IT takes a special kind of person to be a midwife, to support a woman through pregnancy, labour and those early days of motherhood.
When we launched The Sun’s Who Cares Wins awards this year, we were overwhelmed with your inspirational stories of how these NHS workers have gone above and beyond the call of duty – making it a difficult decision to choose who made our shortlist.
But we can now reveal the finalists competing for our Best Midwife gong.
Between them, they have supported a woman through nine pregnancies, cared for a newborn baby while her mum was in a coma and one even performed an emergency procedure, saving the lives of twins.
The winner will be honoured at a star-studded awards ceremony hosted by Davina McCall and screened on Channel 4 and All 4 on September 24.
Our awards, sponsored by the National Lottery, and in partnership with NHS Charities Together, are now in their sixth year.
Meet the Best Midwife finalists…
A MUM who suffered a bleed on the brain when she was 39 weeks pregnant has nominated the midwife who took care of her baby while she fought for her life in a coma.
Natalie Doye collapsed at home just days before her due date and was airlifted to Southampton General Hospital, where daughter Gracie was delivered by c-section last October.
Natalie, 26, said: “My partner found me collapsed upstairs, not breathing, and called an ambulance.
“When I got to hospital, doctors found I had a ruptured brain aneurysm and I was put in an induced coma.
“It was completely out of the blue. I’d had a healthy pregnancy, my blood pressure had been fine. There was no sign that anything was wrong.”
Doctors performed a c-section while Natalie was in a coma, and baby Gracie was born healthy and well, weighing 7lbs 6oz.
Natalie said: “I was in hospital a week while they figured out where the bleed was coming from, then I had nine-hour brain surgery.
“I remember nothing about those two weeks. I don’t remember meeting my daughter or those precious first few days of her life.”
Midwife Valentina Burnett cared for the newborn at Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton, Hants, while Natalie was unwell, but also provided support to Natalie’s family.
Incredibly, Valentina herself had actually had brain surgery just a few years earlier after doctors discovered she had a brain tumour.
Valentina said: “I’d been suffering from a lot of headaches.
“At first I thought it was stress because I was busy with work and looking after my children.
“But I went to have my eyes tested and they noticed the nerves in my eyes looked very swollen.”
Valentina was referred for a scan and doctors discovered the 5cm tumour.
Surgery was carried out in December 2018 but, two years later, tumours had returned.
She has since had radiotherapy to stunt their growth and now has MRI scans every six months.
Valentina, 45, who lives in Chandler’s Ford, Hants, with husband William, 46, and twin daughters Maria and Yana, 16, said: “I think it is because of what I’ve been through that Natalie’s case touched me.
“Her partner asked me if it was ok to look after the baby while he went to see her and of course I said yes.
“Then Natalie’s mum came to look after Gracie. I could see she was emotional and tearful.
“I said to her, ‘It’s ok, she is in the best place’ and explained what I went through.
“I just wanted to reassure her that Natalie was in good hands and being taken care of.”
Natalie, who lives in Havant, Hants with fiance Joseph Forrest, 27, a car trader, step-son Harrison, four, and eight-month-old Gracie, added: “So many incredible people worked on me that day.
“They saved my life and most of them I don’t know who they are, and will never get to thank them properly.
“But when I heard how Valentina had taken care of Gracie and my family, I was so grateful.
“Gracie is doing well, she is crawling now and we have an amazing bond.”
Valentina has been a midwife for 23 years, qualifying in her home country of Bulgaria before moving to the UK in 2003.
She said: “I always knew I wanted to be a midwife.
“I absolutely love my job. It is hard sometimes and it is busy, but it’s my passion.”
BECOMING a parent is a life-changing experience and midwife Karen Stevens supports some of the most vulnerable women in society through their journey.
She heads up a specialist team of midwives who care for mums-to-be, many of whom have been victims of domestic violence or struggle with their mental health.
The Poppy Team is based at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and also caters for teenage mums, asylum seekers, victims of trauma or sexual abuse or those with drug or alcohol addiction.
Karen was nominated by Rebecca Emery, who says Karen supported her through nine pregnancies.
Rebecca, 38, said: “Karen was there for me throughout each of my pregnancies.
“Before I fell pregnant the first time, I’d been in a very volatile past relationship.
“I was very up and down with my mental health and was diagnosed with complex PTSD.
“The pregnancy seemed to heighten everything and my anxiety came back with a vengeance.
“But Karen is amazing. You can get hold of her any time, day or night, even if she is not meant to be on call.
“She’ll chase up any appointments I need and she supported me when I was struggling with my mental health.
“She is not judgemental, she just listens and helps in any way she can.
“I am incredibly grateful to her. If I could guarantee that I’d have Karen again, I’d go for number ten. She is amazing.”
Karen has introduced a service that provides ante and postnatal care for asylum seekers and a dads’ group, giving advice so they can better support their wives and partners.
Karen, 47, from Eversley, Berkshire, said: “Standard care just wouldn’t work for these women, they need something different and that is where the Poppy team comes in.
“We will go to their homes as often as they like. We provide telephone support, psychological support.
“If they need to be referred to another professional, we sort that for them.
“If they have an appointment, we go with them. It doesn’t always end the way you want it to.
“Sometimes, these women have their babies taken away, but even then we can support them through that. These are women who are hurting.”
Karen qualified as a midwife in 2009 before joining the Poppy Team in 2012.
She often cares for around 35 women at any one time.
Rebecca met Karen when she was pregnant with her eldest child Shy, now 10.
She also has Henley, nine, Pheonix, eight, Prince, seven, Presley, five, Monroe, four, Halo, three, Memphis, 18 months and four-month-old Cyper, with partner Craig, 42, who runs a flooring company.
Karen said: “I often get mums ask if I can be their midwife again if they fall pregnant again.
“It’s easy. They have told me their story, they don’t have to tell it over again.
“With Rebecca, I can tell when she is having a bad day. She doesn’t have to tell me.
“I love providing a safe environment for women and being part of their pregnancy journey.
“For many women it is a very special time, but others find it very stressful.
“I try to take the stress out of it and be part of the journey with them.
“I’m always at the end of a phone. Being a midwife is just what I was meant to do.”
WHEN Amy McNaughton suffered a rare and life-threatening complication while giving birth to twins, midwife Valerie Ferry sprung into action and held her umbilical cord in place – saving the life of her second baby.
Amy was 34 weeks pregnant when she went into labour with sons Jace and Jude.
She was immediately rushed to University Hospital Wishaw, in North Lanarkshire.
After giving birth to Jude, Amy suffered a cord prolapse, putting Jace’s life in danger as it can starve an unborn baby of oxygen.
Amy, 31, from Bellshill, North Lanarkshire, said: “The doctor examined me after Jude was born and must have noticed the cord coming out.
“It was Valerie who jumped on top of me. She literally straddled me on the bed and held the cord inside of me with her own hand until doctors were ready to deliver him via emergency c-section.
“If she hadn’t acted so quickly, I might have taken just one son home from hospital rather than two.
“She kept saying afterwards she was only doing her job, but she saved my son’s life.”
Amy – who is engaged to Graeme, 34, and also has a daughter Callie, five – said Valerie was calm and reassuring and kept coming back to visit her to make sure she and the boys, now 16 months, were recovering well.
Valerie is a community midwife for NHS Lanarkshire who has been in the profession for 21 years.
She usually works at Udston Hospital, but took on a shift at UHW the day the twins were born as the hospital was short-staffed.
Valerie said: “A cord prolapse is quite rare and it’s a medical emergency as it can put the baby at risk.
“I jumped on the bed and kept my hand there until the baby was born.
“Fortunately, all was well and both Amy and the twins are doing great and the boys are beautiful. It could have been a very different scenario.”
Valerie, 45, from East Kilbride, Lanarkshire, started an applied bioscience degree after finishing school before deciding it wasn’t for her and working for a few years’ in her parents’ cafe.
She started training as a midwife aged 21.
Now married with two children aged 17 and 15, Valerie said: “I don’t remember when the penny dropped but it’s the perfect job for me.
“I love looking after women and getting to know them.
“I’m a bubbly person so I like meeting new people and chatting to them.
“I’ve lost count of how many babies I’ve delivered.
“I still cry when they are born, it’s such an emotional experience to be part of.
“Even if I see babies born on telly, I get tearful.”
Jude and Jace remained in hospital nearly two weeks before being allowed home, but they are now doing well and hitting all their milestones.
Amy said: “It was a very traumatic experience but the best possible outcome. I can’t thank Valerie enough.”