Delivering babies, caring for women, a lifetime’s work

In An Everyday Miracle, eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist Jim Dornan gives a unique insight into the world of pregnancy, birth and women’s health. Drawing on his forty-year career, he talks openly and at times controversially about working in a busy maternity unit, and about the immense joy, and sometimes heartbreak and loss, that women experience during pregnancy and childbirth.


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An Everyday Miracle

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Delivering babies, caring for women, a lifetime’s work

In An Everyday Miracle, eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist Jim Dornan gives a unique insight into the world of pregnancy, birth and women’s health. Drawing on his forty-year career, he talks openly and at times controversially about working in a busy maternity unit, and about the immense joy, and sometimes heartbreak and loss, that women experience during pregnancy and childbirth.

Taking up where Call the Midwife left off, An Everyday Miracle tells the extraordinary stories of mothers, babies and their care over the last half-century.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780856402227
  • Publisher: Blackstaff Press, The
  • Publication date: 9/5/2013
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 184
  • Sales rank: 1,350,349
  • File size: 576 KB

Meet the Author

Professor Jim Dornan is one of the uk’s most respected gynaecologists and obstetricians. He has over forty years of experience in his field and was Director of Fetal Medicine at the Royal Maternity Hospital in Belfast for twenty years. He holds chairs at both Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Ulster, is a past Senior Vice President of The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and continues to be active in the field of international women’s health. Jim lives and continues to practise medicine in his hometown of Belfast, and is President of TinyLife, the premature baby charity for Northern Ireland, which he helped to found in 1988.
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Read an Excerpt


For the last forty years I have worked as a gynaecologist and obstetrician. I feel privileged to have cared for many thousands of women, and to have personally delivered more than six thousand babies. I have treated women of all ages, from many different backgrounds and cultures, and have often been allowed a great personal insight into their lives. During my career, I have been humbled to see women struggle against adversity; I have been amazed by the strength of character that women have shown in difficult, painful, and sometimes life-threatening situations; I have shared in the heartbreak of women when they suffered tragedy and loss; and I have been part of the immense joy that women experience when they become pregnant and give birth.

If a miracle is ‘an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural power’, then I have observed miracles on a daily basis. As medics and midwives, we know much about how the human body works – and sometimes doesn’t – but there is still much that we don’t understand. Why does conception not always, or not even often, occur when we want it to do so? Why do so many women miscarry when logically they should not? Why do perfectly healthy babies all over the world occasionally, and too frequently, suddenly die in the womb when they are practically full term? Why do some placentas (afterbirths), often without any warning, become detached from the mother’s womb, causing the death of the baby and putting the mother’s life in grave danger? If we don’t understand why these events occur, then the corollary is also true. Why do they mostly not occur? Thus, much of pregnancy and birth is indeed a miracle.

My journey to becoming an obstetrician and gynaecologist started in the early 1970s, when I began my specialist training. I was awestruck when I first saw a baby being born in early 1973. Soon after, I did a twelve-week stint as a medical student in obstetrics and gynaecology, and I knew then that this was the field that I wanted to specialise in. I have never lost the feeling that I am witnessing a miracle every time I am present or assist at a birth. I love working in an area of medicine in which the ‘patient’ is often healthy and happy – and excited about becoming a mother. I also love the fact that when there are problems and things go wrong, often I can do something about it. If a problem is suspected at eight o’clock in the morning, it is invariably sorted out by eight o’clock that night. Surgery has that same attraction, but a career in obstetrics and gynaecology not only includes a fair amount of surgery, it also contains strong elements of general medicine, paediatrics and psychology, and much of the research in the field is clinically based, that is focused on direct observation of the patient. Right from the start, I had the feeling that obstetrics and gynaecology could keep me fascinated for a very long time.

When my houseman year drew to a close and I became fully registered with the General Medical Council, I obtained my first six-month post as a senior house officer in obstetrics and gynaecology at Belfast City Hospital. I had many many more six- and twelve-month posts before I reached the dizzy heights of being a consultant. All in, it took six years to qualify in medicine and I worked for another twelve as a junior doctor before I became a consultant. The training programme for doctors was innovative and extremely successful in Northern Ireland. The postgraduate committee required that junior doctors applied annually for reappointment, ensuring that doctors circulated through all types of hospital and therefore experienced all types of mothers, midwives and consultants. This process allowed trainees to reconnect with the larger central teaching units on a regular basis, and also meant that trainees provided cross-fertilisation of techniques and processes between the various units.

In my forties, in common with many obstetricians, I became increasingly interested in gynaecology and in helping women to lead more comfortable physical and mental lives. Obstetrics is, in many ways, better suited to younger doctors. Long hours spent observing and dealing with long labours and effecting often strenuous interventions to deliver babies was, and is, tiring work. In a way, I grew older with my patients. Having delivered their babies, I progressed to treating them as they coped with the occasional gynaecological problems that arose after their childbearing days were over. To see women through the various stages of their lives seemed a natural progression in the provision of holistic care to them, as we moved through life together.

In 2004 I became Senior Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (rcog) in London. I took a special interest in international women’s health and, as I studied the data coming in from groups such as the World Health Organisation, I became painfully aware of the crippling hardship that many women across the globe endure every day. Quite simply, an appalling number of women in the world become pregnant against their will, and practically face a death sentence when that happens. Most women in the world do not deliver in birthing units and do not have experienced personnel available to help them. Even when the personnel are available, they do not always have the necessary skills and very simple remedies that will enable them to save lives. To try to address this, I worked with the rcog and with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (lstm) and Professor Nynke van den Broek, to develop a three- to four-day Life-saving Skills Course for international nurses, midwives and medics. The course allows faculties of obstetricians, midwives and anaesthetists from the uk and Ireland to provide hands-on, in situ training to midwives, clinical officers and medical officers working in resource-poor countries. Research has now shown that this type of training significantly reduces maternal loss.

Caring for women has been my life’s work but I am often reminded when I talk to friends and acquaintances – both medical and non medical – how little the rest of the world knows about what actually goes on in our delivery units on a daily basis.

I hope the book gives a real sense of what it’s like to work in a busy maternity unit: thinking on your feet in an emergency; helping parents to cope with the tragedy of stillbirth; sharing the joy of parents and colleagues when a healthy baby is delivered; and the comedy and laughter that comes out in the most stressful, chaotic and sometimes bizarre circumstances. Over the years, I worked with some great characters who told me terrific stories about their working lives. I’ve included some of those stories here, alongside my own – they capture the spirit of a different, some would say better, time.

I hope also that these stories and opinions give readers an insight into women’s lives and experiences as well as a sense of some of the ongoing debates within gynaecology and obstetrics. Over the last forty years, Caesarean sections, pain relief, fetal viability and teenage pregnancy are just some of the areas in which attitudes have changed drastically, and such subjects continue to provoke much discussion both inside and outside the profession. Above all, this book is my tribute to the many women that I have cared for over the years. I hope it will give people, especially men, a greater understanding of the challenges that women face and how they cope with them, and of what needs to be done to ensure that they receive the standard of care and respect that they deserve.

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