Meet the women working on the Christmas front—from emergency room nurses to retail workers

fFor millions of people across the UK, Christmas is a time to eat, drink and be merry after a long, hard year. But think of those who will have to work over the holidays, many in female-dominated jobs.

From care to retail – many industries don’t stand still during the holidays, but get busier.

The Independent spoke to women in jobs where the female gender is statistically over-represented about what it’s like to work through Christmas while the rest of the country is on hiatus.

The midwife: “I left the shift on Christmas day crying”

Anna Kent has worked as a midwife and nurse

(Anna Kent)

During her 12 years as a midwife and 20 years as a nurse, Anna Kent often worked on Christmas Day. Her experience spans a range of emotions, from the joy of a new birth to the tragedy of a young death.

The 41-year-old says: “I often left the shift on Christmas Day crying. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t exempt people from the dangers of childbirth.

“It’s the worst feeling when you can’t do the work you want people to do because you don’t have enough staff around you. Letting people down is terrible any day of the year, but especially at Christmas.”

Tragedy struck while caring for a 17-year-old boy who died of cardiac arrest in the emergency room on Christmas morning after taking ecstasy the night before.

And the pressure on the NHS certainly won’t go away at Christmas, as the fate of a shift depends largely on how well staffed it is.

But Ms Kent, who works at Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, says staff morale is “high” and there is a sense of “comradeship” among workers as she explains how the NHS feels like a “family “ can feel.

And she’s also helped give families the best gift they can have by delivering babies on Christmas Day.

“I’ve had some wonderful experiences,” says Ms. Kent. “One Christmas morning, a woman decided to have a water birth without a birth partner. Christmas carols played to the music. There were soft twinkling lights. We were in the warm water. We had aromatherapy. It was quite magical, she was really relaxed. We really bonded.”

The retail manager: “Eventually you just go deaf”

Martyna Gasiowsko hasn’t come home for Christmas in years

(Martyna Gasiorovsko)

Martyna Gasiowsko, assistant manager of a luxury boutique on Carnaby Street in London, says Christmas is the busiest time of the year.

“I already know what I have to prepare for,” says the 28-year-old from Poland. “It’s stressful, it’s a lot. There are many more customers. I haven’t returned to Poland for Christmas for five years. If you work in retail you can’t take vacations at this time of the year.”

She says Brexit has meant it’s now harder to find staff, leaving her workplace struggling with understaffing.

At first it was difficult not being able to see her family at Christmas, she adds, who finds it “almost scandalous” that she has to work during the Christmas period.

“In Poland everything is closed from December 24th to 27th because it is a Catholic country,” she says. “You go to church. My family assumes I’m very unhappy if I work at Christmas, but because I’ve been doing it for so long it doesn’t bother me that much. Eventually you just go deaf. It’s sad when you go through it for the first time.”

Ms Gasiowsko says she sometimes feels “a little relieved” that she doesn’t have to celebrate a family Christmas – and joked that her bank account prefers it too. “I can control the stress at work,” she adds. “The one at home is more difficult.”

The nurse: “Christmas is put on hold”

Rachel Charles Says You’ve “Get Used to Death”

(Rachel Karl)

Rachel Charles, a caregiver for six years, says it can be very busy on Christmas Day as more staff are unemployed.

The 40-year-old, who cares for people at the end of their lives in their own homes, adds: “It’s difficult being away from your family. I have to get my kids up around 5.30am to unwrap their presents and then my husband takes care of them all day. It’s a 13-hour shift.”

The mother-of-five, who lives in the East Midlands, says her family is repeating Christmas Day on Boxing Day. She explains that her children are fortunate to understand that people need help during the holiday season.

“Some people are sad,” Ms. Charles recalls. “Some of the older people are quite lonely. They have no family visiting them. We spend extra time with them.

“Some customers don’t like Christmas because it shows their family isn’t interested. For some dying people who have relatives there, Christmas is put on the back burner.

“It’s strange – you get used to death. I feel carers are underestimated by the government. There is a lot of pressure on nurses. When nurse pay rises come into play, we get overlooked. Without us, the nurses could not do their job.”

The sex worker: ‘People jump into fantasy to forget their problems’

Epiphany Jones cams with people who are lonely over Christmas

(Epiphany Jones)

Epiphany Jones, a London-based sex worker, narrates The Independent that some of her clients are isolated on Christmas Day so she always makes time for video calls with them.

Ms Jones, who does cam work, adds: “I will be spending a lot of time online with fans over the Christmas holidays. The men are really lonely. Sometimes they are depressed. I like to cheer up their spirits and make them feel loved. Everyone deserves to feel loved, especially at Christmas.”

The 33-year-old says many of the men she video calls with on Christmas Day are alone as they work or don’t have families.

“My greatest concern is discretion towards my customers,” she adds. “If they want to tell me, they will tell me. When they are with me they want to forget reality and escape. They are in a fantasy world, so I don’t want to bring them back to reality.

“Some say they don’t like Christmas and it’s a sad time of year because it brings back bad memories. People have died, so they just like to jump into this fantasy world to forget their worries.

“I set a time before friends and family come over on Christmas Day where I organize video calls and unwrap Christmas presents with fans.”

The nurse: “People are surprised that we are open”

Rachael Nanikhan Says Domestic Violence Rises Around Christmas

(Rachael Nanikhan)

Rachael Nanikhan, a care manager at a pediatric emergency services in London, works frequently over the bank holidays and last year worked 12 hours on Christmas night. She often sees the dark side of the celebrations firsthand.

“The joy of Christmas can be spoiled,” she says. “Sometimes the fun goes too far. Domestic violence incidents can increase at Christmas time.”

Long hours and unsocial shifts can also pose problems for family reunions at this time of year. “You can’t travel to relatives,” says the mother of two. “The employees have to find their own way. Taxis paid for by the NHS stopped a few years ago.

“Childcare is the most difficult thing to reconcile in the nursing profession. Christmas is agonizingly hard because of the lack of childcare and transportation options. Instead, you rely on your family or the generosity of your co-workers to make shift changes.”

But there is camaraderie on the wards despite the difficult circumstances. “We try to be optimistic about each other,” says Ms. Nanikhan, who has been a nurse for 11 years. “There is no point in spreading doom and gloom about it. Most people would like to be somewhere else, but the nature of our work is 24/7.”

Ms Nanikhan says Christmas has been very lonely for patients over the past year due to Covid visiting rules, as they may have spent all or most of the day without their loved ones next to them.

“Nobody wants to be in the hospital over Christmas,” she says. “We will try to create as happy an environment as possible.”

She explains that it can be busier on Christmas Day as extra people come into the area, but that it can also be “oddly quiet”. “People are always surprised when they walk in and see we’re open,” she adds.

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