BEACON OF THE DAY | Nurse Woodfine – Decades Of Baby DeliveriesOctober 10, 2022
The desire to hear the cry of newborn babies and to be instrumental in the prenatal and postnatal care of mother and baby was what inspired Una Francis-Woodfine, called Nurse, to join the midwife profession.
Now retired and having gone through many struggles, it is with joy that the 93-year-old St. Catherine midwife reflects on her journey to becoming one.
“One night I went to deliver a baby who was very difficult to come out. I had to get up on a chair, climb on the bed – exposing my bottom -and pull out the baby from the mother,” Nurse Woodfine fondly recalled regarding one of her deliveries in the community of Kitson Town.
She was born at Byndloss district in Linstead, St. Catherine. Her parents were poverty-stricken, but she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a midwife.
After being successful in her Third Jamaica Local Examinations, she got pregnant.
It was challenging as a single mother, but that did not deter her from achieving her goal. She applied to study midwifery in England, but got no response after waiting for quite a while.
Having gained mastery of the English Language, Nurse Woodfine was asked to teach English Language at a commercial school in Ocho Rios, St Ann. During that time, the yearning to become a midwife was still on her mind.
She applied to one of Jamaica’s nursing schools to commence her training, but, according to her, she was denied the opportunity although she had the necessary qualification.
As fate would have it, Nurse Woodfine got a job as a nurse’s assistant, ‘wearing pink uniform’, as she aptly puts it, at Alexandria Community Hospital in St. Ann. She worked in that position for eight years.
She had become so proficient in nurses’ duties that she was often left on her own to complete tasks, she said.
During her eighth year, the head nurse at the time made enquiries of her regarding her training.
She explained her desire to become a midwife, adding that there was always no response to her applications for enrollment at training schools.
The head nurse advised her to apply again. She did and was successful.
Training at Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, Nurse Woodfine recalled, was well worth the wait.
She worked as a trainee for a few months with a senior midwife at Knollis district in Bog Walk, St. Catherine.
Upon completion of her studies in 1965, Nurse Woodfine was relocated to Point Hill district where she worked in the field as a midwife. It was a rewarding experience, she said, smiling.
About 1969, she was transferred to Kitson Town Health Centre in St Catherine.
Nurse Woodfine recounted working in the field at odd hours, day and night, and still having to work at the health centre.
She was responsible for pre and post-natal care of both mother and baby. “I really love what I did,” she joyfully told The Beacon.
“I can remember clearly one night I got one of my usual calls to deliver a baby in Top Mountain. It was a long night. When I got home in the morning, riding on a donkey, after a while, I went straight to the health centre to work,” she reminisced. “My mother angrily told me to leave it, saying it was going to kill me.”
In those days, hospitals were the last resort, and so it was important for midwives to be capable and reliable enough for their patients to trust them almost completely.
Hospitalization was necessary in cases where mothers had issues such as the baby being positioned in a manner which required surgery.
Nurse Woodfine stated that, as a midwife, she had to prevent hemorrhaging after delivery as much as possible. It was her job to keep both baby and mother safe.
Was there ever any regret?
A brief cloud dulled her eyes.
There were times, few and far between, when a baby was lost shortly after delivery, Nurse Woodfine explained.
She recollected an experience in which the patient was losing blood rapidly and so she did everything that she was taught, but it would not stop.
She prayed and then held the mother’s uterus in a tight fist for a few minutes. Only then did the bleeding stop and she could breathe a sigh of relief. “I loved what I did”, beamed the mother of two boys and a girl.
During her tenure, Nurse Woodfine served as the president of the Jamaica Midwives Association from 1986 to 1988.
After retirement at 60 years old, she worked with the Women’s Centre of Jamaica in New Kingston as well as the Jarrette Health/Nursing School in Spanish Town. She helped to prepare persons who wanted to pursue a career in nursing.
A few years ago, she was awarded for her contribution to midwifery in Jamaica.
Nurse Woodfine told The Beacon that she would like people to eventually remember her for her willingness to share knowledge with aspiring midwives and others.
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