An award-winning pregnancy mindset expert, Ruth Oshikanlu, a nurse, midwife and health visitor with over 25 years experience practicing in the United Kingdom, was recently awarded with a Member of The British Empire (MBE) in the New Year Honours list as an Ambassador of Health Visiting and for her services to community nursing, children and families. In this interview with TAYO GESINDE, she speaks on her profession, passion, and how racial injustice made her to be more determined to succeed. Excerpts:
What informed your choice of career?
I did not plan to be a nurse. My parents wanted me to study medicine. In my late teens, I came to England and after toying with several courses including computing and electronics, decided to train as a nurse as it was the only affordable course I could take because I was considered an overseas student. Upon completing my nurse training, whilst working in the accident and emergency department, I was involved in the birth of a baby and was intrigued by it. Within a few weeks, I had commenced my midwifery training and upon qualifying, worked as a midwife, specialised in HIV midwifery until I became a mother. In order to maintain work-life balance I pursued a career in health visiting (specialist community public health nursing) and worked on a Department of Health project supporting vulnerable children and families, which was my last role with The National Health Service (NHS). I left public service over a decade ago to start my own private practice supporting women with fertility problems or that have experienced recurrent miscarriage.
What are your contributions thus far towards enlightenment campaigns and creation of awareness for health concerns and development in the sector?
As a parenting expert, I have supported thousands of women and babies in pregnancy, labour and childbirth, the postnatal period through to toddlerhood. I am also a regular columnist in several nursing and healthcare journals and a regular guest lecturer at numerous universities on the subject of parental-foetal attachment, perinatal and infant mental health, adverse childhood experiences; domestic abuse and female genital mutilation. My mission is to be: ‘With Woman, With Child’. To date I have been conferred with twelve healthcare and business awards. I was also appointed a Member of The British Empire (MBE) in the 2019 New Year Honours List for services to community nursing, children and families.
What were the challenges you faced in the line of duty?
One of my greatest challenges was racial injustice! As a black person, one has to work much harder than her white counterpart to get the same rewards. Even after putting the effort in, there are no guarantees that it will pay off! Whilst working within the NHS, I experienced a ‘glass ceiling’ for black people. There were several occasions that I applied for roles and did get them only to be managed by someone who was not as qualified or competent. I found this frustrating and chose to be the master of my destiny and left the NHS.
Did you face any form of discrimination as a result of your race?
Most definitely! I spent my formative years in Nigeria and my colour was not an issue until I came to the UK. However, I have not let it deter me. Instead, I use it to propel me. I remember an incident in the 1990s. At the time, I lived in an affluent part of Kent and could not drive, so I had to rely on public transportation. On this particular cold morning, I waited at the bus stop. I was the only person at the stop and hailed the bus to stop. Despite the bus driver seeing me, he did not stop and smirked as he drove past. I had to walk about 45minutes in the cold to my destination. With each step I took in anger, I vowed to learn how to drive. Within twelve weeks, I had passed my driving test and had bought a vehicle. There have been many times I have felt prejudiced because of my race. But it has made me tenacious and more determined to succeed.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I love the difference that I make to clients. I support pregnant women who have problems conceiving or have had recurrent miscarriages. Often, these women are very anxious and fearful that they may lose their babies in pregnancy. I derive so much pleasure and fulfilment equipping women with the knowledge they need to grow and raise healthy babies from conception, labour and childbirth and beyond. I derive so much pleasure and fulfilment equipping women with the knowledge.
You are also an author, where did you get the inspiration for your book?
My book is called: Tune In To Your Baby: Because Babies Don’t come with an instruction manual. The inspiration for the book came from my pregnancy experience. I spent five months hospitalised in pregnancy, having almost had a miscarriage at 21 weeks. It was a difficult experience and I wanted any other pregnant woman who almost loses her baby in pregnancy to be inspired by my story but also learn from what I believe made the greatest difference: my positive mindset and connecting and developing with the baby in uterus. Many who have read the book have provided great feedback on the positive difference the book has made in enabling them to parent their baby from conception.
How does it feel to be honoured with the MBE award by the queen?
I feel ecstatic to be recognised for the position and contribution I have made to community nursing, children and families. I love what I do and am passionate about reducing health inequalities. I am drawn to working with marginalised groups in the community and in previous roles specialised in caring for patients with sickle cell disease, pregnant women that were HIV positive, pregnant teenagers and teenage parents. To be conferred with a MBE makes me more determined to make more of a difference to those I serve.
In what ways have you been contributing to the health sector in Nigeria?
I work very closely with the Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association in the UK. They are often involved in projects which I contribute to. I mentor several Nigerian nurses via a virtual platform created to exchange knowledge and share expertise between UK and Nigerian nurses.
Why is your focus on children and their families?
The first 1000 days of life (pregnancy and the first two years of life) are crucial for life outcomes. Just as a strong foundation ensures that a house is able to withstand storms, building a strong foundation in early life ensures that an individual is better able to be resilient and withstand life’s storms. There is so much evidence about the neurological developments of infants, promoting maternal and infant mental health. My mission is to ensure that more parents understand how important this phase of life is, so that they can support their children to become healthy adults; and healthy children and adults create a healthy society.
How have you been combining the home front with your career?
It can be quite challenging especially as I am a single parent. Through effective planning and discipline, I am able to manage both well. I maintain a very good routine and plan work and play into my schedule. I ensure that I go to bed early and wake up early. I also have a very good support network that I can rely on when I have to be away from home.
You have won many awards in the course of your career. What is the secret of your success?
Finding my purpose and living on purpose have been my keys to success. I was made to care and have made caring my mission. I am very determined and tenacious. I do not take no for an answer and have a can-do mindset. I also surround myself with like-minded people and love to collaborate as I believe that ‘no man is an island.’ When I do not get the expected outcome(s), I am quick to go back to the drawing board to learn lessons, revamp my plan and keep persisting until I actualise my vision. I am also passionate about growing others, especially as I believe that I am a product of all those that have supported my growth and development. I am on a mission to leave a legacy within my profession.
How many years have you been abroad, and any plan of relocation?
I have been in the UK since my late teens, almost three decades. I have no plans to relocate but do plan to share what I have learned with health professionals back in Nigeria and learn from them too.
What do you think are the basic things parents should look out for raising their children from babyhood for a healthy growth and immunity to childhood diseases?
A healthy childhood starts from having a healthy pregnancy. Good antenatal care is vital in pregnancy, along with good nutrition, hydration, exercise and adequate rest. Mental health is as important as physical health. It is important to reduce stress levels in pregnancy as we now know more about the impact of stress hormones on the developing foetus. After birth, breastfeeding also helps in promoting an infant’s immunity and the bond between a mother and her infant(s). Also essential is an infant’s mental health which often seems to be neglected as many parents are often unaware of this. It was one of the reasons that I penned my book; to encourage parents to tune in to their babies.
What advice do you have for women?
Know your worth! Find your purpose! Live on purpose! I believe that women are a powerhouse. Having supported numerous women in pregnancy, labour and childbirth, I have developed a deep respect for women and their mental strength. The fact that we as a species are not extinct is because of women. Despite this, many women doubt their ability. Others choose to tear other women down. Imagine, if we as women, with all our power work collaboratively, what difference we can make in the world. Thus, my advice for women is to trust their strength, find a purpose, seek allies that support that purpose and work with them to make an impact.