While they demonstrate in Paris this Wednesday, May 5, it is a whole profession that suffers from degraded conditions, all the more so with the Covid-19 pandemic.
«We must not believe that it is all rosy in motherhood, there is a lot of joy but also sorrows and tears“. Marie * has been a midwife for over 15 years at the Antony private hospital in Hauts-de-Seine (92). She likes this job very much, but today she is exhausted. Mother of a family, she deplores the working conditions “heavily degraded», «a staff shortageAnd worries about future mothers for whom she is responsible. “We were forced to close our pathological pregnancy service for lack of a midwife», She adds, adding«that almost always one is missing for the guards».
Like her, every day, 23,400 midwives attend the first hours of life, the first cries but also the sufferings, pains and worries of parents. Often invisible, they are nevertheless essential to the good progress of a pregnancy and the first days of a newborn baby. Overloaded and weakened, the profession is worried about a growing discomfort. Faced with this observation, the pink coats have chosen to make the International Day of Midwives a day of national strike.
Depressions and staff shortages
«I can’t take it anymore, I’m permanently exhausted», Confides to the Figaro Angélique, midwife at the University Hospital of Créteil (Seine-et-Marne). “We have been understaffed for two years, we lack a dozen full-time midwives“. For this passionate woman, “the last few months have been very complicated“. In his department, out of 60 midwives, seven went on sick leave, two of which were for burnout. Fatigue felt by the entire profession. “Ten years ago, it had nothing to do, we were quieter, we had more time».
How to explain such a degradation? If their number has increased from 18,000 to 23,000, midwives have simultaneously left the corridors of hospitals. 74% of them worked there in 2011, compared to 60% today. On the contrary, the liberal universe has seen its ranks grow by 20%. A trend that should increase: 70% should work in a cabinet by 2030 according to the latest report from the DRESS, a statistical tool of Public Health France, published last March.
The cause is the upheaval in the conditions of childbirth. In twenty years, the number of maternity units has been reduced by 40% despite the small maternity units. If in the 2000s, women spent at least five days in maternity, they now spend only two or even three days in case of cesarean section. “We always have to free up beds for the next ones, we turn into a baby factory, laments Angélique, accustomed to the place for ten years. And again, before, we focused on childbirth».
Since 2016, midwives can also prescribe contraception, provide medical abortions or even prescribe vaccines for the mother and the newborn. They are also entrusted with a social mission: to help parents become so, to check that the infant is not in danger and can grow up in a secure environment. “In the office, we don’t stop», Says Maylis *, midwife in Marseille city center. At the age of thirty, she went straight into a practice to take advantage of the weekends with her husband and her 3-year-old son, but here too the conditions are difficult: she works almost 60 hours a week. Still full of energy, Maylis is holding on, but several of his colleagues have given up. Last June, according to the survey carried out by the National Council of Midwives, 40% of them suffered from depression. A figure that could rise further after the three Covid-19 waves that overwhelmed all hospital services, including maternity hospitals.
The exercise period has also fallen sharply in 10 years. Formerly thirty years old, she is now about twenty years old “or even less“, According to professionals. “We know a colleague who changed jobs due to exhaustion», Adds Marie *, whose service has lost a third of its workforce in two years. A new life offered by Rose * in particular. After 10 years of loyal service, this Lyonnaise decided to resume medical studies to become a general practitioner and “no longer suffer from daily frustration“. Others leave the medical world completely and choose more stable jobs. Between doctors and nurses, midwives have an intermediate status. They can prescribe certain drugs but must call on obstetrician gynecologists and pediatricians in case of childbirth with complications.
Degraded maternal care
Exhaustion and weariness which “mothers, less and less well cared for, are the first victims», Regrets Adrien Gantois, president of the National College of Midwives. “We pay a lot of attention in maternity hospitals to the well-being of women, except that at present, we follow several at the same time and we cannot ensure this requirement.” This disability is a source of frustration for the majority of these birthing professionals. “We don’t have time to do as well as we would like, our presence is not only medical, our support alongside the mother is extremely important», Adds Maylis *.
“We don’t have time to do as well as we would like, our presence is not only medical, our support alongside the mother is extremely important”
Maylis *, Bordeaux midwife
Faced with the temptation of certain medical departments to make health, and particularly maternity, a profitable service, Annick, midwife from Arles, wishes to recall that “giving birth can take a long time“. Pregnant women and young mothers require special attention. “Breastfeeding, skin to skin with the newborn are treatments that require patience, she explains. Except if the woman only stays two days, how do we do our job properly?“. A situation that cannot last for Marie *: “The other day we lost a baby and you can’t help but think that if there had been more of us it wouldn’t have happened.» «We must act now», Insists Adrien Gantois.
“The other day we lost a baby and you can’t help but think that if there had been more of us it wouldn’t have happened. “
Marie *, midwife from Ile-de-France
In the street this Wednesday, the midwives are calling for a salary increase, more staff and better recognition. For them, but also for mothers and newborns. Since September 2019, a commission of the first 1000 days of the infant, launched by Emmanuel Macron, has been working on this period “decisive for the development of the child and the health of the adult he will become“. With this in mind, the health authorities recognize “that it is necessary to commit to the health of young children even before birth»And therefore from his mother. An essential care undermined in the current conditions in which the French of tomorrow are born. “If after a year of pandemic, we did not understand that it was necessary to take care of the new generations, worries Adrien Gantois, president of the National College of Midwives, so we didn’t remember anything of what we lived.»
* Their first names have been changed at their request