Mary Cronk obituary

Midwife, educator and expert in breech and twin births with an instinctive empathy with those at the bottom of the pile

My friend and colleague Mary Cronk, who has died aged 86, was a midwife held in high regard by the mothers she cared for. Radical in her approach and compassionate in her practice, she inspired two generations of midwives.

As an NHS community midwife, Mary politely stood up for the women in her care, regularly challenging consultant obstetricians who required all “their patients” to have an episiotomy. She also supported her less brave colleagues who accidentally dropped the scissors rather than perform unnecessary episiotomies and subverted hospital policies to help mothers by means she labelled “doing good by stealth”.

Later, as an independent midwife from 1991, she became an expert in breech and twin births at a time when obstetricians were opting for a caesarean section in such cases. She was highly skilled but not cavalier in her approach, and subsequent research has shown the wisdom and safety of her practice.

Mary became one of the best-known midwife teachers in the world, though never employed or qualified as a teacher. She really understood the physiology of birth and could explain it clearly, often demonstrating by adopting the maternal position required (or getting someone else to, as arthritis limited her mobility) and outlining the mechanisms of birth using a doll and a model pelvis.

Anyone who attended a Day at the Breech study session, or heard her talking about twin or breech births, appreciated the clarity of her explanation. Her many memorable, useful phrases, which parents might use in answer to professional “advice”, were wonderful in highlighting where power lies – and where it should lie.

Mary was born in Glasgow and came from a strong radical tradition. Her father, William Robson, was a Clydeside shop steward and her mother, Margaret, worked for the Co-operative Society in Gourock.

Mary had instinctive empathy with those at the bottom of the pile. She went to Gourock high school, leaving at 15, and trained first as a nurse at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, before moving to undertake midwifery training at Queen Charlotte’s in London. She was a skilled observer, a good listener, and her practical curiosity was phenomenal. She was of the great and ancient tradition of midwives who learned and taught as they practised.

Her teaching demonstrated the error of the long-held assumption that midwives without higher education must be ignorant. In 1998 she was appointed MBE. Generous with her knowledge and her praise, Mary last taught, from her wheelchair, at an international conference in 2016.

Mary’s other passion was sailing with her beloved husband, Joe Cronk. She is survived by Joe, her son Peter, her daughter, Maggie, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Another son, John, predeceased her.

Mavis Kirkham

The GuardianTramp

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