Tessa Courage and daughter Natasha Crystal compare their experiences
Giving birth at the Portland is becoming a family tradition for new grandmother Tessa Courage and her daughter Natasha Crystal.
Tessa, 64, who lives in Islington , north London gave birth to Natasha, now 29, with her husband James,64, at the bedside,on the 10 August 1983 – just a few months after the Portland had opened its doors in central London for the first time.
Now Natasha, a Montessori teacher, who lives in Queen’s Gardens, Westminster, has followed in her mother’s footsteps by choosing the Portland for the delivery of her twin girls India, and Maya. The girls were born by caesarean section with her husband Ben, 32, by her side in the operating theatre on April 23 this year.
We asked both Tessa and Natasha tell us their Portland birth stories.
‘The Portland is a very special place for our family,’ said Tessa.
‘I remember having wonderful care when I was a patient all those years ago and I had a real sense of deja vu when I walked in before Natasha gave birth. The big difference was this time I was going to be a grandmother.’
Back in 1983 Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Regan were the world leaders and the Prince and Princess of Wales, were newly-weds with one year old Prince William.
‘Giving birth is a big life event - and I just remember how all the staff here seemed so attentive and genuinely pleased for us when we had Tasha – even though they obviously saw babies born every day here’, recalled Tessa.
‘I had just returned from South Africa where my husband had been working and we had no where to live and I was house hunting with my son Jake who was just two. It was really important to me that I found somewhere really good to give birth and then someone recommended the Portland.
‘My obstetrician was Mr Marcus Setchell – he was amazingly approachable and I felt all was well in the world when I was with him as he was so reassuring. He seemed genuinely interested in me and my family and had a wicked sense of humour too.
‘I told him I didn’t want a natural birth as I was the world’s most squeamish person and said I wanted an epidural.’
‘Anyway back then as now – it seemed an oasis of quiet and calm’
In the end Mr Setchell didn’t deliver Natasha as I had to be induced early and he was on holiday and Mr Shepherd did the honours – I believe he is still working for the Portland today too.
‘The birth was quite quick - so quick that I literally got the shakes. It was an incredibly hot August day and there was no air conditioning at the Portland back then (there is now) only portable fans and I was sweating so much. I remember at one stage asking for my epidural to be topped up and my husband James saying to a midwife that I wouldn’t be needing it. I asked him very firmly, “Exactly who is having this baby?”. Suffice to say I got my epidural topped up!
‘James and I were both very emotional when Natasha was born, as we were when her older brother Jake was born too – you can’t imagine the extraordinary feelings of love you experience when you meet your baby for the first time beforehand. I do remember feeling sad that day though because my own mother had died and I couldn’t tell how much love and devotion I felt for my child. You don’t understand until you have a child yourself.
‘After the birth I stayed in hospital for a week – I was exhausted. I think all the cumulative tiredness I felt from moving country, finding a place to live, plus looking after a toddler while pregnant hit me at once. I was very well looked-after at the Portland and got lots of help with the baby.
‘In those days the Portland felt much more like a hotel – I remember there being wall to wall carpets – those have gone now presumably for hygiene reasons.’
‘Going back to the Portland after 30 years for Natasha’s caesarean birth was really strange – but somehow very reassuring – I knew she was in safe hands. It just made me feel 1,000 years old that now my baby was having her babies.
‘The biggest change I noticed was the way fathers are now given the option of sleeping at the hospital with their wife and baby – I think that’s wonderful. t helps fathers bond – but also gives them a chance to help their wives out with caring for the baby too. Security is also much tighter these days too.
‘Mostly though, things seemed much the same in that the care given by the staff was really excellent and they genuinely seemed to care and be thrilled for us.’
‘I’ve always heard Mum talk about the wonderful experience she had giving birth to me at the Portland and so when my gynaecologist Clare Mellon suggested she deliver my babies there I didn’t hesitate and said ‘yes’ immediately. It seemed the right place.
‘I’ve known Clare since I was 17 as she has been my gynaecologist so I felt very confident that I’d get the best care from her.
‘When I was told I was expecting non-identical twins it was quite a surprise – when they stayed in the breech position (bottom down) – I knew I’d be having them by cesearean.
‘In late pregnancy in April I developed high blood pressure and started having light contractions. Clare took the decision that she would deliver the twins the next day at 35 weeks and six days – it was actually her 50th birthday.
‘It was very strange checking in to the hospital the next morning knowing that in a few hours I would be a mother and have my two babies delivered. I went down to theatre at 11.40 am and Ben was right by my side. Classical music was playing and everything felt very calm and relaxed. India was delivered first weighing 5lbs 5oz at 12.10 and then two minutes later Maya followed her into the world weighing 6lbs.
‘I had been warned that they might have to be whisked away to special care – but in the event they were both a healthy weight and didn’t need it . India was just given five breaths of oxygen to help her breathing, but apart from that they were absolutely fine.
‘It seemed strange that I’d been born in the same hospital and here I was now a mother myself. It was very special.
‘As I was wheeled to the recovery room the midwives made sure that I had skin to skin contact with both girls which was really lovely. It was all very calm and unhurried – nobody was in a rush.
‘Mum and Dad were waiting outside and saw the girls when they were a few minutes old which was wonderful too – it was great we could show them the girls so soon after they were born.
‘Ben stayed in my room with me overnight – it was so great that he could be with the girls and I all the time and not be separated. He says it really helped him bond with the babies and having Ben there really helped with the hands on care too.
‘Because I was tired though and still recovering from the surgery the twins did go the nursery at night and were fed by the midwives – a mixture of formula and colostrum – the forerunner to breast milk. The rest really helped me adjust to being a mum - my hormones were all over the place.
‘The midwives were all so kind and asked how I was feeling all the time, they seemed thrilled for me and really treated me like an individual. Friends and family were able to pop in at any time to visit too which was really nice too.
‘Mum told me she was in hospital for a week when she had me – but I went home after four days. I couldn’t have had a more positive birth experience, all the staff were great and I’ll certainly go back there if I have more children.’
By Jo Waters