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A tribute to Wendy Gadsden

Remembering Wendy can only be in a spirit of celebration. As tears keep welling up, images of her charm and cheerfulness soon prevail over the acute feeling of loss. Wendy was simply irresistible.  When she contacted me in 2002 from Northampton Maternity Hospital with a view to enroll on our new Birthlight Perinatal Yoga Diploma course in Regent’s College London, as a midwife with little experience of yoga, I first tried to dissuade her. This was to no avail because Wend, with her passion for “normalizing childbirth” and avoiding unnecessary interventions had decided that yoga was the way ahead. In fact, she had already convinced her unit that she and her colleague Babitha Williams would conduct a trial and carry out an audit to show the value of an evidence-based practice. The bold way Wendy walked into the large room full of glamorous acrobatic London yoga teachers has forever remained engraved in my memory as an inspiration for self-confidence and fighting spirit. Not only did she rise to the challenge, but before the end of the course she was showing the yoga teachers a thing or two about childbirth. Within a year, a study-group of pregnant women was set up in Northampton Hospital. Positive results were collected and soon after audited and written up to be presented at the 2004 MIDIRS National midwifery conference in Cheltenham. Our friendship had already been sealed but this was a big day. After an acclaimed presentation, we had to go ahead and set up a special course of yoga for midwives, that today is the Birthlight Maternity Yoga recognized by the Royal College of Midwives. Working with Wend, there was never a dull moment: Pat, her close friend and NHS ally, would drop her at my house in Cambridge or we would meet at a Kettering spa-hotel.  Training manuals would appear out of meandering chats about Sam and Luke, Wendy’s beloved sons; her midwifery news, refurbishments of her Northampton home; and not least, her dream of going to New Zealand and dividing her years between the UK and New Zealand. Wendy was a pragmatic trail-blazer, keen on sharing and innovating “little nuggets” of knowledge that women could take and use on the labour ward. Her yoga got enriched with Chi Kung and belly dancing to get the hormones of love and wellbeing flowing in abundance around pregnant women. Fear of childbirth melted around Wend. Her contagious positive energy was like a fairy-wand she waved out of her briefcase to create productive teams, obliterate obstacles to gain accreditation points and set up new programs. At Birthlight, we stood in wonder when emails arrived from Wend with “hi team” new ideas. Many a time I felt I was hanging on Wendy’s kite tails as she was flying faster than we could run. But all this dynamo was soundly focused on helping women have their babies in the best possible way, just as she had given birth to her sons. Her midwifery came from deep in her female lineage beyond her exemplary midwife mum. One project Wendy and I nurtured, right through her illness, was to write a book that would gather the threads of this personal and social history in the heart of England.

Wend was a generous and caring friend, always surrounded by friends she often called “mates”.  Drinking was an important part of her social life but teetotalers like me did not feel excluded. When I landed in Auckland for our first Birthlight training in New Zealand, Wendy was waiting for me with a beautiful plant arrangement on a Maori basket tray. I treasure this moment followed by many treats during an unforgettable trip. Without making a fuss, Wendy would take me to all the places she loved, Cornwallis beach, her special R&R café, the Pinot Grigio wineries. It was clear that Ray was becoming her partner and while her Northampton life with family and friends was still her core, the closeness with Ray and enjoyment of life “down under” gave Wendy a great deal of happiness.

In 2014, Wendy and I made it as co-presenters at the Triannual International Congress of Midwives in Prague. We shared the anticipation, the buzz, the stress, the success. Our plan of doing even better at the Toronto 2017 congress sadly was not to be but it kept Wendy motivated. Her fronting of PBAC (Positive Birth after Caesarean) in New Zealand and the UK, will be continued in her name by our Birthlight tutor team, with Wendy’s dear colleague Alison Fiddler, whom she personally mentored, as our professional midwife tutor.

I have greatly admired the way Wend fought her cancer like a brave frontline warrior, remaining her chirpy self and cheering others along right through her ops and her treatments. She made light of drama and sided with spiritual values that fitted well with the moral steering of her life. The tributes she has received from Birthlight colleagues and friends are a testimony to how much she was loved and respected by all. Each of us has special endearing little anecdotes about Wendy. One of mine is of getting ready together in the restrooms of the Cambridge University Medical School before our September 2013 Womb to World conference, with Wend in her bright green cardi that suited her so perfectly, asking me how if her latest lipstick worked well with the green. I enthused.  This Green was a colour for her spirit, fiercely independent and equipped to navigate through bureaucratic rules of the healthcare establishments with humour and unfailing dedication.  

These words cannot quite express how much we miss you, Wend. Here we are, the “team” from Birthlight, to salute your courage. Just as you told Ray your wish, we will follow your inspiration in celebrating life to the full each day while treasuring our memories of the many “good times” we’ve had with you. Together with many of your friends around the world, I want to express gratitude for the trail of light-hearted love, twinkles and positive energy that you have left us to move forward. As the Amazonian people say, now you are guiding the dreaming from the other side, heart to heart with everyone who was part of your life. That would include the thousands of babies whose births you assisted, so you are truly well escorted. May your feelings of being “blessed, - with two sons, Sam and Luke, my parents, my friends and Midwifery”- and your expressed gratitude to your “Mum for giving me my energy”, and to your “father for his endless advice about coping with life” be widely shared. Thank you, Wendy, for the gift of your uniquely lovable personality to be treasured in our lives.

Françoise Freedman