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This is a review of the 2009 book 'Twelve babies on a bike' by Dot May Dunn. It is a true account, written diary style of her time as a pupil midwife in 1956. I enjoyed reading 'Call the Midwife' and expected something similar in this book.
The title of this book makes reference to the qualification a student midwife had to make after training, delivering twelve babies during a set time period in their own homes rather than a hospital setting. After this the students were eligible to take an exam which would finalise their status as a Midwife rather than a nurse. At this time, most nurses got around the community on bike and only the very senior were fortunate enough to have the use of a car. The bike not only had to carry the nurse but also all their equipment which included a large box containing the gas and air pain relief.
The book is written as a diary and even bottles down to the time of day so you can see how each labour story progresses time wise. It was great to appreciate that the phone could ring in the Midwife's house at any time of the day and Dot was expected to answer and react appropriately to the caller. A lot of the time it was guesswork as the panicking husbands forget to tell her their name or where they live!
As well as the technical information about the birth, there is a little insight into Dot's social life and family at the time although this is secondary to the birthing information. Dot has a great sense of humour and shares some of the more funny moments she experienced in other people's homes that she was not comfortable admitting at the time. Broken beds, pesky kids, wrong use of the gas and air and a talking bird all play an important part in creating the parts that make this book a great read.
I loved this book and whilst it was read in chunks over 24 hours (so didn't last very long) I was glad that I had got hold of it. There were a few parallels with the other book I read which is also a TV series 'Call the Midwife' but this is to be expected as it is covering a similar time and ultimately focuses on trainee midwives.
I would recommend this book as an amusing and insightful look into midwifery in the 1950s. A lot of the staff went beyond the call of duty with the families they cared for and Dot's twelve cases are all good examples of how textbook birth should not be! She can't believe her luck when she delivers twins, babies in a breech position, calls the flying squad for blood transfusions and awaits delayed placenta deliveries, it's enough to scare you to death. Ultimately though, Dot is an excellent nurse and midwife and seems to have a second sense around what is happening. Her mentor is also a supportive yet challenging midwife who turns up when needed and lets Dot take the lead when she thinks she is coping well.
Twelve Babies on a Bike: Diary of a pupil midwife.
This book details the journey undertaken by Pupil Midwife Dorothy Elizabeth Compton, during 1956.
Before the period in time covered in the diary, Dot has joined the newly established National Health Service as a pre-nursing student at Leicester Royal Infirmary, and became a Research Fellow at a London Medical College at St. Bartholemew's, London, and the London Medical College.
Her memoirs tell us of the period where she has left her hospital training and now must complete her training as a community midwife. Here she has no immediate back-up, and to save the lives of both mother and child, she must use the knowledge she has gained and the instincts within her, to the best of her abilities.
Dot is the only surviving daughter of her parents, (two brothers live close by), but her father feels its Dot's duty, being the only daughter, to care for her parents in ill health and old age. Understandably, Dot feels she needs more in her life, and doesn't want to settle down, as yet.
The diary starts abruptly, with no lead into it. We hear the telephone ring in the middle of the night, Dot stirs, and she thinks it's a dream. She is woken by Mrs O'Reilly (the midwife whose charge she is under), stating "Well come on then, answer it, or it will be the chap on the other end of the line who will need your help, never mind the wife" and so the story emerges.
We follow Dot as she enters her quest to deliver twelve babies in three months. If she cannot, she will be unable to take her final exam and become a fully fledged midwife.
There are highs and lows, excitement and drama, and one birth where the nitrous oxide (gas and air) was not needed because there was so much joy and laughter in the room.
Dot hails from a small town, called Rompton, in Derbyshire, and she is thrust into the realms of the dark, gloomy, backstreets of Birmingham. Her naivety is evident. The diverse range of people astound her - the deeply religious Clarkes' who struggle to feed their eight children but surround them with love, the Macaroni family who own the Italian restaurant, who are deeply grateful for their surprise twins, and the once affluent Mrs Wardle, whose husband decides having a second child puts too much pressure on him, and he leaves her, in poverty, before the birth.
Usually a huge Chick Lit fan, I picked up this book as part of a two for £7.00 deal, in Asda. As a child/teenager, I had wanted to become a midwife. It was the years of study that had put me off. This book appealed to me because of this.
The story is set in Birmingham (where I am from) and made me believe I was there. You will too, as the descriptions were so vivid. I could picture the places and the events, and I was lost - I WAS Dorothy Compton!
The fact that the diary ends almost as abruptly as it started, is a slight disappointment. I wanted it to continue, but there again, I know the diary follows the period of the twelve home births until she receives the results of the final exam of the Central Midwives Board, and this is exactly what you get.
I loved this book. It was gentle and flowing. It wasn't high drama continually, but I found that I was putting the book down after each birth, only to find, I couldn't help myself picking it up again - it was such an easy read. 6 out of 5 from me :o)