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A real life ‘Call the Midwife’

2022-05-05T17:06:13+01:00Thursday 5 May 2022|

Retired midwife and Head of Maternity Services Noreen Shaw has been looking back on the progress made in maternity services over the years to mark International Day of the Midwife (5 May).

Having worked across the Black Country, in both Sandwell and Wolverhampton, Noreen played a leading role in supporting midwives, women and babies at Walsall Manor Hospital in the 1990s.

Prior to this, back in 1958, she was a student midwife in Aston – an original ‘midwife on the bike’ as she described it – visiting families in their homes during the pregnancy and supporting women when in labour.

The 86-year-old explained: “Back then I would have my delivery bag (known by the locals as the ‘babby bag’) in the carrier at the back of the bike, a gas and air cylinder in the basket on the front of the bike, money for the meter to ensure enough light and heat while delivering the baby and money for the phone box if I needed to make a call. In a team of one midwife and two students, we would deliver around 100 babies in a three-month period.

“To sterilise our equipment, the hard items had to be boiled and our dressings were cooked in the oven to eliminate the bacteria!”

And while it all sounds very much like TV’s ‘Call the Midwife’, Noreen revealed that she did in fact train at the same time as the much-loved author Jennifer Worth and met her later at a midwifery refresher course. She said the show itself is “very much what it was like back then.”

Noreen worked in midwifery management at New Cross Hospital from 1985-1989, and as manager of women’s services at Walsall Manor Hospital from 1990 to 2001.

For Noreen, who lives in Walsall, one of the biggest achievements in her career was supporting the development of a brand new Maternity Unit at Walsall Manor Hospital in 1994. The unit, which cost £10million to build, was designed to ensure that the most dependant patients (women in labour and pre-term babies) were located on the ground floor for easy access, while new safety features were introduced including a brand-new system for the tagging of babies. This was awarded ‘secure by design’ by the Home Office.

Her team endeavoured to care for the women in a “holistic” way – midwives in the community-led parent-craft classes and aqua-natal sessions, all offering the women an opportunity to meet others, have fun and share advice.

In her time, she became a representative for the Royal College of Midwives and travelled extensively, including Australia and Washington USA where she attended the International Congress of Midwives.

Following an extensive career as a midwife teacher, she went on to support the development of the midwifery degree programme at Wolverhampton University.

At her retirement in 2001 it was estimated that during her career she, and the team of midwives she supported, helped deliver around 750,000 babies.

She said: “It was such a satisfying job because it was about helping people. You have the start, middle and end of pregnancy and you are there to ensure a safe delivery, happy mother and baby and a united family. I loved it.”

Thank you Noreen!

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