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Open Features: Special Delivery

...The midwife asked me if I wanted to cut the cord. Although I was not keen to start with, I reasoned it was now or never, so taking my courage in both hands, I severed the link from mother to child and physically and symbolically set Theadora free. Or is she?...

Mary Pinfold-Allan, pondering our present-day situation after the birth of her eleventh grandchild, says we now shackle our lives with Red Tape, Health and Safety issues, rules and regulations and fear from the cradle to the grave.

Theadora entered the world on a busy NHS maternity ward with rain lashing down outside and the temperature near to turning that rain into snow. Not an auspices start; she came in with lungs registering her indignity at being ousted from a warm, safe place to a strange uncertain one.

She is my eleventh grandchild and likely to be my last. What is more, she was coincidentally born on the same ward, in the same delivery room as my first grandchild, also a girl, twenty-one years ago.

The midwife asked me if I wanted to cut the cord. Although I was not keen to start with, I reasoned it was now or never, so taking my courage in both hands, I severed the link from mother to child and physically and symbolically set Theadora free. Or is she?

Twenty-one years ago I missed the birth of my first grandchild, Georgina, by ten minutes. My editor had kept me back to finish off some pages. In those days the newspaper came before life itself! As I flew up the stairs and onto the delivery ward, I was greeted by a nurse who cheerfully told me: “You’re too late, but go straight in, your daughter’s just gone to the bathroom. Back in a minute.”

No one stopped me entering the room in which my grandchild lay in her neat, labelled crib. I picked her up, took her to the window and with tears streaming down my face, showed her the world she could make her own. “The world is your oyster. You can do anything you want.”

Two decades later there are security doors on the ward and a buzzer system to get in. Strict rules govern who is admitted and a hierarchy of nursing staff that would do justice to an episode of Upstairs, Downstairs. The corridor is as busy as the M1, beds flying in all directions as women who have so very recently delivered are shunted off to another ward and those coming to the point of no return, are wheeled in. Midwives scurry to and fro like March hares, pens prominent, as they must record something in a patient’s notes every 15 minutes to ensure there are no areas open to future litigation. A culture of blame pervades to a point where everything is counted in and counted out, explained to the minutest degree, hesitated and deliberated upon until there is a distinct urge on the part of ‘old school’ mothers like me to shout, “Just get on with it.”

Finally, when everything is done and dusted, including what seems like a mountain of paperwork, leaving the hospital entails walking through corridors patrolled by security guards and exiting by doors that only open from the inside.

We are shackling our lives with Red Tape, Health and Safety issues, rules and regulations and fear from the cradle to the grave. The freedom to go out to play that I enjoyed in the 50s and my own children in the 70s has gone in a wave of panic about paedophiles and abductions. Children climbing trees, swimming in rivers, riding bikes over rough ground and pole-vaulting across ditches brings today’s parents out in a cold sweat. Didn’t it always, but I do believe we were reared in an atmosphere that felt children had to learn danger for themselves?

So is the answer that 21st century children are going to be wrapped in cotton wool, nursed to within an inch of their life if they so much as sneeze, protected from any hint of having to stick up for themselves and kept close to the parental home with a constant source of television, computer games and Wii.

Will the apron strings ever be cut and the child left to find out what real life is about? That money must be earned before it can be spent, food is grown before it ends up on the plate and that not everyone in the world thinks they are wonderful and can do no wrong.

I simply do not believe that things are so much different than in the 1950s. What is different is the power of communication in which bad news is headlined every day and breeds a culture of fear. That is so sad.

A while back, one of the newsreaders tried to inject a little good news as an appendage to the nightly bulletins. His attempts were soon scotched. Open any newspaper and it’s the same, doom, gloom, disaster. What’s happened to the joy in life?

Slavery ended in the 1830s but we are very close to putting our own children and ourselves into modern-day shackles by smothering our lives in fear and dread. Freedom is precious and comes in many forms; let’s embrace it.

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