Single motherhood and the midwife: Nursing Notes, July 1973

This month’s post comes from the July 1973 issue of ‘Midwives Chronicle & Nursing Notes’.

It is fair to say that midwives in 1973 were facing many changes, an issue which may or may not still be current today. These changes were outlined in the Presidential speech made by RCM President, Doris Hawkins at the Annual General Meeting held in Plymouth in June of 1973. The National Health Service was being reorganised (no change there then) with promised integration of the different branches of the health service and a role for midwives in the management of area and regional services. Responsibility for family planning was to be taken over by the NHS for the first time – previously voluntary organisations such as the Family Planning Association had taken the lead in offering contraceptive advice, although they had campaigned for these services to be a formal part of the health services – and the logical consequence to this was the call for family planning training for midwives. The RCM instantly offered a two-day pilot course at RCM HQ in October 1973 as well as articles in the journal providing a background to the history of contraception and past and present developments.

Another issue which was highlighted by Miss Hawkins in her address was the recent UK membership of the EEC and the probability of movement of midwives within member countries, bringing with it the risks of inequality of training and inconsistency of standards. While reassuring members that the RCM was actively campaigning for reassurance about the standard of midwifery practice across the EEC, Miss Hawkins urged members ‘to take advantage of the unparalleled opportunity of today and to go into Europe to see the work there for yourselves, so that we may have first-hand information from you.’ She also calls for some kind of study to be made into the quality of care delivered by midwives, so that the College could develop objectives to further the profession within the new NHS structure.

A major article in this issue of the journal focuses on the management of ‘unsupported’ mothers, that is, the single mothers. The article looks at a case study of one hundred expectant mothers booked to one midwife in Portsmouth as ‘unsupported’ during 1971/1972. Interesting statistics are included in the article, such as the social classes of the mother, their occupations, and the occupations of the fathers – twenty of the fathers were known to have been in the Services, while seven of the mothers-to-be were under the age of 16. Very telling indications of society at that time is reflected in such statements as the following:

‘In order to save embarrassment to the mothers and their parents the midwife visited at all times out of uniform. This was found to be useful in several cases where, for example, the parents, the neighbours or the landladies were unaware of the pregnancy.’

As well as the usual antenatal advice, the mothers were offered the help of a social worker, and were booked for hospital delivery with a minimum stay of seven days, ten days in the case of adoption. Of the hundred cases included in this study, 15 babies were fostered, while five babies ‘who had been considered for adoption before birth were all consequently kept because the mothers could not part with them after caring for them for ten days in hospital.’

I would like to finish by returning to the RCM Annual General Meeting held in Plymouth that year. By chance, some recent accessions to the RCM Archive have been some wonderful photographs of RCM Officers, staff and midwives, including two of the 1973 AGM. These are shown below, and maybe some readers may recognise a few faces? I leave you with the words of Doris Hawkins as she concluded her speech with a rally call to the midwives:

‘Some time ago I heard a talk on birds and birdsong. The speaker described how the dawn chorus is thought to start by one bird beginning to sing in the Fens before the first light of day. The song is then taken up and passed from bird to bird around these islands, until in half an hour it has reached the farthest point in the south-west. May I leave that with you as an example of effective communication and unity of purpose.’

AGM June 1973_web

AGM June 1973 group_webPenny Hutchins, Archivist

One Comment Add yours

  1. Stuart says:

    Hi. I think the guy in the shot with the two ladies in hats is the then-Secretary of State for Social Services (and therefore the Cabinet minister responsible for the NHS at that time), Keith Joseph. He went on of course to be a great influence on Margaret Thatcher.

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