There are two particular themes which run through this month’s issue of Midwives Chronicle: both these themes have particular resonance today and the reader could be mistaken in thinking that the world hadn’t changed much in 30 years! In April 1977 the Council of the Royal College of Midwives was discussing the particular themes of support for the independence of women, and the concerns over the take-up of infant vaccinations, in particular the vaccine against poliomyelitis.
The UK benefit system is a subject hotly discussed within Parliament in the current environment, and so it seems a pertinent time to show how well received the child benefit scheme was received when it was introduced 36 years ago in April 1977. It was seen as a major advancement in supporting women in raising their children independently of their husbands, and was a replacement for the tax allowance that was previously in place. Under the scheme a £1 weekly benefit was to be paid for each of the country’s seven million first or only children, with further stages of the scheme to be operational by April 1979. This was regarded as a ‘major breakthrough for women’. Arguments that changes in circumstances make this benefit obsolete make us wonder how much things have really changed for the working mother.
The theme of the working mother is continued in a second article in this month’s issue, providing details of a survey on the problems of working women with dependents undertaken by the Inter-Professional Working Party. This survey revealed that three out of five women who had children under five years old were employed over 30 hours per week, while half the working women with young children at school did not get home from work until ‘well after the children are out of school’, and over half of all working women considered that they spent an extra £3-£4 on ‘convenience food’ which they would not buy if they were not working. It could be argued that the development of ‘convenience food’ (apart from making the 1970s so memorable – Vesta curry anyone?!) is the very factor which made it possible for women to go out to work and not be tied to the kitchen.
The second theme of uptake of vaccinations is covered in a news article, with details of a statement by the Secretary of State for Social Services, David Ennals, concerning the drop in vaccinations following damage caused to a small number of children by the whooping cough vaccine. From 1975 there were concerns about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, and there were major epidemics in 1977 and 1981: 1978 saw over 68,000 notifications and 14 deaths. A similar situation emerged again in the 1990s with concerns over the MMR vaccine, resulting in the emergence of the measles and mumps viruses among infants some years later. The front cover of Midwives Chronicles shows a picture taken from publicity material issued by the World Health Organisation for World Health Day, with the theme ‘Immunize and Protect your Child’.
Other articles of note include a report on a study tour of the continent undertaken by a midwife, comparing practices with those in the UK, and also a very nice case study compiled by a student midwife in preparation for her Central Midwives Board examination relating to a home birth she had attended. Containing details of the family, the labour and the successful delivery, she concludes by saying:
‘What can I say about home confinement and my super little family? I know that everyone says that home confinement is not practicable in this day and age. I am also aware that there can be very serious complications but, even so, I think there is nothing more moving than having the whole family partaking in what the Almighty intended to be a wholly natural procedure.’
Again, her words have resonance today, with support for natural birth and mothers’ choice of birth place strong within the Royal College of Midwives.