Meet Geraldine Butcher: a wee wonder!

In the theme of 'Nursing and Midwifery History', and after the great response to my last post about Miss Fenton, I thought it would be great to interview a couple of 'midwifery greats' and to publish their stories right here, on Five Girls.  Here is the first midwife, the wonderful Geraldine Butcher! 

I first met Geraldine at the MAMA Conference last year in Troon, Scotland, and immediately felt a connection with her. Her smiling face beamed across the dinning table, and she made me feel welcome in her country. 


Geraldine began nurse training in 1978 and  thought she wanted to work in surgery or in coronary care…until she went to the maternity unit during the second year of her training. At that time they were chronically short of midwives and she was often caring for women until the second stage of labour (fills her with horror now but in her naivety she felt trusted, and loved it). Due to this experience, Geraldine decided to become a midwife. However…..that same year she had become instantly broody, which resulted in her sitting her nursing finals 36 weeks pregnant!

When Geraldine's baby son was 7 months old she worked as a staff nurse mainly doing postnatal care of women and babies (that was quite common in those days). When her second child was 3 yrs old she began her midwifery training in the same hospital; completing in November 1987.

So, Geraldine agreed to answer some of my questions, so you can get to know her a bit better too!

Hi Geraldine, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! Could you describe briefly what your role is at the moment?

Hi Sheena, I am Consultant Midwife in NHS Ayrshire and Arran with a special interest in Normality

How long have you been working in this position, and what do you like most about it?

I have worked in Practice Development since 1996 (although continuously in clinical practice) and was fortunate to gain my Consultant Midwife post in 2007. At this time posts in all but the smallest health boards were created to implement the Midwife Led aspects of the Framework for Maternity Services. The work was called the Keeping Childbirth Natural and Dynamic Programme and I was proud to be the local champion.

Being a Consultant Midwife allows me to keep in touch with clinical practice, research and audit, professional development and education all within a leadership framework. All of these things are very important to me and I would hate to lose any aspect. I can change local practice (although that brings its own challenges on occasions) and also influence national strategy and developments.

 You have been a midwife for more than 25 years, do you feel maternity services have changed in that time?

I have been a midwife more than 25 years but have worked in maternity services for 30 years. I loved my maternity placement as a student nurse (everyone had to be dual trained then) and got lots of responsibility during my placement. I completed my nurse training sitting my finals at 36 weeks gestation as my maternity secondment had left me so broody. During my second pregnancy I moved back home to Ayrshire. Minutes after giving birth my husband jokingly asked if there were any jobs (I hope he was anyway!) Turned out they were so short of midwives they employed a few staff nurses. When my son was 7 months old I started working in maternity care. Again I did everything but listen to fetal hearts in the ward areas but was not utilized in labour ward, which at least was something. In those days accountability and risking registrations wasn’t really a discussion topic!

In 1985 I started my midwifery training and was extremely proud when I qualified in 1987. There was still a lot of medicalisation of normal birth at that time, and it is hard to change a system that has been in place for nearly 20 yrs. Women declining any antenatal screening was rare, even though the information they got was little or none. Most women had a late antenatal vaginal examination. Induction rates were higher than they are now with most women being induced by 41 weeks gestation. Interestingly though caesarean section rates were much lower…no epidurals, no FBS, VBAC was the norm and I don’t remember anyone expressing a profound fear of birth or requesting caesarean section. Was that because women knew there was little point in not going with what staff recommended, or was it because they were more philosophical about birth? Women getting out of bed during labour never mind birth was virtually unheard of. Episiotomy rates which had been almost 100% in 1980 were now lower…but don’t you dare have a perineal tear!...intact or episiotomy or you are in trouble. Shaves and enemas were on their way out but ARM on admission and IV infusions remained very common place. All women with very few exceptions had continuous monitoring in labour. Postnatal stay for normal birth was 3 days and midwives visited every day until day 10.

 However!....from 1988 we gradually started inching our way back into being lead professional for healthy women having uncomplicated pregnancies…our blue spot ladies didn’t see a consultant at all antenatally and in labour ward our first midwifery cases started…… 

What improvements do you think maternity services need to make, if any?

 We need to listen to women and have stronger focus generally that birth is a psychological emotional and social process, not just a physical one. With limited resources we can't be all things to all people, but care and compassion cost nothing. Women's perspective of risk is not always the same as ours and we need to stop shroud waving.

 In order to give sensitive, individualised care however we really need good continuity of carer (and if that’s not possible good continuity of philosophy). We need the right number of staff to care for them and that is not being achieved in many areas now. Stressed staff caring for too many women will make mistakes and communication will fail.

If we can do the above then everything else should fall into place (rose tinted glasses maybe but need to hope)

As a midwifery leader, how do like to influence future generations of midwives?

 I think I do my wee bit locally by speaking to student midwives but I think social media is a great way to give snippets of good quality information, or provide constructive comment and suggestions with potential to reach many more students or those thinking about midwifery as a career. It is amazing the number of young people on twitter and actively using it and tweetchat. Perceptions of hierarchy disappear when you are behind a computer screen so they can challenge safely..and they do. MAMA conference recently had a large number of student attending and this was very encouraging…they are committed to change and they are the future of maternity care.  

I have also published and presented work, which hopefully helps!


Well, thank you SO much Geraldine, for giving us an insight into your early career, your philosophy of maternity care, and your role as a Consultant Midwife! Keep up the great work you are doing; you are making a difference. 


If you want to follow Geraldine (she's a avid 'Tweeter') on Twitter, she can be found at @gbutcher17



A letter to a special midwife....


Dear Shelley,

When I saw your face nestled amongst other delegates in a lecture theatre at Coventry University this week, I was overwhelmed. The joy of seeing you made my day, and I am still smiling. How could it be that we lost touch after sharing such a close relationship as young midwives, and young mothers? We grew together didn’t we? You shared your sunshine personality with so many others, and everyone loved you. Including me. I was always delighted when I knew we would be on the same shift, caring for mothers and babies, as I knew the hours would be full of smiles and compassion even when it was busier than we thought possible. I can see you now, coming through the doors of a birth room with a great big smile to help someone else. Always helping- ‘no’ wasn’t in your vocabulary.

One occasion when we worked together stands out above all the others.  You came out of one of the birth rooms on the Delivery Suite at Blackburn and asked me to ‘mind’ Julie, the woman you were looking after, whilst you went to have some lunch.  You sought me out. ‘Sheena this young girl is in early labour and is frightened of me leaving her’.  ‘I promised her I would find someone kind to sit with her whilst I had a quick bite’ you said. You explained that Julie had distressing social circumstances, and she had learning difficulties. I was flattered that you trusted me, and followed behind you into the room. The young woman was crying because you’d gone.  So you hugged her, and kissed her forehead, and as I looked on I caught glimpse of the head lice crawling around her locks of hair. I also became aware of the stench and saw the grime on Julie’s skin and nails, and I bent to her level to try to reassure her that I would stay as close and carefully take good care of her whilst you were gone. Julie swore at me, and said she didn’t want me, only you. You asked if you could go for just 15 minutes, as you were so hungry, and she screamed ‘NO!’.

So you stayed. You stoked her hair, and put your arms around her neck and then moved back to get eye contact. ‘OK Julie, I won’t leave you’.  You didn’t worry about catching the lice, or the offensive smell, you didn’t just care for Julie, you loved her. And she felt it. It may have been a first for her.

I have often recounted this tale Shelley, especially when talking to student or new midwives about real humanity and compassion. I have always considered myself as being up there with others in my ability to nurture, empower and to be kind. But you go beyond that. You are the ultimate midwife, your sensitivity and love is a rare gift, and I am thankful that I witnessed your capacity to make a difference to so many women.

At our unexpected reunion at the Baby Lifeline study day we talked and talked of times gone by, we laughed and we cried. And we spoke of other stars, Anita, Louise Slater, Sue Henry and Katie were amongst those we remembered.

Later that evening I posted the photograph above on Facebook, and these comments from some of your friends quickly appeared:

Patti Hughes Shelley Shore! Lovely lady - and doesn't look a bloody day older!

Jean Duerden Loved it knowing she was in York. A very special person. X

Tina Chatburn Shelley Shore .....loved her tales !!

What do you think about that?

Shelley Shore: a legend

Love from your friend,

Sheena x

International Day of the Midwife: King's College London


Every year on the 5th May many midwives around the world celebrate the International Day of the Midwife (IDM). The initiative was launched formally in 1992 by the International Confederation of Midwives, with an aim to celebrate midwifery and to raise the awareness of the importance of midwives' work to as many people as possible.

Frances Day Stirk the President of the ICM tells us about the IDM for 2012

I was lucky enough to be invited to King's College London today to speak to the student midwives at a conference they had organized to celebrate the IDM. I arrived whilst my good friend Denis Walsh was giving one of his renowned inspirational talks, and then Paul and I enjoyed a cuppa with the bright and enthusiastic students who had greeted us so warmly. Mary Stewart, their fabulous midwifery lecturer, watched closely with pride as her student midwife conference organisers (wearing white ribbon sashes) sold deliciously high calorie cakes that they had made to sell, to help raise funds for the White Ribbon Alliance.


As I Tweeted as much as I could, I was delighted not to have missed the talk from Meghan Jackson a young midwife who clearly explained the history and work of the Association of Radical Midwives (hey, she said, I am not a hairy legged hippy!) with great passion. And she described the horrendous plight of the victim/hero Dr. Agnes Gereb. Meghan warned delegates that there could be similar issues for Independent Midwives in the UK if the situation of obtaining indemnity insurance to practise isn’t resolved appropriately.


The highlight of the conference for me was the ‘open slots’ session just before lunch, where students were given 5 minutes to talk about a topic of their choice. I sat in absolute awe as individual midwives-to-be made their way to the front and presented a variety of midwifery related ‘snippets’.

Jo got the ball rolling and gave us an international perspective on maternity care through her personal and interesting insight into life for women in South Sudan, where she had previously worked. It’s always grounding for those of us living and working in developed countries to hear the shocking conditions and levels of maternal and infant mortality in the Third World. Much of content of Jo’s talk reflected the injustice and prejudice against women and their lack of basic human rights. Utterly shocking.

There were some delights to follow. We were entertained by a student’s insightful and highly humorous interpretation of ‘spiritual midwifery’. This student was perhaps the best stand up comedian I have ever heard (really!) and the laughing in the audience almost raised the roof. Beautiful poetry written and read by another talented student gave me goose bumps, a personal story of birth in water from 21 years ago brought tears to my eyes, and there was a moving film to music and a slide show depicting the role of the midwife. Finally, a politically charged account of female inequalities (excellently articulated and so true) made me rear up with female pride.   Such emotions! My talk of positive birth and making change happen will hopefully give the students a few tools for their pockets as they work hard to deliver the change needed.

I just heard on the way home from the Capital that the efforts of these passionate smiling student midwives resulted in a donation of £226.20 to the White Ribbon Alliance… don’t you think that’s the best thing ever?

Congratulations to you all, and thank you very much indeed for sharing your day with me.

PS tomorrow I am helping my lovely daughter Anna and the midwifery students and lecturers at UCLan in Preston, in their efforts to raise money for the African Midwifery Fund. This organisation helps to improve maternity care in Africa, as part of the IDM celebrations. My wonderful niece Cathy helped me to make lots of biscuits yesterday at White Wickets, in her luxurious kitchen. Watch this space for day two.