Gloria Hanley

© Gloria Hanley

I was born in a small village in St Kitts, where everyone knew everyone. I am one of 12 children, and the first girl in my family. My parents weren’t rich but they sacrificed and paid for me to be educated at the prestigious City High School.

After I left school at 18, I worked at an insurance company, a newspaper and in the Ministry of Tourism and Development as a civil servant. One day I saw an advertisement for training as a nurse in England. I felt the time had come for me to fly the nest. My parents were reluctant to send me overseas but they agreed to let me go for three years of training, knowing that I would come back home a fully qualified nurse.

© Gloria Hanley

My first training school was in Basingstoke, Hampshire. On the second day, I found out that the training was for the lesser degree of the state enrolled nurse (SEN) and not state registered nurse (SRN). The SEN certificate was not acceptable anywhere outside the United Kingdom, and I couldn’t go back to the Caribbean as a nurse with that qualification.

Needless to say, I was misled and complained about it. My friend and I went to the matron, who threatened to deport us if we didn’t settle down and do the training, and then she confiscated our passports. So we were trapped at that hospital for two years. I was a foreigner in a strange country with no one to support me. I didn’t know where to turn, so I just went along with it.

I later moved to Middlesex in northwest London. I made friends with a different type of Caribbean and English crowd. We used to go down to the West End. You could let your
hair down a bit in London. In Basingstoke, it was just work, church, and back to the nursing home.

I came up to Leeds to visit a friend and met Orris, my future husband. I was still living in London so he used to come down to visit. I used to sneak him in through the ground floor window of the nursing home where I lived. All the nurses’ boyfriends had to leave the home at ten o’clock. That wasn’t very late but they treated us like children.

After my initial training, I wanted to train as a midwife and I applied to a hospital in Leeds. Up here, I noticed that people treated me differently. Once I was about to deliver a lady with a husband sat right in the room. And as I approached the bed, he said to me, ‘I don’t want you to put your black hands on my wife. We have come to this country to get away from the likes of you’. Now it turned out that he came from South Africa. And the nursing officer who was in charge – instead of her supporting me, she moved me out of the room. I went into the sluice, and I just wept.

© Gloria Hanley

After that when I encountered racism, I dealt with it myself, and not in an angry or aggressive way but with humour.

Once a door was opened by a scruffy-looking gentleman, and he said, ‘We don’t want the likes of you in here’. I asked, ‘Why is that’? He said, ‘You people come over here and take away our jobs’. And said, ‘Oh, I see. So you wanted to be a midwife’. I used humor to disarm him so I could give care to the mother and baby.

I was assigned Leeds 7, 8 and 9, which are poor areas. And then I was assigned to Leeds 17, which is affluent. The people in the poorest areas were very nice and welcoming. The people in the affluent areas, sometimes I think they misunderstood my role. They would see me as their servant. And most of them would not allow me to come through their front doors; I would have to go through the servants’ back door into their homes.

We had contracted hours from 8:30 to 5:30, but you couldn’t keep regular hours because childbirth doesn’t run like clockwork. As long as the lady was in labour, I was not going to leave her.

In my 30 years as a community midwife, I’ve been invited to people’s weddings. I’ve eaten in their homes. I have lots of godchildren out there. I had a big Asian caseload, and all the children would call me Aunty. And they said, ‘That’s because you are accepted’.

I’ve worn so many hats. I was a magistrate. I was a church leader. I’m the chair of the St. Kitts and Nevis Association. And whilst I was working as a midwife, I went to university and obtained my master’s degree. I have written two books. I have two sons and nine grandchildren. My life has been fulfilling.

I’ve realised during my career that I’m what you would term a ‘people person’. I empathise a lot with people. I make judgment only if it’s necessary. I have a very serious looking face, really. But when you speak to me, that face goes away. And people just come to talk to me because I listen.