Ruling the waves for childbirth charity

�When a small band of swimmers set off from Dover in the dead of night last September, their destination was France but their purpose was to change the world.

The group of six midwives and one potter swam the English Channel to raise �13,500 for SafeHands for Mothers, a charity in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, Hampstead, which helps make childbirth safer in the developing world.


The idea came about on a night out when the midwives talked about joining the ranks of hospital colleagues who had previously made or attempted the mammoth swim.

They chose the 21-mile “marathon” and spent a year acclimatising to the cold by training in an icy lake full of slime.

On September 15 they set off from Dover and dodged jellyfish and cargo boats as well as suffering “crippling” seasickness.

Midwife Sarah Coates said: “We all say labour is like a marathon and that was what this was like.”

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Her colleague Paula Strange added: “Once you have done this you can do anything. If it had taken 26 hours we’d have carried on.”

They completed the 21 miles as a relay team in 16 hours and 20 minutes and were rewarded by cheers from family members watching from the cliffs of France and the euphoria of completing one of the world’s most notorious tests of endurance.

Jill O’Dwyer said seeing mothers and babies dying in childbirth in Africa in the 1980s motivated her to take part.

“I had a woman die in my arms,” she said. “I thought that if I could save one life in Sierra Leone it would be worth it.”

Nancy Durrell McKenna, the founder of SafeHands for Mothers, who lives in Fitzjohn’s Avenue, said she was thrilled at the lengths the team went to.

“These are extraordinary women who through their physical feat are helping to make pregnancy and childbirth safer for others,” she said.

An experienced film-maker and photographer, she founded the charity more than 25 years ago to fight for better birthing conditions and to lower mortality in the developing world.

“Women in this country have a choice as to how they give birth, but in many parts of the world there is no choice,” she said.

The charity campaigns for changes in policy to provide better birth and midwife support worldwide.

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