‘Stories of distress versus fulfilment’: A narrative inquiry of midwives’ experiences supporting alternative birth choices in the UK National Health Service

  • Claire Feeley
    Corresponding author at: School of Community Health and Midwifery, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 2HE, United Kingdom.
    School of Community Health and Midwifery, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire. PR1 2HE, United Kingdom
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  • Soo Downe
    School of Community Health and Midwifery, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire. PR1 2HE, United Kingdom
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  • Gill Thomson
    School of Community Health and Midwifery, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Lancashire. PR1 2HE, United Kingdom
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Published:November 30, 2021DOI:



      Some childbearing women/birthing people prioritize out of maternity care organizational guidelines’ approaches to childbirth as a way of optimizing their chances of a normal physiological birth. Currently, there is little known about the experiences of midwives who support their choices.


      To explore the experiences of UK midwives employed by the NHS, who self-defined as supportive of women’s alternative physiological birthing choices.


      A narrative inquiry was used to collect and analyse professional stories of practice via self-written narratives and interviews. Forty-five midwives from across the UK were recruited.


      Three overarching storylines were developed with nine sub-themes. ‘Stories of distress’ highlights challenging experiences due to poor supportive working environments, ranging from small persistent challenges to extreme situations. Conversely, ‘Stories of fulfilment’ offers a positive counter-narrative where midwives worked in supportive working environments enabling woman-centred care unencumbered by organisational constraints. ‘Stories of transition’ abridge these two polarized themes.


      The midwives’ experiences were mediated by their socio-cultural working contexts. Negative experiences were characterised by a misalignment between the midwives’ philosophy and organisational cultures, with significant consequences for the midwives. Conversely, examples of good organisational culture and practice reveal that it is possible for organisations to fulfil their obligations for safe and positive maternity care for both childbearing women who make alternative birthing choices, and for attending staff. This highlights what is feasible and achievable within maternity organisations and offers transferable insights for organisational support of out-of-guideline care that can be adapted across the UK and beyond.


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