Title: Frontline Midwife:
My Story of Survival and Keeping Others Safe
Author: Anna Kent
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biographies & Memoir
Release Date: 11th May 2022
BLURB from Goodreads
This is a story of women in crisis, seen through the eyes of a remarkable midwife 'My own suffering, my own loneliness, was a fair price to pay for the lives we'd saved. And now here I am, training to be a midwife, so that next time I can make it better.' Anna Kent has delivered babies in war zones, caring for the most vulnerable women in the most vulnerable places in the world. At twenty-six years old, not yet a fully-trained midwife, she delivered a baby in a tropical storm by the light of a headtorch; the following year, she would be responsible for the female health of 30,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. But returning to the UK to work for the NHS, she soon learned that even at home the right to a safe birth was impossible to take for granted. In Frontline Midwife, Kent shares her extraordinary experiences as a nurse, midwife and mother, illuminating the lives of women that are irreparably affected by compromised access to healthcare. This is at once an astonishing story of the realities of frontline humanitarian work, and a powerful reminder of the critical, life-giving work of nurses and doctors at home and around the world.
The cover of this book is quite simplistic, yet draws your eye to it. It is also good to put a “face to a name” as the image on the cover is of the author. I felt the need to read something “different” and when I saw this book and read the blurb, I felt I had to read it.
I’ll be totally honest when I first saw the book cover and book, I automatically assumed that it was going to be about a midwife working through covid! Then I read the blurb, realised it was something totally different but ended up wanting to read even more.
Anna Kent perhaps rather naively at the time signed up to work as an aid worker for MSF. Anna’s first posting is to the South Sudan, and though she feels that she is prepared for what she is going to see and have to deal with she soon realises she isn’t. Once she arrives at the area she will work, she is certainly shocked by the conditions she will have to work in, as well as those she is going to be working with. A quite matter of fact comment from the other aid worker, James, when he informs Anna, she will be solely dealing with the midwifery aspects of their job. This is sort of what sets Anna onto eventually becoming a midwife. At first Anna admits she doesn’t really like James, but after working with him, they become firm friends for life. Anna has a lot to cope with from the different culture, religions of those she is treating, their customs, superstitions, as well as the medical conditions and lack of medical supplies too. Used to having access to high tech equipment, Anna has to learn to use the more “old-fashioned” equipment that is available. I think Anna found her situations equally interesting, adventurous and horrifying too! Anna goes from being confident in what she has to do, to being in a panic she will never cope and wanting to head right back home, to ultimately not wanting to go home. Worrying about those she has helped to train and wondering how those she has treat will fair in the poor conditions they exist in.
When Anna returns to England she trains as a midwife in Nottingham and feels she is more prepared for her next “adventure” working abroad. This time she has aspirations to set up a birth centre, but she will need the co-operation of the traditions birth assistants to even get the women to enter the birth centre, let alone use it. Anna has to put up with being viewed as a “novelty” for want of a better description. When offering training to these women she is told the only reason they are actually turning up is for the food etc on offer whilst they are there. Anna does gain their respect and starts with small victories and does end up improving things for the pregnant women. Anna has highs in her career, for example providing birthing kits for the traditional birthing assistants to use meaning less risk of infections, but with highs there are also lows, some of the procedures she has to do are horrific, its no wonder she has nightmares and suffers PTSD. Another down for Anna is the fact that she, and the other aid workers live in constant fear of being kidnapped, even to the point of carrying cash to pay off potential kidnappers. At one of her jobs despite hating to do so all the aid workers have to leave the facility they work in at a certain time as their safety cannot be guaranteed after that time. Which certainly goes against the grain for Anna having to leave a patient she may be halfway through treating. At the time Anna thinks a lot of the restrictions put on aid workers are strange and even some maybe a tad unnecessary. However, after all the danger Anna sees and works in, it is a surfing accident that almost kills her. It’s only then she can see the other side of some of these rules and restrictions and the sense and reasons behind them.
Being an aid worker doesn’t just change and affect Anna’s work life and career path it also changes her personal relationships and her whole life path. Anna was once settled with a man she thought she would return after her first aid worker posting, whom she thought she would marry and have children with. All this changes, they end up being more like strangers than the partners they were before she went to the South Sudan.
The horrors at work continue for Anna on a daily basis, though she has a network of friends, mostly those she has worked with previously to talk to. She also finds some happiness amongst the daily battles with Leon a French aid worker.
To say I enjoyed reading this book doesn’t feel the right way to describe reading the book. I found it enlightening, and felt I really learnt somethings. It was certainly a glimpse into how less fortunate women are treat when pregnant. I really wanted to reach into the book and hug Anna when she went through the birth/death of her baby. Having has a late miscarriage myself and gone through giving birth to a baby, in my case that I knew would never breath made me really identify with her. It also put how those who lose babies, be they full term or not have been treat in the UK, and the improvements that still need making and put into action. I was glad to read at least Anna had her colleagues to help her through her experience. Anna really goes through a lot herself and share it in this book as well as sharing stories of women she has met, and helped over the years. Anna talks in the book about feeling she let some of the women down but after reading the book, I personally think the tragic events these women went through would have been even worse without Anna.
This book is an amazing read, about Anna, the perhaps more idealistic person she was at the very beginning of her career as an aid worker, how Anna dealt with things in her private life too. Then there’s the career Anna has and the differences she made in procedures and planning of health programs and facilities. This is not only a book about the work Anna has done but a look at how that work impacted her life, relationships and subsequent career.
Summing up this is an emotive memoir about a young woman becoming an aid worker, revealing what it is like for women giving birth in different areas of the world. The beginning of lives. I also found it fascinating that James has gone from being around the beginning of life to now working with those at the end of their lives. I could imagine talking to both Anna and James for hours and hours about their experiences.
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