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‘Dependable, outstanding and glamourous’ Midwife Rosaleen celebrates 50 years NHS service 

'It was a privilege to be part of the most sacred time in a couple's life. People were always astounded when you would say to them, "You came in here as a couple and you're leaving as a wee family!'

One of the Southern Trust’s longest serving midwives is preparing to celebrate an incredible 50 years of service with the NHS and the anniversary has prompted the Tower Hill-based Community Midwife to take a look back over the years.

Speaking to Armagh I, Rosaleen McCooey, who hails from Longfield near Crossmaglen, reflected on her first day in nursing: “I started my General Nurse training on April 1 1974, in the Mater Hospital in Belfast.

“I remember day one very well.  I went into this lovely sitting room and there was a nun who was the Matron Sister Ignatius, she was very friendly and she chatted to us all and asked who we knew and who we didn’t know.

“I knew absolutely nobody and it was very daunting. She showed us our rooms in the nurses’ home and this was all new to me, having a sink my room and all the rest, but very quickly I got to know all the girls and made great friends. Very quickly.”

Little did the then 17-year-old Rosaleen know, but she had made lifelong friends that day.

“I still have those friendships to this day. Six from my class of 1974 are going to Portugal on a week’s holiday to celebrate the 50 years. That’s how good the friendship is and I can say to this day we have never had a cross word. We can have our differences of opinion and we can chat but that’s it. We are just good friends.”

Rosaleen pictured wearing the old style nurse’s uniform with hat, collar and belt, holding a young patient on the children’s ward in 1974.

Three years later, Rosaleen segued into Midwifery – a move that turned out to be more of a learning curve than she had bargained for. But, as they say, “Nothing worth doing comes easily.”

Continued Rosaleen: “On August 1, 1977 I then went to the Royal Maternity Hospital to do my Midwifery training and that was a huge change.

“I knew nobody and I was completely lost. It was as if I was starting all over again. Midwifery was completely different to general nursing. I thought it would have been a continuation but it was anything but. But once again, I made great friends there who I still have to this day.”

The 1970s were different times and as a 21-year-old nurse, Rosaleen recalls her experience of moving from rural South Armagh to the big smoke: “In Belfast at this point The Troubles were at their height, so my parents were very reluctant to let me go to Belfast they wanted me to go to Dublin because they thought it might be safer.

“In 1974, I lived on the Crumlin Road where the nurses’ home was and that whole area of Carlisle Circus was actually called the ‘Murder Mile’ and it was quite dangerous.

“We used to have to go through the grounds to go to the hospital on night duty and come off again, because to walk up the road would have been dangerous. Although, at that point in the troubles they had great respect for the nurses but we still weren’t allowed to walk in our uniform because we may have been a target.”

Despite The Troubles and that feeling that she was starting from scratch, Rosaleen knew immediately that midwifery was for her.

“I embraced every opportunity, ” said Rosaleen. “The labour ward, special care baby unit, antenatal, postnatal, community, scanning, everything. I saw so many changes.

“Research has made it such a different job. It’s all down to good research by doctors. When I started, if a baby survived at 30 weeks that was a miracle! If they survived without any abnormalities that was a greater miracle!

“But now it’s right down to 23 weeks and that’s all down to great research and great improvements.”

Left, Rosaleen with past patient Molly and baby Fionn and right, with her celebratory balloons.

Following a year in Royal Maternity Belfast, the newly qualified midwife moved to Daisy Hill labour ward in 1979 where she remained until the loss of her beloved husband which prompted a move to Tower Hill, Armagh.

She explained: “My husband died tragically 10 years ago and I just couldn’t face going back to the routine of what we had in life. So I made a complete change and came out to Community and that was a completely different ball game.

“That made me have to think again, think hard and embrace this new change but I came out to the most inviting team in Armagh.

“They are wonderful midwives. This area is very, very lucky to have them as their community midwives. I really, really mean that. Such experienced people.”

As a midwife, Rosaleen has seen every facet of life and experience has taught her that, even in the hardest times, community is comfort.

“There are downsides to every job, ” said Rosaleen. “Even the babies that didn’t make it in this world. That was the ultimate privilege to be part of that couple’s lives during that awfully sad time. Somehow it was a different feeling but just as precious as the joy of delivering twins after someone waiting 10 years.

“It was a different type of emotion. Just as important, and maybe more important because those people remember you so well and 40 years on you still meet them, hug them and they repeat the words back to you that you said to them.

“It was a privilege to be part of the most sacred time in a couple’s life. People were always astounded when you would say to them, “You came in here as a couple and you’re leaving as a wee family!

“In the early days we were told it wasn’t professional to cry in front of a mother but thank god that’s gone and we can cry out loud too with the parents now if we wish. Now we know that parents do appreciate you crying with them because they know that we are feeling the very same way that they are.”

Rosaleen credits her colleagues over the years with having been her support, and her colleagues return the sentiment.

A colleague of Rosaleen’s said: “As a colleague I have loved working with Rosaleen. She has always been an outstanding, skilled caring midwife, with the best head of common sense I ever seen. She is always on top of her game bringing glamour, energy and the knowledge and ethos that there is always something better.

“She has been great fun to work with and didn’t even realise. The criac has always been mighty with her on duty. Rosaleen has been dependable, trustworthy and loyal. She has made a massive, positive impact on her patients and her colleagues within the Southern Trust.”

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