I want to continue to improve my skills and challenge perceptions to improve maternal and newborn outcomes.
"This pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty, rapid change and isolation. It continues to have a massive impact on women’s rights, undoing years of progress in gender equality.
“I can see the increase of women presenting with mental health issues directly caused by COVID-19. There’s a lot of work that needs doing to heal the damage, and I’m exactly where I need to be.”
The next step
With everything she’s experienced, Angelica is now able to acknowledge how far she has come as both a midwife and a woman.
“It’s taken me a while, but I’m proud of my Australian nationality and being a second generation migrant to my Filipino and Samoan parents,” she said. “I’m comfortable talking openly and honestly about my mixed race and mental health challenges as it led me to where I am now. I know my roots and I own my scars. I found strength in that.
“For now, the plan is to stay put in the UK, but that’s tricky for me because I get itchy feet.
"My main focus at present is to survive this lockdown. We can figure out the next step after that.
“At some point in my career, I would like to experience working as a midwife in Africa. I currently work with midwives from Ghana who talk about their maternity care experiences back home and I’m intrigued to find out for myself. And I tend to gravitate towards perinatal mental health. So, who knows? I could possibly specialise in the future. I’m open to all possibilities!”
Want a career like Angelica’s? Learn more about where a midwifery degree at ACU could take you.