Isabel helped to bring you into the world Theo. She was my midwife. When she wasn’t delivering babies, she’d be delivering lambs or calves on her own farm. She was a large, strong, Yorkshire woman, down to earth and practical. I reckoned that if she could pull a calf out, she wouldn’t have a problem with us.
On New Years Eve afternoon it started to snow. I was in the girls bedroom changing their bed sheets when I looked out the window and noticed large goose down snowflakes starting to fall. Your dad and I had been invited to a party that evening but the snow didn’t let up. By early evening it had become a blizzard and strong winds felled the electricity lines. We lit candles and cooked soup on the wood stove.
January 1996 seemed like a very long month to me. Your dad struggled to get to work because of the snow and he was away in London quite a bit. When at last the snow melted it then turned bitterly cold again and soon the yard became a sheet of ice. I was frightened about slipping and falling over especially now that you were becoming a noticeable bump. The school in the village was open but the roads were closed up where we lived. It didn’t stop your determined eldest sister walking the three and a half miles down the hill and going to classes as normal. She even stopped at the shops on the way home and bought us all some treats. Your other 3 sisters stayed at home, they were too little they might have got lost in a snowdrift!
Something wonderful appeared in the skies over that winter Theo. It was a comet called Hale-Bopp. At first it just looked like a large star but then it slowly developed a tail that blazed out behind it. We were lucky living where we did. There wasn’t a street lamp for miles around so the sky was as black as Indian ink. The comet was easy to spot on cloudless evenings. Sometimes you’d wake me in the night with your strong kicks or when you rolled over inside my belly. I’d creep out of bed so as not to disturb your father and go downstairs; put a coat on over my nightdress and go out into the yard. There I would stand, gazing up at this extraordinary sight until I could bear the cold no longer.
By the end of February the geese and chickens had started to lay again. The geese laid their eggs in the stupidest places. Only one out of the 8 geese managed to hatch her eggs and only 4 of the goslings survived. You were terrified of the geese when you were a toddler. They used to chase you around the yard, hissing and spitting at you.
At the end of March the sheep and goats were just a couple of weeks away from lambing and kidding. While I was still able to do the other farm work, Isabel had given me strict instructions to keep away from sheep and goats once they started to give birth. There is a bug that pregnant women can catch if they come into contact with the afterbirth or blood of a newly birthed sheep or goat. This bug causes abortion in women. I didn’t want to risk losing you Theo so just for the weeks of lambing I hired some help to take care of the ewes. Leonora took over the goats. I taught her how to milk them. She was wonderful. Every morning before school, she’d go down into the goat shed with the milking pail and churn and I’d hear her singing as she settled down to milk the 4 nannies. There was a special tune that she used to hum, I can’t remember it now but it was her ‘milking’ song. She’d milk them again in the evening after she’d finished her homework and let me know how things were progressing with the ladies. Your sister was a great help. There aren’t many 11 year olds who can do that.
May finally arrived. Because the winter had been so long, spring was late in coming. The leaves on the trees were only just beginning to open and there was still a nip in the air. You were supposed to have put in an appearance on May 5th, your great-aunts birthday but following in the tradition of your sisters you also decided to be late.
I had cleaned and scrubbed the house from top to bottom, been out to buy nappies and had washed and aired all the baby clothes that had been stored away for the past 5 years. Georgia had just started primary school a few weeks before your arrival. She now smelt of school and classrooms when she came home and, as well as bringing back her new reading book, she also brought us a bout of nits. She liked being at school though and looked very sweet in her uniform. I wasn’t sure what Georgia would make of you she’d been the baby for so long.
Around 4am on the morning of May 15th, I woke with a bad pain. The house was still sleeping but dawn was breaking outside. I went downstairs ran a bath and washed my hair. I wasn’t sure if you were teasing me Theo or whether this was actually it. For about a week my early labour had been stop start, stop start. You were very laid back but I was becoming increasingly impatient.
By 6am I knew for sure that you were on your way. I woke up your dad and then went to make the packed lunches and get breakfast for your sisters. There was a lot of excitement in the house that morning and your sisters made daddy promise to ring the school the minute that you were born. They didn’t know that you were going to be a boy. I’d kept it a surprise from everybody apart from your dad of course.
I watched the girls run down the farm track, heard their voices as they scrambled through the short cut in the wood, over the beck, and then up the other side to the road. Mrs Murgatroyd was waiting for them in the school taxi.
Isabel was called ‘I’ll be over soon enough love. Just going to make me’ self a cooked break-fast’.
I had to laugh, Isabel had a hearty appetite as most Yorkshire folk do. No matter that my contractions were becoming stronger and were now 10 minutes apart. I put my boots on and went for a walk. The chickens and geese reminded me that it was their breakfast time. I threw them some corn and went up to the fields to check the cows. Every so often I’d have to hold on tight to a fence or a gate try to remember my breathing, try to relax through the wave of pain that was now gripping me harder and for longer as the minutes passed. I rested myself against the 5 bar gate and watched the cows lying down chewing the cud in the early morning dew and thought of Ted Keighley. I had a talk to him and a little cry. ‘It’s the circle of life Ted’ ‘Yes’ he answered me ‘Now go and have your baby, the midwife has arrived’.
And so she had. Thump, rattle, thump, bang, bumpedy bump. I could hear Isabel’s beat up Citreon making itself down the track. She pulled into the yard and I went to greet her. ‘Bloody ‘ell Lottie, that’s 2 exhausts you now owe me and probably a couple of new tyres!’
She pulled her bag out from the back of the car and a large canister of entonox. ‘I’ve bought 2 just in case’ she said and winked at me.
The kettle was put on, but not for the reasons that they always do it in the movies. This was purely to slake Isabel’s and her assistant Ann, thirsts. By the time the last mug had been drained, and the contents of the biscuit tin demolished, Isabel deemed it time for us to make for the bedroom.
You were born in an old cast iron Victorian bed. It looked like something out of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Your dear, sweet Granny bought it for me years ago in a junk shop. The base springs were so old that the mattress used to have a permanent dip in the middle. Isabel sorted out the bed sheets and I paced around the room while your dad did what most dads do at these times which is to read the paper or a book. This stage is quite boring Theo and I don’t blame him in the least.
It wasn’t long before I took advantage of the gas and air. A few deep mouthfuls of it and I was feeling as high as a kite. I’d almost forgotten that I was meant to be giving birth until Isabel gently reminded me that it was getting to the stage where I needed to start pushing. When I say pushing, I really do mean pushing. This is why it’s called labour. It’s hard work. Through the numbness of the entonox I listened to the sheep calling to their lambs in the fields outside the bedroom window. I heard the curlews call up on the moor on the other side, and I could hear your dad and the midwives talking but I was lost in my own world giving birth to you.
‘Now then, put some back into it lass, we don’t want that miserable doctor coming up here and saying “I told you so”. A bit more energy love, that’s it, just a few more of them pushes and it’ll be over’. I dug my nails hard into your dad’s hands but he never faltered, he never let go of my hands. ‘Here we go, here we go’ I heard Isabel saying whilst she instructed the other midwife to make sure that all clocks and watches were set on the right time.
And finally, at exactly five minutes past midday you were born. For the last few moments before you made your grand entrance into the world I had closed my eyes, suddenly frightened. I’m not sure why. I came to with a shriek from Isabel. ‘Well, would you believe it! Bloody ‘heck, It’s a boy! It’s a boy Lottie! Open your eyes!’
In all of your life to date Theo, you will never have seen such joy as that of your sisters faces that afternoon when they raced back down the track, across the beck, through the woods and up to the bedroom. You will possibly also not have had 4 girls all at once asking if they can see your willy! Well I sincerely hope not. Love Mummy XXX
HAPPY BIRTHDAY THEO!