A New Arrival

Thoughts on pregnancy and childbirth by Dorothy Davies

It is 1973 and I, at the age of 30, am pregnant.  Proud to be pregnant, hopeful of producing the blue eyed blonde daughter my husband wanted.  We had a mobile home, a new one, on a lovely park near Waltham Abbey in Essex.  It had a tiny second bedroom, just right for a baby.  I had a high profile legal secretary/PA job with a firm of Solicitors in Fleet Street, so I was commuting daily by Tube and shamelessly flaunting the large bump I quickly developed.  That got me a seat every time …
The local hospital, St Margaret’s in Epping, were frankly curious about my ‘late’ pregnancy, asking if I was paying off a mortgage before ‘starting a family’ – a phrase which still amuses me. When you marry, you become a couple, therefore you are already a family. A child adds to that, doesn’t it?
I deviate, sorry!  Endless questions, not simply the fact it was a second marriage and it had taken me a long time to get pregnant.  Endless checking of blood pressure, listening for the baby, all the (seemingly) high tech stuff that was supposed to impress.  I wasn’t impressed … but then it takes a lot to make me stand back in awe and wonder. 
I attended the ante-natal classes, with mothers from varying backgrounds with midwives who appeared to me to be sadists.  We were supposed to learn how to relax everything except our wombs; none of us being Yoga adepts it seemed a hopeless task.  What was amusing, though, was the tightly corsetted midwives lying on the floor demonstrating what we were supposed to do.  I came away with the thoughts ‘forget it, let Nature do the work.’
Leaving work at 7 months was heart-breaking.  I had been a legal secretary/PA of one kind or another for the best part of 15 years. Giving it up for motherhood was like taking the first steps on another planet, another world. But being home was quite nice, for a while.
My blood pressure soared and I was admitted to hospital so they could try and bring it down.  That was a nightmare.  Literally.  Whatever pills they gave me had an adverse effect, I remember somehow, vaguely, pouring myself water in the middle of the night and being incapable of stopping pouring.  I woke half the ward by flooding the floor.  I did not know what I was doing, so they packed up those pills, for a start!  Sleep was disrupted as doctors and nurses crashed through the ward for emergencies, slamming the doors after them.  Yes, there was an emergency, no they did not have to wake the rest of us, who were there because we were an impending emergency.  I could not wait to leave.  Finally they let me go home.
My baby was officially due on the 25th January.  For a whole week before that I had pains down my legs and a lot of discomfort.  I knew the baby had stopped moving and was in place at long last, after what felt like months of turning round and round and me being kicked incessantly as she (as it turned out) found her rightful place.  The specialist I saw booked me in for the 28th, to start me off, as he said my pains were a week of labour.  Surprise, surprise …
The 28th came, I arrived at the hospital truly full of apprehension.  First I was bathed, with comments being made about my ‘being in a stew.’ I wondered what they would have felt, undressing and being bathed by someone I had never seen before…
An intravenous drip was set up to induce labour and I was put in a side ward.  I lay there, quite content, for some time.  An officious looking woman opened the door, looked in and demanded “stop that screaming! You wanted this baby, didn’t you?” then apologised when she realised it wasn’t me but the apology was off-hand, indifferent. 
When labour did start, all hell broke loose.  Then I did start screaming and my husband, who had come for a quiet visit, had to go find someone as the birth was imminent and no one seemed to be around.
I was, eventually, put out and my daughter was delivered with the aid of forceps.  I was stitched up (literally!) and she and I were put on a trolley and delivered to a ward. I remember someone saying ‘don’t they look sweet?’ as we were trundled down a corridor.
I was there for ten days.  No 24-48 hour stopovers then, you stayed the full ten days regardless.  The sister was a dragon of the worst kind.  One of the other mothers had gone into full crying mode, unable to stop, because her son had something wrong with his hip and the sister made all sorts of comments about people who do not trust the medical profession.  She also put horror stories into our minds about keeping the baby’s belly button clean and the baby sterile at all times.  When one nurse finally admitted that you could not completely keep a baby sterile I wanted to shout Hallelujah but it wouldn’t have gone down very well. No one told me what the codes were for recording what I found when I changed daughter’s nappy, so I ticked all the boxes regardless, which should have sent out danger signals but no one took a bit of notice.  We had to wee into a jug and record how much we had passed, why I don’t know; no one ever questioned the amounts I seemed to be getting rid of.  I think it was dreamed up by people with nothing else to do.
Sleep was needed to get over the birth but sleep was constantly disrupted by nurses coming, with hooded torches, to tell me my baby was awake and needed feeding or changing.  Then we were woken at 6 with tea and some kind of breakfast.  Mothers having a rest? Forget it.
Truthfully I could not wait for the ten days to be over.  The doctor came round, saying things like how well I was doing for an older mother (as if that made any difference!) and told me I was fine to go the next day.  He said something about ‘your next pregnancy.’ I laughed at him and told him no way would I be back.  I never did go back.
The hospital was a closed environment, wire in the glass of the windows, not able to see out properly, way too hot, no hint of what the world outside was doing, weatherwise or any other way.  When my husband came to collect us, he said he had a surprise.  I was told to wrap my daughter up in at least two blankets, which I did. When I got outside, I found out why.  February 1974 and the snowfall was fantastic.  Our route wound through Epping Forest, laden with snow.  It was a wonderland of white and quite, quite beautiful.
34 years have gone by, but the memory of that time is as vivid as ever.  Things have changed somewhat, as far as the length of time of staying in hospital and some treatment of mothers is concerned, I do believe.  I doubt there is a foolish book in which to record what the baby was passing.  I still wonder why no one questioned my entries, I doubt anyone looked, in truth.
My baby was brought up my way. I dutifully attended post-natal classes for a while, together with follow up visits to the doctor but quickly realised no one cared any more.  This older mother seemed capable, and apart from comments being made on the mobile home park that I was ‘damaging her mind’ by talking to her all the time and damaging her spine because I refused a ‘proper’ pram and had a buggy instead, when she was not in a cocoon slung around my neck so I could talk to her all the time, I did a reasonable job.  Within six months people admitted I had not damaged her back and within a year admitted I had not damaged her brain and that she was in fact quite advanced for her age … but people are like that, no matter what era they live in, they think they know better than you. 
I am glad there were no other children and that I didn’t have to endure the NHS’s idea of motherhood again.  Now women are having babies at a much more advanced age than me, I was comparatively young at 30 compared with mothers of 50+ and 60+.   I still remember the fuss they made over a 30 year old being pregnant … foolish people.

Dorothy Davies’ website is www.oneinspecyal.com


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