Okay, back in time a few more years, while I’m in the mood. Al was born at home: that is, the family home where I grew up. I’d had a chat with my family doctor, whom I’d known for years, and he was up for it – in the 1970s, not many women went for home births and I think he was really pleased.
My mother remarried in February; my sister and I were very fond of our stepfather and welcomed him into the family. His name was Wilf Edwards; he was Technical Director of Brooke Marine, a highly-respected shipbuilding firm in Oulton Broad. He was a talented and able engineer, capable of designing a ship from scratch. I’ll say more about him one day, but I won’t digress further now, except to say that he was thrilled to have married into a family who loved him.
The baby was due on 8th April. On the 2nd, I felt some twinges. I’ve never felt those preparatory, Braxton Hicks, contractions. Every time I’ve had a contraction, it has been the precursor to labour and birth. I drove over to my mum’s house with my suitcase and my daughter, who was a couple of days short of her second birthday, and invited ourselves to stay. The room she had prepared had been my father’s night nursery (yes, there was a day nursery too, it was that kind of house) and had a single bed, convenient for attendants to a home birth.
During the afternoon, the local chemist’s van drew up. “Here’s the oxygen cylinder Dr L ordered” said the assistant cheerfully. I attempted to help her wheel it in. “Better not,” she chortled, “You’re not due for another week, don’t want to bring the baby on early!” I didn’t tell her I’d been in labour for a few hours.
At some point during the day, my mother decided to bang in a stray nail in the passageway right outside my bedroom (the Sage, of course, was given the best guest bedroom) and it hit a water pipe. I have no idea how that was resolved, I had other fish to fry.
My midwife was married to the local Methodist minister. She was sweet and very capable. She arrived later in the afternoon, not long before the doctor.
I kept trotting around as long as possible – honestly, the worst thing to do is to lie on your back in bed. If you’re tired, lie on your side. Walk if you can. When, eventually, I had to lie down, they produced a cylinder of gas and air. I hated it. It was cold and distracting; I wasn’t enjoying the whole experience but I was coping and I pretended to breathe it in (for I am a polite Z) but I kept the nose-and-mouthpiece slightly away from me so that I didn’t take anything in. It wasn’t that long after that Al was born. It was the best thing I’ve ever experienced and, if I say that it gave me a bond with him that I’ve never had with anyone else, a) that’s a fact; b) he doesn’t know it for I’ve never told him c) it doesn’t mean I love him more than the others and d) I consciously have diminished its memory. He’s Dilly’s now, and I don’t want my love for any of my children to make me possessive.
He wanted to suckle at once, and I knew at once that I didn’t want this to be my final baby, which is an odd thing to decide within ten minutes of giving birth.
The Sage was on hand (I told Honey I wouldn’t mention this, but hey, it’s just to revolt the blokes) with a bucket to receive the afterbirth. I don’t know what he did with it; I’ve never asked.
Al was born about 10.30 pm. The doctor (whom I called Uncle Kit; I’d known him since childhood), having done his part, went home – he only lived a couple of roads away; it would have been quicker to come by boat. After everything had been cleared up and sorted out, at midnight, I confessed to hunger. “There’s a cold leg of lamb in the fridge” said my ever-reliable mother. “Ooh, yum!” I replied. A few minutes, we were all tucking into sandwiches. I’m not sure that it isn’t the best meal I’ve ever eaten.
During the night, I visited the loo across the landing. I felt very naughty (you’re not supposed to get out of bed for 12 hours) but both impressed and surprised that there was no constipation at all, considering the pre-birth enema every woman has the indignity of receiving.
The next morning, I changed El’s nappy and kissed her all around her face as usual. I couldn’t believe how big she was, compared to her 7 1/2 lb brother. She chuckled and laughed and I loved her and was sad for her, that life would never be quite the same again. It was the day before her second birthday.