Saturday, March 5, 2011

But what about the others? Part 4 -Francesca

 If Magda and Nicholas' arrival on the ward had caused a stir,  it was nothing compared to the circus that accompanied Shelly and Francesca.

Francesca had been born on the same day as the others but with only a few minutes to go until midnight it was deemed too late to disturb us and they had spent the night in the delivery room.

Shelly, Francesca, and their entirely female entourage, arrived just after breakfast.  We were nicely settled in now, it was warm and we were protected from winter storm that had begun to rage outside.

We heard, and smelt,  Francesca's clan before they entered the room. They were proceeded by a ruckus of guttural shouting and the stink of stale tobacco smoke .

Shelly, sixteen if she was a day, was wheeled in like a queen by a woman who staggered on high heels. She was only in her thirties but she wore a large badge announcing "I'm a Nan,". Another woman, probably a sister or possibly an aunt, clattered through the doors with an armful of teddies and balloons. Her face was sour and she kept glancing at her watch. An older woman, great grandma perhaps (although she couldn't have been much more than fifty) carried the suitcase and a stack of coats. She moaned about the heat in the room. Looked at Hyacinth and muttered something about 'blacks'.

Once Shelly was settled into bed, they discussed the baby's name.
"'Ow do you spell Francesca any way?" asked the Sister/Aunty picking at the varnish on her nails.
"F.R.A.N.C.H.E.S.C.A" Shelly told her.
"There 'aint an 'aich in Francesca." Sister/Aunty scoffed.
"Course there is or, 'ow do you make the 'CH' sound?" Shelly snapped back.
"I dunno. But I  know their 'aint a fuckin' aich."

There was much debate, until 'Nan' pointed out that it didn't matter. They could spell their babies name however they fuckin' wanted to and no one could tell them that they fuckin' couldn't. The rest of us pretended not to listen, and no one chose to enlighten them on the actual spelling of this poor child's name.

Further proof of the general lack of intellect came when they made a telephone call. Shelly was talking to someone they all referred to as 'Bird'.

"She weighs 6 paands, and she's 54 inches long." Shelly shouted down the 'phone. Bird must have contradicted her because Shelly frowned and pouted into the receiver. "Well the nurse said she was 54 inches. " She continued to scowl as the other person spoke. "Well centimeters then. I don't fuckin' know."

As the morning wore on, the entourage drifted away. Shelly fussed over Francesca, like a little girl playing with dolls. But after half an hour or so, Francesca began to cry. Shelly looked desperate. "What should I do?" she hissed. I looked up. Hyacinth was sleeping and Magda just looked plain out of it. Shelly's plea for help had been addressed at me.

"Does she need feeding?" I asked. "Or changing?"

"I dunno." Shelly's eyes filled with tears. "What should I do?"

I went across to their side of the room. We talked about when Francesca had last been fed. Only a couple of hours ago, but it could be that. She wasn't sure when her daughter had last been changed. I suggested she looked.

For the entire stay Shelly asked for help every time Francesca cried. Nan and the other female relatives visited less frequently. I didn't see a dad or second set of grandparents at all. Shelly was not taking to motherhood well, and Francesca's dad, was of very little help. He didn't even put in an appearance until almost two days after the birth. When he finally did turn up he sat with his head bent over drooping hands staring at the floor.  He rarely spoke but neither did he listen to Shelly's dramatic rantings or respond to her outbursts and tears.

 He usually stayed for ten minutes. He hovered by the door as Shelly reeled off a list of things she needed him to bring. He looking shocked and unprepared. His eyes were empty and distant. He had not heart for the task at hand. In his mind he was already gone.

When I think of Francesca now, I fear the worse.  This may seem heartless and pessimistic but trends are set, history repeats itself and statistics speak for themselves.

And in addition to that, in 1991, when these four children were born, we were fighting a seemingly pointless and futile war. Twenty years later, things are eerily the same. The allies are still scrambling round in the middle east for reasons that seem more to do with oil than humanity. And it begs the serious question; Do people ever look at what has gone before and say 'we cannot let this happen time and time again,' or does no one ever really learn?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

But what about the others? Part 3 - Nicholas

Nicholas and Magda arrived on the ward sometime after ten. Lights had been dimmed and all visitors had left, but there was nothing quiet or subdued about our new room mates arrival. Nicholas was crying, Magda was crying and Magda's husband, Paul, was flapping like a mother hen with a brood of unruly chicks.

Every time Magda moved, she groaned and called to God for help. Nicholas was tightly wrapped in a hospital blanket but managed to buck around in his cot like a maggot on the end of a hook. Paul would not stop giving advice. Advice that, as a first time father, was based loosely on things he had picked up in books and things his mother might have said.

Nicholas was the only boy on the ward and if there was a ever a male who proved that it was NOT good to have a man about the house, Nicholas was it. Next to my own sweet and easy going Amy and Hyacinths' adorable Hope, he was a horror. After just a day on the ward he brought to mind the children's nursery rhyme, "What are little girls made of?"

Amy and Hope were indeed sugar and spice and all things nice. They fed efficiently, made no fuss when  bathed and changed, and gazed into the eyes of anyone who held them, pulling cute little faces and waving with their tiny fists.

Nicholas, on the other hand, was frogs and snails and puppy dogs tales in the form of projectile vomiting, exploding nappies and snot. He cried if held, cried when put down. He screamed when he was changed, and howled when he was bathed. We all tried to calm him, if only to give his mother something of a break.

The first time I held him Nicholas I was shocked. The boy was huge. He had entered the world already weighing 13lbs (5.8kg). I was used to holding Amy who had been born at a reasonable 7.12oz. Nicholas felt simply enormous.

We all remarked upon it.
 "I shood 'av known," Magda told us in her thick, southern mediteranean accent, "my 'usbands' farder, 'e weigh 20lbs."
"Wow" The rest of us murmured, appalled at the thought of having to give birth to such a child. "That must have been awful for his mother."
" She dye-ed". Magda told us, swiping a hand through the air for emphasis. "She never see baby. She dead on bed. She reeeeep apart -  and blood, blood, blood." Magda mimed a river, a flood, pouring from between her legs. We all nodded our heads to show we understood. None of us were surprised. And we were all glad we hadn't heard the story a couple of days before.

On the day of the bomb scare, Nicholas wailed the whole time.  Whilst we sat parked in the lobby, he opened his gummy mouth and bawled. New borns generally attract oos and ahhs, but Nicholas was grating on people's already fragile nerves. A few of the more able bodied elderly women who were sharing our small corner suggested things to do. "Fold him in half." "Rock him harder." "Lay him on his tummy." Magda put her head into her hands and sobbed. "I have c-section. I can not leeeft him. He so beeeg."

Nicholas had colic. Magda had mastitis. Both of them sobbed when it was time to try another feed. He needed changing at least once an hour making us wonder how it was possible for a baby to expel so much fluid when he took in so little. The greenish- black meconium soon giving way to yellow streams of diarrhea and he was almost permanently leaking a dribble of sour, milky spit-up from the corner of his cavernous mouth.

A midwife reluctantly suggested a bottle and things began to improve. Not least because Nicholas' father could now help out. As soon as Paul arrived on the ward, Magda would hand the squirming bundle over, close her eyes and go to sleep.

I saw Nicholas and Paul a couple of years later. I was visiting my doctor to confirm that I was pregnant again.

Paul and I knew each other immediately and the children, though physically unrecognizable, had not changed at all. Amy sat quietly, swinging her legs as she concentrated on a book. Nicholas shouted for attention and flung bricks across the room.

"He's a bit under the weather," Paul told me when I asked if everything was O.K.  As I watched Nicholas scale a sofa and jump onto a coffee table, I wondered what he looked like in full health.

"And Amy?" Paul asked. "She's O.K"
"We're here for me", I told him. "I'm pregnant again."
Paul was very sweet. He congratulated me and wished me well. But then he sighed. "No more for us," he said, "Magda say 'theeees fac-torree close!' " He sighed again. "He broke the mold did that one." We watched Nicholas empty a box of farm animals into a box of cars. "But he's lovely sometimes." Paul laughed ruefully. "Like when he is asleep."

I think Nicholas is probably doing well. He was at least lively and enquiring (for want of a better word) and he certainly knows how to assert himself. As long as Magda and Paul have been able to channel his energy, he is probably O.K.  I picture him running marathons or whacking a ball around a squash court. He would, I'm sure, be excellent at free running and parkour. I try not to picture him vandalizing his surroundings and generally causing chaos wherever he goes. But I'll never know for certain. Nicholas is the question mark.