Sunday, 15 January 2012

Call the Midwife: my own memories of a very important delivery

Just a day old. It's hard to believe he's now 10.
I am looking forward to tonight's new television series, Call the Midwife, with much anticipation. Ever since I saw the trailer, distant memories have been bubbling away, taking me back to one of the most significant events in my life and reliving the birth of my eldest son as well as the time I met Jennifer Worth, the midwife and writer who inspired the series.

But he wasn't born in the during the 1950s, which is the period setting of the TV drama - that would have been some miracle.  No, he entered the world half a century later, in the high-tech environment of Hemel Hempstead General Hospital, in 2001.

Born at just 34 weeks, it was a struggled labour, which spread across a whole weekend and four or possibly even five midwifery shifts. It started with the hospital's early decision to delay delivery due to his gestation. They told me that every opportunity to increase his lung capacity would help him, even at 34 weeks.  My labour was temporarily halted with the appropriate drugs, but when the contractions started again in earnest the following day, even though nature was taking its course, when push came to shove (excuse the pun) it became apparent that my baby's head was in the wrong position to enable a safe delivery.

After thirty-six hours in the delivery suite, he was finally born by emergency caesarian and than spent the first two weeks of his life in the Special Care Baby Unit.

Those first few weeks were some of my most traumatic ever and I was grateful for the care that we'd both received.  However, it was not until I met Jennifer Worth, several months later and I heard her tales of midwifery and births during the 1950s, did I really appreciate how lucky we were.

Jennifer Worth, the author of the books that inspired the new BBC drama, lived a couple of streets away from me in Boxmoor, an old Victorian suburb of Hemel Hempstead.  I first met her at the local bartering group, which I joined after my son was born.  She gave a talk one evening about her new book that had just been published, featuring her memoirs as a midwife in London's East End.  She painted scenes of a bygone era and I recall tales of her cycling through the streets from her nursing convent to over-crowded blocks of flats with poor sanitation and babies being born at home into situations that we would wince at today. Yet it was one where the human and community spirit thrived. It felt a different world to the one that I had experienced only months earlier.

Jennifer was passionate that the stories of life back then should be told to a modern audience and that the work of the midwife and what a mother went through during what may be many births, should be both acknowledged, recognised and celebrated.

I asked her about my son's birth and what would have happened if times were different.  It brought a distinct chill when she said he most likely would have died without the modern facilities and intervention that I had experienced.  It was a reminder of how much the midwifery profession had changed.

It was some time after that, I had the pleasure of talking to Jennifer Worth again, this time in the beautiful setting of her garden. I'd popped in to visit her husband's art studio, as part of the local Open Studios event.  She was sat at a table near a tree, writing her next manuscript and again we spoke of her memories and her ambitions to put the role of the midwife into the spotlight.  What was most distinct about her manner was that amidst her passion and love of her work, was a total air of gentle modesty.  I don't think she could have even guessed that a whole decade later her books, which were then printed by a small publisher, would become commissioned as a major TV series for the BBC.

Over Christmas, whilst reading the Radio Times, I was sad to discover that Jennifer Worth had died last year, just before filming had started.  In the meantime her work had become a best-selling trilogy.  Indeed, chatting to a trainee midwife friend of mine just the other night revealed how much her books are loved amongst those in the profession today.

I only have her first book, which I bought after her talk.  If that is anything to go by, the series, which starts tonight at 8pm on BBC1, will make viewers laugh as well as cry.

And dare I say, as well as reminding someone like me, how lucky my own birth experience was by comparison, in Jennifer Worth, I think the country has belatedly found itself an inspirational new role model.

1 comment:

  1. it is a wonderful ser.ies - very true to the book and Miranda is perfect as Chummy. it makes you grateful for modern technology