For most teenagers, the path toward maturity is paved with plenty of growing pains but one student faced and tackled a triple hit of setbacks that would challenge most of us.
Jessica Perkins – who comes from Liverpool – is in the final year of her Midwifery degree at the University of Northampton.
She joined the University after a difficult professional gestation that started at the age of 15 with a devastating loss: the death of her Mum.
She explains: “I was very, very close to my Mum. She had multiple sclerosis (MS) and had been ill throughout her life, but losing her when I was so young was a real body blow.
“We were like best friends and talked about and shared everything, including one really deep and personal conversation when I was 13. It floored me at the time but, looking back, it actually ‘made’ me.
“We were talking about the future and Mum said that when she was younger she wanted to be a midwife but that the MS made that dream more pretty much impossible.
“She added that before I was born, she had two stillbirths and her experience of some of the midwives wasn’t good, that they didn’t communicate well she felt she wasn’t being listened to.
“I was gobsmacked by what she said, but what I clearly remember is that she still spoke with passion about midwifery. It was difficult not to start feeling interested in midwifery myself.”
That conversation was the catalyst for all of Jessica’s professional ambitions, helping shape her opinion of this vitally important profession. It also helped her keep focused as there were tougher times ahead.
Jessica adds: “It was difficult going back to school after Mum died as it happened during the summer holidays, as all of my classmates knew and were looking at me as I walked into class on the first day of term.
“I suddenly felt very different, not just from my loss but also because I felt Mum had left me with something, a sense of purpose, to make sure future families had the right sort of care when they needed it.
“But knowing I wanted to go to university to fulfill this meant I had something to set my sights. I passed eight of my GCSE’s but then life at home took me down a very different road.
“My dad started a new relationship and family with his partner, but I didn’t get on with my stepmother. It got worse and as my first year of ‘A’ levels continued, it was obvious I was suffering as my grades slipped and my teachers started to notice.
“It got bad enough that I left home and lived in supported accommodation alongside people who were a bit older than me. They were messy and noisy when all I wanted to do was get my head down and study!
“It seemed the police were called out every weekend so perhaps with all of the distractions I didn’t have my sensible head on when, the week before I took my exams, I extinguished a small oil fire in a cooking pan by running it under a cold tap.
“I suffered severe burns to my hands that had to be bandaged. I couldn’t write the answers to the exam questions and had to dictate them. That was a really weird experience.”
Although Jessica didn’t quite get the top ‘A’ level results she wanted, all was not lost. After looking at several universities, she took a punt on studying some distance from home and came for an interview at the University of Northampton.
She knew instantly it was the right choice: “I travelled across the country for various Open Days but the impression I got from people was when you found the right uni, you just knew.
“At Northampton, the student midwives just oozed with pride in being here. I scored well on the interview and, coincidentally, received confirmation of my acceptance on the course on the anniversary of Mum’s death. It felt like she was sat on my shoulder cheering me on and that I was absolutely meant to study here.”
Now nearing the end of her undergraduate degree, Jessica will graduate in early 2021 and works part-time as a Healthcare Assistant at Northampton General Hospital (NGH).
She has been true to the promise she made for her Mum by making sure she always communicates thoroughly and compassionately. So much so, that senior staff at NGH have recommended her for ambassadorial roles to help promote the profession.
This has included being the student representative for a national, Health Education England podcast about midwifery careers in which Jessica answered questions from an audience of under-16’s.
She concludes: “Studying midwifery is such a huge responsibility because the role is very demanding and emotional – you are laughing one minute and crying the next. I’ve suggested posting motivational reminder notes in the areas around the hospital where we go to chill and decompress that say: ‘You’ve got this!’
“That statement sums up midwives, my experiences so far and what I know my Mum will be thinking about me, too.”
Find out more about the Midwifery (BSc) degree at University of Northampton.