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'The Photographer`s Story'

Mike Goldwater photographed at the Homerton Hospital, the Royal Free Hospital and Edgware Hospital Birthing Unit, all in London.

"I thought some women might not co-operate with a male photographer. But once people understood the nature of the project, a lot were very helpful. I stressed that mothers would see the pictures, that they had veto over the material and that if they wanted me to leave at any time I would.

"Some women gave birth surrounded by friends and relatives; some gave birth practically alone, with one midwife rushed off her feet. Some gave birth in silence; others screaming 'God help me'.

"I did feel privileged to be present at the births. Every time was dramatic, because in spite of monitoring and all the other procedures labour is always unpredictable.

"I found the water births the most moving. The whole process seemed more relaxed and to see the man, woman and baby together in the warm water, with the umbilical cord still attached, was remarkable.

"I was impressed by the desire of the midwives to make the birth as special as possible for each mother. I think they are mainly very compassionate. I began to understand their enthusiasm, and the thrill they get from successful outcomes.

"When things went wrong, staff were able to deal with it very efficiently. Midwives with real feel and real experience can make miracles happen. And if it became clear a Caesarian was necessary, it happened in a flash.

"Being free at the point of delivery is very significant. If you need extra care, there's no one asking 'Does your insurance cover you for a Caesarian madam?'"

750,000 babies are born under the NHS each year, the vast majority of them in hospitals. Britain's 40,000 midwives have all trained for three to four years and each can expect to deliver approximately 1,000 babies in the course of a thirty-year career.

Where mothers had a lengthy stay in hospital - confined to bed - in the early days of the NHS, now a more active style of birth is encouraged. The average time spent in hospital is three days and some women stay only six hours after delivery. Most popular names have changed from David and Susan to Daniel and Rebecca.

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