What is it like to witness your daughter giving birth?
In the days before hospital births, many a woman had her mum by her side as she went through labour.
Husbands were either banished from the house, or chose to keep well out of the way, appearing only to produce the obligatory hot water and clean towel on demand.
Now it’s the other way around. Fathers-to-be play a major part in the childbirth process, while prospective grandmothers wait by the phone at home.
Only a few women now get to share the intimate moment when the child of their own child arrives into the world.
Two women who have shared the magical experience of childbirth with their daughters give us their accounts:
When June Cooper’s only child asked her to be by her side for the birth of her first baby, she felt only a wave of panic.
Her own experience of childbirth had been so traumatic, the memory of it still haunted her.
Afterwards post-natal depression had engulfed her. The whole experience had been so distressing she had been too afraid to ever have another baby. The thought of watching her daughter go through something that had the potential to be equally as traumatic filled her with fear.
June had been an army sergeant, stationed in Cyprus with her husband a corporal when she discovered she was to be a mother. She was thrilled, but in 1980, there was no place for pregnant women in the forces.
As had happened to so many women before her, she was ordered to leave her job by the M.o.D. “I later became one of the Baby Blunder Cases – one of the thousands of forces women it was ruled had been the victims of sexual discrimination and were paid compensation for being unlawfully pushed out of their careers. My payout was £10,000, not a great deal for losing a career I loved,” reflects Joan.
“I think it contributed a great deal to the post natal depression I suffered after my daughter Amanda’s birth. I’d lost my identity and I felt worthless.”
In addition, though, the birth itself was a trauma. Joan was still living on the military base in Cyprus. Army doctors, she says, didn’t want the hassle of waiting for babies to arrive in their own good time, or risk babies being born anywhere other than the garrison hospital.
“When I was five months pregnant the army told me I’d be having my baby on April 23. There was no choice; labour would be induced. You didn’t question, especially when you were in the Army.
“And on April 23 I was given an injection and left on my back with my legs in stirrups. It was a horrific experience. I felt like a number, a product on a production line. Afterwards I couldn’t ever face having another child.”
The memories came flooding back when Amanda, in the last stages of pregnancy, asked her to be at the birth.
“It had never crossed my mind that she would ask me. I was shocked that she wanted me there,” says June, now 56.
“I didn’t realise it was allowed; It didn’t happen in my day. I was also very apprehensive about how I would cope, though I didn’t tell Amanda any of that. The last thing I wanted to do was worry her. I was determined to give her all the love and support she needed.”
She and her daughter have a strong bond. Joan’s marriage had ended when Amanda was just two; her parents had emigrated to Australia when she was 25. “For many years it was just the two of us,” she says. “Now we live just five minutes apart from each other in Chesterfield and we even work together,” says June, who owns the luxury beauty, well-being and fitness centre Klassé Spa in Barlborough.
“Amanda does all our marketing and HR and does beauty treatments. We see each other every day and rely on each other a lot.
“For her, it was natural to have me with her at the most important time in her life.”
When Amanda went into labour, there wasn’t time to worry. A phone call in the middle of the night had June leaping out of bed and dashing to Chesterfield Royal Hospital; Amanda was already in advanced stages of labour.
“As soon as I walked onto the labour ward the memories hit me, though. I was dumbstruck. I was like someone star-dazed.
“And seeing her in pain was really hard to bear. Then there was panic; the baby went into distress, the paediatrician had to be called in and it was a swift forceps delivery for baby Ellie-May.
“For me, though, the worst time was when Amanda was taken off to the operating theatre to be stitched. Her partner Mark Tomlinson was bonding with the baby but all I could think about was mine. I couldn’t switch my attention to Ellie-May until Amanda returned.”
June feels the experience helped her overcome her trauma: “After Amanda’s birth I’d been so terrified of getting pregnant again it had affected all my relationships with men. But seeing Ellie-May come into the world took the scars away,” she says.
June was delighted when hers daughter asked her to be present at the birth of her second child Amelia Rose; she arrived seven weeks ago and it was a happier experience for all.
Says June: “It was much more relaxed; I was there from the early stages of labour. There was pain, but everything went well. There were lovely moments and even funny ones. I have an abiding memory of the midwife asking Amanda if she wanted to use a birthing ball and her snapping: “What on EARTH do I want a bloody ball for?”
“I’m reminded of it every time I see the fitness balls in Klassé Spa’s gym; they are exactly the same.”
She says witnessing her daughter’s labours and seeing her granddaughters’ first breaths has enriched her life.
“They were beautiful and emotional experiences, quite unlike mine. Things have changed so much.
“Amanda wasn’t treated like she was on a conveyor belt, she wasn’t shaved top to toe and the babies weren’t taken from her and put into another room on their own.
“I think I did help her through them and undoubtedly being there helped me, too. Seeing the head appear, then the baby arrive and take its first breath, make its first cry; it was amazing to witness. It’s made me incredibly close to her girls.
“I feel a responsibility for their welfare and their education; I feel almost like a mum to them.
“Two years ago Amanda’s request for me to be with her filled me with fear. Now it fills me with gratitude.”
On board a jumbo jet, Lindsay Allison kept checking her watch and saying a silent prayer.
She wasn’t a nervous passenger; she was flying to the other side of the world to help her daughter Jessica Wright through labour.
Though her arrival had been carefully timed for five days before her daughter’s due date, Lindsey, a former nurse, knew babies are nothing if not unpredictable.
“Every time the plane landed to refuel I’d check my phone in case Jess’s husband Nick had called to tell me the baby was coming early. Thankfully it wasn’t; she was a week late, as she had been with her first baby, Ella, two years before.”
It was the trauma of Ella’s birth that had made Jessica, 30, summon her mum to her side in Melbourne. Labour had taken 36 hours, the baby was in a posterior presentation and it got so difficult she needed an epidural. It wasn’t the natural birth she had hoped for.
She wanted her mum, a homeopath, to treat her during the labour - and Lindsay had her trusty pills in her luggage.
“I was nervous. Though I now treat people with homeopathy as a living but I’d never actually been at a birth before,” she says.
“I’d helped calve many cows in my youth (my father was a vet) and had my own children, but this was altogether another experience to be helping my daughter to have her baby. Seeing her in pain was painful for me. But she got through it without pain relief. I gave her different remedies at different stages in the labour. Something for the pain, another for the anxiety.”
Lindsay had first come across homeopathy’s ‘magic white pills’ 36 years ago while studying to be a nurse in Sheffield. It cured a debilitating bout of bronchitis in a day, she says.
At 49, after a succession of careers, struggling with the menopause and stressed out running a family business, she turned to homeopathy.
“It made me feel on top of the world. I was so convinced I did six years of training and became a homeopath,” says Lindsay, who works out of the Synergy Clinic in Totley and from her home near Tideswell.
Jess, a scientist, put her faith in her mum’s expertise and to the midwives’ amazement, stayed calm throughout. At one point she even managed an hour’s sleep.
“Little white pills apart, the whole experience was very different to my own ‘hospitalised’ labour,” said Lindsay.
“When Jacob was born in Melbourne’s Mercy Family Birthing Centre, it was a far more informal affair with rooms very much like a bedroom in your own home. There’s a double bed so dads can stay the night.
“We were allowed to use the gigantic bath, and there were bean bags for her to lean on and music to play. Nursing staff were on hand to help us if we needed then rather than in control. It was very much up to us.
“Though my heart goes out to the expectant dads who must feel so very helpless in that situation.
“Thank God you were here,” my traumatised son-in-law had said to me in the delivery room.
“On April 4 at 6.20pm my grandchild made his appearance into the world. His father delivered him and cut the cord. Following the excitement, amazement and relief we finally remembered to see if he was a girl or boy!
“What an experience it was being on the other side of the fence. I feel that I will have a special bond with my daughter and son-in-law because of the experience we shared.”