The emotion of giving birth to her own daughter came flooding back to Peak Practice star Shelagh McLeod as her screen child was born. But before filming she’d had a painful lesson to learn…
While filming the current series of Peak Practice, Shelagh McLeod found herself reliving the most important time of her life – the birth of her daughter, Katherine.
Though that was nearly two years ago and the actress no longer bears the badges of being a new mum – no dummy in her suit pocket or baby sick on her shoulders – she’s the first to admit that ‘motherhood changes you in a pretty fundamental way. Giving birth on screen in Peak Practice reminded me of that.’
The memories weren’t so much to do with the way Dr Kate Webster gives birth to Emily – her baby by Dr Will Preston. After all, in real life Shelagh, 38, gave birth by elective Caesarean and ‘didn’t feel a thing.’ To make the episode in which she has her baby without the aid of painkilling drugs, she had to have lessons with a midwife ‘because I’d no idea how to make it look realistic. ‘It was the emotional factor, ‘the bringing of life into the world and the amazing impact it has on you, that I was able to call on,’ she says.
Shelagh’s own baby has given her and her husband, Marek, the usual round of problems. ‘There have been sleepless nights and I sympathised completely with Kate, who’s totally exhausted in the weeks after the birth. But we certainly didn’t have to cope with what’s currently confronting Will and Kate – as a mother I thank God for that.’
The crisis in question arises shortly after the birth. Baby Emily is fractious and plagued by a constant cough and cold. ‘Though both Will and Kate are doctors, they’re too tired and too close to their own child to spot what’s wrong, and it takes one of the other doctors in the practice to point it out to them,’ Shelagh says. The couple are then faced with a terrible emotional trauma.
‘You see two people, who are normally supremely confident and in control, falling apart. It was very difficult for Simon and me to film because we are parents.’ To cope with their daughter, Will and Kate decide to leave the Peak District for a new life in the West Country, marrying before they leave. ‘It’s symbolic of their commitment to each other, and of their belief in Emily’s future,’ says Shelagh. It’s vital for Kate that Will is there for her and their baby. It would be important for any woman.’
Shelagh speaks as someone who has come to count on the support she receives from her second husband, Marek. She’d been working in Canada and America for almost a decade before she met him at a dinner party in England. After their whirlwind romance, she came to England to marry him, and they now live in Surrey. ‘There are so many things to love about my life,’ she says ‘And Marek is the best one of all.’
Not only does he look after Katherine while Shelagh is away filming, he is, says Shelagh, ‘the best person in the world during a crisis.’ Such as when Katherine developed asthma and spent two days in hospital with her parents at her bedside. ‘Fortunately, we’ve been told she’s likely to get over it by the time she’s three. In the meantime, either Marek or I puff her with steroids every day and she seems well. In the hospital we met parents with problems far worse than ours. The courage of those people makes you feel very humble indeed.’
It was not, however her first experience of hospital. Several years ago Shelagh suffered a degenerative spinal problem which needed major surgery. Afterwards she spent months in a brace with excruciating pain. ‘I’ve suffered about as much as I ever want to. I understand the feelings of the natural childbirth lobby, but I was still very glad to have Katherine without the attendant pain.’
There are no plans yet for a brother or sister. Katherine has only just got to the stage where she’s prepared, now and then, to sleep through the night, ‘and when she doesn’t I’m like one of the walking dead,’ Shelagh jokes. ‘Still, I’ll admit that holding a tiny baby again – or in this case three babies, because Emily was played by triplets – does make your hormones do a somersault.’