I decided to do my own little sliver of research as to how I should address the women I care for. This all came about due my my favourite G.P, during one of his diatribes about midwives, saying ‘I have never understood why, because a woman is trying to deliver a baby, it is assumed by midwives that she can be addressed by her first name.’ I thought about this and began to question whether I had just assumed that women would prefer being addressed informaly, I set out to discover how the women I care for feel about it. Usually I call the women in to the consulting room using their Christian names but for the last two weeks I have used their title and surname. Once in the room I have asked them if they would like me address them like that or use their first name. Without exception they have all said that I should use the informal approach, often qualifying this by saying things along the lines of ‘due to the intimate type of relationship midwives have with women this is far more appropriate’, or pointing out that I don’t introduce myself as Sister Midwifemuse but Iuse my Christian name. One of the women today said that when I use her surname and title she feels as if she has done something wrong. I began to ponder Dr Crippens assumption that women prefer to be addressed formally. Perhaps the answer lies in how Doctors in hospital, and some G.P’s address their patients and, perhaps more importantly, how they introduce themselves. Working in the hospital I only very rarely hear the Doctors introduce themselves by their first name, on the whole they refer to themselves, and are referred to by the staff, by their title and surname. They are maintaining a relationship on a formal footing. Why? Musing to myself, and with no evidence other than personal observation and anecdotal, I think it has to do with the type of interaction that is in play. A midwife is attempting to form a relationship with the woman through her pregnancy, labour and following the birth. I don’t anticipate becoming ‘best buddies’ with her, but I would certainly like her to trust, feel at ease and able to discuss anything with me. Once in labour a Doctor has only a fraction of the contact with the woman and her birth partner that the midwife does. S/he is generally only in attendance if labour is deviating from the norm and then that is for reviewing purposes, so short bursts of contact, or to expediate the delivery by instrumental or operative methods. This hardly adds up to the many hours that a midwife may spend in reassuring, encouraging, and soothing a woman (and her birth partner). Another aspect to be considered is the use of titles. Mrs, Ms, Miss, we may be in a permissive age when being unmarried and pregnant is no longer considered socially deviant but some women would rather not have this information broadcast around a crowded waiting-room however, by using a title, this is effectively what we are doing.
Outcome……….I shall continue as I have been. I have never had any complaints about it, my caseload at the moment are happy with me addressing them in friendly terms and I really don’t feel comfortable being addressed as ‘Sister’ and one of the women today said it makes me sound like a Nun, and that makes her uncomfortable!