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Alumni Story: An Interview with Sinead Thompson BSc Midwifery

Friday, 29 September, 2023

News Item Alumni Story ST

I am currently working with the National Women and Infants Health Programme (NWIHP) as Project Coordinator for the Implementation of the National Standards for Antenatal Education in Ireland 2020. 

For the last 18 months I have been coordinating a multidisciplinary team on designing a nationally consistent programme for parent educators to deliver high standards of education in antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care for women and their chosen birth partner, in line with recommendations set out in the National Standards for Antenatal Education in Ireland in 2020. We are also designing a new National Facilitation in Education Programme of training for educators to enhance their facilitation skills and also educate them on adult learning theories inclusive of experiential learning. 

Prior to this role I worked at the National Maternity Hospital where I was a community midwife manager (CMM2) on the Domino and Homebirth scheme and the Early Transfer Home (ETH) scheme for a total of 18 years.

I previously trained and worked in the NHS in Bristol as a midwife in the hospital and in the community. I also worked as part of a Multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals who worked on a Complicated Care Team (CCT) for pregnant women with high risk pregnancies in the North Bristol Healthcare Trust. I trained as a General Nurse in Letterkenny General Hospital and also worked in a specialised spinal injury Intensive Care Unit and an Orthopaedic Intensive Care unit in Stanmore Middlesex UK.

I have a keen interest in physiological birth and strive to improve birth experiences for women and their partners. I designed and created a framework called labour hopscotch to support active birth. 

Pre Covid-19 I was National Project Coordinator for the Implementation of the Labour Hopscotch Framework (LH) into the nineteen maternity units in Ireland under the auspices of the NWIHP. I designed and created the LH framework in response to the increase in medical intervention and the national increase in caesarean sections to protect and promote physiological birth. 

Twitter handle @hopscotchlabour 

What led you to study Midwifery?

Midwifery jobs in Ireland at the time I was qualified as a general nurse were very scarce and although I had done a few interviews I decided to head to the UK with colleagues. We were recruited by a UK agency to work in North London in an Orthopaedic Centre of Excellence which was a great experience, but I was always interested to see what Midwifery in the UK would be like.

I went for an open day in University West of England and was really impressed with the way the midwives spoke about their autonomous roles and how they loved their jobs, they facilitated home births, community and team midwifery. I was immediately drawn in.

My first day as a student midwife on placement was with a community midwife and that was when I knew this was the right role for me. I loved every minute of being out in the community and always remember the excitement of my midwife calling me to my first birth as a student in the middle of the night to a home where a beautiful baby girl was born and they called her Sinead!! I never looked back after that.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying Midwifery?

It is a career that you can travel with, progress to high levels in, participate in research, in education of students, parents and extended families. You can also enhance the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their families. Travelling to other countries with this discipline opens up tremendous experience and skills you can transfer to your practice for the benefit of women and babies.

It can be tough at times as it can be physically demanding therefore self-care is important to meet the physicality of the job. Shift work takes getting used to, however it is very useful to have time off when everyone else is working, and once you are organised and plan your social life the shift work actually is very beneficial. 

What is your fondest memory from your time at UCD?

The comradery of my peers. The sharing of knowledge and also the networking was invaluable and I am still in touch today with colleagues I have studied with in the past. The partnership approach to learning with the tutors was also very memorable along with the graduation days.

What is the proudest moment of your career to date? 

I have been blessed with many proud moments thankfully, some include working with the first ever Domino and Homebirth scheme in the country for almost 20 years in the National Maternity Hospital (NMH). I worked with a fabulous team of highly motivated midwives who developed and expanded community midwifery and homebirth services in South Dublin and Wicklow. These midwives were like my family, and we enjoyed some great times together.

Also having the opportunity to work with our National Lead Midwife and The  Women and Infant Health Programme to project manage the national rollout to the nineteen maternity units of my own active birth framework. The Labour Hopscotch Framework which I was lucky enough to have designed and then researched and published in 2019, in partnership with my colleagues in UCD and NMH has been an immensely proud experience for me. This framework proved that with its use and through education and practice it could increase birth satisfaction along with the reduction in birth interventions. I was recognised and rewarded for my work in promoting active birth and Labour Hopscotch nationally by my colleagues and Director of Midwifery in NMH in 2021 and presented on the framework at an International Midwifery Conference in Paris.

Lastly, spreading my midwifery innovation and research with my colleagues in the NMH and the (opens in a new window)Joint Research Network internationally has been extremely empowering. I am very proud that a midwifery innovation has gotten so much recognition. I am delighted to have been supported by my managers to expand it for the benefit of women all over the country and now further afield. Anything to reduce trauma around childbirth and educate women, I am only too happy to spread the word.

What have been the most challenging aspects of your career?

  • I found the transition from the UK midwifery system back to the Irish system challenging at first.
  • Trying to provide a service with extreme staff shortages is always stressful.
  • Not being able to afford women the dignity and privacy during labour and postnatal period with poor infrastructure and resources was extremely frustrating and a difficult time to work in.
  • Having to strike to improve circumstances for midwives and women and of course working in a pandemic was challenging for us all.

Did you witness anything during the pandemic which made you particularly proud to be a midwife?

I remember walking a new mum out of the hospital with her baby as her partner could not come in. When we got to the front door of the hospital the line of dads and other children waiting for their new babies to come home was amazing and the excitement on their faces was so lovely to see. The welcome we all got when they saw us emerge was heart-warming. I nearly gave the wrong man a new baby, he was clapping so much when we emerged. It wasn’t even his wife and baby, he was just giving us a great welcome. We had a great laugh.

Also, the welcome people had for us into their homes after leaving the hospital early was lovely. They left sometimes too early so they could be home with their partners. This is when people saw what community midwifery services were and what they could offer. They saw the true meaning of what midwives do and that is being “with woman”!

What drew you to Antenatal Education?

Through my work on the Labour Hopscotch I travelled the country and saw the lack of resources and lack of importance that was placed on education for parents. Yet through our research, we saw that birth satisfaction rates soared when women were educated by the whole multidisciplinary team working together.

I felt we as a maternity service failed to educate women and partners about the physicality of labour. However through correct preparation and taking ownership of their bodies it was obvious from our research outcomes that women would happily work if trained properly on the physicality of labour and birth and they could control their birth outcomes. Also the lack of community midwifery around the country is something we are working on nationally to improve as women deserve this high standard of continuity of care. Women in South County Dublin for example, receive a 24 hour midwifery service from the Domino Scheme in NMH and I feel this is what every mother should have access to on every pregnancy no matter where they live. This increases education and wellbeing for women and partners, it increases birth satisfaction rates, breastfeeding rates and reduces trauma around childbirth. The support for the smooth transition to parenthood really affects the mother, partner and the infant’s mental health and affords the best start in life for children which is of utmost importance. 

Describe your typical workday.

At present, I am completing a project with the National Women and Infants  Health Programme (NWIHP). I am on a secondment from NMH for 2 years to complete a National programme of content for educators to use for their education courses and also an education programme to train midwives how to teach parents through facilitation and using adult education theories. 

My day varies with meetings and work-stream group meetings, workshops with multidisciplinary team members, along with hospital site visits and completing programmes of work to meet the project requirements within specified time frames. I also chair online forums between the nineteen maternity units which involves planning agendas, writing minutes, disseminating information and organising education sessions for staff around the country. I am also involved in other midwifery projects within the NWIHP organisation such as bereavement and national guideline groups. These groups aim to nationalise and standardise midwifery practice to ensure safety and uniformity of practice within the nineteen maternity units. It is very exciting to be part of change and progress within the midwifery services.

In your career and/or personal life, who have been the most inspiring or helpful mentors/advisors that you’ve had to date?

In my career as a nurse my tutors in Letterkenny were extremely motivating and empowered us to believe we were the crème de la crème of nurses when we were training there.

In the UK I worked with many influential midwives who supervised, mentored and supported me in my career as a new midwife and gave me the confidence to be the best midwife I could be. I will always remember them for that.

In NMH Mary Brosnan, Director of Midwifery has been an influential and extremely supportive leader in Midwifery for me and I would not have availed of the opportunities I have without her support and direction. 

My colleague Dr. Denise O’Brien in UCD has held my hand and guided me in learning the power of research and again I would not be where I am today without her mentorship and her colleagues in UCD.

My Community Midwifery team and managers, Margaret Hanahoe and Teresa McCreery drove midwifery lead care over the years to be a highly successful service for women and their families and we learnt so much together. The main thing I learnt was how to work as part of a team and I can honestly say there was never an “I” in this team, it was always “WE”. 

Lastly, my mother is the rock and matriarch of our family and works to this day for all our benefit. After my Dad passed away at a young age she ensured we all succeeded in what we wanted to achieve in life without need or wanting for anything. 

As a midwife, how has ongoing professional development helped your career? 

Ongoing professional development for me was a way of developing my clinical skills which in turn enhanced the service I could provide for women and their partners. Being able to look after a woman, her baby and the whole family unit at any stage of pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period made me feel I was delivering a complete service and was truly qualified in all aspects of midwifery. 

Presently working on National programmes of work with our National lead midwife in NWIHP and the midwifery team has been a huge learning curve for me. Working to enhance and update midwifery practice in Ireland has been a big transition and has been of great benefit to me professionally and personally. I hope this work will help midwives all over the country to enjoy and appreciate their roles and of course ensure they are trained to a high level.

What do you do to relax? Tell us a bit about your current life, family and       hobbies.

I enjoy all aspects of fitness and am part of a running club and a fitness club. I love pilates and all things outdoors. I also enjoy traveling and of course socialising. I love getting away to my home in Roscommon which is on Lough Ree. The Shannon air immediately relaxes me and the quiet country lanes are where I take off walking or cycling for hours and this is like medicine for me.  

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given? 

Get regular acupuncture for your general wellbeing! 

Sleep is free medicine and surround yourself with runners, they are positive people!

And my Dad always taught me never to be late when you’re taking over on a work shift from someone.

Contact the UCD School of Nursing, Midwifery & Health Systems

Health Sciences Centre, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4
T: +353 1 716 6488 | Location Map(opens in a new window)