Delivering babies on lifeboats in the early hours of the morning are all in a day’s work for Betty MacIntyre, who, for the last 50 years, has delivered hundreds of babies in extreme circumstances in the rugged Scottish Western Isles.
As an NHS Highland Rural Midwife, she covers the whole of North Argyll and four different remote islands, travelling day and night to expectant mums by car, ferry, helicopter, lifeboat, dingy and even quad bike.
“We’ve had some harrowing journeys going over on the lifeboat and the ferry,” says Betty, 70, from Oban. “Depending on the weather you can get absolutely soaked to the skin. But, I love the drama of it all. It’s a very special job, and a joy and privilege to help a baby into the world.”
Throughout her career, she has delivered a baby in a horsebox, on a pier and three generations of some families. And, because she is often hours from specialist medical support in hospital, she is specially trained in emergency obstetrics and carries additional life-saving hospital equipment.
“There have been many times where babies have been born not breathing and I’ve had to resuscitate them,” says Betty. “When you hear that baby cry there is nothing like it.”
Betty and her team deliver an average of 500 babies every year, including 50 born on remote island homesteads and farms. She is passionate about building a relationship with each of her patients so they feel supported and comfortable giving birth at home.
In her 50 years as a midwife, Betty has been the driving force behind making sure midwifery in the Western Isles embraces the most modern technology, techniques and treatments. As well as up-to-date clinical skills, she also offers FaceTime appointments and virtual breastfeeding advice online.
In fact, Betty is so dedicated to her profession, that despite battling cancer ten years ago at 59, forcing her into early retirement, she returned to work once she got the all-clear. “I thought: ‘I can’t not to this!’ I feel like I could go on for another 10 years. I’ve delivered hundreds of babies and each one is special. We’re like one big family and I’ve loved every minute of it.”