A midwife who has delivered 5,500 babies during 42 years working at the same hospital where she has also become a TV star has revealed on the eve of her retirement how her job saved her life.
While Naghmeh Teymourian-Yates, 62, has no regrets that her aspirations to become a barrister were dashed and replaced by a distinguished career at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow, Essex, her reasons for the drastic change were far from mundane.
For Naghmeh, who lives with her husband, Geoff, 65, and their children, Victoria, 30, a solicitor, and Andrew, 29, a Masters degree student and trainee quantity surveyor, in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, going into the medical profession was a matter of life or death.
Living in Iran at the time of the Cultural Revolution that saw the overthrow of the monarchy in 1978, she said: “My family was being persecuted because of our Bahá’i faith.
“When the revolutionaries found our address, they posted a letter through our door saying they would rape the women and kills us all.
“They had told us the date they would be coming for us, so my parents and I moved out to the Hilton hotel and only went home when that date passed and nothing had happened.
“At that time, we were all living under a curfew, so one morning when it lifted at 6am, my parents bundled me off to the airport and onto a plane that came to the UK via Paris.”
Naghmeh’s move to England – where she was followed by her parents seven years later in 1985 – saw everything change for the plucky young woman, who lived with an older, unmarried sister, who had already settled in the country when she first arrived.
She said: “When I got here, my written English was poor and my spoken English was pretty much non-existent, so I signed up for college.
“Unfortunately, I soon had a serious visa problem because although our Iranian passports were issued for 10 years, we still had to get them renewed every year.
“I took mine to the Iranian embassy in London, but was told it would not be renewed because of my faith. This would mean I could not stay in this country but would be sent home, even though my life was in danger.”
Aged 19 and, by then living alone in Luton, Bedfordshire, as her sister had married and fearing deportation and its potentially fatal consequences, one of Naghmeh’s brother-in-laws made an excellent suggestion.
She said: “He sat me down and suggested I should go into nursing.
“He pointed out it would solve all my problems. I’d have somewhere to live, I would be earning an income, I’d be getting a profession and, best of all, my visa would then be renewed, so I could stay here.
“He also told me, ‘Beggars can’t be choosers!’”
So, Naghmeh took herself off to the local library after her English class and found the names and addresses for 40 hospital trusts within a 30 miles radius of Luton, her two sisters and their families.
She says, because of the political situation in Iran, only one hospital invited her for an interview and she stayed there for her entire career.
During that interview, she explained how, because her family’s name was on a blacklist, she feared for her life if she was sent back to Iran and was offered a job on the spot.
She said: “I owe my life to the woman who interviewed me.
“She came back into the room and said, ‘We’ve discussed your case and we think we owe it to humanity to give you a place here.’”
And Naghmeh, who started her training and soon met Geoff, who worked in IT before his retirement two years ago, through mutual friends, has never let them down.
A familiar face on the Emma Willis TV show Delivering Babies, filmed at the hospital where she works, she said: “Every shift I feel we’ve saved a life.
“I don’t do this alone. I am part of a team, but every day I leave work and reflect on the part I played in saving a life when a baby has been born safely.
“Giving birth can be an emotional, difficult, frightening and fraught time for parents and it is such a privilege to be able to help them.
“They invite you into their life, tell you’re their private thoughts and I never ever take that for granted.”
Strangely, Nahgmeh, who is planning a world cruise with Geoff and wants to renovate their home when she retires, says her knowledge of delivering babies did not help her when it came to having her own.
She said: “I had all my midwifery books by my bedside throughout my first pregnancy, so was convinced I’d have all the problems I was reading about.
“When it came to time to give birth, like so many first-time mothers, I had a lot of fear and was scared I was going to die.
“But, at the same time, I had a lot of knowledge about what was happening with my body and what both the baby and my body would be doing during the birth, so that was reassuring.
“I also knew that by putting my trust into the professional team around me, I would be as safe as I possibly could be.”
She continued: “When I am with ladies now who tell me that they are frightened, I can truly empathise, but I can also reassure them.”
And when her son Andrew decided to enter the world, she had no time to be scared, as his head was already crowning when she left for hospital.
“I was blue lighted by ambulance to the hospital which took 12 minutes and eight minutes later he was born,” she laughed.
Since she began as a midwife, Naghmeh has seen the amount of birthing choices given to mothers increase enormously.
Detailed scanning has also changed the nature of pregnancy and while today it is not unusual for a new mum to be discharged after five to six hours, when she started, hospital stays of five to 10 days were quite normal after giving birth.
But the importance of the midwife to the whole birthing process remains steadfast.
She said: “Recently, I was sent straight to theatre when I started my shift.
“It was a very complicated birth, so I only just had time to say my name and reassure the mother who was having a Caesarian section before she was no longer conscious.
“A few months later I got a message saying this mum would like to see me and had come into the hospital with her partner and her new baby.
“She leapt up and threw herself into my arms, telling me, ‘I need to smell you.’
“I could feel her tears pouring down my neck as she told me, ‘All I remember from the birth is your voice and your smell. You saved my life.’”
Despite telling the grateful mum she was simply a cog in a whole team that had worked to save her and the baby, Naghmeh admits to being deeply moved to hear the impact her contribution had made. “I will take that one to my grave,” she said.
While for many years, Nahgmeh, who has 12,500 followers on Instagram. hoped she would one day return to Iran and she will always feel sad about the manner in which she left.
She said: “There’s not a day that I don’t look back and think about having to leave Iran and even now it seems surreal
“I became two people and have been two people my whole life, because the person who came here was not the same as the person I’d been in Iran.
“But as I think about retirement, I realise the one big thing I will miss is not Iran now, it is my job.
“When people ask me what I do for work, I love saying, ‘I am a midwife,’ because whenever I have said it I have felt so proud.”
* To follow Naghmeh on Instagram to: @MidwifeNaghmeh