Help always there

July 29, 2017

Times have certainly changed since Barb Smith was the face of the local maternal and child health centre.

Mrs Smith was the go-to for new mums in Seymour for more than 27 years.

She also staffed centres in Avenel, Puckapunyal, Tallarook and even as far afield as East Melbourne in her 40-year tenure as a maternal and child health nurse.

‘‘It was definitely hands on, let’s say that,’’ Mrs Smith said.

‘‘We were expected to be there at the service of everybody, and at any time of the day or night.’’

Mrs Smith recalled how she would receive phone calls at home at all hours of the night from new mothers, and even from local councillors who needed a helping hand with visiting relatives.

‘‘I remember one time, it was the weekend and one of the local councillors had his daughter and grandchild staying with him, and the grandchild was unsettled and I was expected to come in and settle that baby for him,’’ Mrs Smith said.

‘‘We were on call all the time. Day or night, it didn’t matter.’’

Unlike today’s structured system, where new mums and bubs have regular appointments with their maternal and child health nurse, Mrs Smith said centres used to have open sessions most of the week, where mothers would just walk in when they needed to see a nurse.

But that certainly kept the nurses busy. So busy, in fact, that a second centre was opened in Seymour in 1977.

Seymour’s two maternal and child health centres — in Pollard St and Victoria St — ran in unison until the latter closed in 1998.

Mrs Smith said the lack of services available was one of the key issues she faced in Seymour as a maternal and child health nurse.

‘‘Our role in preventative health was so important,’’ she said.

‘‘But we just had no services back then. We made submission after submission to the government to try to get services into this town.

‘‘I can remember working here (Pollard St) one day and a policewoman came in with a baby that they’d found neglected in a cot, and I had to do an assessment on the baby, because there were no welfare officers back then.’’

Mrs Smith instigated a number of mums’ groups in town, knowing full-well the importance of a social circle for new mums.

‘‘I started a ‘mum’s chum’ group, which was run by the mothers themselves. I picked some mothers that I knew would be able to do it, and they’d go and pick up other mums from their houses and take them along to activities,’’ she said.

‘‘It was very therapeutic for them. They’d meet in each other’s houses regularly and have lunch and just chat.

‘‘There was also mums and bubs, which was another group where they would meet and they had a lot of social interaction, so these sorts of things kind of helped those who were new to the town, or who didn’t have any extended family living in the local area, and there were a lot of women in that situation back then. These groups helped them integrate into the town and meet new friends.’’

Before she was a maternal and child health nurse, Mrs Smith was a midwife on the labour ward at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.

She worked briefly at Seymour Hospital, before overseeing the growth and development of the region’s babies for almost 40 years.

Mrs Smith worked full-time until 2002, before semi-retiring and taking on relieving roles at centres far and wide until she officially retired in 2013.

‘‘It was so interesting to see how the other centres operated and how other nurses worked,’’ she said.

‘‘I retired in June 2013. I just decided I wasn’t going to re-register because I needed to go and do other things.

‘‘I just loved it. I loved the job.’’

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