Sunday, May 22, 2005

Happy Birthday Dear Jane

Today we celebrated Jane's birthday AND THE FACT THAT SHE IS PREGNANT with Baby Number Two!!!!! Thirty-six years ago Jane was born in the Princess Mary Maternity and Lying/Laying-in Hospital in Hampstead, England. This hospital had been built for the wives of officers just after World War I ended and in the late 60s it was catering to just about anyone who was lucky enough to live in its catchment area and whose pregnancy was proceeding in an unremarkable manner. While it is now a mental health facility, it was still a maternity hospital when I needed such a place.

So, today is the day that I reflect upon the joy my daughter has brought to me. [Note to Number One Son: On October 29, I will reflect upon the joy that you have brought to me, because it is just as immeasureable...but today is your sister's day!] Tonight I will just write down memories from May 22, 1969. While some are blurred, others are quite clear...Jane's first day begins.

It was early. I remember that daylight was just beginning but hadn't yet blurred the edges of night. I still loved sleep, the way teenagers and young adults do, so this early morning light was novel. Something had awakened me and I wondered as I stood before the window in our living room if this would be the day our baby joined us. I wasn't having contractions, but something felt different and I certainly was more than ready to have a baby so I rummaged through my bag looking for the
What to Do When Your Baby is Ready to be Born instructions. I couldn't remember if I was supposed to call an ambulance or a taxi. An ambulance seemed overly dramatic, but I seemed to recall reading something about that. As I stood there, a sudden whoosh of water left me in no doubt that my waters had broken. I knew the right words, I sort of knew what to expect, but I didn't really understand the whole process entirely. I was not yet 21 and was clearly out of my depth. Grabbing a towel, I sat on the side of the tub reading my hospital checklist. I scanned down to the What to do When your Waters Break section and BINGO, I was right, I was supposed to call for an ambulance.

I tiptoed into our bedroom and leaned over the bed and whispered to my young husband something like "Today's the Day. I've called the ambulance. You stay there and I'll call you later from the hospital." When I think about that now it seems completely bizarre that we didn't go to the hospital together, but I remember he had worked late the night before and, well...I just thought I'd go to the hospital by myself and get prepped and then call him, so that's what I did. The ambulance ride was short and lacked drama and I can remember feeling pretty excited as they walked me to admissions.

I've pushed the ghastly memories of razors and stomach clearing well beyond any easy recall so my next strong memory, since I wasn't really in hard labor at this point, was the hospital staff trying to figure out where to put me. I rang Roger and told him it would be ages yet and that I'd brought a good book with me so I'd give him a call closer to the time. We both seemed remarkably comfortable with that. Again, that seems pretty extraordinary to me, given the "We're pregnant" times that we now live in, but that's the way it was. I was found an empty bed in a ward filled with women who had some health issues with their pregnancies and were on bed rest. It was a comfortable ward with around eight beds and beautiful natural light filling the room. I seem to remember that at one end there was a balcony, but I could be imagining that. Once I'd been settled into my bed a wave of hunger washed over me that was aggravated even further by the smells coming from the kitchen. I remember it was a good English school dinner smell. I asked the woman in the bed next to mine how the food was at Princess Mary's. She told me meals were the highlight of her day. I hopped off my bed just to have a quick read of my chart that was hanging at the end and sure enough,
NO FOOD BY MOUTH was inked in big red letters on a plain piece of paper. I moved that offending bit of paper to the back of the clipboard and climbed back in bed. How else could you take in food, I remember thinking to myself. The dinner ladies cheerfully pushed their trolleys into the ward, checking our charts at the end of our beds before handing us the appropriate dinner. Since I had no chart, ahem, they handed over a plate of shepherd's pie to me. I was in hog heaven. Halfway through lunch, the head matron wandered in. She was all big bosom and heavy starch and I knew that if she took my lunch from me, I wouldn't get it back. I shoveled in a couple more mouthfuls when she said, "Aren't you in labour?" I answered her back something coy like..."Possibly, but I'm feeling no pain yet." She became all agitated about where's the NO FOOD BY MOUTH sign and you shouldn't be eating you naughty girl and flipping through my chart where...duh...she found the no food edict. I seem to remember being given a glass of barley water to drink and then ignored for a bit. Apparently I was in a bit of trouble but a sweet young nurse snuck in and told me not to worry that there'd be a shift change in an hour and matron would soon be gone. It was now about 1 PM.

I wondered if I was actually going to have my baby on May 22, or if I'd be stuck in this ward eating nothing for another day. I started to read and then fell asleep. An hour or so later I woke up and I knew, ouch, that today would be the day. I hobbled down to the nurse's station and asked to use the phone so I could call my husband. That accomplished, they walked me back to my bed saying they were just going to check a few things and then, possibly, move me to the labour room. I remember very little about the next four hours. Roger came and was very comforting as we waited in that darkened labour room. Doctors and nurses wandered in and out, checking me and assuring me it wouldn't be all that much longer. Then I remember telling Roger to go and get someone NOW and suddenly there was so much activity and literally the next thing I knew I was in the delivery room with not one person I recognized. I was asked if I minded if this gaggle of young medical students stayed for the delivery. I guess I said I didn't care, but I did wonder where Roger was.

I have no memory of the actual delivery which I guess is a good thing, but I do remember Roger being rushed in as Jane was being cleaned and primped and his look of absolute amazement and joy. A very kind nurse helped me freshen up a bit and then left Roger, Jane and I together as a family for the very first time. As she walked out the door she said, "I'll have a tray of tea and biscuits sent up...just be a few minutes." Jane was born around 6:30 PM and the westering summer sun just filled the room. The second floor delivery room had enormous great windows that overlooked Hampstead Heath. Roger was very tenderly holding Jane as the westering sun streamed into the room...dust motes dancing around the two of them. I remember just looking at them and feeling so very full of love.


Blogger Ova Girl said...

Just dropped in to thank you for your comments re my story about my mother and what do I find? A beautiful retelling of the arrival of your daughter. Loving and tender, a very sweet tribute.

She's a lucky girl.


3:21 PM  
Blogger granny p said...

Just got back to your blog after reading your comment to me. This is nice. And in HAMPSTEAD! Very classy. My first daughter was born opposite Charing X station in hospital now moved to Fulham in ward full of cafe workers from Covent Garden, plus the odd left-wing middle-class gal like me - this was the only hospital in London let dads be present at the birth. (When and if they could get away from work...) But it still went in for all that barbaric prepping stuff. (Prickly pubes for ages after...) How times change.

1:50 AM  
Blogger Yidchick said...

Thank you for your lovely comments Nana. And warm wishes for Jane!

8:05 PM  

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