Sunday, February 20, 2011

But what about the others? Part one.

On February 22nd 2011, my daughter will be twenty. She has grown into a confident, generous, smart and beautiful woman. I am sure she will reach her full potential and go on to lead a happy and meaningful life. She is everything I could have ever hoped for in a daughter, and I couldn't be more proud.

Amy was born in Kings College Hospital, London. We shared the room with six complete strangers. Three other mothers and their babies. The children had been born on the same day.
We were a mismatched group; different ethnic, cultural and socio economic backgrounds and the mothers ages ranged from 16 to 45. Me and Amy. Magda and Nicolas. Shelly and Francesca. Hyacinth and Hope. In normal circumstances our paths would never have crossed, but for a few intense days, we were thrown together and shared an eventful and intimate time.

It was warm inside and we felt cloistered. We could see the winter raging through the windows and smell the cold on the coats of visitors when they came in from outside. But we had no reason to care. If the pavements were slick with ice we did not have to walk along them and if the wind was bitingly cold, we did not know. We had our babies and our new routines. We were protected from the world. Or so we thought.

During our brief time together we shared more than just the experience of giving birth or being born.  Wars and conflicts did not stop just because the centers of our lives had shifted focus, and although newspapers and television held little interest when there was a baby to coo over, we could not avoid events unfolding in the world outside.

On February 22nd 1991, George Bush Sr. issued an ultimatum. Iraqi troops were to be withdrawn from Kuwait by midnight. If Iraq did not comply, he said,  the USA and its allies would step up military action. Iraq did not comply and so the ground assault in region began the very next day. As mothers we wondered what this would mean for the world our babies would grow up in. There was talk of escalating hostilities; attacks on our won shores. This was all speculation. We did not think it would affect us quite so soon.

On February 24th, when the babies were barely two days old, we were told to gather up our things and transfer to another room. Orderlies arrived to help. Nicolas and Hope had been delivered by c-section so Magda and Hyacinth were in great pain. The move seemed so unnecessary, as well as ill advised.

"What's going on?" we asked. It seemed ridiculous to expect new mothers - two of whom had had major surgery- to pack their suitcases and move.
"They want to paint these rooms." The orderlies told us. But the story didn't fit.

 We pressed for more information and soon learned that the upper floors of the hospital were being prepared for casualties of the ground war. It was happening all over the county. Seriously injured British troops would be flown from Iraq and travel, via airbases in Germany, to hospitals throughout the UK. We packed our things in silence.  It made the situation real.

At the same time, London, was still a target for the IRA. On February 18th they had exploded two bombs. The first, in Paddington Station, had caused damage but no casualties. The second, planted in Victoria Station, injured over fifty people and one of the victims died.

The day after we had settled into our new room, we were visited again. A doctor explained, in quiet but serious tones, that there was a bomb threat. The hospital was being evacuated. We were to put clothes and coats on over our pajamas and wrap our babies up in hats and as many blankets as we could manage. This time we were going outside.

Wheel chairs and staff arrived to ferry us downstairs. The lobby was full of  police wearing body armor and leading German Shepherds. Through the doors the car-park looked like the set for a disaster movie. It was full of people dragging drips, hopping on crutches, or nursing plastered limbs. The sky was leaden and grey. Flurries of snow swirled about in the frigid air.

 The eight occupants of our little room joined other mothers and new babies. We were moved to a cordoned off area that was also full of the very old and frail. We were to wait inside for as long as we could. The bitter cold was such a threat to the new borns and elderly that we were not to be taken outside until much closer to reported 'detonation time'. Shelly began to cry. We waited.

 Either there was no bomb or it was successfully defused. An announcement was made; we could all return to our rooms.  Magda and Hyacinth thanked the Lord and prayed. Shelly, who was just a child herself, shook uncontrollably and continued to weep. I made a mental note of events. I would write about all this one day.

The ground war ended on February 28th and there were no more IRA attacks in London until, (coincidentally), February 28th the following year. This time London Bridge Station was the target and twenty nine people were hurt. I remembered the bomb scare of Feb 25th 1991, but by then Amy was a happy and healthy one year old. She was already chatting up a storm. Our lives were full. There was no time for looking back.

But every year, when her birthday approaches, I think about them all.

Nicolas, Francesca and Hope will also turn twenty on Tuesday and I wonder how they are.

 I can only speculate based on what I saw during that long weekend two decades ago. I think one of them has probably done well. One is a question mark. The other, I fear may have become a victim of the circumstances into which she was born.

I am very glad that Amy has turned out so well. I m delighted that the bomb was non-existent or at least that it did not go off.

I just wish we could do something to stop this latest war....

(To be continued).


  1. What a story Rachael. The twin towers went down when I was pregnant with Harry. Babies focus the mind somewhat on these horrible situations, yet H was born 11 years after Amy and we are still having these emotions. What sort of life are we bringing these poor kids into? Thankfully, we seem to be weathering it OK. Well done to you, Dermot and of course, the kids!

  2. Wow. What a story to be remembered every year. The world has nor changed much I fear.