From excruciating pain one minute to ecstatic smiles the next, midwives see it all, undertaking one of hardest yet most rewarding jobs of all. Gaining unique access to the labour ward of Derby City General Hospital, BBC THREE shows the reality of childbirth from the perspective of those who must deliver it in Desperate Midwives. Every mother wishes for a perfect birth but with hormones and emotions running high it’s the midwives job to take charge and a hard labour can be hard work.
Derby City General Hospital’s midwife co-ordinator Trudy has her work cut out. She has got to manage a busy shift with too many mums and not enough midwives. One of the mums on the ward is particularly demanding, and, not happy to wait for her labour to kick in, insists on a Caesarean section. The doctors agree but the midwives don’t, and it’s a battle of wills.
The shift is so hectic that Trudy has to step in and deliver another of the babies herself. It’s not something she does that often but is something she still relishes. “That was wonderful” she says after delivering young mum Emma’s baby. “It gets no less important, even after 20 years…still, every birth is just so special”.
In Derby one in 25 mums choose to have a homebirth - twice the national average. For Community midwife Shirley Ann, “there’s nothing like it…it’s the icing on the cake for me personally as a midwife. It’s the thing I like to do the most”. She’s looking after a mum determined to have her baby at home, even after suffering a bleed and against the advice of the consultants. It puts Shirley Ann in a difficult position, but she stands by her mum and delivers at home. Unfortunately, things start to go dangerously wrong.
Inner-city Derby midwife, Nerissa looks after teenage mums – like 15 year-old pregnant Jade, whose 13 year-old and 17 year-old sisters already have babies of their own. Nerissa has looked after all three sisters as they contended with the joy and pain of childbirth. Now she’s helping the family prepare for their third baby, and showing the teenage sisters what good parenting means.
On the labour ward, older mum Sam, who’s already got three children, thinks that her fourth will be quick and uncomplicated. Sam has a history of fast labours and one of her labours lasted just an hour. But in childbirth previous experience doesn’t always help and fast births can be both traumatic and dangerous. During labour her baby’s heart-rate plummets and if it doesn’t come quickly, Sam will be rushed into the operating theatre.
Meanwhile midwife Muriel helps teenage mum Hayley who faces difficult times ahead, even after her baby is born. Hayley is 17 and pregnant and has nowhere to live once the baby is born. Her boyfriend hasn’t even told his parents that he’s about to become a dad. Hayley internalises all her pain, concentrating on getting the baby out. For Muriel, the midwifery is as much about social issues as about the baby.
Please note this is a change to the episode listed in some TV guides.
Specialist midwife Judy looks after expectant mums who have addiction or mental health problems. Her job is to help parents in challenging circumstances, ensuring that mothers and babies are kept safe and well.
Back on the labour ward at Derby City General Hospital, midwife manager Trudy has to lend a hand on a busy shift. 17 year-old Zimzee is having her first baby and its a long and painful labour for the teenage mum. Zimzee is 12 days past her due date and needs to be induced. She’s put on a hormone drip to trigger the contractions but when the contractions start they are very painful. With the baby’s heart rate dropping, Zimzee needs to push the baby out quickly.
Midwife Shirley Ann is attending the homebirth of mum of three Anne. It’s a crowded house with Anne’s husband, the three kids, Shirley Ann and a colleague all present but both mum and midwife want the birth to be as relaxing as possible. Ann is trying everything she can to avoid having drugs. According to Shirley Ann, “this is how it should be. Nice and relaxed and quiet just calm all the way. That’s the plan."
A team of 65 midwives deliver 4,500 babies every year at Derby City General Hospital. No birth is ever the same and its up to the midwives to help new mothers facing one of the happiest, yet one of the most traumatic days of their life. Community midwife Jane works with expectant mums outside of the hospital and is passionate about natural births and home birth. Mum Carmen makes Jane a very happy midwife by having a beautiful delivery at home in a birthing pool.
On the labour ward at Derby City General Hospital it’s not such a pretty picture. Mum of four Heather is having severe difficulties with her fourth labour. It’s the most painful delivery of her life. Midwife Sarah breaks the waters and tries to ease things along, but Heather is in agony and a doctor has to be called in.
Meanwhile, 24 year-old Julia is expecting twins, and needs to have a caesarean as one twin is in breach. Ideally she’d have a local anaesthetic and be conscious for the moment the babies are delivered, but the anaesthetist is having real problems getting the needle in.
For young mum, Rachel labour is a daunting time. Her first baby Luke died three hours after birth, and now she’s expecting her second she’s terrified that something might go wrong again. Community midwife Jackie and a consultant paediatrician are in the operating theatre to reassure her as she goes through an elective caesarean. For mum and midwife, managing the emotions is as important as managing the pain.
Back on the ward Liz is now looking after Amanda who is 12 days overdue. She has been induced but her labour is not going well. She’s rushed in for an emergency caesarean with just 20 minutes to get the baby out before it will be at risk.
From excruciating pain one minute to ecstatic smiles the next, midwives see it all, undertaking one of hardest yet most rewarding jobs of all. Gaining unique access to the labour ward of Derby City General Hospital, BBC Three shows the reality of childbirth from the perspective of those who must deliver it in Desperate Midwives. Every mother wishes for a perfect birth but with hormones and emotions running high it’s the midwives job to take charge and a hard labour can be hard work.
“The pain is an all encompassing pain. You can’t think of anything else but the pain. Some people say its like grabbing your bottom lip and pulling it over the top of your head”. So says midwife Liz who is looking after second time mum Michelle who has been on the ward for 13 hours and first time mum Emma. Michelle suddenly goes into full labour and the pushing begins, but Emma’s baby is facing the wrong way. She’s given pethedine to numb the pain and has to wait for the baby to turn its head before she can start to push. “This is really hard work. They don’t call it labour for nothing you know” Liz says.
Out of the hospital community midwife Jill is doing the rounds. She helps mum, Marie, have a happy and successful homebirth. Its so beautiful even Jill is moved to tears, though she’s been delivering babies for nearly 30 years. Gill sees the women through the whole nine months up to the birth, “I like the caring side of being a midwife. I think you become quite a friend to the women you look after” she says.
Midwife Sue Gaskin loves her job and her varied case load. She’s a pillar of the community and bumps into mums she’s looked after and babies she’s delivered wherever she goes. Now she’s looking after an unreliable pregnant teenager who keeps missing appointments despite the fact that stillborn babies run in the family. One in every 200 births in the UK is stillborn and it’s a real concern for Sue.
Sue also cares for glamorous mum, Victoria who is expecting her first baby and wants there to be "no pain and no poo!" An average labour for first time mum’s is around 12 hours. Victoria opts for a water birth on the labour ward of Derby City General Hospital but it may not be the birth she hopes for. Just walking into hospital, her waters break and run down her legs – just proving the unpredictable nature of childbirth.
Sue then helps deliver her friend Diane’s twins. One of the twins has stopped growing so she needs to be induced. The labour progresses slowly and the babies are showing signs of distress. The doctors are called in and they resort to an instrumental intervention - the ventouse suction cup - to get the baby out as quickly as possible.
The miracle of new life is explored from the perspective of those who must deliver it in Desperate Midwives. No two births are ever the same and a typical shift on the labour ward of Derby City Hospital brings a succession of different cases for the staff undertaking one of the most rewarding jobs of all. BBC THREE spends a shift with the midwives for a no holds barred view of childbirth.
Expectant mum Joanne has been rushed into hospital with pre-eclampsia, a condition which could threaten the life of both mother and baby. She’s a month off her due date, so if the baby is delivered it will be premature. But if the baby isn’t delivered Joanne’s blood pressure could continue to rise and rise. Midwife Steph, and student midwife Kitty help the doctors make the difficult decision as to whether to send Joanne in for an emergency caesarean whilst having a manic night on the labour ward, juggling three mums.
Also on the labour ward is first-time mum Tricia. Tricia is already a week overdue and is given an induction to kick-start the labour. She can’t wait to have her baby in her arms, but her induction takes a mammoth 31 hours!
Every mother dreams of a perfect birth, but the reality is often quite different. For mum Jane, a traumatic delivery 11 years ago has made her understandably apprehensive about her second birth. She is not the only one distressed, after being induced, there are problems with her baby’s heart rate and the baby needs to be pulled out with suction or delivered by emergency caesarean.
Meanwhile, pregnant teenager Becka goes to a “young mum’s group” to learn what to expect when she comes into hospital. It’s a particularly daunting time for Becka. Without a partner, her mother will be providing support, but otherwise, Becka is facing childbirth alone.
Midwife Liz looks after a couple who have struggled to get pregnant for four years and are now expecting their first child through IVF treatment. The labour proves to be a challenge as well. It takes much longer than the couple expect, and when mum Sarah calls for an epidural, midwife Liz cannot get hold of the anaesthetist…
Glamorous mum Victoria has had an epidural and can’t feel anything from the waist down. This is making it impossible for her to push. “Are you too posh to push?!” her midwife, Tina, jokingly asks, but it’s a serious issue. Victoria is quickly becoming exhausted and unless she manages to push, the baby won’t come out without a lot of intervention.
Intervention is something second time mum Kerry Ann is very keen to avoid. Kerry Ann is desperate to have a homebirth and hopes her midwife Sharon will help her deliver naturally. But Kerry Ann overshoots her due date by 12 days and in the end has to go into hospital to be induced. With the baby struggling for breath, the delivery is far different from Kerry Ann’s dream.
Meanwhile, midwife Craig is one of only 94 male midwives in the country. With a male medical student in tow, they present a very macho front. Men have only been practicing as midwives for the past 12 years and even now are vastly outnumbered in their profession. Out of more than 33,000 midwives in the UK only 94 are men. Some mums mind, but luckily second time mum Sara doesn’t. Her delivery goes very smoothly with no pain relief except for gas and air.
Life on the labour ward of Derby City General Hospital can be frantic, but some midwives wouldn’t miss it for the world. Despite the blood and the tears, and the dangers of childbirth, delivering babies is one of the most rewarding jobs of all.
Honduran-born midwife Liz has been posted out to the community to look after mums, both ante- and post-natally. For someone who thrives on adrenaline and the buzz of the labour ward this is a difficult change and she misses the labour ward so much she asks for extra shifts. Her extra shifts are harder than she bargained for - with mums simultaneously birthing, and a difficult c-section where a mum cries out in agony as an ovarian cist is discovered and then removed. But it’s all in a day’s work for Liz…
Meanwhile, midwife Michelle dislikes working in hospitals and has become an independent midwife. She offers private one-to-one care, with a distinctly holistic slant, to any expectant mums who want to pay for the service. For hippy mum Ruth this means a magical home water-birth to the strains of Fats Waller. She’s had a bad experience at the hospital and wants a perfect home-birth for her fifth delivery. She employs Michelle, hires a birthing pool and dances to jazz whilst in labour – it’s a very different delivery to those on the labour ward!
First broadcast: Monday 23 May 2005 on BBC THREE