Born in Jamaica, West Indies to a poor family of ten children her father died when she was six and Yvonne soon after was sent to live with God parents for the hope of a better life. Her mother tended the farm and sold the produce to raise money to feed the rest of her children. At the age of fourteen returning home from living with the second family since her father's death, her family not having enough money to keep them together she was taken in by the local Baptist ministers' family and thereafter by a number of friends and relatives. Her earliest memory of these times is of Christmas day, sitting by the river bank making herself a Christmas present- a doll made out of grass and old bottle and river reeds, and her happiest time of when she received her first pair of shoes at the age of fifteen. She left school at seventeen with no recognised qualifications. Her first son was born when Yvonne was twenty two and his father unfortunately died in an accident some years later.
Yvonne came to the UK when she was twenty five as a care worker and later as a mental health nursing assistant as well as studying at Bromley College gained a diploma in information technology and later for an access to nursing course, and an evening job working in a café. She met her husband John- a chartered engineer, when she was thirty and following the birth of their son commenced her life long dream to study as a midwife at Kings College- London. She proudly describes herself as a 'Kings girl' recalling the dreams of her childhood and playground banter of the best university in the world- Kings, never dreaming that she would one day be a student their herself.
Even as a student midwife Yvonne has always put those she serves first as when, in her second year of training, on discovering that the baby she delivered for a sixteen year old refugee who had been raped in a war torn region of Africa had no clothes or baby equipment, Yvonne, at the end of her shift, went home, collected all the new born cloths and baby equipment that she and John had purchased for their second baby due in a few months time and returned with them for the young girl.
After taking 'time-out' from her studies to have her third son, Yvonne qualified from Kings College in 2005 and following a conference where she learnt of the plight of women in Ameya- India, know as one of the poorest and most deprived areas, she undertook to help and set-up www.midwifery-india.org where details of Yvonne's daily diaries of her visits can be found. Some exerts from her diary is below;
Wednesday 2nd August 2006
Early this morning at around 1.30am I was woken by load shouts of Yvonne, Yvonne, Yvonne come quickly. It was Snehlata; a woman in the village was in Labour. She was around 34 weeks pregnant and therefore I really thought I would miss this delivery.
At around 3.25am she gave birth to a very premature baby weighing around 3 ½ lbs. It was dreadful, this minute helpless little girl, trying to cling onto life slipping in and out of consciousness. Sometimes you can feel so helpless. As the baby would not take to the breast I express colostrum from this woman's breast with my hand and fed it to the baby with a spoon to try to keep her alive .
I have been up all night getting spoon full after spoon full of colostrum from this woman's breast and feeding it to little Esther .
Friday 4th August 2006
Esther would not take to the breast and when she did take milk, she was sick. To give her mother a break (she too was dying on her feet) I took over the night care of Esther. Esther's mother being so tired she slept through the crying (more like a pitiful whimper) but it was the most strange but natural thing for me to be 'expressing' another woman's breast while she was still asleep to give her baby the life-line of milk she needs to keep her in this world .
Monday 7th August 2006
Well we made it! According to the text books anyway, we have taken baby Esther through the first five days of life, so in theory anyway we have climbed the first big hurdle. Tonight will be my first night back in my own bed instead of the floor in Esther's home. I am still quite scared of the thought of them on their own, but this is the way it should be. Instead of being awake on the floor of their home with little Esther on my lap, I will be spending the night awake in my bed wondering what is going on
Tuesday 8th August 2006
At around 3pm yesterday, in the height of my clinic a woman from a local village arrived in full labour. Apparently she had walked over 3 hours to get here. I had to ask Snehlata to cancel the rest of my day and re-arrange the appointments which is an enormous task in itself.
Having had the Fetal heart problem before, not finding it was no real problem- at first, however as I tried and tried it became apparent that the foetus had died. Having no medication to bring on labour, you just have to wait for nature to take its course. I find it one of the most undesirable and faith questioning event to see a mother going through childbirth to have a still born baby at the end of this painful, dreadful, bewildering event causes you to question life itself.
This mother who has felt life inside her for the last 9 months, felt this baby's first kick against her womb, stroked her tummy, spoke her thoughts and inner fears to him (yes it was a boy) when they were on their own. She has planned her baby's whole life before it is born- maybe a doctor, teacher, the next Prime Minister of India!
I could tell that the family was clinging to the hope that the baby was still alive, this is the part of my 'job' well I would call a 'calling' that I find the most difficult but if you are a mother and have compassion, I know it sounds totally strange, but the most rewarding. The thing I find the hardest to explain, the thing that brings tears to every midwives eyes (and heart) and can totally understand the parents final desperate plea is when the foetus is born and the body, in some strange last attempt at life, breaths a gasp. It is part of the body's expansion, not life itself, but for the parents, if/when it happens it can be the most (for a split second) wonderful, hopeful, fantastic , well every great moment all rolled into one, only to have this winning lottery ticket torn up in front of you. I really don't know if I am making sense as I write this, I have been crying for hours since the family left.
This may sound strange and I am sorry if it does, but there is no more perfect baby, as a still born baby. They are perfect in every way, the most beautiful, the most perfect, as if God has chosen the best for himself. Well I left the parents with their most perfect baby, with their permission I cut open some ink pens that I had and took imprints of his hands and feet for them to treasure, took some photographs of the family with their gift from God for them and only them, and left them to grieve.
I prayed with them (although they did not know what I was saying) and when they were finally ready to go, wrapped this tiny bundle of joy into one of my white pillowcase for them to take home.
The sight of this family- and mother, walking away with a baby, more like one of my daughter's Tamasyn's dollys, wrapped in one of my own pillow cases is, I am sure is going to haunt me for the rest of my life. I need some time on my own to grieve.
Asked why she does all this Yvonne says ' If I am not willing to do this after the gifts that I have been given then how can I judge anyone else for just sitting back and letting the world go by' quotes Mahatma Gandhi Yvonne saying "Be the change you wish to see in the world".
On her last visit she was able to raise funds and vaccinated over 1000 children from childhood diseases. Despite setting up two midwifery centres in India, both with full time midwives and a doctor and plans for a third in Rwanda- Africa this year paid for entirely by her own fundraising she admits that, to some, this may seem just a 'drop in the ocean' but reply's 'To the world you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world'.
Yvonne has won many supporters throughout the world as demonstrated by a recent communication from UNICEF-"I have been following your diaries and I am very humbled by the wonderful work you are doing in helping Mothers and their babies in India.
On behalf of us all at UNICEF Baby who are all Friendly Initiative, please do keep up the excellent work and spread the word that Breast is definitely best!!!"
Yvonne is a community midwife at Mayday University Hospital in the London Borough of Croydon and has just completed her post graduate certificate in child protection at Greenwich University and has just commenced her RCN diploma in health service management. Yvonne commences her PhD in Health and Social Care in September 2007. She lives in Bromley Kent with her husband- John. She has four children- Romaine 18 who is a British soldier serving with the Royal Engineers in Germany and Afghanistan, Stephen-James 7, Tamasyn 6 and Joshua-John 4 who are at school.
May your heart be filled with peace and love this joyous season my friend. And may all your dreams come true. I thank you for your beautiful friendship and hope it will continue forever. Yes! I sing along with these cute friends.....
Greeting of Peace, Love and Many Blessings, Thinking about all the wonderful people I have connected with. Be Blessed!
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