Nurse Bracken is the reason I became a midwife. Growing up in a tiny English village, Levens, in the South of Cumbria near the Lake District, where families had their own midwife. It’s the type of village where everyone knows everyone else. We say hello when passing someone on the main street whether we know them or not. Levens has a corner shop, a post office, a hairdresser, two churches, two castles and the obligatory local pub.
Mum had laboured scrubbing the kitchen floor on all fours. Being a homebirth, Nurse Bracken was my midwife and my GP was present. My dad buried my placenta in the garden and planted a fruit tree on top. My grandparents were farmers and as country and farming people this is just what we did. I was lucky to have a very idyllic country childhood.
Nurse Bracken was also the community nurse, school nurse or as we called her the nit nurse and the local Health Visitor. In those days she was given a house for life, in the village, next door to the policeman’s house. I remember when my sister was born, she was an occipito-posterior position.
My mum reluctantly went to the local maternity hospital in Kendal (Helme chase) as a precaution. Nurse Bracken transported her in her old Morris Traveller van. The same van she drove her two Lakeland terrier dogs in!!
I think my mum was on all fours on the back seat in advanced labour!
Helping the family
The very next morning Nurse Bracken came round and helped my dad get me and brother ready for school. She brushed my hair and put it up in plaits. My dad was feeling a bit lost about how to sort out girls hair.
The passion and love Nurse Bracken had in helping families was my inspiration. From a very young age, I wanted to be just like her and help families. I knew at the age of 14 I was going to be a nurse. Growing up in Britain in the era of Maggie Thatcher’s politics and the coal mining strikes, I remember telling my careers advisor I wanted to be a nurse so I’d always have a job.
I’m not sure many 14-year-olds grow up nowadays with this mindset. Growing up in a tiny village may be amazing but I wanted to see and experience more than just village life. Applying to 50 colleges of nursing as far away as Aberdeen in Scotland and as far South as London, I planned my escape!
Moving to Leeds
At exactly 18 years and 5 days old I moved to Leeds in West Yorkshire and starting my training as a Registered General nurse at Leeds General Infirmary.
It was during my Obstetric experience at age 19 that I fell in love with all things pregnancy and babies. Having a very intuitive skill palpating a fetus in a pregnant mum, I recall an obstetrician asking me my findings. The obstetrician looked at me quizzically, ‘how did you know that?’ In my head, I was thinking how did you not know that? It just came naturally to me.
On completing my nurse training, I had a passion to move to London and gain expertise in Cardiac Medicine and surgery. Working at the world famous National Heart Hospital in central London I realised very quickly that old sick people were not my cup of tea career-wise. I lasted all of five and a half months.
Christmas In London
Christmas Day was one of my loneliest days ever. Snow was falling in Central London as I made my way along the deserted streets of W1 to a red public phone booth and called my mum to wish her a Happy Christmas.
It was so quiet as I walked, I could hear every snowflake fall on the pavement. The consultant surgeon and matron had cooked the obligatory roast turkey with trimmings. The medical and nursing staff, unlucky enough to work Christmas, tucked into dinner. The feast was served in the ward next door around a big table brought out especially, decorated with crackers and tinsel.
That very day I made my decision to move back to Leeds and train as a midwife.
Immediately I started my midwifery training I felt this was my path in life. St. James’s University Hospital or Jimmy’s as it is affectionately known is one of two large maternity hospitals in Leeds and has 5000 births each year. Nowadays it’s probably so much more. In my training, I delivered 40 babies and each one was memorable, one more so than the others.
Delivering a Romany Gypsy Baby
It was on my birthday in early August 1988 a pregnant mum arrived on labour ward. This was baby number 7 and she just happened to be a Romany Gypsy by birth. I’m not sure how much you know about Romany Gypsies but the true Romany are known to be psychics, fortune tellers and clairvoyant. She’d walked onto the labour ward and told me and my mentor midwife she was going to have her baby. However, she had not had any contractions.
My midwife instructed me to get her into a delivery room very quickly, get her on the bed, undo my delivery pack sharpish and get my gloves on! I started to say, ‘but she’s not in labour…’ My midwife told me not to ask questions and do as I was told! If I hadn’t witnessed this with my own eyes I’d have not believed it was possible. As I scrambled to get my gloves on, literally one contraction and the baby was out, born in the caul. I feel blessed to this day about this rare and unusual delivery. And even today I feel as passionate about being a midwife as I was in those early student days.
Fast forward to emigrating to Australia 16 years ago, this passion led to me establishing Nurture Parenting as a parenting and baby sleep support service exactly 8 years ago. By the end of this year, I’m hoping to recreate the village my families no longer have. And the girl from the village is about to go back to her roots, so to speak.
Here’s a few pics from my early years.