(This is the text of a short talk during a Lenten Worship)

 

I think I was very fortunate as I was born to parents for whom their Christian faith was very important. It wasn’t a home where Christianity was thrust down your throat but I was very much aware that there were certain expectations of how I was being brought up that were to do with having a faith in God.  Both my parents were very active both in the church and in the charitable work they took part in outside of the church. I accompanied them to church each Sunday and went out to Sunday School during the sermon until after communion……that is until a little boy showed me something he shouldn’t and I then stayed throughout but never felt this a burden as Croydon Parish Church was rather like St John’s Keele…..plenty to look at during lengthy sermons and good singing to listen to.

 

From the age of about 7, I thought I would like to work with children as I accompanied my mother to the local Children’s Society home where she was part of the house committee. I felt real sympathy and love for these children who had no parents and had to share a house mother (usually a kindly spinster) with six or seven others.

 

I learned about the Christian faith as I went along and accepted that this was the right thing. At about 10 I was one of the children chosen to visit the local hospital to take along the toys we had gathered through the scheme run by The London Evening News…’Toy for a sick child’.  This was a real life changing experience and I knew from then that I ought to be a children’s nurse….the dreadfully poorly children, shut up in hospital and not allowed to be visited by their mothers except for an hotwice a week. When I talked about this, someone used the word ‘vocation’ and I had to ask what this meant. Yes, I really DID feel called by God to do this work. For the next few years all sorts of people tried to dissuade me….my father….”its really hard work and the pay is nothing”….the school……”we expect something far more academic from you…you are a bright girl, you should be aiming for university”….my friends,…”you’ll always be wearing a uniform and never be able to afford nice fashions and you’ll never meet boys”.  This of course made me more determined to follow my heart and where I felt I was being called…Yes…..I DID think that.

 

I met Maeve when I was three weeks into my first ward placement. She was two and a half and was being nursed in a cubicle inside an oxygen tent. She had cystic fibrosis and had a short life expectancy, as children with that dreadful dirty disease did in the 190’s.  Her family were in Northern Ireland. I should not have been allowed to care for a cubicled child…you had to be on your third placement for that, but I suppose someone was off sick. She was a very poorly sad little girl, absolutely no energy or appetite very pale and with great difficulty in breathing. We struck up a friendship and I had raised a smile and even a little laugh from her from her on several occasions in those first hours together. I found that I was ‘specialing’ her every time I was on duty…..52hours a week in those days. One morning we were having a tickle & a romp as I washed her and the ward sister put her head round the door with the consultant close behind….”Nurse don’t get too fond of Maeve, she’s going to die soon”.

 

This was the first time I think I had truly questioned why the Almighty could allow so much suffering. This was the moment when I first began to question my faith with any depth. But this was when I knew that the reason I was here was so that I could do all in my power to relieve some of this suffering. Shortly after that I met Maeve’s’s mother and her five older brothers who had travelled from Ireland to visit her. They were a loving, but very impoverished family who had sent Maeve to Great Ormond Street because they believed this was the only place where she might get better. For them it was a heart rending sacrifice but they were sure this would be the very best for their treasured little girl. maeve died a couple of months later. But of course she and her loving mother are still very much alive in my heart even after fifty four years.

 

A few years and much experience later I met Sharon. She was also about two. She was brought to the ward by her parents and seven year old brother with a diagnosis of ‘failure to thrive’. It was odd, she was wheeled in, in her very smart pushchair. Her mother was a very glamorous model and her father and brother were also exquisitely dressed…..and so was Sharon. She looked pale and subdued and readily lay down in her cot. She apparently was a very poor eater, and always miserable and crying.  She had one toy with her, a brand new teddy bear from Hamleys. Her parents left straight away and Sharon just lay there staring at the other children in the ward. Her parents had said she had no favourite food so we sat her with a small group of other toddlers with a sausage and mashed potato. She seemed to quite like this but then indicated that she wanted to get back in her cot. She allowed the doctors and nurses to undress her, take some blood and have an x-ray with no protest at all. Her Teddy lay untouched.     Within a few days Sharon had put on weight, was eating everything we put in front of her and playing a bit with the ward toys.  All medical investigations proved negative. So Sharon returned home. She was admitted twice again, each time with a lower weight and increasingly listless. Eventually it was realised that Sharon was a victim of what we then called ‘Non-accidental Injury’……this was the early 1960’s This was emotional abuse. This was a very difficult and unbelievable diagnosis for the nurses and doctors to believe. How I hated that mother…a physically perfect  and adorable little girl…..so many children at GOS had the most devastating medical problems…and yet her birth mother  didn’t have any feeling of love, joy or care for her child. We know now that this is a medical problem and not particularly uncommon but it was all new in 1964.

 

On a dark and stormy night a few years later in Leeds I received a call from a public phone box from a young girl whispering that “the baby is coming and it’s early”. The house was a one-up-one-down in a poor area of the city, due for slum clearance. Donna who had phoned me was sixteen and it was she who was in labour. She had married a few months before but her husband who was almost seventeen couldn’t cope with the pregnancy and had moved to Pontefract to work in the mine. It was too late to call an ambulance and Donna was alone in the house. Just as the baby was born the elderly next door neighbour struggled up the stairs. She was an evil looking woman with just two black lower teeth and none too clean either. I was grateful for her presence as when I turned over the baby boy I saw he had the most enormous lesion on his back and his legs were small, deformed and lifeless.  He had severe Spina Bifida.  He needed immediate hospital treatment as it was considered life saving in the mid- sixties to close the back and deal with the spinal fluid which then accumulated on the brain. Florrie from next door was despatched to the telephone kiosk to get the GP, meanwhile I explained to Donna about her baby’s problem and that her little boy would die within a couple of days without immediate surgery (while knowing in my heart that with a lesion that large he would die after surgery anyway). She grasped her little boy closely and kissed and caressed him. She would never let him go to hospital. I prayed hard, asking for guidance as to how to help them both. The GP was a kindly man and I put my case to him. We both knew that Paul, as he was now called, would be very unlikely to survive with or without surgery. Could we leave this young girl to care for a dying baby with support only from her unsavoury neighbour?  I remember being very angry with God on my drive home through the night city. How could He do this to Donna.  Donna…a gift…..What sort of gift had He given her….husband walked out, deformed and dying baby to be responsible for when she still needed to be mothered herself and only an unknown neighbour to help. How cruel was this of a so-called loving God. I remember taking out my anger with God by throwing around my steel midwifery equipment as I sterilised it in the kitchen at 4am…so much so that my flatmate Jenny appeared downstairs to see what was going on. This God was cruelly taking away something so obviously precious to Donna.    Over the next few days I watched Donna tenderly love and care for Paul, cleaning his leaking wound  four ,five eight, ten times times a day, constantly alert to his needs. He thrived.  Donna was the most wonderful mother and they had an amazing bond. Paul of course was never going to walk but his development was excellent in every other way. Donna refused all advice to let him have surgery and continued to care for his leaking back without any help. When Paul was four his father returned.  Eventually at around the age of ten Paul himself chose to have his back repaired so that his mum could get a job, he said. Donna had been and continued to be a most spectacular mother in every way and it seemed that through the dreadful suffering which she shared with her little son, this had made her the strong and beautiful person she became.  Somehow as well it had given a reason for why God had let this happen.

 

My own faith jogged along for the next decade. As a mother I tried to instil the same Christian values as had guided my own up-bringing.

I returned to work and it seemed to become easier to let my faith slide as shift working, growing children and some charity work intervened.

I was in charge of the Neonatal unit one night, all 30 cots were occupied and we were extremely busy and the two paediatricians were dealing with emergencies..….when baby 31 was rushed through the door in the arms of a midwife. “you’ll have to take this one Sister, her mother’s in acute multiple organ failure and is being transferred to Birmingham and we’ve now found baby’s  not breathing”.

 

On the resuscitation table I could see that she was a perfectly formed full-term baby.  She was lifeless with no perceptible heartbeat. I managed to intubate her but she needed to go on a ventilator and in 1978 our unit possessed only two which were in use. What to do?

Neither of these extremely premature babies could be disconnected although both were unlikely to survive. With a commotion at the door I left the only available person, the ward domestic ‘bagging’ the baby as I went to see what was happening. The baby’s father was fighting his way in to see his little one before getting in the RAF helicopter to go with his wife to Birmingham.  “Sister please look after my little girl I think I’m going to lose them both…..He clung onto my arm saying “I want her to be baptised, we are Christians and I don’t want her to die without Baptism, please sister” ….What name…… “we had only got a boy’s name and that was George”.

 

A quick call was made to the chaplain who was in Cheadle sitting with a dying man. So with his permission I baptised Georgina Marie (because that was her mum’s name) and because we could do nothing else we covered her in a pink cotton blanket, lay her flat on the rescus. trolley and moved away to care for all those other poorly preterms who had been neglected and not received their hourly care. I prayed lots more of those arrow prayers….had I done the right thing….I had already broken two rules……someone would report me and I’d be suspended…..I’d made a decision I had no right to make and intubated without permission…..

Twenty minutes later I heard a shout……Georgina had kicked off her blanket and spat out her airway and was moving her arms and legs.

No one has ever been able to medically explain this and I don’t want them to. Georgina’s mother survived, although quite disabled, and Georgina herself grew and developed perfectly normally.

 

I’m not a great thinker about my faith, in fact I’m very lazy about that. As time went on I still continued to have doubts and needed some replenishment to keep me on my ‘Journey’.  After I recovered from my brain tumour I knew that God still had a purpose for me. I found the Alpha course helped to renew and replenish my beliefs to a certain extent but there was one person who finally made me feel at home in my own beliefs and that was someone who was such a fine example of a Christian yet still perfectly normal! So I want to remember, our late reader Alan Taylor who to me was such a kind and fatherly inspiration.

 

So now…its Mothering Sunday so let’s remember those mothers I’ve mentioned and in the prayers which follow think of mothers like Maeve’s and mothers like Sharons’s who needed help to mother.  Think about Donna and her simple and overriding mother love, and of God’s restoration of Georgina to her mother. These people have inspired me to keep my faith.

 

AMEN

Angela Studd

 

 

 

 

Faith and Mothers

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