4 Births Document a Changing NHS (1954-67)

Anon, Gloucester, 1954-67


I was born in 1931 and married in 1954. I am the fourth of five children, and we all grew up in Sheffield during the war, so things were never easy for any of us, what with bombing raids and evacuation and rationing! I left school when I was eighteen, after Higher School Certificate, and then trained in Liverpool to be a physiotherapist.

After I qualified, I applied for a job in Gloucester, as there was a good train service between there and Sheffield, where my parents still lived. Happily, I was accepted and worked in a general hospital, in every department in turn, including maternity. I shared a flat with a friend and we enjoyed being independent, going to parties and dances, just having a good time. Two years later I married an architect.

My husband and I rented a rural cottage in which there was no electricity, so we had Calor gas for cooking, refrigeration, ironing and some lighting – otherwise oil lamps. There was no mains water, but we had a pump over the sink, that we had to operate by hand. This brought up the water into a tank, so we could flush the loo and have a bath. Of course that meant a lot of pumping! There was a pond in the garden with ducks on it. Romantic maybe, but very basic, but then practically no-one lived in centrally heated homes in those days, and many had outside loos. As our loo was inside, that was luxury indeed!

FIRST BORN

Anyway, I became pregnant, no problem in getting pregnant in our family. The GP confirmed it when I started the morning sickness. Unfortunately that turned into morning, noon and night sickness! Hyperemesis gravidarum. I became so dehydrated that I had to be admitted to hospital to be put on a drip. That started as a rectal drip, and was followed by a drip in my arm. I had also lost a lot of weight. I felt there was little sympathy for me from the nursing staff, but I did improve and was able to return to work. One odd side effect was that I could not bear to drink tea! And I so loved my cup of tea normally.

It was normal to have your first baby in hospital so I was referred to the consultant obstetrician, when about five months. The baby was due in early January. He examined my tummy and then asked if I was sure of my dates. He then arranged for me to have my tummy X-rayed. Yes, really, X rays of the baby!! Two X-rays were taken, front to back and side to side and then I was told that I was having twins and shown the X-rays. Two little knobs for heads and two strings of beads that were the vertebral columns! That was a surprise! However was I going to manage two babies in our primitive cottage? No scans in those days! I just about managed to keep working till I was almost six months pregnant and then we had to start thinking about our future with two babies. In those days if you were pregnant it was assumed that you had finished working and had to resign. No Maternity Pay or the job kept open, and no Family Allowance for the first baby.

My sister and I shared maternity clothes and carry cots, so we just had to buy one and I could borrow hers. She had just had her first baby, a boy. I seemed to spend the next three months sewing baby clothes, knitting matinee jackets, buying dozens of terry towelling and muslin nappies, cot bedding etc. etc. We managed to get a second hand twin pram. I had to rest more and more, but it was all going to be worth while as we were getting two for the price of one! The babies were due early in January, but I was told to prepare for them to be premature. That seemed unlikely as I just got bigger and bigger. It was very cold that December, and for the first time ever we would not be enjoying a family Christmas with my family in Yorkshire. Those babies were not in a hurry to leave their cosy home to enter the cold world. Despite all the resting my ankles swelled up so that getting shoes on was very difficult. The bed was put up on bricks at the foot to elevate my legs at night. The local Midwife was also the Health Visitor, so she too was keeping an eye on me. She was the best nurse I have ever met. More about her later. I saw the consultant just before Christmas and he decided that I should be admitted just after Christmas for induction, and certainly for more bed rest and salt free diet!

So my husband and I had a chicken for Christmas dinner, went to watch the hunt on Boxing Day and I went into hospital on 27 December. I looked enormous and weighed in at 12 stone. I was told I had toxaemia – now called pre-eclampsia. As a former staff member I was given a room to myself.

It was imperative that the birth was induced. I was getting quite excited that soon I would see my babies. They had been very active inside me for months and I felt I knew them. Would I have a couple of footballers or ballet dancers, or perhaps one of each?

To induce the birth I was given a cup of castor oil with orange juice to flavour it. Apart from opening my bowels in a big way, nothing else happened. Continue the bed rest and salt free diet. The only doctor I saw was a junior doctor doing his six months experience on a maternity ward. On New Year’s Eve he decided to ‘break the waters’ so I was taken down to the theatre and he poked around for ages before saying he was not able to do it. It was very unpleasant, but in a way I was happy that I might not have one baby in 1955 and one in 1956! Castor oil again! Diarrhoea again. Still no babies.

Wednesday was the day the consultant did his rounds – the only day! On January 4, he came to see me and told me he would do the induction himself. Back to the theatre that same afternoon. He very quickly broke the waters of the first baby, and soon after that I went into labour. I was taken to a different room for this first stage and left there on my own. I had read all the books and practised all the relaxation exercises, so when it became very painful, I thought something was wrong. Occasionally a midwife popped in to see if I was O.K. and I was assured that all was well. At that time husbands or other family members were excluded. In any case, no-one could take time off work just because their wife was having a baby, either for the birth or other visits.

It was not too long before I was taken into the room where I was to give birth. I was absolutely thrilled that soon I would meet my much wanted babies. As far as I remember there were two midwives and the same junior doctor. I had taken off my glasses – I am very short sighted – and they had put them on the nearby locker. Unfortunately, someone knocked them off the locker and broke the lens, which was, of course, made of glass, so my vision was very limited.

At 10.15p.m. my first son was born, cried lustily and was immediately removed to be weighed and washed. I vaguely saw him before I went into labour again. The placenta came next. Just twenty minutes later his brother was born. As my glasses had been broken I could only dimly see that they were doing things to him and it was very quiet – no cry from the baby. Everything was a blur in every way. After a time, someone came to say that they were sorry but I was only going to have one baby. The first boy weighed 7 lbs 7 oz and his brother was just over 7 lbs. The second placenta came away and then there was the stitching up to be done. The same junior doctor had my legs put up in stirrups and proceeded to do the necessary stitching without a local anaesthetic! No wonder I was so shocked that my leg came out of the stirrup and hit him on the head. Serve him right!

I did not hold my healthy baby till much later and the second I never held at all. This has haunted me all my life. I had felt him move, I had seen him on x-ray, I had grown to love him and he was taken away when I had scarcely seen him. His name was Peter, after my grandfather.

I was wheeled back to my room. The soiled sheets (after the induction) had not been changed, but I was past caring. It was very late, and I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I was alone. Some one phoned my husband and he was asked to come and see the consultant the next day.

Apart from when I was in the delivery room no-one expressed their sympathy. Perhaps none of the other nurses even knew that my baby had died as they handed over his brother for his feed. The babies were kept in a nursery. I had no problem breast-feeding him. My tummy had reduced considerably and I now weighed 9 stone, a reduction of 3 stone overnight! That was one stone under my normal healthy weight. With over 14 lbs of baby, the end of my sternum had been pushed forward and had to be pushed back by the doctor.

In those days the stay in hospital was two weeks, ten days of which were totally in bed. The nurses swabbed us down below twice a day. The baby was produced for feeds and then removed. One day my son was given to me for feeding with the binder round his tummy all bloody. By now I was sure he too would die, but whatever the cause it healed up fine. No-one mentioned the twin brother or seemed to be aware of how unhappy I was. The care was all about the physical side of things and was very good.

Meanwhile what was happening to Peter. Someone spoke to my husband (not me) and explained that a post mortem had to done to find out how a healthy full-term baby did not survive the delivery. He was also asked what his wishes were for disposal of the baby. Disposal was the word used! When he asked what was the usual procedure, he was told that an undertaker could put him in a grave somewhere when there was an interment, but we would not be able to choose where or when. He was also told he had to register the birth and still birth.

We discussed this together and decided that our son should be buried properly in our village churchyard in a proper coffin. It was all so difficult. Being happy that our other son was alive and well made it emotionally challenging. The Rector of our parish was leaving the village on the Saturday, so did not visit me. There was no service to the maternity ward from the hospital chaplaincy, and it did not seem that the midwives were trained in the necessary counselling. They had enough to do dealing with delivering babies and looking after the mums’ physical needs. It was decided that Peter should be buried on the Saturday, so my husband, with the undertaker and the Rector took the tiny coffin and Peter was duly buried in the churchyard, in the place where other babies had been buried in the past. There were no other mourners present.

The result of the post mortem was that there had been a tentorial tear. This was bleeding on the brain due to damage during the process of being born. This was probably because the second baby was pushed rapidly from higher in the abdomen to the birth canal and the soft bones of the skull were compressed rapidly causing the haemorrhage. Had the bleed been less severe he might have survived with brain damage – either cerebral palsy and/or learning difficulties.

The thought of one baby being fit and well and his twin being handicapped was certainly food for thought. I assume midwives are aware of this possibility and take measures to ensure that a second birth is not precipitate. My over-riding thought was that I would never again give birth in that hospital. The midwife I remember who showed kindness, was the one who realised I was producing enough milk for two. Even after I had expressed milk to be given to a premature baby, I could scarcely get my arms to my side. She arranged for me to have a few of the pills given to suppress milk production. So then there was milk for one and that was fine by me and my son.

The emotional challenge was profound. We needed to grieve over the death of Peter but at the same time rejoice over the survival his healthy brother. It still causes me problems.

Our first born son grew to be six foot three. He lives in London and has a very good job. Whenever we meet I see the shadow of his twin brother beside him. He too is very aware that he is a twin.

One other point. All multiple births were in hospital. That week there were three other sets of twins born. Two of the others had only one who survived and one stillborn. The mother who had healthy twins did not want them, did not see them, and had put them up for adoption. It was so sad. Had this happened in 2013, it is likely there would have been an inquiry. It just seemed to me that it was acceptable then.

SECOND BIRTH

We moved into the house we had built nearby when our son was about six months old. Now we had electricity and running water. When he was about fifteen months old I was pregnant again. More morning sickness, but not quite as bad. We went back to stay with my parents, my toddler and I. My mother ensured I was fed and my father entertained his grandson, or was it the other way round. Hyperemesis is accompanied by low blood pressure so that I could fall over if I stayed upright for very long. And I had the same dislike for tea. How stupid!!

As soon as I was fit enough we returned to Gloucester to the house we had built. The Health Visitor who had looked after me at home after the first baby, was also the Midwife for our village and surrounding area – Nurse Salisbury. She would deliver my second child – at home this time. It was she who took my blood pressure and did all the other ante-natal things including giving me iron injections into my rear – the most painful injections I have ever had. Apart from the pain, my bottom became brown from the iron! At that time the Community Services were managed from the Shire Hall. District Nurses were allocated a house. They were very much part of the community.

After those few weeks of sickness, I was very well. By seven months I felt I could play hockey for England! Not that I was any good at hockey! My firstborn was a very energetic boy, could climb up everything and open windows, even climb out of them and go off on an adventure, across the field or along the path by the road! Good thing we lived in a bungalow! We had bolts put at the top of all outside doors. He had been born in early January and his sibling would be born at Christmas, nearly two years later. The midwife (Nurse Salisbury) gave us a Delivery Pack of the things needed for the delivery. Around the corner a neighbour was also due to have her baby at about the same time. At about 6.0 a.m. on Boxing Day I was aware that I was going into labour so my husband duly rang up the midwife. However there was no response. I was putting the milk bottles out and I realised that there was a light on in my neighbour’s house – the one who was also having a Christmas baby. There are no street lights in our village so it seemed to me that it was possible that our midwife was busy there. My husband phoned their number and discovered that we had guessed correctly. Fortunately, that baby had been safely delivered and the Midwife was just finishing things off. Soon she arrived at our house but apologised that she did not have a clean apron to put on. There was no question that she would stay and deliver our baby, despite the fact she had been out much of the night. It was a very cold frosty night and morning.

Number one son was taken to another neighbour’s house until the birth was over. All was going well until it was realised that the rather large baby (for me) was somewhat stuck! He was not presenting with the narrow part of the head but the widest part. Nurse Salisbury phoned the GP to suggest I was taken to the hospital for emergency admission. His reply was that as it was Boxing Day morning everyone who was not drunk would have a hang over and that he would come out to our house right away, which he did. His surgery was three miles away, but there was no traffic at that time of the morning on Boxing Day. As the forceps were being boiled up in the kitchen, son number two eventually made his way into the world, somewhat battered, as was I, but he had avoided the forceps! He weighed in at 8lbs 12oz.

My uterus had had enough and was unwilling to push out the placenta. It seemed to me that the doctor and the midwife were jumping up and down on my tummy very hard to persuade it to come out. Success at last. Stitches again, but this time there was a local anaesthetic. It is a good thing that bed rest was still the order of the day because I could not have walked to our toilet. In fact I could not wee at all, so a catheter was used to make me comfortable.

Both the baby and I were somewhat exhausted, but at least we were alive and cared for by an excellent team, in whom we had confidence. And now we had two sons. The aftercare and Health Visiting were still by Nurse Salisbury.

In those golden days Social Services provided Home Helps who would come and stay in our home to look after existing children, and generally run the home for two weeks – a Resident Home Help. My mother up in Sheffield had a full time job and in those days husbands could not take time off work, so this service was invaluable. We had to pay a modest contribution to the County Council who provided the service, but it was much appreciated.

THIRD BIRTH

Two years later, I was pregnant again. There was the inevitable morning sickness for about ten weeks. The family rallied round again. Because the previous babies were large for my pelvis, nearer the time the baby was due, I was sent to see a consultant who agreed that there should be an induction, and that I should go to the hospital, have the waters broken and still have the baby at home. I had no intention of having the baby in that maternity ward! So about two weeks before the due date, on a Wednesday afternoon, my husband dropped me off at the maternity unit, the waters were broken with no problem, and I sat on a towel all the way home. We put the boys to bed and it was then time to call Nurse Salisbury.

At about 10.0pm our daughter was born and I could hear my husband on the phone to my parents with the exciting news that we had a girl! My sister had two boys and this was the first girl for the family. Actually my sister had had a third boy, but he died shortly after birth. She lived in the Midlands. Her baby was born with a severe heart problem probably caused because she had been exposed to German Measles (Rubella).

Nurse Salisbury pointed out that it was premature to ring the wider family as the placenta had not yet been delivered. Meanwhile as my uterus had gone on strike again, she had to ask the GP to come out and gave me the magic injection that enables the placenta to be delivered. I can’t remember the name [an oxytocic drug]. I was told that this had to be given by a doctor as there is always a risk of haemorrhage.

Again he did the stitching. At that time most GPs enjoyed being involved with the delivering of babies. Nurse Salisbury later told me that it was a good thing that the baby was delivered early as this was a face presentation, and again a fairly big baby – 8lbs. For both home births my husband assisted the midwife whenever she requested help.

Again I had a Resident Home Help. I was spared the iron injections but the baby was considered to be anaemic so she had to have iron drops by mouth. No brown bottom for me but now the nappies were brown! I had a job protecting the baby from the loving attention of her big brothers. One day I had put water in the bath (the big one, as that could not be knocked over) and the two year old helpfully brought the baby from her carry-cot for her bath carrying her by her feet!! It’s a miracle she survived the loving care of her brothers.

You can see how we liked Home Delivery in those days. Our own GP, our own midwife, all the comforts of being at home and someone to do the chores. Having a baby in the house with two energetic big brothers was exhausting, memorable and a wonderful thing. Six months later the eldest started at the village school and that is another story!

FOURTH BIRTH

In 1967 when the children were aged eleven, nine and seven, and all attending the village school I was pregnant again. Again morning sickness and very low blood pressure, but again that passed with time.

The NHS had moved on. Home births were no longer the norm. I was over thirty five and so an Elderly Multigravida!! Nurse Salisbury had moved away. There was a new Maternity Hospital. Reluctantly I agreed to have the baby there. I had to go to the clinic at the hospital for check ups, which was not easy with a restricted rural bus service. It seems the Hospital had no access to the records held by the Shire Hall, so I had to explain what had happened on previous occasions. The consultant saw me and decided that the baby was not particularly big so induction was not needed. Unfortunately, iron injections were!!

Near the time of delivery I got bronchitis and coughed so much I had a haematoma over my tummy as it was so stretched. Antibiotics sorted that out. The Thursday of the week the baby was due was Local Election Day, so the children were having a day off school as the Polling Station was in the school. In the early afternoon, the second son had been down to the village shop on his bike, had fallen off and broken a front tooth. Then I realised I was in the early stages of labour, so rang up my husband to come home urgently.

He bundled everybody into the car and took me down to the Polling Station to vote. He then dropped me off at the maternity hospital and took son number two to the dentist. He then had to give them all their tea. I did not waste time in labour. I was alone until the delivery stage was reached, though a face looked in on me every now and then. Our third son was born at about 7.00 p.m. And I was immediately given the injection to ensure the placenta came away. This son weighed just 8lbs. One doctor and several nurses saw me when I arrived, and then there was a change of shift and different staff appeared. I was given a room to myself, which was nice and prepared for a good rest, which I felt I needed. I was then told that as an experienced Mum I was expected to look after the baby myself! And I was told to have a bath each day. That rest did not last long. I cannot remember how long the hospital stay was expected to last, but there were problems at home. Two of my children had tonsillitis, so I was not allowed to go home. Apparently Staphylococcus (cause of tonsillitis) is a danger to someone who has just had a baby. My eldest son was allowed to visit with his father. I was up and about, but not expected to get dressed. I was set to work taking round the teas and other little jobs. Very boring and frustrating.

At last it was considered safe for me to go home and I looked forward to presenting the baby to his siblings. Our daughter was vaguely interested, but my second son, a football fanatic looked at his little brother asleep in the pram, and commented, in disgust, that he was not much use for playing football. I’m not sure what he was expecting!

So there we have it. Eleven years between the first and the last, and how things had changed. I felt that being in a maternity hospital was just like being on a conveyor belt as you were passed along the line from person to person. It was impersonal and mechanical.

I have watched with interest the TV programmes based in Maternity Hospitals. All those probes and connections to machines. The staff seem to be extremely pressured except when they are having a well-earned cup of coffee in the nursing station. I am always surprised that the TV births recording stops when the baby is born! No messy afterbirths or stitching up these days apparently. No painful breasts. I am delighted that nowadays the mother is given the baby to hold immediately after it is born. No matter that the baby is messy.

IMPROVEMENTS BETWEEN 1956 AND TODAY

  1. More involvement of relatives in the delivery. The person in labour can have someone to talk to and encourage her. Midwives are freed up for the more skilled tasks. This has also meant a social change. Employers are expected to allow their staff off work to be present at the birth of their babies. Men are beginning to be fathers in the real sense. (There are exceptions!)
  2. Safer on the whole. Problems can be foreseen and understood.
  3. Doctors qualified in Obstetrics available all the time. At least I hope that is the case.
  4. Involvement of the Hospital Chaplaincy when needed.
  5. A bereavement room in some hospitals, I am not sure how that would work with a parents who have one live and one dead baby.

NOT SO GOOD

  1. There is the loss of the personal touch and continuity of care both at clinics and on the ward, but maybe that does not matter if the Mums are sent home in twenty four hours.
  2. Controversially, extremely premature babies are being kept alive, with high potential for permanent handicaps, which can destroy their parents and families.

Thank you for sharing your Birth Story.

“Fathers Were Not Allowed at Delivery in Those Days”

Doreen Aston, Gloucester, 1971-79


My first child, a son, was born in the consultancy unit at Gloucester Royal Hospital on 10th August, 1971. It was found I had a cyst at the neck of my cervix and as a precaution I went to a specialist wing for delivery. On 9th August my waters broke and I went into hospital. Labour didn’t progress until early next morning. I was then taken to delivery suite at about 6pm and put on a drip. This speeded up labour, also making me sick.

I went to theatre where my son was delivered. They then dealt with the cyst which did not interfere with normal delivery. I was stitched up after some time. All I wanted was a cup of something to drink but they were too busy cleaning up and I had to wait until much later, My son was born at 11pm. I was taken up to the ward after my husband had arrived to see his son. We had a short time with him before they took him off to the nursery.

***

I had a daughter born also in Gloucester Maternity Wing. She was born 19th August, 1979. We had been watching horror movies until later. I had a few twinges on going to bed about 1am. A couple of hours later on going to the bathroom my waters broke. We drove to hospital and on admission I had a bath to help labour along (no joy). They put me on a drip which didn’t work very well as it wasn’t in the vein properly. Labour then progressed rapidly and within 13 hours I had given birth to a perfect baby girl.

The midwife who delivered her it was her first unassisted delivery and all went well. Dad arrived 5 minutes after birth (as fathers were not allowed at delivery or [vaginal] examinations in those days). To the ward and sleep.

Thank you Doreen for sharing your Birth Stories.

Keep Calm & Push

Gill Williams, Surrey, 1986


My younger daughter was born at home on the 23 November, 1986. I hadn’t booked a home birth and certainly didn’t want one. I wanted a clinical, sterile, safe environment, filled with lots of doctors and nurses on stand-by in case anything went wrong (not normally pessimistic but had a rather harrowing forceps delivery with the first).

I had been having very very mild twinges during the morning, which as my baby wasn’t due for another 4 weeks, I put down as Braxton Hicks. However, as we were going to friends for lunch that day I thought I would just ring my midwife to check before we set off down the motorway. She was just advising me to take a warm bath when I suddenly experienced a very bad pain (aka contraction) and dropped the phone. “I’m on my way now” came the reassuring voice and true to her word she arrived approximately 3 minutes later (well okay, she did live just over the road).

“Okay, then” she said calmly “Lets get you upstairs” – easier said than done as by now contractions were coming thick and fast and I couldn’t move. She used all of her 4’10″ to hoist me up the stairs and into bed. She examined me and asked my husband to call our doctor and tell him to come as soon as possible. She told me that the baby was on its way and did I want to watch (damn the fashion for mirrored wardrobes). I told her I did not and wanted to go to hospital. She laughed as she slid open the wardrobe doors away from my line of sight.

A few minutes later my daughter made her entrance into the world. My midwife called down to my husband, who was on the phone trying to get the doctor, to let him know what was happening. He rushed upstairs. “Is the doctor coming” she said to him. “No” said my husband “I was speaking to his wife but as the baby’s arrived I told her not to worry, we didn’t need him”. Mmm.

Our doctor arrived a little while later looking slightly harassed. He said he had he had had to treat his wife for shock before setting out to look for the midwife’s car as he had no idea which mother to be had gone into labour. He had fortunately spotted the car outside our house. Lucky she brought it as living just across the road she could have so easily walked but thankfully her equipment was in it.

Anyway all’s well that ends well and we had a beautiful, healthy, baby girl and a very grateful mother and father.

Thank you Gill for sharing your Birth Story.

A Traumatic Birth Experience Shared

Libby, Reading, 2010


Here it goes: have you got a cup of tea?!

I went in at 14 days overdue to be induced. Pre-induction tests showed decelarations [slowing] in my baby’s heart rate about which the midwife was concerned and she asked the on-call doctor/consultant if to do a caesarean section. The doctor said no, as although it was a slow rise in her heart rate there was progression.

I finally got induced at 2am and went to the ward without Dave, my partner, due to visiting hours. Contractions started irregularly but often that day, but I was having a slow progressing labour. The consultant came round and said to my midwife, “She’s going to end up going 17 days over at this rate and that cant happen”.

Anyway the day wore on and the Propess [medical pessary that softens the cervix and causes uterine contraction] fell out (lovely). The plan again by another doctor was to place another Propess to try and get me further along. This happened and more traces were done which showed more decels. This time a doctor was consulted again by my midwife about them, but me and my midwife’s concerns were dismissed. The next morning a doctor came round to do ward visit. He hadn’t looked at my notes and midwife said what she had to say; he dismissed me, he didn’t look at me, didn’t acknowledge me, just said “Carry on with the induction”.

I raised my concerns with him about my baby’s decels and he turned to me in quite an aggressive manner. He shouted that everything was fine and I should carry on. I said what the consultant the previous day had said about being 17 days overdue and he shouted something about that fact it did not matter. I then said about a caesarean section, at which point he got my notes and my baby’s heart rate trace papers, and one by one threw each paper at me shouting “Healthy baby, healthy baby, healthy baby”. He threw the rest down and tried walking away. My partner then stepped in and the doctor’s manner changed in an instant. It was as if he had no respect for me as I was a woman. When a man said something he was full of manners.

Anyway this day wore on and her decels were worsening: more traces, no sleep since the night before I came in to hospital (the first night I wasn’t on ward till 4:30 and I couldn’t sleep with worry, the 2nd night a woman in labour nearby was very noisy and the 3rd night my contractions were awful), more worry. Dave had to stay 4 hours after visiting stopped to hold the monitor on as her heart rate was worrying, and they were trying to get me to the delivery ward but they were full.

I should have been on delivery suite 12 hours before I actually was but they had no space for me. This meant I had a choice of paracetamol, a warm bath or a pain relief injection for my contractions, whereas if I’d have been on delivery suite I’d has been able to have everything for pain relief.

Dave was sent home at 2am. At the 6am rounds they checked her heart rate again and this time it was scary. So I was bundled to delivery after a quick phone call to Dave to tell him to get his backside to delivery as I was told it would probably be a caesarean section.

I got to delivery and the consultant said “Carry on”, while in the room with the consultant I also had 3 midwives  present: 1 leaving her shift, and 2 new on shift. The one who was leaving said after the consultant said “Carry on”, whilst shaking her head, to the new midwives “Let me know how this turns out as I think I can already guess”, and then stormed out the room. The other midwife later asked me to get a second opinion, I did but he [the other doctor] agreed.

By this point I’d had on epidural put in, which failed as it wasn’t put together right and the second attempt didn’t work on my left side. Towards the end of my labour I was pushing and her heart rate was terrifying. I was dozing between each contraction as I’d been in labour around 51 hours at this point and been pushing for 1 and a half.

I then woke up to find a doctor roughly and aggressively examining me without my consent to do so, as I was asleep. I believe the awful, hideous term going round now is ‘birth rape’. It’s a vile term and could be named something better, but it’s what the new name is. I was then told she was facing the wrong way and my ONLY option was forceps – the one thing I really didn’t want. I think they’re inhumane, brutal and barbaric. I asked for a section and was turned down again for it. I had been asking all day as had my midwives. I was rushed to theatre as they thought they’d need to do a section if the forceps failed.

Willow was born at 7:20pm on the Tuesday, my 17th day overdue and after 52 hours plus of labour. She was born blue/grey and not breathing. She was rushed to the resuscitaire initially, and then resuscitated again at 8 minutes old. She was shown briefly to us before she was taken to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU). Whilst most mums have their baby to hold, I didn’t even know if my baby was alive. It was horrific. The lead consultant then had the audacity to walk in and say “All went well then, congratulations”. I think going back to that moment now I think if I could have I’d have hit him there and then.

I was then put in my own room to recover as I was a bit poorly too. I asked so many times, over and over, if someone – anyone – could call up SCBU and ask how she was and NO ONE did. Not one person. Five hours later a lady from SCBU came down to see me and ask what formula she could give my daughter as she was screaming for food. My reaction was “She’s alive?” and yes she was. Dave went to go see her then, as I wasn’t allowed I was still poorly. I was alone in a room without my baby, being deprived of my first cuddle, first feed, getting her dressed, everything. Because they refused to listen and i was bullied into forceps she was bruised all across her face. I was left with an episiotomy which healed ‘too well’ and needed corrective surgery a year on. Woman are the hosts to babies, it doesn’t matter what happens to our bodies.

It gets worse. I finally got reunited with my 6lb 11oz daughter at around 2:30/3am and we spent around half an hour together as a family before Dave was told to go home and Willow and myself were taken to the ward. I’d had little 2 minute dozes between contractions by this point since the Saturday. This was now 3/4am on the Wednesday. I repeatedly tried to get help breast-feeding, of which there was none. The day wore on no help, no aftercare, nothing; my catheter leaked and no one cleared it up. There was blood on the floor from another woman which had not been cleaned up. It was a dirty horrible ward with few staff who did nothing to help.

The Wednesday night, was just awful. I was so emotionally physically drained. Dave had to go, and I called for more help breast feeding as she wasn’t latching. A midwife at 1:30am came along, put her on my boob and walked away. Within a minute she had unlatched, and wouldn’t go back on so I used my little finger for her to suck to sooth her (dummies were NOT to be used on ward a midwife had shouted at me earlier that day). The same midwife came back and she wasn’t impressed; Willow’s head and face was bruised, yet she grabbed her head, pushed her face into my boob, squeezed my boob and hurt me, slapped my hand out the way every time I tried to use my finger to sooth Willow, as she was never going to latch as she was in hysterics. The midwife then shouted at me, “You’re failing at this, you formula feed, what formula you feed your baby?, you’re no good you fail”. I cried “SMA” [formula brand] to her as she walked away and she came back with the formula – that was the end of my breast feeding. I texted Dave saying what an awful mother I was, that I was no good for her.

I’d had NO sleep for 70 something hours apart from a few 2 minute dozes. Next day I was home at 8:30PM. Throughout  my labour I was mainly left alone. There was no support or care, no help as to managing my contractions etc. It doesn’t stop there.

A ‘Birth Reflections’ group meeting with my consultant revealed that Willow’s medical notes were wrong, so to this day we cannot guarantee what happened in SCBU to her, if she was given drugs or not we don’t know. A friend of mine also worked in SCBU and she appears to have breached my patient confidentially and I am awaiting an NMC [Nursing & Midwifery Council] hearing about this.

Another quite HUGE thing was when transferring me from the theatre table to the bed, when using the PAT slide, someone wasn’t holding me and from the waist up I was about 2 inches away from slamming my head on the floor. I’d just had a forceps rotational delivery, an episiotomy, 2 epidurals and a spinal and they dropped me. They had to grab and hoist me up, probably hurting their backs in the process as I’m not a little woman! I had fingerprint bruising on my arms and side from where they’d grabbed and pulled me.

I never tried to breastfeed again and didn’t even try with my son. I’ve got back pain and nerve damage, and am terrified of hospitals. I had to have the Fenton’s procedure [operation to remove scar tissue and widen the vaginal opening] to repair the scar. I’ve been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.

Due to staff shortages the ward was filthy, I was left in blood soaked sheets and our requests for them to be changed were ignored twice; my partner ended up taking the sheets from the cupboard and changing them himself. We had no support with our newborn even when we asked, we were repeatedly told by one midwife that they were too short staffed to stay in the room with me meaning I was left alone when I should have been having regular observations [blood pressure etc].

No one even told me I had had an episiotomy or how to care for it, which I find is the reason for me needing the Fenton’s procedure. There was blood all across the floor in the bathroom which stayed there until the next day. My daughter had massive bruises on her head from the forceps. The aftercare was non-existent and I was dismissed by a Health Visitor with “How dare you think about it, she’s alive get over it”.

Thank you Libby for sharing your Birth Story.

If you have been affected by this story, see our Resources section for help.

“Never Take Away the Wife’s Gas & Air!” – Our 1st Father’s Story

Steve, Worcester, 1995

This is our 1st ever Father’s Birth Story!


As the father, this will be short and to the point. Our first was born February 10th 1995 and I can remember every detail.

“I think my waters have broken” said Eve.

“How do you know” I replied.

“Just look on the floor”…..

Stating the blindingly obvious is a trademark of Eve’s and missing the obvious is a definite “man-thing”. From the onset of labour until delivery took nearly 24 hours and certainly wasn’t pain-free but I did learn a huge lesson.

“Shouldn’t you only breathe in the gas and air during a contraction?” I stupidly asked Eve.

“Arghhhhh” she replied.

I then attempted to take the gas and air mouthpiece away. Big mistake! No wonder our second child didn’t arrive for another three years. I reckon the Gas & Air bill for that day would of been enough to lift a few dozen Hot Air Balloons!

All in all, I found the experience of childbirth educational but certainly didn’t want to attend the second. The father/partner is expected to be there for the birth which I found difficult, is this a 20th Century imposition?

BUT being a father is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I would not change it for the world.

Thanks Steve for sharing your Birth Story.

Four Birth Stories: 1945-1962

Frances, Staffordshire, 1945-1962

This birth story comes from an amazing 91 year old lady – my Nan. She wrote this to me in a letter and I’ve typed it up here.


I have jotted down a few details about the birth of my children. I do hope you can understand them, gosh how times have changed, I don’t think mums would be kept in bed for 10 days now. There was no pain relief except chloroform in my days, & no National Health. We had to pay for the midwife & extra if a doctor was needed, lucky that your Dad was the only one I had to pay doctor’s fees for.

1st baby. July 19th 1945 – Home birth

12 hours in labour unable to bring baby myself. Midwife in attendance had the doctor out who gave me chloroform and delivered baby boy with forceps. I had lots of stitches, baby’s head was cut & bleeding from forceps. Baby weighed 7 1/4 lbs. Was given enema while in labour. In bed 10 days.

2nd baby. April 14th 1951 – Nursing home birth

About 14 hours labour. Easier birth. Was given warm bath & water enema. Baby girl weighed 5 lbs (Jaundice). I was in bed 10 days. Normal birth, doctor & midwife in attendance. Doctor delivered baby.

3rd baby. February 7th 1956 – Home birth

12 hours labour. Midwife in attendance sent for doctor. Given enema. Doctor came and delivered baby girl 6 lbs. In bed 10 days. No pain relief given.

4th baby. October 9th 1962 – Home birth

Long labour. Doctor came, had difficulty delivering baby girl 5 1/2 lbs. Bed rest 7 days. No pain relief given.

Thank you Frances for sharing your Birth Story.

Fathers’ Experiences of Birth Trauma

I’d like to share an interesting article from the Independent newspaper about one father’s traumatic experience of his partner’s birth of their baby daughter. I think fathers aren’t often considered when it comes to birth stories and birth trauma, so this is definitely worth sharing and discussing.

If any fathers wanted to share their birth story of being a partner here, they would be more than welcome.

Thanks,

Emma

Changing Times for Three 1980s Births

Helen, North East England, 1980-84


My stories are spread over 3 children, and I must say the experience improved over the time [1980-84]. Maybe I felt more in control, or just that I knew what to expect, and that I could cope?

It was the small changes that I felt also made a big difference. The pretty gowns instead of hospital scrubs – I was not ill, just having a baby! The low, soft lighting – it was a normal, happy process not a hospital intervention. The nurses on hand to help with feeding when my baby wanted to feed, not to some ward timetable. I was consulted about what kind of a birth I wanted and where.

These changes all occurred over a period of just 4 years, and not that long ago! The date? 1980-84. It was a much gentler experience for me and therefore for my last baby, and we both benefited from the change. On line story gathering like this can only help to continue this improvement to maternity services.

Thank you Helen for sharing your Birth Story.

Surprise DIY Home Birth!

Ruth Clark, Colchester, 1997


The players:

Me – Ruth
Adam – my husband
Ben – the star player
Eddy – our 2 year old son
Sue – my midwife
Julie – my other midwife
Maggie – supporter for Ruth and Adam
Kerry – supporter for Eddy
Daniel – supporter for Eddy and also my brother

My first birth experience hadn’t been as I had hoped. [See Ruth's first Birth Story here]. Due to a premature footling breech [foot first baby], my plans for a homebirth had been well and truly scuppered. So this time round I was twice as determined to have my baby at home. I was delighted when I discovered the baby was cephalic [head first] (a perfect LOA [Left Occiput Anterior position]) and ecstatic once we got past that magical 37 weeks. In fact I was really excited about going into labour, no worries about anything, this was going to be good and everything that my last labour wasn’t. My NHS midwives were supportive and we got on really well.

I was woken on 14 January at 5am by Eddy, who was crying. As I went in to see him I noticed a slight discomfort in my lower abdomen that was coming and going, I put this down to wind. After dealing with Eddy I went back to bed and listened to him singing and talking to himself until he went back to sleep at 6.15am. All this time I was aware of the abdominal discomfort, only slight but enough to keep me awake (I am a light sleeper).

At 6.30am I decided that I needed to open my bowels. I thought I would feel better after this but I didn’t, if anything I felt slightly worse. I wondered if, as this was 6 days before my due date, these were contractions and decided that if they were they must be Braxton Hicks [practise contractions].

At 7am I got up and fed the cats (all 7 of them). The contractions were now coming about every 10 minutes and were getting stronger and longer but were easily bearable, I just breathed through them. I now also noticed a lower back pain but still did not think that I was in labour. At 7.15am I needed the toilet again, this time it was much looser and I noticed a show. I wondered if this was the real thing as there were now four signs but I was not convinced.

At 7.30am I thought that maybe I should wake Adam. I told him I thought that I might be in labour; he said ok and did I need him and then he went back to sleep. I decided I’d better phone the other people who were due to come over. Kerry had just got home from working a night shift and she had taken a sleeping tablet and was about to go to bed; she was not going to miss this for the world and set out to walk across town to our house. Daniel was on his way to work so I couldn’t get hold of him. Maggie did not answer her phone (it was broken), so I rang her partner’s mobile; he was half way across the country but managed to get a message to Maggie via relatives who live nearby. I got hold of Daniel at 7.55am, I told him there was no rush as he wanted to go elsewhere on the way.

By 8am Adam was getting out of bed. I met him naked at the top of the stairs, through bleary eyes he told me he needed to go to the toilet; I told him in no uncertain terms ‘I need to go first’. And once again I opened my bowels. My contractions were now very close together.

At 8.05am, still sitting on the toilet, I had the first really intense contraction. It was very different to the previous ones, which had all been really low down and opening out type contractions. This one was from the top of my uterus, a really strong pushing contraction. My first thought was that this shouldn’t be happening yet, I couldn’t possibly be at this part of my labour as I hadn’t had the painful bit yet. However my body was pushing and there was nothing I could do that was going to stop it.

I then decided that I needed to do my hair (which is down to my waist), so I unplaited it and asked Adam for my hairbrush. I also decided that I needed my TENS machine [pain relief device] on; it was far too late for this but it seemed the right thing to do at the time.

After two or three more contractions I put my hand down between my legs and could feel something sticking out! I lifted myself off the toilet seat and asked Adam what it was, it was the amniotic membranes bulging out and was about the size of a grapefruit. At this point I decided that I needed a midwife rather urgently. She was the one person that I had omitted to phone when I made my calls earlier so she didn’t ever know I was in labour.

Adam went downstairs and called the labour hotline, he asked to speak to Sue, the person on the other end told him that she was a community midwife and he would have to call their office. He came back up to me moaning about this and how useless they were; ‘did you tell them that I am in labour?’, ‘oh, no’. He went back downstairs and tried again.

At 8.25am Sue phoned back. She heard me shout out at the next contraction and suggested to Adam that he should be upstairs with me. I then shouted down that I could feel the baby’s head. Sue said that she would phone back in two minutes once Adam had put the phone on the extension upstairs.

I instinctively kept my hand on the baby’s head from when I first felt it. The next contraction came and the head moved out a bit and then back in again. Adam bought the phone upstairs and began to spread a groundsheet on the floor so that I could get off the toilet. As he finished doing this I had another contraction. With this one my waters broke, out came the baby’s head followed by his body. As I delivered my baby I lifted myself off the toilet seat, bought him up between my legs and cradled our second son in my arms as I sat back down again. Adam looked round and folded the groundsheet back up again. Then the phone rang, it was Maggie, Adam asked her the time, so we now knew our new son had been born at 8.30am.

Almost immediately the phone rang again, it was Sue expecting to talk Adam through the birth, he just said ‘listen’, she heard the cries and asked if we were ok. She also asked if we wanted to call an ambulance or just wait until she got there. As we were fine we said we would wait and she said that she would get there as soon as possible. I offered baby my breast but he nuzzled at my nipple for a bit and then went to sleep.

At 8.35am Eddy appeared in the bathroom doorway, he looked at me sitting on the toilet and said “Baby” and then came to join us. Adam got a big towel to wrap around baby and me to keep us warm and then decided that he’d better get some clothes on before everyone arrived (he’d had no time to dress up to this point and I had been wearing his bathrobe). I then asked Adam to take some photos while the cord was still intact. Kerry arrived first and took some photos of all four of us, she then looked after Eddy.

At 9am Julie arrived. She had got dressed in the dark in a hurry and was wearing pink socks with her dark blue uniform and she had also been stopped by the police for speeding on her way to me (they let her go as soon as she explained the situation). As the cord had stopped pulsating, I was happy for her to clamp it and Adam cut it. Baby was then wrapped in another towel and Adam had his first cuddle while Julie helped me off the toilet and onto the floor. Adam then put baby on the floor so that I could lean against him while the placenta was born. While I was waiting for the placenta I noticed my window cleaner cleaning the bathroom window! At 9.10 I had a contraction and felt the placenta move down. Two minutes later I had another smaller one with which the placenta was born. Julie examined me and told me that I had sustained a small tear, which I decided not to have stitched. I stayed sitting on the floor while baby was checked and weighed, he was 7lb 12oz.

By this time Daniel, Maggie and Sue had arrived; Sue was later than she had hoped because she had skidded on ice and put her car into a ditch. At some point another midwife arrived but I have no idea who she was and she left once Sue got there. Maggie ran a bath for me and made drinks for everyone. Adam stood on our back doorstep to have a cigarette and shook a bit (poor chap still hadn’t been to the toilet). I took baby into the bath with me where he had his first breast feed for about 20 minutes. Eddy kept coming up to check on us and look at his new brother.

I was then dispatched to my bed ever though I felt full of energy and not the least bit tired. I wanted to tell the whole world what a wonderful experience I’d just had; it was a total contrast to Eddy’s birth. I was far too energetic and high to sleep, so Adam bought me the phone so that I could call all our friends and family to tell them the news.

It really was the most wonderful and empowering experience of my whole life. I thoroughly enjoyed my labour and birth and I wasn’t the least bit worried or frightened about birthing my baby without a midwife in attendance. It was so natural and instinctive. All we needed now was a name for our son. One helpful friend suggested Lou! And Eddy offered Mr McGreggor (he’s a big Peter Rabbit fan). Our baby was three days old when we decided to call Ben.

Thank you Ruth for sharing your Birth Story.

Breech Baby Edmund

Ruth Clark, Colchester, 1994


The plan was for a home birth, using TENS [pain relief] and with minimal intervention. It didn’t quite work out.

In the 34th week of my pregnancy the baby was still breech [feet, not head first], as it had been the whole time. My community midwife had arranged for me to see the GP [doctor] on Tuesday so that I could be referred to a consultant. I made an appointment for Thursday to see an acupuncturist to try to get the baby to turn. I kept neither of these appointments!

On Saturday 12 November we went to bed at about 10.30pm and laid talking and cuddling. Adam went to sleep at about 11.00pm (having just worked a 14hr day); I couldn’t get to sleep. At 11.30pm, and to my great surprise, my waters broke. It was a gentle but uncontrollable trickling down my thigh. I woke Adam and told him, he replied “Go back to sleep and phone the midwife in the morning.” I told him again and he realised I was serious and woke up properly.

As I was still leaking amniotic fluid I went and sat on the toilet. Meanwhile Adam went to phone the maternity home. I knew I would have to go in, as our baby was not due for over five weeks as well as being breech. At this point I had no indication that I was in labour but I did notice a show [when the mucus which plugs the cervix comes away] while I was sitting on the toilet.

We had nothing prepared for going into hospital, so I put a sanitary towel on, got a book out that had a list of what to take, and went round the house gathering the things we needed.

We arrived at the hospital at midnight and were shown to a labour room in the delivery suite. A midwife asked me numerous questions; she wasn’t convinced that my waters had broken until I showed her my sanitary towel. She questioned whether the baby was breech; the head was still in my ribs where it had been for weeks. She asked what my contractions were like; as far as I knew I hadn’t had any. I asked what was going to happen to me; she said she thought that as I was probably not in labour I would have to stay in hospital for two or three weeks until my baby was born. To which my reply was “I’m not staying here for that long.” (I work in the NHS [National Health Service] and three weeks of hospital food and hospital dirt and germs did not appeal).

A doctor the arrived and gave me an internal examination. We were amazed to discover that I was 5cm dilated and had not felt a single contraction. This baby was not going to wait for two or three weeks, it was on it’s way now! The doctor also revealed that it was coming foot first.

At 12.30am I felt the first contraction, it was very slight. We decided that I still wanted to birth this baby vaginally; I was to be given an epidural in case I needed an emergency caesarean section.

Things then started to happen very rapidly, not with my labour but in the room around me. A venflon [small, flexible tube placed into a vein in order to administer medication or fluids] was sited in my arm, and two very uncomfortable belt monitors were strapped round my belly.

The anaesthetist arrived, introduced himself (we both realised that we had met before when he did a placement with my GP), and proceeded to set up the epidural. It took effect quite rapidly; I still had some sensation in my legs but not much. During this time I felt about four or five contractions, none of which were painful. From then on they just felt like pressure on my bowel.

At about 02.30am I was feeling rather tired and expressed my desire to go to sleep rather than give birth just now.

My bladder was very full but I couldn’t feel it; I was sat on a bedpan to try to empty it (Adam was holding my feet to stop me falling off) but nothing happened.

I was given a second internal examination; well it wasn’t exactly an internal as by this time there were some small toes sticking out. Adam was very excited at his first sight of our baby, and I was able to put my hand down to feel the toes.

The doctor decided it was time to go into the theatre. Once there, I was transferred to another bed and my feet were put up in stirrups. The bottom end of the bed was removed to allow the doctor to get in close to the action and a spotlight was put on.

I was catheterised to empty my bladder. Then, as my contractions were not terribly strong, or close together, a syntocinon drip was set up [oxytocic drug to encourage labour]. It was now about 03.15am.

The contractions then came stronger and closer together, but, due to the effects of the epidural, all I could feel was pressure on my bowel when they were at their very strongest. I had to be told when to push by the other people in the room. As I was pushing, Adam was telling me what was happening. The right foot came first, then the left, Adam then told me we had a son. His right arm and shoulder was delivered, he was swivelled round and then the left arm and shoulder were delivered. I was then told to stop pushing. The next bit was the worst; something that I had really wanted to avoid was an epsiotomy [surgically planned incision on the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall during second stage of labor], I am so glad that I couldn’t feel it (it sounded bad enough). It was necessary so that forceps could be placed around his head, apparently a routine procedure with breech deliveries. I was asked to push again, and his head was delivered and he cried, it was 03.30am. He was placed on my tummy while Adam cut the cord. This was surprisingly tough and took him 2 or 3 attempts to get through it. The paediatrician then arrived to examine our baby, his Apgar score was 8 at one minute and 10 at five minutes.

The placenta was delivered very quickly after the administration of syntometrine [drug to encourage birth of the placenta]. It had a strange smell and didn’t look as I imagined it would.

Our baby was then cleaned up and taken down to the special care unit with Adam. I was left in the theatre feeling very alone. In the special care unit he was weighed (5lbs, a good weight considering his age), photographed, measured, given a vitamin K injection [to encourage blood clotting in newborns] and a heel prick to measure his blood oxygen level; and then he was put in an incubator.

Adam then rejoined me in the theatre and we were left alone for a short while, during this time we decided to call our son Edmund. I was then given a wash by two auxiliary nurses [healthcare assistants], redressed in my own clothes and put into a wheelchair due to numb legs.

At 05.15am I was taken to bed on the ward and Adam went home to phone our families and get some sleep. I was unable to sleep and at 06.45am I plucked up the courage to ask a midwife to take me down to see my baby. At this time I didn’t feel as though I had given birth (4 hours from waters breaking to birth and no pain at all); I also didn’t feel as though he was my baby, there was no bond at all. Fortunately this feeling only lasted a few hours. Adam came back at 10.00am to see us.

We then spent 17 long days in hospital. It was exhausting for Adam trying to work and visit us and I found the hospital routine exhausting. Eddy eventually learned to suck properly and started to gain weight before we were allowed to go home.

Even though the birth was nothing like our plans, I didn’t feel let down or disappointed. Eddy was a very healthy and easy baby, he fed well and slept wonderfully. I actually had a very easy time with the labour, I think a lot of women would have been delighted with it but I describe it as a non-experience. It was neither good nor bad. I was glad that we were able to establish breast feeding, and I fed Eddy for ten months until he weaned himself.

Thank you Ruth for sharing your Birth Story.