This month’s post comes from the November 1977 issue of Midwives Chronicle.
The front cover of the journal, showing a father present at the birth of his child, introduces one of the main themes covered in this issue, namely a debate on whether a father’s presence is conducive to the birth or an impediment.
Father of two, John Blackwell wrote in this issue of his campaign with his wife, Gwen, for lifting of restrictions which made the birth of their second child a distressing and painful experience, mostly stemming from the attitude of staff in the maternity unit to his presence on the labour ward, but also including the pressure placed on her to accept a drip and the restrictions imposed by the hospital on children visiting in the postnatal period.
‘It seemed curious that as a husband and father I was permitted to be present at the birth itself and yet…caused by my presence too much embarrassment to staff to be permitted to remain the labour room during a vaginal examination.’
This viewpoint is countered by a letter to the Editor from a Merseyside midwife who stated ‘…if childbirth is sufficiently dangerous for all or the great majority of women to be admitted to hospital, when many of them would much prefer to remain at home, then it is dangerous enough to be conducted on wholly professional lines. In allowing husbands into the labour ward we are, in effect, making a compromise with the public…’
This debate seems very archaic compared to the expectations of women in the UK today, and is a good indication on how birth experiences have changed for women in the last 30 years.
Other items of interest include a look at the cost of a community midwifery service by a nursing officer working in Hounslow Health District. She calculates this as £3.56 per visit, and compares this to the cost of a visit by North Thames Gas Board (£4.97), local TV repairer (£3.50) and home visit by a vet (£9.75) – thought-provoking comparisons! There is also a report on the increase in the price of vitamins supplied by health clinics for children and expectant mothers – from 1p to 9p for vitamin drops, and 10p to 17p for vitamin tablets.
Looking forward to the festive season, the journal recognises that this could be a time for appeals for charitable giving which could either ‘irritate’ or ‘fill with complete indifference’. Appeal for donations to the RCM Benevolent Fund are deemed not to fall in either of these categories as ‘None of us knows what the future has in store for us and so keeping this Fund in a healthy state of solvency ensures that all those who require help do not ask in vain.’ The RCM has a worthy tradition of supporting its members. The RCM has provided financial assistance to midwives ever since 1914, when a gold half-sovereign was donated by a grateful member of the public. This Rainy Day Fund, as it became known from 1924, was subsequently maintained by money raised through lectures and subscriptions, as well as bequests from members and friends, in order to help midwives during times of hardship, or to assist them in paying their subscriptions. Meanwhile the Distress Fund was established for the relief of midwives who lost work or required further training as a result of the Midwives Act of 1936. In 1941 the Rainy Day Fund amalgamated with the Distress Fund and the War Distress Fund, to become the Benevolent Fund. The Benevolent Fund Committee, met on a quarterly basis, or as required, to investigate applications, and then award grants to midwives in need of financial assistance. Due to a reported increase in the number of midwives in need for this type of support, the constitution of the Benevolent Fund was updated in 1998. The RCM Archive holds minutes and papers of the Benevolent Fund and its successors, and includes letters from midwives in distress and case files from the 1930s and 1940s. Below can be seen one particular example of a case file of a midwife who was accused by her landlady of ‘keeping late hours’ and ‘for being with men at night’: she was given £14 by the Fund in 1942 to help her move her possessions to new accommodation.