The evolution of Cuidiú, the Irish Childbirth Trust, is difficult to put into words. There wasn't one "big bang" to herald its creation. Instead there were clusters of women in the 1970s who were blessed to encounter pioneering Antenatal teachers such as Maeve O'Callaghan in Cork and Aileen Henderick in Dublin.
Here is an extract of an account by Amelia O'Connor outlining the origins of the Cork branch.
"It begins with Maeve O'Callaghan. Maeve, an Antenatal teacher in Blackrock, was helping young parents to prepare for childbirth. She could see the benefit young mothers would gain from being in contact with one another and so she encouraged some of her enthusiastic 'Past Pupils' to set up a branch of the London based N.C.T. The original small group, some of whom had attended Maeve's classes in 1979, met and clicked straight away. We discovered that we shared a mutual concern about childbirth and its importance in the life of the couple and also within our society. There was concern that childbirth should be an empowering experience for a woman, not just something to be 'gone through' and managed by others. It was felt that we should have choices in the way we give birth."
In Dublin, Aileen Henderick used her expertise from her involvement in the National Childbirth Trust in Britain, to set up NCT Dublin. This one group later split into three different geographical areas, Dublin South-East, South-West and Dublin North. In February 1983 the first council meeting took place in Cork. Aileen Henderick was elected President. Her presidential successors have been Deirdre Martin, Brenda O'Malley Farrell, Sue Jameson, AnnMarie Smith, Paula Gahan, Geraldine Cahill and Catherine Wells our current President.
Over the years branches have evolved in many different ways - some faded in particular areas, other got a new lease of life and reformed again, others grew so much that they split into a number of branches. We are always interested in supporting new branches in any part of the country.
Cuidiú gradually developed into its current structure with twelve branches and two groups around the country offering a diverse variety of support services to Parents. Branches have evolved differently according to the interests and expertise of their membership but the ethos of every branch is overseen and directed by a central board of directors and members of teaching panels for Antenatal, Breastfeeding and Parenthood support. The Board administers Publications, Insurance, PR and National Projects. Each branch has its own committee to organise and run its events. Each branch produces its own newsletter and in the near future will host their own local Cuidiú website.
Consistently the backbone of Cuidiú has been made up of amazingly dedicated volunteer Mums who train as Antenatal Teachers, Breastfeeding Counsellors and Parenthood Supporters. Our aim remains the same - to provide information to parents which allows them to make informed choices about childbirth, breastfeeding and parenthood.
The following is a poem explains very well what Cuidiú is all about and was presented to President Mary Robinson during a visit to the President's Residence Aras an Uachtarain on 7th February 1994 to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
THE SHOULDER COLLECTIVE
By Frances O'Keeffe
It seemed like
A good idea at the time -
Meeting, gathering into groups
Talking of Bumps, birth and budgeting,
Nappies, nipples, natural foods,
Bracing each other
The happy work of living
Still we gathered
Still we talked
Of the same things
Of toddlers, tights and taxes
Waste and work and women's
Broadening the bases
The hard work of living
Ten years on
The structure holds,
A collective shoulder to lean on.
Some have springboarded into
Pottery, psychology, politics,
Yoga, youthwork, you-name-it,
And still the network spreads, -
More than the sum of our parts;
Altogether, a power to power
The holy work of living.