Emma M.Murray spent her twenties with a rucksack on her back traveling extensively around the world. She returned to her native Donegal three years ago to raise her children. She has a Bachelor of Education (DCU), passion for Gaeilge and teaches the language. She dances well and sings badly.
By Emma M.Murray
‘I’m phoning the hospital, I know I’m early but I really think this could be it,” I mutter through clenched teeth. My husband is listening, but too busy fussing over our toddler to really hear me.
Gripping the phone, tight against my ear, an overworked, underpaid, narky midwife speaks
“Hmm Hmm. Now to be honest, its more about the quality of the pain than the quantity, call back in an hour, if ya like.” She flippantly hangs up.
Leaving me to take the reigns.
Pretty good quality here, damn it!
Three intense, crippling contractions later and the toddler has been shipped off to Granny’s, while my husband rallies like an uncontrollable dog, dodging potholes around Irish country roads. The first time in his life I don’t scold his driving. He’s listening now.
Our son was born in a proper maternity hospital in the city. One of those completely dedicated to newborn babies and mothers. One of those with peanut shaped birthing balls and baths in the corner, ya know if ya fancied that kinda thing!
We live in the sticks now…a maternity ward in an unpopular hospital is all we have.
Oh God, why did we move!
Pacing the corridor outside the Administration Room my body nearly buckles with pain. The waiting area is full.
I count five men sitting.
They are all very important, I’m sure.
Two holding their pregnant partners hands, cute!
The other two are anxiously staring at the large double doors, and their instructions to ‘Please Wait Here’.
The other is my husband. He knows better than to look at me right now.
The others are nervously watching me pace.
Up, down. My breathing ragged.
Where are the bloody midwives?
New arrivals. An Irish man, Brazilian girl.
Punching. Probably plays county!
She looks like a model. Tall, tanned. The kind of bump you see supermodels sporting in those glossy magazines. I’m acutely aware that I look nothing like her.
No gloss here, only sweat!
He looks like a GAA player, not handsome but not ugly, skinny jeans, big ankles. Wheeling a small trendy suitcase. The type pilots use when flying to exotic faraway locations. I bet they’re the kind of people who blog monthly about how magical pregnancy is.
The kind that say ‘We’re’ pregnant.
I’m not exotic either.
My husband stands to let her sit. How kind!
They chat. Friendly. She’s due to be induced later today.
Poor bitch, hasn’t a clue whats ahead of her.
Been there, done that, and trust me, no one wants that t-shirt!
From the corner of my eye I see my husband subtly point me out. Highly embarrassed I imagine.
Well the jokes on you pal, it wasn’t all my doing!
A midwife appears, takes one look at me ‘Oh? Have you been seen?’
‘No, but I’m…’
I have to stop, the pain pinning me to the spot. I try to focus. Regulate my breathing.
‘Husband?…’ she asks abruptly, scanning the sitting men, resembling lambs lined up for the slaughter.
What have they got to be worried about? I’m looking at them quite bemused.
My husband stands admittedly.
“Get her bags, we’re going straight to the delivery suite.” I like her.
‘I’m Frances,’ a swift introduction. Shit, unisex. I hope she knows I won’t be naming my baby Frances. Boy or girl!
Alarm bells blare like sirens through the corridor. Wailing. Red lights flashing. Nurses appear from every corner, immediately shutting all the doors. What’s happening?
‘Oh dear…,’ Frances says, a sort of apology, ‘we’ll just have to stand here a moment, try not to look.’
Nurses and doctors, running. Racing. Pushing a labouring woman as quick as they can. It doesn’t even look safe. The way they’re sprinting. Panicking.
She’s screaming. A high pitched, terrified scream.
The one I’ll remember years from now.
I’m suddenly very afraid.
Reading my worried mind Frances says ‘she’s going to surgery, I’m not sure why. She’s in good hands.’ She lies, her eyes dart from mine to the floor.
I clutch my stomach. My bulging belly, full of life.
Don’t panic. It won’t be like last time.
Those cold, lifesaving forceps, forever ingrained in my memory.
I close my eyes…Shake it off, you got this. Breath.
I’m pleasantly surprised by the delivery room. Bright and spacious.
Frances sits at a desk in the corner, her back to us. I sit on a large, strangely comfortable, inflatable ball.
Not a bed.
My husband sits across from me.
Now what? The calm before the storm?
Strange ears hearing intimate conversations.
‘Did you pack his pjamas’s?.. And his milk?’ I begin to nag. I know this by the roll of his eyes.
‘Yes, its all sorted.’
He really is a brilliant husband, father too. I don’t know why I give him a hard time. It could be the excruciating pain ripping through my entire body? Or maybe I am just a nag!
Frances pretends to write notes but I know she’s closely monitoring the situation.
I need to empty my bowel, again. The glamour of childbirth. The part you don’t hear about by the celebrity bloggers. The ones who jog out of the hospital with their newborn in a jogger pram. You know the type.
I open the door to a large en suite. The toilet is much further away from the door than I deem in anyway necessary. I stagger towards it, annoyed and glad.
The contraction that soars through me as I try to get off the toilet seat, is the most agonising yet.
Lost, wondering who invented the word agony? Probably a woman in this exact position.
Unable to do anything but cling to the cleverly placed handlebars for dear life. It pulses through my body powerfully from head to toe. Rendering me completely immovable.
Like everything in life, it passes.
The wave soon finds the shore. It won’t linger there too long.
I need to move now.
I can hear my husband, the savvy Dublin tradesman, and the midwife exchanging stories, outraged at house prices in the city.
‘Sure you’d be mad to be paying them prices! Madness! That’s why we moved. A mortgage and childcare fees would be enough to cripple anyone. 4 bed houses selling for €600,000. Ludicrous!’
‘Go way! That’s triple what ya’d pay around these parts, more even! Cowboys hi! A country full of cowboys!’
Secretly I plan both their murders as I’m struck by another piercing blow. Not there yet.
On my return they hush, smiling encouragingly.
Asking if I’m OK.
Oh yes, just dandy!
I smile back my most insincere smile. He understands.
Back on the ball. Concern in my husband’s deep dark eyes, the ones I fell in love with many moons ago.
‘Are you OK?’
The intensity and surge within me reprimands my response. Pain etched across my face, the mood has now changed. A heaviness exists between these walls.
Somewhere in the distance Frances offers me whatever pain relief I’d like.
No. I’m not going down that route again.
‘Gas and air?’ HE suggests, trying to be helpful.
Him… on the comfy leather backed chair!
Him …with his muscular build, all bodily functions still intact!
Him ..with his manhood, hiding guiltily beneath his perfectly fitting jeans!
I know he’s trying to be involved, but how can he be?
This moment is mine.
This body is mine.
He doesn’t feel my pain. But he sees it. Maybe that’s worse?
‘Please be honest, is this gas and air nonsense just a placebo?’
Don’t bullshit me Frances!
‘Look…some people find it useful.. but… I think …sometimes it can be good to grip onto something tightly. Something you won’t inflict pain on…ya know!’ she says, subtly nodding at my husband.
I take it.
The next one floors me. Fearing it will be like last time. I can’t go through that again. Doctors and midwives rushing around me. Talking about me, not to me, like I wasn’t even there. The student midwife who had to be removed from the room as she nearly fainted at the site. At the sight!
Wondering now if she opted for a career change after that long winter’s night? …Poor Fatima.
‘This baby is back to back Frances, I know it. My son was too….and…’
Locked up memories, seeping through. My tears roll, for the first time today.
I lie on the bed. Frances confirms what I already know.
The faint cry of a banshee, from somewhere not too far from here.
I’m scared now. Life and death, hang so closely in the balance.
‘Don’t worry pet, you can do this. I know you can’
I have to!
I won’t spend the next three months being inspected by doctors and given antibiotics to shut me up, to make me go away.
‘What can I do?’ pleading.
I do as I’m told, lying in the most unflattering of positions. Akin to a floppy limbed yogi.
‘This will open up your pelvis, give baby room to manoeuvre. Try lying like this for a while,’ she grins.
Maybe Frances is a hippy?
She’s gonna just love the Brazilian!
She returns to her fake note writing.
She’s only lifting the pen when a primal, prehistoric scream erupts from somewhere deep within me ‘THE BABY IS COMING!’.
The head is being born. I know it. I can feel it. A crashing crescendo looming.
‘No, no pet, I just checked. You’re only about 8cms. I can get you something for the pain if you like?’
Nonchalant. She didn’t even stand. Did she not hear me?
‘THE BABY IS COMING…NOW!!’
Now she’s on her feet!
‘Oh fuck!…I mean…eh …yes…OK… the baby is coming…I need another midwife…its protocol…I need Mary!’ she’s neither coming nor going.
‘There’s no time for Mary! I need to push!’
‘No, wait! Mary’s coming…please..just…’
‘I can’t..I have to push now!’
Suddenly Mary in her angelic blue scrubs miraculously bursts through the doors.
How did that happen! Appearing like Our Lady herself… except with a Polski accent and a much harder demeanour.
‘Oh thank God!’
I’m not sure who said that, probably everyone!
The hysteria subsides.
I can do this. I am doing this. My body knows what to do.
It won’t let me down this time.
No one else.
I bear down with all I’ve got. A moment of serenity. Half born to this world and half to the mysterious other.
‘I think one more push will do it. You’re doing a brilliant job.’
They’re all smiling. But not like me.
A rolling wave on the periphery. The last one. I rise to meet it. Enjoying the surge.The gift. Together on the wave, my baby is born.
A new life to this world. A life I created and birthed. A high like no other. Euphoric.
I pull her to me.
Because I couldn’t think of a more beautiful name for a mother to give a daughter.
I breath her in.
Tears in my husband’s eyes.
He kisses my head and whispers ‘you’re amazing.’
He kisses his daughter and whispers the same.
No one will ever truly know how I felt in that moment.
Super woman. Juno at the helm.
I push my daughter’s rolling crib along the corridors towards the maternity ward. Smiling eyes of strangers, peeping at the newest addition to this world. The poor Brazilian’s still sitting where we left her, waiting to be admitted. Shocked, they stand to congratulate us.
‘I wasn’t very friendly earlier, sorry!’ I confess, high, almost giggly.
‘You’re unreal!’ I think we all are.
Eyes pop as I pass neighbouring beds. Walking.
Bed by the window, the one opposite empty.
A nurse comes by to check on us.
Flimsy curtains keep no secrets.
She flicks through my file, glancing at me incredulously ‘you were only in the hospital an hour, Jesus! Good woman yerself, no messing about with you hi!”
‘Yea, I think that’s about right,’ still on my high, floating.
‘You’re the first natural birth we’ve had in here all week. You’re a very lucky lady.’
No mother truly sleeps after giving birth. Their body merely rests. In the depth of night a new member to the ward.
In the morning I recognise her. She won’t recognise me.
But she is sleeping, deeply.
No crib by her bed.
The doctor comes by. Gently stirs her from her death-like slumber. The nurse pulls that unforgiving plastic curtain. Voices are muffled,
‘The umbilical cord….rare…..surgery was our only option…neonatal…we won’t know for some time…he might….’
Sobs. Deep and guttural.
He. A boy. A son.
This surprises me most. How could they leave?
Curtain lying open. I hold my baby tight. Searching for my breast. Sucking hard, painful. I can cope.
How will she?
She stares straight at me.
Locked in this moment with her. Strangers connected.
I feign a smile.
Deer in headlights, but not afraid, only lost.
Commotion at the door. A family searching. Two girls and a boy. The boy, the youngest no more than three years old. Running without care to his mother. She cannot turn to hug him. She can barely move at all.
But she’s there. Isn’t she?
He clambers up, trying to grasp her. Embrace her. He needs her. His mother.
The older girls inquisitive. Yet sombre, meek. Staring at the empty space.
No questions, no talking.
The father approaches his wife’s bedside.
He tries not to…I can see that, he really tries.
Hold it together for the kids. Hold it together for her.
But he can’t. All his level headed thinking on the drive to the hospital lost, gone.
I pull my curtain. It’s too much.
My husband is due in soon.
I text him, ‘No balloons.’
A local parish are having their annual summer festival. The kind found in villages, all over the country. The one with a parade of tractors and quads, fourteen year old boys driving Massey Ferguson’s behind the local Garda car up the main street. Pretty girls smiling and waving from a moving lorry, throwing sweets to children as they drive by. Marching bands trying to show one another up with their latest take on an old ABBA song. Meeting friends, having a pint. Laughter in the air, the smell of a burger van with the word ‘gourmet’ in its title.
Even at three years old, strangers still stop to admire my daughter. Sun kissed, sallow complexion. Naturally pretty. The kind of white blond hair, people pay hairdressers thousands to replicate but can never get quite right. She’s stunning.
She’s also the most stubborn creature I’ve met in my thirty plus years on this planet...with the acception of the mirror.
Walks to the beat of her own drum. Proudly she bounces alongside me, in her washed out Spiderman t-shirt. The one she spotted in Dunnes last summer and screamed bloody murder until we were left with no option but to buy the damn t-shirt and make as quick an exit as humanly possible.
A miniature Medusa, gleefully holding her prize.
No amount of chocolate covered bribes would get her into one of her flowery summer dresses. The dresses the relatives keep buying for her, dying to see her in. Dressed up. Girly. Pigtails maybe.
I never remove the tags.
I know her.
I don’t need to worry.
She pulls my hand, jumping up and down with excitement as we walk towards the funfair. The travelling funfair, looking like it hasn’t been updated since the 1970’s. I shudder at the thought.
‘Can we go up there and swing so so high? Please Mama, pleeeease…’
Pointing towards the old style swing boats. Christ. Whole families packed in, pulling on a rope to make the carriage swing as high as possible. My husband smiles and she knows she’s won. Again.
Standing in the queue we watch the other families have their turn. Children shrieking with delight. Fathers swinging with all their might. Mothers holding little ones while keeping a watchful eye on others. That’s when I notice her. I’m not usually the type who remembers faces but there are a few in my life I’ll never forget. I pray she won’t recognise me. She won’t. We both look very different now, from what we did then.
I quickly scan around her, desperately searching. Please.
Her daughters, early teens now. The boy on her lap. Too big for sitting there but that’s his place now.
The girls egging their father on..faster Dad, higher, higher..they swing so high.
And fall so low.
My eyes are fixated on her. My husband notices, wonders what I’m looking at.
He doesn’t remember. How would he.
‘I’ll tell ya later…’
Our turn. We lock eyes.
A questioning squint.
Does she recognise me?
I try to smile, but my mouth won’t curve. A natural reaction it’s been programmed to do since birth yet it fails me now. She nods, leading her son by the hand, away.
Away from here. From normalcy.
‘Who was that at the funfair?’ he asks, while buckling our giggling little nutcase into her car seat. Ice cream streaked across her face. Eyes glinting while she sticks her fingers into the soft whippy cone, picking out each sprinkle individually.
It’ll never make it home.
Some never do.
Quietly I remind him, and speak the unspoken truth.
‘God really, I can’t believe you remembered what she looked like, I didn’t.’
I’ll never forget.
‘She looked grand though didn’t she?”
What can I say? Why upset him with loaded truths.
He couldn’t see the perfect sorrow. Impeccably tired. Laughing delicately with her children.
Feeling guilty, unnecessarily.
An elegant glass statue, balancing on a height, waiting to shatter.
‘‘Thank God she has other kids though, girls and a boy?.. Lucky in a way I suppose!”
He’s slowly pulling out of the car park. Careful with our precious cargo.
‘Yea’ I say, absentmindedly, for what good is it to upset someone with the harshness of reality.
A reality so distant from them.
We drive quietly home to our blissful existence. Unaware of the weight of others crosses.
Knowing, but never really knowing.
Praying we never will.
I look back at my daughter, ice cream now matted through her wispy locks.
The picture of health and happiness.
Keeping things mothers do, deep inside themselves.
Knowing much more than we ever truly tell.
that we’re forever,