My father stood at the top of the stairs and viewed all the kerfuffle in the hall below. My mother was in a bit of a spin but not as much as one of my brothers who had clearly decided he was the ‘man in charge’ of this unfolding new situation. My younger brother was just in from the pub and a bit pissed, so he was enjoying all the activity immensely. Me? Well I was just standing there. Shell-shocked I guess, at the realisation that I was probably about to become a mother in the coming hours. I was 25 years old and giddy with a heady mix of blind fear and excitement.
It was after 1am, on the morning of the 28th of July. I had had a shower, washed my hair, shaved my legs and had gotten my mother to paint my toenails. As I picked up my hospital bag which was by the front door, my ‘man in charge’ brother yelled orders at us, “Barbara you go in the front. Ma and Jim ye are in the back”. My father rather nervously asked “em, should I come too?” “No room for you Da, go back to bed” said he in charge ushering us all out into the night and towards the yellow Renault 4 on the drive. As we all piled in, I suddenly remembered something my friend, already a mother, had said to me just a few days beforehand. “You will have lovely new nighties for your confinement”, she said, “but make sure to bring an old one for the birth.” Now this pronouncement had prompted immediate visions of an abattoir and so I buried it in the back of mind. But up it surfaced, like a cork in the ocean, as I faced into the prospect of actually giving birth.
“Wait” I cried. “I need an old nightie. I haven’t got one in my bag”.
“No worries” said mother. “I’ll run in and grab one. I have one I haven’t even worn yet but you can have it.”
A few minutes we took off, my brother driving as fast as the old banger of a Renault would go (at this point if you are not familiar with a Renault 4 – go Google it). We rattled and shook our way towards Churchtown and Mount Carmel Hospital – God bless my old Dad for keeping me on the VHI cover. We raced amber traffic lights squeaking through junctions and I hung on to the passenger door which had been known to fly open when the speedometer reached over 30mph
Then I realised that my ‘contractions’ had stopped. “Right” I announced. “I feel fine now. Let’s go home. I am not in labour. False alarm. Home please, I want to go back to bed.”
“Oh no” said brother in charge. “I am not going to have you delivering this baby at home or on the side of the road. No, no, no. We will take you to the hospital and see what they say.”
“But, but… I want to go home.”
We roared into Mount Carmel and rumbled to a halt at the front door where the car was abandoned and we all tumbled into the reception area which was manned by a night porter. I was still protesting loudly.
“Are you in a hurry, Mrs? ‘Cos if so, you go on and your husband here can give me the details” he said looking at the brother in charge.
“He’s not my husband, he’s my brother and NO, I am not in a hurry. Take as long as you want.” The night porter made no more assumptions after that, poor man.
Form filling completed, we took the lift to the third floor where we were met by a very bemused night nurse, who chided us to keep the noise down. I explained that I was here against my will. That my contractions had stopped and that I wanted to go home.
But the nurse was from the same school as my bossy brother.
“Well let’s see about that. In you go, put on your nightie and I will give you an examination. We will probably keep you in overnight anyway. The posse you brought with you can go home.”
I was very glad to bid them all farewell, as I pulled the curtain around the cubicle and furkled into my bag for the nightdress my mother had loaned me.
My heart sank. I pulled out what I knew was one of her infamous ‘remnant’ creations. My mother loved rummaging in remnant baskets in Hickey’s fabric shop. Once she found a piece she liked for half nothing, (and she liked lots of clashing colours and big designs) she bore it proudly home, like a cat who had unexpectedly caught a fabulous exotic bird in the garden. Then she dug out the old singer and without a pattern and, I’m convinced, often without even cutting, she would fashion (and I use the term lightly) a garment for herself. This nightie was one of her creations.
It was a simple design – two arm holes and an empire line which was outlined in that Ziggy Zaggy stuff which was de rigour in the 1970’s. Bear in mind however, that this was in 1987. I put my head in neck and tried to get my arms through the armholes and got completely stuck. Afraid that the nurse, or worse still the doctor, (this is before women doctors were really invented) would barge in at any moment I forced my arms through, causing a rip down both sides. Then I went to pull it down over my bump. I pulled and I pulled. It covered the bump but it didn’t really cover my bum. To this day – 30 years later – I don’t know why I didn’t just get one of my fabulous new nighties from the bag and abandon mother’s creation.
But I guess it did make it easy for the nurse to give me ‘an internal’ and establish that I wasn’t in labour yet. Apparently, I had experienced some ‘Braxton Hicks’ – a term I hadn’t heard of, because I decided not to any prenatal classes as I thought that all would be easier, if I didn’t really know what to expect. But, true to her word, the nurse put me to bed where I lay awake most of the night listening to the snoring of the woman in the next bed who had given birth that night. Another nugget I had gleaned from my friend, was that you will never get a sleep as good as the one you will have after giving birth. This woman was certainly proof positive of that.
At the first sign of activity on the ward the next morning, I requested permission to leave. I needed to get out before mother had phoned all and sundry, telling them I had ‘gone in’. This would mean facing the very public humiliation of a false alarm. However, I was under Doctors orders and he hadn’t surfaced yet to make the call on whether I qualified for early release.
In the end I got so agitated, they phoned him and the decision was made, that since I was there, he might as well induce me; save me the bother of going home and having to come back in a week or so – which was when my baby was actually due.
I had no idea what induction involved. But it began with an enema and having my waters broken, neither of which I would relish experiencing again. Then I was attached to a drip and told get walking.
It didn’t take long before I realised what contractions really felt like… and I was moved into the delivery room. Being partner-less and husband-less, I was on my own and as I was dealing with the epidural and bracing myself for what was ahead, the midwife announced that my mother had arrived. “Will I bring her in?” she asked.
“No. Do not. Ask her to go home. We will call her when there’s news.”
Now this might seem a bit heartless but I knew that if my lovely, slightly mad, mammy arrived into the delivery room I would give up all involvement in this birth and start to cry. Just like one of those young ones on ‘One Born Every Minute’.
In the end, my baby arrived at 3:30pm. This baby girl I had known forever. And the one that changed my life utterly. As she was placed back in my arms, after being checked and measured, and before the nurse had a chance to phone home for me, she said “oh and your mother left a huge bouquet of pink flowers.”
I don’t know how she knew, but she did.
As I finish writing this, it is coming up to midnight on the 27th of July. Tomorrow my baby girl turns 30. And she is two weeks (or so) away from giving birth herself in Perth in Western Australia.
Another baby to change the lives of all who already love her or him. Just like my girl did. Just like each of my girls did.
Happy Birthday Carla Sofia Scully. This night 30 years ago is etched forever on my memory in glorious detail and it still makes me laugh at the comedy of it all. And listen love, you have a decent nightie, don’t you?