Monday, February 23, 2015

Another birthday, more memories ...

Another week, another rush of birthday memories. My second son was born on a bleak February day 37 years ago, exactly 4 years and one week after his brother. Writing that, it seems absurd that it was only four years, for in that time my life had changed so completely. For one thing, it seemed as if I had completed the transition from my Glasgow childhood - including university, work and marriage - to the adult life I've lived ever since. Not only that: I'd moved from the odd transience of our initial 18 months after moving to Dunoon with our 5 week old first child, 18 months when the fact that we were living in a council house used by the education department held out the promise of a possible return to the city - I'd moved from that to the house I still live in, overlooking the Firth, as solid a house as I'd lived in as a child. I'd made new friends, at least one of whom had already moved away to another life; I'd joined the church choir, become a vestry member. It was as if no-one had actually realised that I was a novice mum, a novice church member, a novice adult. From this perspective, 37 years on, I feel that four years are but a blink, but then they were a life-changing lifetime.

Having a baby in Dunoon - and are babies still born here, I wonder? - was very different from my
Glasgow experience. No due-date induction here; this was a GP maternity unit and you waited "until baby is ready". In my case, that meant waiting almost a fortnight past the due date that I at least had calculated with some accuracy: a fortnight of dragging my poor mother for walks up the Bishop's Glen in the hopes of getting something started, of complaining of the heat in our draughty sitting room of an evening when others were huddling round the fire. When I eventually reached the stage of thinking something was happening, it was the middle of the night; I phoned the hospital and was told to go back to sleep and come in after breakfast. Talk about anti-climax.

The morning was grey; there was light snow falling. I waddled carefully up the path to the car, waving goodbye to #1 son and grandma. I was admitted, the only patient on the maternity ward. And then it all stopped again. Another woman came in, I remember, clearly pregnant but convinced she just had a stomach upset. By teatime, she had a baby - she'd mixed up her dates. I was still unmoved. My GP arrived, told me he'd leave it to his colleague the next day if nothing happened before then. Nothing did. And so, two weeks later than I'd anticipated, I was induced after all.

But it was still very different. I was brought my lunch, and ate it between contractions. "You'll need all your strength", the nurse said. My husband arrived, suffering from flu and looking worse than I felt. Four hours later, #2 son was born, delivered by one of my lovely GPs in a pink shirt and a plastic apron. "You've got another great big boy here, Mrs McIntosh," he told me. We were left - husband, baby and I - in the delivery room, to get acquainted. We wondered at the red eyes of this large baby - the effort of birth had affected us both. He looked solemnly at us. Later, over a cup of tea, he was returned to me, clean and sleeping. "He's got all his bits," I was reassured. There was no-one else in the small ward - the other mother was next door.

In that half hour or so, while the nurses went for their tea (I presume) and the early evening darkened outside, I knew I was happy. This doesn't often happen - frequently we look back and recognise happiness after it's over. But I was suffused with a happiness that I knew and owned, and I've never forgotten it.

One sad memory from the week that followed: I could never bear saying goodbye to 4 year old #1 son at the end of afternoon visiting. He used to cry, and when he'd left, I cried too, in that bleak time in hospitals between visiting and teatime - and see how that is the same time when I was so happy on this date? And so began the juggling that is the lot of anyone with more than one child ...

So, #2 son, if you read this from wherever in the world your extraordinary job takes you, this shows once more how much more memorable your children's birthdays are than your own. Of course, you and your brother already know this - and you in your turn will still be remembering, God willing, in 2055.

How, I wonder, will you choose to record the memories then?

Monday, February 16, 2015

I remember it well ...

 I've been thinking about birthdays today - not least because it is the birthday of my firstborn. Now he's a very adult person and has been around for longer than the clarity of my memory would lead you to think, and that's the point, really, of this post. All through Saturday, I was remembering that Valentine's day over 40 years ago, when I was leaving to go to the maternity hospital and suddenly my husband turned up, having been sent home from work because the school boiler was burst. No maternity leave, just chance making the mid-term weekend slightly longer. And then I could go on to remember the very strange day indeed when I was subjected to then customary rigours of being induced on my due date, and faces came and went, and I lost interest in how my life was going to be changed for ever and concentrated on the more pressing (as you might say) matter in hand.

The birthday is actually today, because even with induction and much yelling from two midwives, the business of labour took so long. But it is the clarity of the memories that lead me to the conclusion that actually one's birthday is of far greater importance to one's mother than to oneself.  I think that unless one is a small child excited about presents and parties the whole business of remembering the actual day is one in which only a parent can fully participate. I remember with some angst my lack of
preparation for the birth - my refusal to go out and buy baby garments, for some reason connected with superstition and not counting chickens. My parents, I remember, turned up one afternoon at my flat in Hyndland bearing a Mothercare bag and insisted I stash it somewhere sensible ...

We, of course, had complicated matters by deciding to move to Dunoon. Mr B was already working
there, and the early mornings were fraught with getting up in the dark and wondering if the ferries would be running. There were nights when the boats were off and he couldn't get home. There was the strangely transient feel to my existence at the very time when I suppose I should have been building a nest. And I can remember it all.

I suspect we're all the same, we mothers. My mother - above, holding a rather small me - used to tell me how, high on whatever pain relief they gave you in these days, she hallucinated that there were men dancing on the roofs of the houses on the other side of Great Western Road from Redlands. She also told me they offered her tripe for her tea. (She declined.) And she always made sure she gave me something great for my birthday - many of the most esoteric books on my shelves came through her.

The other baby photo is of the one whose birthday falls today. I won't embarrass him by giving him a name. But I wanted to record the moment I realised that no landmark birthday of my own has ever seemed as unforgettable as his - or his brother's.

But that's next week ...