No sleep for twenty hours. No food for ten. And a ward full of soon-to-be mothers… Welcome to the life of a midwife.

Life on the NHS front line, working within a system at breaking point, is more extreme than you could ever imagine. From the bloody to the beautiful, from moments of utter vulnerability to remarkable displays of strength, from camaraderie to raw desperation, from heart-wrenching grief to the pure, perfect joy of a new-born baby, midwife Leah Hazard has seen it all.

Through her eyes, we meet Eleanor, whose wife is a walking miracle of modern medicine, their baby a feat of reproductive science; Crystal, pregnant at just fifteen, the precarious, flickering life within her threatening to come far too soon; Star, birthing in a room heady with essential oils and love until an enemy intrudes and Pei Hsuan, who has carried her tale of exploitation and endurance thousands of miles to somehow find herself at the open door of Leah’s ward.

Moving, compassionate and intensely candid, Hard Pushed is a love letter to new mothers and to Leah’s fellow midwives – there for us at some of the most challenging, empowering and defining moments of our lives.

We all know what midwives do. They do an amazing job bringing new live into the world, and they get to cuddle babies all day and night – just how lucky do they want to be?

Ok, so maybe it’s not quite all cuddles and teeny tiny feet and fingers. In fact, it’s very often not like that at all. Leah Hazard (yes, that’s her real name) came to the profession a little later in life, and threw herself into her new role as an NHS midwife with impressive gusto. A sensitive, yet sensible mother of 2, she has seen it all, and to be frank, covered in most of it.

Leah is like that friend you have that you go to when you want real advice, rather than platitudes. She’ll tell you the truth, but do it gently, in a way that makes you appreciate her sensitivity rather than get defensive and want to slap her. She brings this quality with her to the maternity ward, and as hundreds of expectant women swarm the phone lines to Triage, she has to try and separate out those who are convinced that their recent fake tan has harmed their baby, and those who are genuinely in urgent need of medical intervention, but who think they’ll just be ‘making a fuss’.

Easy to read and full of heart, this book is in some ways a female focused version of Adam Kay’s spectacularly successful debut novel “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor”. While I felt really uncomfortable and frustrated at how the pressure is unflinchingly piled on this essential resource and the consequences that this has for the midwife, the patient and underpinning it all, the NHS, Leah Hazard has written a warm, witty and compelling account of why these services should be protected at all costs.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review.