Born premature in 1948 - Mary's story

Mary's Story Hero

My mother was 39 when she conceived her first and only child - me. I should have been born in October 1948, however, whilst on a July holiday at her sister's house, Mum became quite poorly with toxaemia - now called pre-eclampsia. The family doctor sent her to the local Women's Hospital in Derby and my Dad was contacted. From then on, their lives were irreversibly changed.

My Mum told me that I was induced by various means including doses of Castor Oil. Eventually, I was delivered by forceps weighing 2lbs 7oz. On my Mum's hospital notes it was stated "foetus born dead." They thought I had been stillborn, but it quickly became apparent that I was very much alive after I made a noise (some, including my husband, would say I’ve never stopped!)

In those days postnatal care for premature babies consisted of being kept warm in an incubator, but with none of the high tech machines which premature babies have now. I was dressed in doll’s clothes with lint for nappies. My Mum expressed her milk which was used to feed me and I was kept in hospital until I weighed 5lbs.

As far as I am aware no tests were made on me and it wasn't until months later, when I couldn't crawl without tipping over to one side that it became apparent that lack of oxygen at birth had caused some damage to the left side of my body.

My left arm has never been straight at the elbow and I eventually walked on the ball of my left foot. My parents began intensive physiotherapy. At one point my right arm was put in a leather apparatus so that I couldn't use it, to encourage me to use my left arm, but it didn't make much difference. I didn't walk unaided until I was three. The medics wanted to fit leg braces but my Mum didn’t think that would help and so they kept going with the physiotherapy.

My Mum insisted that I went to mainstream school. The authorities wanted to have me assessed to see if I was ‘Educationally Subnormal’ but my Mum refused. I happily attended three different village schools, passed my 11 plus test and went to Grammar School.

My condition was reviewed regularly by Orthopaedic Consultants. When I was 14, I was admitted to an Orthopaedic Centre for corrective surgery on my left leg. I was in hospital for a month and in a plaster cast for another two months.

Throughout my schooldays the only problems I encountered were not being very good at sports and having to ask schoolmates to buckle my shoes or tie my shoelaces. I wish Velcro had been invented sooner! I never experienced bullying at school and didn't have any special assistance.

After passing my GCE's I went to a local Further Education College to do a secretarial course. Touch typing was fun with a partially functioning left hand but I managed it! Various office jobs followed, and then when my parents began to manage two pubs I did the office work for them and ran a bar.

My mother became ill when I was 22 so we relocated and my Dad got a job as a night manager in an hotel and I got a job in the Civil Service so my Dad could look after Mum in the day and I could looked after her at night. Mum died when I was 28 and my Dad died when I was 40. By then I had bought a house of my own and Dad lived with me.

In 1995 I met my lovely husband who was born with spina bifida. We had a whirlwind courtship and married six months after we met! We make a great team, my mobility is pretty good around the house, helped by strategically positioned furniture. When we’re out and about I either push him in his wheelchair or use a three wheeled walker.

We have very active social lives and both get a great deal out of being members of a local Rotary Club. My husband is the Club Secretary, I was Club President a few years ago and am to be President again next year.

Having read this far you may have wondered why I've written about myself like this. I wanted to write my story to encourage families of today's premature babies to not give up. I'm eternally grateful for the way my parents brought me up. They made me 'do' and fought my corner until I was big enough to make my own way in the world. I just wish they could see how well I've done. I don't think I've done too bad considering!