Mavis Kirkham writes an appreciation of Mary Cronk (1932 -2018), following her recent death. She was a one of the UK’s best known and admired midwives, who facilitated more than 1600 births, mainly as home births. In 1991 she opened her own practice and started working as an independent midwife. She has written widely and is best known for her remarkable knowledge about unusual but normal births, including breech birth, which she used to develop and defend traditional midwifery skills.
Mary came from a strong radical tradition. Her father was a Scottish trades unionist. Her outlook was radical: she wanted to understand how things worked socially and physiologically and she had instinctive empathy with those at the bottom of the pile.
She was also part of a midwifery tradition of oral teaching. She told stories, she explained by adopting the position required (or getting someone else to, as arthritis limited her mobility). She demonstrated clearly with a doll and pelvis. She used pictures in a way that enabled us to really see how that mechanism worked in future births. Anyone who attended the Day at the Breech study day, which Mary ran with Jane Evans and Brenda van der Kooy, or heard Mary talking about twin or breech births appreciated the clarity of her explanation. She had so many memorable turns of phrase and her useful phrases which parents might use in answer to professional “advice” were wonderful in highlighting where power lies and where it should lie.
She was not a natural writer. She was a nightmare to edit. She was from a much more important and ancient tradition. Every time I read that midwives of old lacked higher education and therefore must have lacked knowledge, I think of Mary and know how wrong that assumption is. Mary observed and learnt as she practised. 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 practiced. Such midwives are now very rare.
She was generous: with her knowledge and her praise. We are so fortunate to have known her. We must be glad that she is no longer suffering. Above all, we must carry on in her footsteps.
Mary’s funeral will take place at 14.00 on Friday 18th January 2019 at Harbour View Woodland Burial Ground, Harbour Lodge, Randalls Hill, Poole BH16 6AN. If you wish to attend please sign on to Facebook – Mary Cronk Appreciation Group.