Touched by a Midwife

Over thirty years, I have had the privilege to meet many midwives across the UK and abroad and have photographed and filmed the diverse aspects of midwifery. From the drama of birth to the quiet of a post natal visit at home, midwives bring great skill, courage, humility, and compassion to each woman and each birth.

I have filmed hundreds of births and each one is a miracle. I leave a birthing room elated and exhausted. The midwife on duty must care for the new mother and baby, write up her notes and on a busy ward, is then off to next mother in labour. Indefatigable.

Although I am not a midwife, I feel that somewhere in a past life I must have been as I continue to be fascinated and amazed by the beauty of the pregnant woman’s body and the power of women’s bodies to give life. It is a true source of wonder and magic.

On this International Day of the Midwife, I reflect back on some of the more memorable births I’ve photographed and the amazing midwives who make these moments happen.

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Janis and Kay.jpg

In this photo, Midwife Kay congratulates Janise who had just given birth in water. Kay said, “A midwife is there to offer support and expertise without being intrusive”.

Margaret and Sharon.jpg

In this photo, Midwife Margaret is holding Sharon’s face encouraging her through contractions. Sharon had a history of postpartum haemorrhage with her previous two births. Going into this birth she was very anxious. With Sharon's face in her hands Margaret calmly said, “Close your eyes and get inside these contractions. You can do it.” Mother and midwife were connected. Sharon had no post partum difficulties.

A memorable birth was Sue’s water birth in a rural cottage in Cornwall, UK, led by GP Richard. The pool had just been finished that morning – you could still smell the fibreglass. The pool was filled through a hose attached to the kitchen fawcet; however there was insufficient hot water and we had to keep pots of water and kettles boiling on the stove to keep the water warm. Richard examined Sue and said it was going to be a few hours and that he’d go home, have dinner, and come back soon to re-evaluate. He’d been gone not even five minutes when Sue looked at me and said, “this baby will be born soon.” Sue was an intuitive woman and just got on with her labour enjoying the warmth of the water as she let her belly rock and sway. I kept photographing and filling kettles.

It soon became clear that she was well into the second stage of labour, so I quietly called the GP and suggested he should return asap. He said, “just stay calm and she’ll be fine.” While he was on his way, I noticed the book ‘Spiritual Midwifery’ on the sideboard and opened it to the page which discussed cutting the umbilical cord. The sterile birthing kit was ready but I prayed that it was not going to be me that opened it!

Sue was progressing quickly. Her husband was now in the pool supporting her back from behind. Sue’s female birthing friend Lynn was keeping a watchful eye and giving words of encouragement. All seemed idyllic. Suddenly Lynn looked up at me with a terrified expression on her face and said, “put that camera down.” She was panicking. The baby’s head appeared. I put my camera down, put my hands in the water to check that the umbilical cord wasn’t wrapped around the baby’s neck. Everything felt so fleshy, but I intuited all was okay. I said to Sue “with the next contraction your baby will be here.” Sue touched the baby’s head and with the next contraction pushed her baby out and pulled him onto her chest. Everyone was relieved and delighted. It transpires that Lynn’s baby had been born with the cord wrapped around his neck and she was reliving this moment and panicked. I was watching the clock and the door and filling the pool with warm water. Fifteen minutes later Richard arrived and there were many congratulations and smiles all round.

Since that experience, I have had a new appreciation for the calm confidence and skill of midwives in these incredible moments of helping a new life into the world.

I have been Touched by a Midwife and wave their flag globally for the extraordinary work they do.

These photos are part of an exhibition, Touched by a Midwife, to celebrate International Day of the Midwife.

Exhibition dates: 8th May—13th June 2019

At Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Wing, 1st Floor Corridor, University College Hospital, 235 Euston Road, London NW1 2BU

Nancy Durrell McKenna