Promoting normal birth on the Throne of Words

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When I was invited to Southlands High School in Chorley to talk about my book Catching Babies, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The email inviting me specified that the health and social care students in year 10 would ask me questions in relation to my career as a midwife. This was quite a different process to what I am used to; I usually give a short talk about my career and my book, and the questions follow. But this group of 40 14 years olds hadn’t read my book, but were as their teacher later told me ‘interested in healthcare professions’.

So I arrived at the school at 8.30 ready for the 9 o’clock bell and first session of the morning. I was warmly welcomed by one of the subject teachers, Jill. Jill explained that the students had prepared questions for me, and she thought the questions were bob on.

As I watched the girls (no boys in this group!) slope in, in couldn’t help propelling their teachers into the realms of the most esteemed group of professional workers; coping with this adolescent group on a daily basis. Respect.

But I was impressed with their questions. ‘What do you think about home birth?’ was the first enquiry. ‘What was your  scariest moment?’ ‘When I watch “One Born Every Minute” women say they can’t go on, what do you do in those situations?’

So. I was able to talk to these impressionable young women about birth. Birth as a right of passage, birth as a normal physiological process- a social occurrence not a medical procedure. I realised that this was a wonderful opportunity, and I was in a very privileged position.

I wonder what they thought?

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An identity crisis and nurses uniforms

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Some of my NHS ID badges!

There are obviously some of my ID badges missing from here…I had a student nurse, staff nurse, pupil midwife and staff midwife badge in addition to the ones above. And so many tales to tell whilst wearing each one. I didn’t know I had kept them all, but as I make my way through cluttered cupboards as I no longer have to work full time, I am finding lots of gems from the past, such as these. If you want to know more about the stories behind the badges, read my book Catching Babies.

It was only when I pondered on all the ‘midwife’ titles did I consider how confused the public must be with the variation in names of staff working in the NHS. And yet I was proud to wear each ID badge, and never gave a thought to the understanding behind the name for those who read it. And then there’s all those uniforms! Oh my, it used to be that a nurse’s uniform was only worn by nurses, but now the snack machine filler looks like a ward sister….

That aside, I really have mixed views about midwives wearing nurses uniforms. Not averse to having a corporate image (so at least the public can distinguish who is the carer in a hospital situation) I once initiated and managed the move to midwives wearing polo shirts and trousers or skirts, instead of a nurse’s attire. The reason being I believe maternity care should be based on a partnership model, with no hierarchies. Once a midwife dons nurse’s outfit there is a division, an unspoken ‘I am the expert’ from the midwife. Now this might not be apparent; the midwife could very well be the most caring and facilitative of woman centred-ness, but the symbol is there. So we wore our navy or green polo shirts with the word ‘midwife’ blazened above the left breast, and all was well. We had a uniform, but it was less imposing, slightly more informal. There was some rebellion, but eventually it was widely accepted. Until, that is, the porters within the hospital (or was it the maintenance men?) started wearing the same regalia! Well let me tell you that caused a stir. There was anarchy.

Two lovely midwives at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust

Nowadays the midwives are back in nurses uniform. What do you think?

Give a kid a quid: Child Action North West and James Dixon

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James Dixon

During the whole of my midwifery career perhaps the most distressing scenario was when a baby was removed from it’s mother. Many child protection issues are disturbingly beyond belief, some are less apparent, but all cross social and cultural boundaries.  In England, Social Services departments are overstretched, and charities such as the NSPCC , Dr Barnardos, and Child Action North West provide crucial support to help vulnerable children and families. Helping these charity organisations is a great way of contributing to offer hope for children.

When my friend Marion contacted me after she had read my book Catching Babies, my life spun off in a new direction. I was re-introduced to Harriet Roberts, and the fun started. Harriet and Marion work for Child Action North West, (CANW) and they are based in the old Blackburn Orphanage building.

Harriet is working as the Charity’s marketing and fundraising lead, and as an ex BBC employee she is doing a brilliant job. Marion is responsible for training and education, BUT she connects people, easily and efficiently. When I went to CANW headquarters  for the first time I was astonished and fascinated by the history of the place…I saw photos and film of how James Dixon and his wife Jane established Blackburn Orphanage and devoted their lives to helping children. The story is inspirational. The Orphanage closed as an institution in the 1990s, but the ethos of Mr and Mrs Dixon lives on through CANW.

Because the Charity has recently been subjected to serious financial cuts, raising money for the work to continue is a priority. An event has been planned to mark 120 years since the first fundraiser event ‘Pound Day’, and the slogan for the day is ‘Give a kid a quid!’

So last night Paul and I went for ‘tea’ to the headquarters with some friends who I thought would be willing to help with Pound Day, or to help archive the ‘buried treasure’ that has been unearthed in the orphanage building. Now we must prepare for the roles we have to play. Paul and I are to dress up and be James and Jane Dixon for the day…… so watch this space!

Please come and join us, or contact Harriet if you can provide any help or support for this extremely worthy cause hroberts@canw.org.uk

A perfect environment: Cardinal Newman College

Cardinal Newman College

I was invited to a ‘meet the author’ event at Preston’s Cardinal Newman College yesterday, in their fabulous new library. What a delight it was. As Paul and I approached the Frenchwood area we were totally impressed with the college buildings, a perfect mix of old and new architecture. As the sun provided some warmth we felt good walking through the grounds to the impressive entrance, grandly overlooking superb gardens. Cardinal Newman was ranked best sixth form college in the country in 2008, although we’d never heard of it. The college building was once Larkhill Convent School for girls, and home to the Faithful Companion of Jesus Sisters. Before that it was a mill owners home. From the moment we stepped through the doors we realised that the positive aspects of this establishment didn’t stop with the physical environment. The staff were warm and friendly, calm and responsive. This wasn’t just to us as visitors, I noted how they interacted with each other and treated each other with respect. They smiled. The students looked happy too, opened doors for us (again with a smile) and the ethos of the college radiated through to us immediately.

In 2006 I was lucky enough to be involved in an educational programme Being with Patients which aimed to promote awareness of the human needs of patients and relatives when in hospital. The project highlighted the importance of a caring approach throughout the hospital which would ultimately speed recovery. It was the brainchild of an amazing colleague, Brigid Reid. I learned so much through being involved and the participants reported how it made a difference at patient level. What struck me yesterday at the College was the fact that they ‘had it’. Everything that we tried to do within our organisation was here, working beautifully. What a difference it makes!

I met excited students who had been accepted on the midwifery degree programme at UCLan (what an achievement!), and those who were studying health and social care. Paul and I met lovely members of staff, some of whom had been students at the college not many years before….always a good sign!

I then gave a talk to the students about my career and writing Catching Babies.

I also signed books that were being sold by Sara from Waterstones, and copies won in a competition!

Thank you Claire Moore (and Sara) for inviting me to be involved in your work. The whole morning made us smile.