When Bill Clinton gave midwife a helping hand


LOUISE Silverton has lived in four countries, had meetings with a former British Prime minister, a phone call with a potential future president of America . . . and had help from a former president.

But the Leodensian, who is the director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, takes everything in her stride.

Her most often recalled story was meeting former PM David Cameron, whom she described as "very shiny".

She joked: "When the Tories came in to power, they had ideas about reforming the NHS but when they were first published, it didn't go down well.

"They decided that they wanted to involve all of the professions and we were invited to a mega meeting at Downing Street.

"So we walked through to the Cabinet Room and we all had named places -I just so happened to be sitting almost directly opposite Cameron.

"There were about 30 of us around the table, with only eight women.

"In he walks and introduces himself to us and the first thing I noticed was that he was very shiny, but then he took his jacket off and his shirt was immaculate with not a single crease in sight!"

She added: "I was also astonished by how tall Tony Blair was when I met him."

But the most surreal moment for Louise was when she met Bill Clinton.

She explained: "My husband, Joseph, is the former Lord Mayor of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, so sometime around 2006 there was a Labour conference in Blackpool.

"We were holding a fringe meeting and I was setting up this banner, and I couldn't get it to work.

"As you walked into the building, you would have been able to see me struggling.

"So, all of a sudden I just hear this 'let me help you', and I didn't look at who it was . . . but he helped.

"I turned to thank him and saw that it was Bill Clinton."

Life could have turned out differently for the daughter of GP Neville Silverton and Anita Writer.

Louise - who received her CBE from the Queen last year for services to midwifery, maternal and child health - was supposed to become a trainee in a bank after leaving Leeds Grammar School in 1972.

But after passing nine O-levels, she was "marched" back to school and convinced to do science.

She said: "I didn't know what I wanted to do, but my brother David, who is a cardiologist, had done medicine.

"I thought 'I don't want to do that', you know the schlogging and learning stuff - no way.

"I did apply for medical school, and got offers, but I was not sure."

She was offered a place on a new nursing course at Leeds Polytechnic, but had also been accepted into a medical school. She had to tell her father that she wouldn't be going to the latter.

"He was not happy," she said. "I think he liked the idea of having two children who were doctors.

"So I did the first undergraduate course in nursing, but I didn't know what I wanted to do when I had finished.

"I thought about making aliya, which would have been quite nice."

Being a graduate nurse during the 1980s was, Louise pointed out, quite unusual - especially one with qualifications in both nursing and midwifery.

"I thought it wouldn't do me any harm to do midwifery and there hadn't been any other areas of my course that I had really enjoyed," she added. "I loved the midwifery part of it.

"So I found that there were three top places to do midwifery - Queen Charlotte's in London, the Jessop in Sheffield or the Simpson in Edinburgh.

"I went to look at Sheffield and it looked like an enormous public lavatory - everything was tiled in white."

She continued: "I loved Edinburgh, so I went there. Edinburgh has a small Jewish community, but it has a lovely little shul.

"I always sought out a Jewish community - I couldn't not go to shul on the yomim tovim.

"I would also go on Shabbat and enjoyed being a part of the community - I made a lot of friends there. I was there for five years, and stayed on because I really enjoyed it."

Having not enjoyed her training, Louise was still unsure of her career path.

The 60-year-old said: "I had gone from being an undergraduate in a set of 13, to being in a group of 36 and sitting in a classroom in uniform.

"It was very traditional - in retrospect, it was a very good training, but it was only when I started practising that I really enjoyed it and I didn't think of doing anything else.

"I was about 25 and promoted to midwifery sister on the labour ward.

"The ward superintendent, Molly Staples, took me aside and told me that she had been watching me and that I spent most of my time teaching people.

"I asked what she meant and she pointed out that I had done a birth with a student and talked them through it and that if I'm checking the equipment I would take a student with me.

"She told me that I needed to become a midwifery teacher, and I realised that actually I would quite enjoy that."

Louise added: "I wanted to take a masters course, but it was only approved for nurses, so I was put in touch with the person who headed the Central Midwives Board in Edinburgh.

"I had no idea what to expect, but plead my case and said that it was a bit silly for this programme to only be approved to make nurse teachers, not midwife teachers."

Louise was subjected to "ordeal by tea".

She explained: "The head was a very traditional person and she had these really lovely china cups and saucers.

"I was given a cup of tea and a plate. She wanted to see if I could manage and to see if I was the right sort of person.

"You're sitting there with a cup of tea and a plate and trying not to drop them - it was such a bizarre thing to do and was absolutely not needed as a midwife.

"The committee approved of me and I was told that I had to do the masters in nursing education and an extra five months teaching practice.

"Here was I, sent off to do a one year masters, still on my salary but no extra payment - I used to struggle to make ends meet."

Louise took a temporary job working as a pub barmaid to provide some extra funds.

Louise returned to England in 1983, aged 27, when she took up a job teaching at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester.

Having moved to Sale, Louise was now teaching student midwives.

She said: "I moved to Sale because, as a Yorkshire woman, the thought of moving to Lancashire was worrying and Sale is in Cheshire.

"I joined the shul and the rabbi was Pesach Efune, who is now in Brighton. It was a lovely community and I used to go to the rabbi's house for Pesach."

After three years in Manchester, she received a phone call from a man at the University College of Swansea, who was setting up a diploma in advanced midwifery.

Louise's professor from Edinburgh, a Jewish lady called Annie Altshul, recommended her.

She said: "I drove to Swansea, didn't know where I was going, went to chat to this man and put my application in.

"At the university there was a Jewish sociologist called Glen Marve who really helped me settle in, along with his wife Maggie.

"I joined the Jewish community in Swansea - another small one with another interesting synagogue."

Louise joined the Royal Northern College of Midwives as the Welsh representative - and won a travel scholarship for a three month trip to America.

While in America she had a phone conversation with Hillary Clinton about the state of midwifery there.

Louise then moved to London, where she was looking for work.

She became a teacher at Queen Charlotte's College, where she re-wrote the curriculum.

She said: "I asked for a computer and some space and was promoted from a grade two to a grade four post.

"I had also been offered a grade five job in south London so QCC upgraded me to an acting grade four but more substantial.

"I actually took the other job and became head of maternal and child health at the Nightingale and Guys College, but QCC wouldn't let me go until I had finished writing their curriculum.

"I think I had had enough curriculum development to last a lifetime, but I had learned a lot about myself - give me a lot of work and some space and I'll just get on with it."

Louise is now director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives -and with one daughter in 23-year-old Miriam.

"I inherited a team of six educators," she said. "Within a year, only one was left - I moved them on. They weren't fit for the job.

"One of the first things that happened was that the college had been approached by the World Bank who wanted to develop midwifery education in Indonesia.

"We ran a four month clinical experience programme for 48 Indonesian midwives, as well as a four month education programme."

Louise has also revamped the rules and laws around midwifery and was appointed to the EEC midwives council, which involved trips to Brussels.

One of Louise's proudest achievements was revamping what information new expecting mothers would receive.

She said: "We had spoken with new mothers and midwives and it turned out that there was so much information being given out that they couldn't take it all in.

"One of them was given 30 leaflets, so we put a think-tank together and reduced this to nine items of information, of which five are given at the first visit.

"We have also developed a menu of public health topics which signpost people to good government sources.

"Our next step is to develop a web app for expectant mothers to use, instead of Googling their questions - it will be a one-stop shop for advice on health improvement and prevention."

© 2016 Jewish Telegraph