Burgess boys make St John of God Berwick Hospital their hospital of choice

The arrival of Jordan and Janelle’s son, Thomas, enshrined St John of God Berwick Hospital in a Burgess family tradition that has spanned four generations.

11 Nov 2020


Eighty-six years ago Helen Burgess gave birth to a baby boy at Berwick’s only hospital which faced Gloucester Avenue at the time. Little did she know that she would begin a long-standing family tradition with her son, Thomas, going on to father his own son, Graeme, at the same location (known then as The Berwick Bush Nursing Hospital) 24 years later. Not complete to end the tradition there, Graeme welcomed to the world a son, Jordan in 1988, who this year saw the birth of his own baby boy at the Gibb St hospital’s new location on Kangan Drive.

That accounts to four generations of Burgess boys being born at the same location or under the same hospital banner.

“It was especially important to us to have our baby boy born at St John of God Berwick Hospital,” remarks Jordan. “Family and faith are important to us both.”

In terms of the familial connection, Jordan was adamant he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, while his wife Janelle felt that St John of God Berwick Hospital’s connection to faith and its emphasis on pastoral care were a deciding factor for her. According to Jordan, having their baby, (also named Thomas), with the help of their obstetrician, Dr Jacques Lam, made for a calm and supportive experience.

“The care we received from all the staff at the hospital made our birth experience very special,” says Jordan. “From Dr Lam and the team in the operating room (including the very funny theatre technician ‘Rex’ who took photos and videos while keeping us entertained) to the friendly midwives and pastoral care members – we knew we were in safe hands.” Jordan also attributed their “very happy and comfortable” stay to the peripheral support services such as their lactation consultant and the hospital’s catering and cleaning staff.

With 86 years between the first Burgess boy born at Gloucester Avenue and the most recent one born at St John of God Hospital’s impressive new location on Kangan Drive, many differences can, of course, be observed. When Thomas (Snr) was born in 1934, mothers were kept in hospital for two weeks post-delivery. It was common practice for fathers to be absent from the birth and visitors were restricted to adults and children over 14 years of age. While mothers only saw their children when they were ready for a feed, otherwise they remained in the nursery at all times. Jordan’s grandfather, Thomas, jokes that you could actually join the hospital as a member to access discounts for surgeries and procedures – for which Thomas still proudly holds the receipt for his birth at 3 pounds – roughly a week and a half worth of average wages at the time. Interestingly, Thomas was delivered by a pioneer in local health care and whom the former Gibb St hospital is now named after, Dr Percy Langmore.

When Graeme was born in 1958, Berwick Bush Nursing Hospital had expanded to Gibb Street and while nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, was now readily available, women were still expected to reside in the hospital for two weeks and visitor restrictions remained the same. According to Graeme’s mum however, the two week stay in hospital was widely regarded as a holiday away from household chores and having to deal with their other small children. Fathers were still not allowed to be present and mothers were afforded more time with their babies but kept in the nursery most of the time.

When Jordan came along in 1988, things had changed substantially with fathers being allowed to stay for the birth, but not permitted to do anything other than hold their wives’ hands or mop their brow. A variety of painkilling measures, including epidurals, had been introduced and Jordan’s mum, Jillian, was one of the first women to give birth at the Berwick hospital with the aid of acupuncture throughout her labour. A visiting gynaecologist from South Melbourne by the name of Steven Clavey administered the acupuncture and left such an impression on the staff that several of them attended courses afterwards to learn more about the practice.

Fast forward to this year when Jordan welcomed a son of his own into the fold. Not only could he be at the birth, he could stay with his new family for the entire duration of their stay, becoming the first of the Burgess generations to be allowed to cut the umbilical cord when Thomas was born. Aside from bearing the same name as his great-grandfather, the differences in birth experiences are notable. Yet one similarity remains the same – tight restrictions on visitors. Born in the year of COVID-19 meant that it was almost impossible to have hospital guests to fawn over Jordan and his wife, Janelle’s, newest addition. However Jordan still maintains that it was a great experience for them both. “It was absolutely a positive experience, not only welcoming a child into the world during a global pandemic - the opportunity of being allowed to stay in the hospital with my wife and Thomas was something to be very grateful for,” admits Jordan.

“All the midwives and staff were always attentive and helpful, with nothing ever an issue,” he says with praise. When asked if he would continue to uphold the family tradition for any future babies planned, Jordan confidently answered, "Without a doubt we will be back. We have made St John of God Berwick Hospital our family hospital!”