‘Handing over a little miracle is a privilege’: three decades in midwifery

Ward Sister Beverley Crothers.
Ward Sister Beverley Crothers.

If you came into the world via Altnagelvin Hospital over the past 29 years, there’s a fair chance Beverley Crothers was among the first to greet you!

In fact, in that time, Midwifery Led Unit Ward Sister Beverley has witnessed that magical moment on hundreds of occasions.

Staff midwives (l-r) Orla McCready, Laura Clarke and Bridie Donaghey with Ward Sister Beverley Crothers at the Midwifery Led Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.

Staff midwives (l-r) Orla McCready, Laura Clarke and Bridie Donaghey with Ward Sister Beverley Crothers at the Midwifery Led Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital.

“It is such a privilege to work as a midwife because you are with those parents at such a special event in their life,” she said.

“Their lives will never be the same again and so to hand them this little miracle of a human being, it’s just wonderful.

“You can never get complacent because each birth is unique.”

And the babies come in all shapes and sizes. “There was a baby went home yesterday and he was 5,180 grams, which is 11 lbs 6ozs. When I worked in the High Risk Unit there were babies born very, very prematurely. They are surviving as low as 24 weeks now.”

You can’t claim those memories back because you spent the first hour on Facebook.

Beverley Crothers

Beverley began nursing at just 17 and started as a student midwife in November 1987, just nine months after the birth of her own child.

The highlight of her career came when she secured the Sister’s post at the age of 50 a few years back.

During her tenure, Beverley has witnessed many changes, but age-old truths still stand and Beverley said things have come “full circle” since the days of Anderson House, with midwifery-led units now re-established as the best place for low risk births.

“I’m a great advocate of normality. It’s getting the message across that pregnancy and birth is not an illness or a sickness; it’s a normal, physiological process- our bodies are doing what they were designed to do.

Some of the many thank you cards adorning the walls of the Midwifery Led Unit at Altnagelvin.

Some of the many thank you cards adorning the walls of the Midwifery Led Unit at Altnagelvin.

“In 2010 we opened this beautiful Midwifery-Led Unit, which is alongside the labour ward so should we have any emergencies you go through a set of doors.”

Changes in society has resulted in many opting to have children at a later age.

“You would see women having even first babies at a much later age of life. They are maybe financially more secure, well established in their career,” Beverley said.

And she has this advice for today’s tech-savvy new parents: “We are getting that message across to women to enjoy that first hour after birth and not be on social media; enjoy that wee baby for that first hour and then you can go on Facebook. You can’t claim those memories back because you spent the first hour on Facebook, on Social Media, telling the world.

“After birth, skin to skin contact, we aim for 100 per cent. It keeps baby warm, it settles their heart rate, their breathing. That first hour after birth is so, so important.”

Speaking about the ‘Too Posh to Push’ debate around women electing for caesarian operations, Beverley said: “I think some women have a genuine fear of labour and birth and that is called tokophobia. Those ladies maybe would request caesarian section but, hopefully, after discussion with their consultant and midwife they may change their mind.

“What’s in fashion now is hynobirthing. The Trust offers hypnobirthing classes, and it’s really just mind over matter getting yourself mentally prepared and focused for labour and birth and they actually use this technique for labour and birth. It involves breathing and relaxation techniques and playing a certain kind of music. It would be very popular at the moment as would our water birth.

“The staff here are extremely hard working, they’re extremely passionate about normality and supporting women with their birth choices.

“I would say to women have faith, have belief and have trust in your ability to birth your baby normally because there is just so much intervention. You compare a woman who comes in here in established labour. They will walk out of here looking like models, the hair, the make-up, and they are away home looking glamorous. You compare that to a woman who has had a caesarian section. She doesn’t have normal feeling in her legs for at least six hours; she has got an abdominal wound; she has a baby to care for; she can’t drive and she really is incapacitated for the next six weeks. So you compare six hours recovery with six weeks recovery.”

In today’s more multicultural society, interpreters are sometimes brought in to the delivery room to assist parents whose first language would not be English.”

Beverley also urged women who have gone through childbirth to remember the positives when discussing it.

“You will never forget your birth and labour until the day you die,” she said.

“I always tell women when they are talking about their birth stories to make it positive and memorable. You will find that people, the more gorier, the more horrific the better, and the poor women come in then absolutely terrified. I tell them to recall the joy and happiness you got at the end of your labour and birth.

“They forget all the pain and they are just star gazing at their newborn baby. One lady had a baby earlier on and I said to her would you not try to get a sleep and she said ‘I feel as if I am high’ and I said, ‘yes, you probably are high on love hormones’.”

And over the years there have been some lighter moments as well. Beverley recalls: “We would encourage the daddy or the mammy to announce the sex of the baby. There was one night we had this birth and when baby was lifted up out of the water and we said to the daddy, what is the baby and he said the baby was a boy and that was grand.

“We handed over to the night staff only to discover the next morning it wasn’t a boy at all. It was a girl. The daddy just looked down and seen a bit of chord. Meanwhile the multiple text message had been sent to say it was a boy, only it was a girl!”

The Western Trust is currently promoting midwifery and nursing as career choices, and while in years gone by people had to train as nurses before becoming midwives, that is no longer the case, and Beverley said, based on her own experience, midwifery is a extremely rewarding career choice.