It's ironic that I wrote about our older son, John's birthday last Monday and today we're waiting for news from our younger son, Angus who's wife, Amanda is having a baby by Cesarean section today. I've not heard from Angus yet and I'm not going to phone as they'll be very involved with the coming event.
Pondering on these things took me back to 41 years when we did things - like having babies - very differently. We lived in a little town called Greytown (it's still a little town, believe me!); Grant and I met at high school and we married a few years later. I moved there from my parents home 20kms away as his job was in Greytown.
John was born on 5 January 1974, mid-summer in South Africa. I was huge - I had gained 60 pounds in weight - and felt most uncomfortable. And although there were no scans in the seventies, I knew exactly when my baby was due: on 4th January.
I awoke at 4 am on that day with lower back pain. I didn't mention it. When we were pregnant, we didn't make a fuss. Women carried the baby and the man went out to earn the bacon. Having said that, I'd worked full-time until Christmas Eve,1973.
At the time, Grant's brother, Chilly was on holiday from Varsity and staying with us. At about 5pm, I was sitting on the rear steps of our house. On the lawn, Chilly had my poodle, Jethro in a firm grip between his knees. He was shaving the dog's curly coat with dog-grooming clippers. Sitting on the step above me, her slim legs neatly tucked to one side, my trusty house-lady, Mavis was crocheting a coat for Josie, my other poodle. This mutt was lying nearby - panting - in the shade of the house.
Grant arrived home from work and joined us. I told him I could feel twinges in my tummy; he reckoned perhaps I was imagining them. Mavis called Josie to her, and with the crochet hook in her hand, she pulled the almost-complete coat over the dog's head.
Just then Grant tossed a tennis ball onto the lawn; Josie, who was ball-crazy raced off across the lawn with Mavis still holding the yarn in her hand. Jethro, his body half-shaved, broke from Chilly's grip and he streaked ahead, yapping madly. When the men eventually caught Josie, there was a single thread of wool hanging below her lolling tongue.
At the moment I bent double and this time Grant frantically helped me upright and propelled me (none too gently!) to the car. He told Chilly to bring the suitcase and jump into the car with us. In the hospital foyer, we were met by Sister Frankel who greeted us cheerfully with: Happy New Year! Grant pointed his finger at her and said: Sister, my wife is having a baby. Glancing at my obviously expectant bulk, the sister placed her hands on her ample hips and said : Mr Hedges, you don't say!
She helped me down the long passage to a semi-private ward (the other bed was empty). She told the men to sit on the visitor's bench outside the ward and to stay out of the way. Once I'd undressed and she'd made me comfortable in bed, she said she was going to phone the doctor.
Grant peered around the door and said he would contact our parents from the call-box. Chilly would be just outside should I need anyone. (Poor lad, an 18 year-old uni- student - what could he do?) By now my pains were coming fast and furiously. I'd never been to pre-natal classes so I decided to grin and bear it.
Grant arrived back first, with his brother behind him. He said he'd phoned his parents who were visiting his grandparents in a city about 100kms from Greytown. My parents were much closer; in fact, he said, they were on their way!
Sister Frankel walked in with the doctor. With the men relegated to the passage again, he and the sister examined me - listening to my (or was it the baby's ) heart-beat. The doctor told me to breathe easy and relax. Easy for him, I thought, he's not the one having a baby! But I didn't say anything! He told me he'd doing his hospital rounds and would look in within the next hour to see how I was doing.
When he and Sister Frankel left the ward, I heard footsteps approaching and next minute I heard the sister saying: Happy New Year to the Marais. And the doctor's deeper greeting.
My parents had arrived!
Grant, smiling happily now (did I detect a sense of relief that his mother-in-law would be there to help him through this ordeal?) brought my mom, my dad AND my brother Phillip into the ward; Chilly pulling up in the rear. My mom greeted me tearfully, my dad gruffly patted my shoulder and my brother nodded from the bottom of the bed. This was a first in our family!
They all sat down on two benches on either side of the bed.
The pains continued to come in waves. I didn't cry or complain. It just wasn't done! I bore the pains, drifting in and out of sleep. Later my neighbor, who'd had a daughter a few months previously, told me that she had such bad labor pains she could never have slept through them. DOH!
The doctor came in again, checked our heartbeats and said he'd be going home. He told me he'd be sitting next to the telephone and he'd be reading. Now wasn't that reassuring? After a brief word with my parents - he was our family doctor - he left.
A few minutes later a young nurse entered the ward. She walked around to the left side of my hospital bed, where Grant and Chilly were sitting on a bench. It was Margie; we'd all been at school together and even under duress, I could see she fair bristled with importance. She had a cone-shaped device in her hand; she placed the wide end on my tummy and bent over me, turning so that her ear fitted into the narrow end. Of course in the days of shiny nylons and short skirts this was too tempting for a young student. Next minute Margie squealed and fell bodily onto me. She righted herself, turned around and scolded Chilly for his cheekiness but I think she enjoyed it all the same.
Later - much later that night, I opened my eyes. Everyone had left except for Grant who was holding my hand and my mum who was sitting on the bench near the window. She said that Chilly was sleeping in the back of our car, while my brother and dad were drinking coffee in the waiting room.
The rest of the night passed in a haze. Sometime around 4 am, the night sister came in. She asked my mom and Grant to wait outside. She pulled the curtains around the bed, the covers off me and did an examination. Shortly after this the doctor strode in, heard her report and said to her: Nothing for it: we have to do a Caesar. Prepare the patient for theater.
Grant appeared at my side and told me to look through the window. Wearily I pushed myself up onto my left elbow and looked. There was the most beautiful sunrise. He said Love, today our son will be born. (we didn't know it was a boy, but the men those days believed you produced a son first!) My mom came in quietly and asked in a choked voice if I had any requests. (obviously: what would happen to my baby if something happened to me!) I asked her for a peanut butter sandwich. This brought a sense of light relief for a moment or two! And no, I didn't get my sandwich!
I was wheeled into theater. For so early in the morning, everything looked bright and and the staffed moved around quietly but efficiently. The doctor was masked and turning my head, I watched as the nurse tied his gown at the back. His surgical gumboots were patterned with Micky Mouse, Goofy, Donal Duck and other cartoon characters. Grant's Aunt Gill, head theater sister, stood next to the gurney. As the anesthetic flowed into my veins, she squeezed my hand.
Forty years ago no-one made a fuss of pregnancy or childbirth .
It just wasn't done.
I went under.
I slept. Man, after 27 1/2 hours of labor which ended with abdominal surgery, I couldn't imagine ever feeling normal again.
Back in the ward, my mom and Grant were waiting for me. My dad, brother and Chilly arrived shortly afterwards. Although I'd not yet met our newborn son, they'd all seen him through the nursery window; they were all on a collective high. My parents were first-time grandparents; both my brother and Chilly were crowing that they knew where their handsome nephew had got his good looks!
Grant's ears were the only things which prevented his grin from spreading around his head. He said he 'd phoned his parents and that his grandmother (now Great-grandmother, Nanny) had already phoned every other member of the Hedges family in South Africa and told the rest of the city the good news!
Note: I can't remember who finished grooming my poodle, Jethro. I do remember that Mavis never, ever crocheted another coat for the dogs!
Now we await the arrival of the ninth member of the next generation: Liam Angus Hedges.
Happy Monday everyone!