I had to ask my husband to take a look between my legs, not sure if it might be the baby arriving, when, I woke up in the middle of the night, experiencing funny feelings happening in my tummy. I figured, if he had helped lots of mother sheep, even sticking his hand inside to grab the lamb’s legs and pull them out, when they got stuck, he would know what signs to look for.
Whatever, it was he saw, got him hurrying off to use Farmer Fred’s phone, to ring and alert the Maternity Home down in Otaki, we were coming in. After retrieving the little green Austin from the shed, he stowed my recently-ready and waiting suitcase, bursting at the seams with all the ‘required’ stuff on the ‘maternity list’, in the backseat. It had been such a big money stretch right up to the last week to cross off all the required stuff on that list!
Three nighties, two bed jackets, mum and baby singlets, nursing bras, pads for leaking milk, under-wears, dressing gown, slippers, sanitary napkins, toiletries, calico binder for wrapping up your stomach after giving birth, babies nighties, napkins, safety pins, woolen shawl and baby clothes to go home in, and to cover the possibility of both sexes a baby girls bonnet and boys helmet.
Waddling out into the night, clutching tightly onto the middle of my tummy with both hands, I was worried the baby might drop out on the ground in the dark. Put Putting, down the highway to the Maternity Home, the little old Austin was incapable of speeding, we came to a sudden halt, halfway there. Tonight of all nights! the motor had decided to start overheating again.
Appearing in the headlights beams, we could see great gushes of steam shooting out from under the bonnet. Stalled on the side of the road, waiting for it to cool down, I began feeling anxious, wondering if the baby would beat is to it. But after a refill from the half gallon flagon of water in the back, we were off again.
Arriving at the Maternity Home, sitting on a hill over-looking, Otaki, my husband got the suitcase and I rang the brass bell hanging outside the door. It was opened up by a nurse all dressed up in white, with a little cap on top. She took a quick look to survey the scene, and without any ‘how’s your father’ whipped the suitcase out of my husband’s hands, giving him a short shrift, back home, to await the outcome, via, Farmer Fred’s phone.
Left to face the unknown alone, with no inkling of what to expect, I nervously obeyed the nurse’s instructions to follow and plodded down a long dimly lit corridor, after her fast disappearing back. It reminded me of, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ following the white rabbit into the unknown, down a dark hole, in my kid’s book. Still holding on to my stomach to keep the baby in, the growing discomfort was telling me it wanted out, right now.
Arriving at a bathroom, the nurse ran a bath, and informed me this was going to be a long process. She said I was to take a bath to get ready for something called ‘prepping’, whatever that was. On her way out of the door, leaving me to it, she pointed out a small brass bell positioned on a stool beside the bath, before vanishing off into the bowels of the maternity home.
Sinking down into the warm water made my half submerged stomach go really crazy, it felt so tight and sore, I thought it was going to heave the baby right out, there and then. Panicked by this new development and frightened if the baby did manage to force its way out under-water it might drown, I gave the little bell a good shaking.
To my relief, the nurse answered my summons for help and appeared again, but, the relief was short-lived. In fact, I was immediately, shocked to hear her read me the riot act.
Hadn’t she told me already! were her first irritated words,
‘that first babies take hours to come out’ and mine was going to be no different! and then I was also told to,
‘stop being silly’ wasting her time, because she had other work to do, before abruptly leaving again.
Apprehensively, I sank back down in the water, completely, confused now, between, what her words were saying and what my body was doing. I hung on for a few brief minutes more, ignoring the overwhelming, pushing, from the baby, until it got to much to bear.
Feeling like a right dunce, in desperation, I was forced by the urgency of what was happening down below, to resort once more to tinkling the bell. Scared of getting her goat up again, I begged, would she please, mind checking. A quick look between my legs suddenly got her full attention.
The change in the tone of her voice told me it was all on. Her time theories were now in tatters. I was to get out of the water in a hurry and follow her. Dripping water, I tried a vain attempt at decency, by hugging, the too small, hospital gown, around my throbbing girth, while at the same time, walking crab-like with legs clasped together, to hold the baby back.
Our journey finished at a room containing a high narrow bed, where I was asked to perform the seemingly impossible feat, of hauling me and my huge stomach up on top of it. I backed up and rolled myself into place, just as the baby burst out into the world.
The whole event had taken less than a couple of hours from start to end. I’m guessing I must have got the ‘easy birth’ genes, because none of the ‘old wives’ horror filled, pain stories, I had heard about, came true. Doctor McHaffie, making his money easy that night, turned up in time to offer congratulations, and I never did find out what ‘prepping’ was all about.
We named our first son after his father, and when I got him from the nursery at the feeding time, I gave him a good going over to make sure he had the correct number of everything under his nightie. When I discovered he had a large brown splotch on his side, the nurse said, it was called a birthmark and harmless, not something to worry about.
Mothers were expected to remain for two long weeks of ‘confinement’, in the Maternity Home, recuperating from the birth and learning the basics of baby-care. The first few days, were spent getting the hang of breast feeding, bathing and changing our babies.
Each morning when the Doctor, whose word was law, did his check-up rounds, bored mothers, would be begging him for permission, to leave and return home.
At a few days old, the mothers of boy babies were asked if we wanted to have then circumcised. I had no idea about it, but the other mums reckoned it was good as it helped to keep their little things, clean, and also they would look the same as their fathers. Geoff told me we should agree as he had been done.
It was ten long days before Doctor McHaffie gave me the all clear. I was getting really sad at being away from my hysband for so long. The sight of the little green Austin climbing up the hilly, Maternity Home, driveway, to ferry us home got me all excited and happy. Fortunately, for us young. teenaged new parents, our little boy arrived in the world knowing how to do all the right things.
In the first few months, his needs filled my days to over-flowing, and my afternoon reading changed to studying my free, Johnson’s, baby-care booklet, given out by the maternity home. Whenever, I was stumped, and needed pointing in the right direction, that book, and the notes written in his blue, baby record book, by the Plunket nurse, charting his weekly progress, managed to cover the essentials.
The Plunket nurse’s arrival each week, was my main support as a mum learning on the job. Every time she dangled his little naked body, inside a folded napkin, up into the air to weigh him, I held my breath, hoping he had grown okay.
When she recommended sleeps outside, in his cane pram, I began putting him out in a shady spot to get fresh air on the fine days. One morning, I forgot about the sun coming around and got a big fright to see his little face had turned all red on one side.