Delivering results for 25 years

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THE front room of a home in Gilmore Place. A group of women have gathered. Some sit, shoes off, sipping their tea and nibbling poppy seed cake.

&#149 Nadine Edwards and Nicky Macphail continue their work at the centre, including running classes for pregnant women

It's the mid-1980s and the women share a common bond. Each is waiting, excited and nervous, counting the days to labour and childbirth.

They've come to Nadine Edwards' home because they've heard she might be able to offer them something a bit out of the ordinary. They've heard of odd "California", and "new age" kinds of things like pregnancy yoga and baby massage, home births, even water births.

Nadine's front room was an unlikely setting for a mini revolution. Yet it was from here in 1986, gradually and without so much as the use of a set of forceps or an epidural, a new era in childbirth for modern women was quietly born.

Today, 25 years on, Nadine's lost count of the number of women she helped ease along pregnancy's sometimes rocky road.

Some went on to have their babies in hospital, gladly accepting all the clinical benefits that modern medicine could provide, others to give birth in one of her water birth pools. There were those who elected to have a Caesarean section, some had traumatic experiences and lost their babies, others kicked and shouted and refused gas and air and swore at their partners.

But all, Nadine hopes, entered the new world of parenthood feeling better armed for the fight ahead than they might otherwise have been.

"I think we were conscious at the time that what we were doing was fairly radical," nods Nadine, sitting, shoes off, in an upstairs office at the newly-renamed Pregnancy and Parents Centre, at Lower Gilmore Place.

"But yes, at the start there was a feeling that some people had a misconception of it all."

Indeed, back in Margaret Thatcher's Britain of 1986, her unusual "natural born mother" approach to maternity care and support had some wondering if she'd been sniffing too much gas and air. Today no-one thinks twice if a mum-to-be suggests a home birth or a hypnobirth, finds solace in homeopathy and yoga and prefers her best friend to accompany her to the labour suite over her partner. Birth 80s-style was a much more rigid experience that typically involved a brief ante-natal class, hospital and following the midwife's orders.

The notion that mothers might have their own ideas about how they preferred to give birth was yet to be conceived.

"The midwives were very receptive and very keen but generally within the community there's always some cynicism and scepticism of anything new," says Nadine, now a grandmother-of-two. "But then it gradually gets known about and then there comes some research that shows what you are doing is actually helpful."

Taking care not to preach or pressurise, she provided vital information for mums-to-be who were desperate to embrace a more "natural" approach to childbirth.

Some learned they could have their baby at home or in a water-filled pool. Others, uneasy about the idea of entering motherhood in a drug-induced fog were encouraged to "tune into" their own breathing to help them cope with the rigours of labour and exercise classes helped stretch and prepare their bodies for what was to come.

In addition mother-of-three Nadine, whose interest in maternal care had already led her to study with the London Birth Centre, realised society was changing. Many young mothers no longer lived close to relatives and they often entered parenthood alone and juggling jobs.

She knew isolation could lead to depression and trouble bonding with their baby, and a lack of knowledge of what they were encountering in early motherhood could be overwhelming for some.

A key element of the centre's work then was to introduce support groups which helped mothers build new friendships at the same time as picking up vital tips on everything from breastfeeding to tantrums. Nadine says: "People expect new mums to be happy and to know what to do and how to do it, but quite often they don't."

It was just that kind of information and support that her friend Nicky Macphail yearned for but discovered wasn't on offer at her NHS ante-natal classes.

"There was just this set course which ran for four or five weeks before the birth. A group would meet weekly at the hospital with a midwife and it was almost like a lecture of what happens during birth," she says.

"You were shown pictures that were actually quite gruesome. It put everyone off and it was really scary and then everyone would go off and not see each other again."

With Nicky's encouragement, Nadine opened her front room, put on the tea, baked the cakes and invited mums-to-be to visit her new birth centre. As word spread the centre expanded and soon strange courses appeared on the Birth Resource Centre's 'what's on' list offering things like the Alexander Technique. It was radical then, although today a familiar method to many who use it to alleviate pain and stress.

When the babies arrived, the centre adapted to cater for its newest users with baby shiatsu and massage sessions, drop-in groups for new mums, nearly-new sales and - to the surprise of many who had come to depend on disposables - environmentally-friendly real nappies. Before long the centre's quirky "new age" ideas were becoming a mainstream element of ante-natal care.

For mum-of-two Karen Haggis, the support from the centre was vital in 1991 as she prepared to have her first baby at home.

"I got a lot of hostility when I first said I wanted a home birth," she recalls. "It never occurred to me to do anything other than have my baby at home where I could feel relaxed, but I had no idea how radical that was until I told people."

Even now home births are still not common - just 1.5 per cent of around 60,000 babies born in Scotland every year arrive at home. Yet the notion that a mum-to-be might actually prefer the comfort of her home to a hospital maternity unit 20 years ago had some medical professionals reeling.

"My GP was horrified," recalls Karen, now 52 and a director at the centre. "She said I was being selfish, stupid and my baby could die before I got to hospital. I was really upset - I hadn't thought like that until she said it and it made me feel quite angry."

But Karen, raised in a family where home births had been commonplace, was determined to pursue her plan.

She heard through a friend of a group in Edinburgh which was offering support and advice to mothers-to-be seeking alternatives to the NHS system, and was soon sitting in Nadine's front room.

"There was a real mix of people in that group," recalls Karen, who went on to have daughter Mhairi, now 20, and Anna, 16, at home as planned. "Some wanted home births, some didn't but what was great is that it was completely non-judgemental.

"It didn't matter if you were having an elective Caesarean or a home birth or going into hospital. There was no agenda being pushed on you and it was just a place to talk and find out more."

Twenty years later and she still meets up with mums she first encountered at the centre in the early 90s.

Some have seen their own children go on to use its facilities during their own pregnancies.

It's confirmation, says Nadine, that the centre filled a gaping hole in maternity provision. In spite of those early sceptics.

"I think the fact that many women who came here had good birth experiences and are still friends with the people they met here, that says it all."

The centre wants to hear from women who have used its services down the years as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. Call 0131-229 3667 or go to www.pregnancyandparents.org.uk