Sylvie Coché is a midwife at one of the biggest private hospitals in the Rhône-Alpes, Hôpital Privé Natecia in Lyon, where there are more than 4,000 births a year.
She has worked in the profession for 35 years, and has recently written a book recounting some of the many experiences she has had.
Her stories are often funny, always tender, sometimes sad – and make for a book that will have you laughing and crying in equal measure.
It has been a huge success and her tales of the labour ward have led her to an unexpected life in the limelight with interviews on national media.
The book is called Poussez, Madame! (“Push, madam!”) – a phrase she has repeated hundreds and thousands of times for the 10,000 or more babies she estimates she has helped bring into the world.
What is your favourite anecdote in the book?
It has to be when I was a very young midwife and a woman came into the labour ward.
Her waters had broken. I asked her to take off her clothes and as she lowered her pants, suddenly the baby appeared, landed in her pants, and bounced as if on a trampoline and then slid onto the floor.
There was panic from both the mother and her friend, so I had to calm them down and take care of the baby – who suffered no ill effects from the adventure. I have an unforgettable memory of this miracle.
There are many memorable tales in the book. Can you sum up what it is you love about your work?
It is difficult to sum it up but we participate in something miraculous.
We welcome one person and then find ourselves with two.
What I like most is to accompany and help the person and then have the satisfaction of having achieved something.
You have the impression you have been useful and you have the proof. When you are a nurse it is different and I admire them enormously and though there are not dramas every day, they are confronted with illness and suffering and death more frequently than us and you need to be really strong psychologically to cope.
We work 90% of the time with a happy ending.
How did you come to write the book?
It was not my idea, but I have always enjoyed telling people about my work and making people laugh.
I have always found that humour is the best way to communicate.
One day, a colleague told me a publisher was looking for a midwife as the subject of a book and I agreed to pass on my telephone number.
I met with the publisher, and we got on really well – so I launched into the world of writing.
In Britain there is a very popular series, Call the Midwife. Here, your book has been very successful and you have been interviewed by the national media. Do you think this is because the general public have a fascination with midwives?
I would not say it is our job that is fascinating, but birth is. Even in an age when we have access to all sorts of scientific and medical knowledge, birth still remains miraculous and mysterious.
Whenever I am with a group of people I do not know, there will always be someone who will come to me to talk about their childbirth experience. Women like to talk about their experience with someone who knows about it.
There are not so many midwives, so people do not come across us socially every day.
After 35 years, is birth still a mystery for you?
There are always surprises. Despite all the scientific advances we still cannot know exactly when a woman will give birth.
There are so many different factors at play which have to come together in the woman’s body to make the birth happen.
It is not just the number of weeks.
There is a special alchemy which remains mysterious, and it is different for each woman. We see so many births, but never the same thing twice, so you can never know quite what will happen.
And so you are never bored?
No. Sometimes we would like to be because some days are extremely busy!
Have things changed a great deal since you started 35 years ago?
The basics do not change. Our job is to help a woman give birth in the best possible circumstances and to reassure her. But technology has evolved and so we have far more monitoring to do.
The arrival of computers means we have far more forms to fill in.
The medical legal pressures have increased because people are more and more demanding and critical with far more complaints and legal cases, which is a huge burden for us.
Masses of information available to the public means some people tell us what they think we should do because they have read something on the internet, but when they look things up, and do not understand the job as we do, they often interpret it badly.
Usually I find that if you communicate with a couple and you explain well, they will understand and I think communication is one of the basic roles of our profession.
We really have to explain what we are doing and why, and if we are not doing what they expect, we have to explain that too. You always have to be caring and listen to the patient.
It is a stressful situation and mothers-to-be are often aggressive, but it is because, in fact, they are scared.
Is it really the best job in the world, le plus beau métier du monde?
Yes, but it is a job which is going through hard times at the moment. The hours are difficult and complicated with family life.
For all caring jobs it is difficult because now, in hospitals, there aren’t enough staff, not enough equipment and we feel we cannot do our job correctly.
We have huge responsibilities and if we do not have the right equipment it becomes much more stressful.
So from that point of view, it is not the best job in the world, but when you see the parents crying from happiness, the arrival of a baby and when you have saved a life, because that happens too, you have a huge sense of fulfilment and then, it is fantastic.