Having a baby was almost child’s play

MEMORIES: Pauline Longbottom, in 1982, in her first sisters post.

MEMORIES: Pauline Longbottom, in 1982, in her first sisters post.

TIMES change they say but nowhere has it changed more than in the way babies are born and the roles fathers play in their birth and upbringing.

There was a time when fathers weren’t allowed to stay with their wives during labour or be present at the birth. And the first time they were able to actually hold their baby was when they went to fetch mother and child home.

Men had no place in this all-female environment and in those days they seemed quite happy with the situation.

Giving birth was a woman’s job and the only men you would find on a ward were the doctors.

There were few female gynaecologists in the early days but in 1949 Dewsbury appointed its first, Gwendoline Cockrem, who remained here for 40 years.

Having a baby in my day meant a much longer stay on the maternity ward than today and it was not unusual for new mums to be spend up to 10 days there.

She was also allowed to sleep through the night uninterrupted because the night staff made up bottles for the babies and fed them while mum had a well-earned rest.

Compared with today, new mums were cossetted, because they didn’t have to bath their babies or change their nappies.

Whether babies suffered from such a lack of motherly care during their first days of life we’ll never know, but mothers certainly benefitted from their long rest.

It was all a bit easy going compared to today’s high tech methods, and new mothers were also given a bottle of milk stout if they wanted one.

And dare I say it, they were even allowed to smoke, even in bed if they wanted to. Shame on us!

For many of us, a stay on the maternity home was a bit of a holiday, and we were even protected from visitors outstaying their welcome.

If I remember husbands were only allowed to visit one hour in the evening and other family members on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Our children, however, did not get this long convalescence period, most of them were in one day and out the next.

So much for progress!

Many local midwives, most of them now retired, have warm memories of the days they worked at Moorlands Maternity Home.

One of them, Pauline Longbottom, of Mirfield, but formerly of Dewsbury, has been looking back on those days.

She recently asked a friend who had started her nursing training with her more than 40 years ago what her memories were of those days. She remembered being proud of her uniform which included a cap, apron and black stockings and also enjoying the job before it became audits, risk assessments, mountains of reports and analysis.

She and Pauline both remembered how they had proper coffee and meal breaks and the unity they shared against the tyrannical sisters.

Pauline, now retired, has seen many changes in the nursing profession since starting her nurse training in the 1960s.

Recently she decided to write down some of those memories and she has kindly agreed to share some with us.

They make fascinating reading and here she tells us what hospital life was really like for her.

“I remember sitting quietly petrified outside the Matron’s office waiting for my first job interview in 1964.

“I was half-hearted about wanting to be a nurse, so why was I putting myself through this ordeal? Forty five years on I still have no answer to that question.

“What I do know is it led to a career full of hope, fears, joy and disappointments, and above all, friendships that I still enjoy in my retirement.

“My first impression of Matron was one of a formidable, elderly lady – she was probably about 40 then – in a navy dress, frilly white cap and black lace up shoes and stockings.

“She gave me a professional welcome that made my knees knock and told me to please sit down.

“I was ready to fall down with fear, and to this day I cannot recall the details of that interview, only that I said yes to whatever was offered, although I had no idea what that was!

“I could never have imagined at that moment how that ‘yes’ would shape the rest of my life.

“Within a month I was measured, fitted and labelled, and had had a medical and briefed about where I was to work.

“I was Cadet Nurse Morby, allocated to the central sterile supply department. How was I to save lives when my daily routine was filled with washing and sterilising bowls, jugs and instruments? Was this my vocation?

“Six months later, I was moved to a post natal ward. Not exactly high drama, but at least I got to wear a starched apron and hat. I was beginning to feel like a real nurse.

“Working on Eden Ward was a sharp learning curve for me even though in the 1960s we were not familiar with learning curves.

“Sister in charge was a dour Scot, professional and business like, never given to visible emotion. Unmarried and a resident of the Nurses’ Home, she never discussed off duty activities.

“The babies were hers whilst on her ward and under her care. Indeed, they were in the nursery day and night. Nappy changes, top up feeds and bathing were the staff’s responsibility.

“The mothers were there to rest, not learn parenting skills. It may sound odd nowadays but we didn’t question this care.

“Mums had their babies for feeding only and dads were allowed to see their babies only once before they took them home.

“They viewed them through a glass porthole in the nursery door. Their names were noted in a book and woe betide anyone who attempted a second look.

“”When I recall my later years in midwifery, and the involvement of dads – rightly I might add – from conception onwards, those practices seem almost Victorian.

“However, as a cadet nurse in a world of seniority rule (me being at the bottom of the pecking order), I had no experiences or opinions to draw on to exert any pressure for change.

“Although I’m pleased to say, in later years, with experience, knowledge and seniority, I was able to affect many.”

Pauline recalls how as an innocent 17-year-old she was put on a male surgical ward.

“You cannot begin to imagine, unless you are another nurse, what a shock that was to the system.

“A 30-bed male surgical ward, and my first encounter with male nurses. I was way out of my comfort zone.

“It was almost Christmas 1965 on the ward and the mood was festive. The ward sister was friendly, young and attractive. She even treated the junior staff as human beings.

“Yes, I was definitely going to enjoy my time on Banting Ward, and I did, in spite of my daily involvement with dentures, Winchester bottles filled with unspeakable bodily fluids and urine bottles.

“I felt valued and an important team member. I had never felt that before. It was something I always tried to remember as I became more senior - that the most junior member of staff is an important team member.

“It was after my time on the surgery ward that I decided that nursing was for me after all!

“January 1966 found me in Preliminary Training School, taking my first step on three years of State Registration.

“A proud moment for me and my parents who had sacrificed for my grammar school education.

“This was something ‘post-war’ parents did gladly so their children could ‘get on’ and have a better standard of living.

“Three months later I was let loose on an unsuspecting public, still petrified but with enthusiasm in abundance.

“Forty years later I retired as the head of a Midwifery Service, but I remember those early years with fondness and pride.”

l Margaret’s series of recipes and nostalgia from her book, Dewsbury in food and photos, continues next week.




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