Life

My mother got two weeks in hospital for the birth of each child – no wonder she had six

In those days a new mother got two weeks in the cottage hospital for each birth. My mother shared a room with just one other person and she looked out every day on to the people's park and the pair of swans necking on the lake and the children playing chase across the grass. No wonder she had six

Nowadays you are hardly through the door of the hospital when they’re getting you out again

MY MOTHER has fond memories of the kind doctor who helped bring me into the world. Not that I was much bother.

“The easiest birth,” she sighed. “About an hour and you arrived just like that and there was time for a cup of tea before bed.”

I always like the story – My Tommy Cooper moment – “Just like that!” Heck, I'll take the credit even if I didn't have much say on how the labour went.

When you're one of six, every little compliment helps. My breast swells like our daddy robin out the back, showing off his youngster from his perch on my Buddha statue's head.

Hey, get me!

But it's the kindness of the old doctor she remembers. How dedicated he was and how concerned. He was surely a gentle man.

How he called her in when her first child was close to being born, because time was moving on and he was going on holidays in July. He wanted to be sure she and the baby were both safe before he went.

And how, just after her son arrived, he hovered at the end of the bed and asked her would she ever consider breastfeeding the baby – back in those days, it was not the fashion and he thought he'd be in for an argument.

“But of course,” she said... hadn't she read and studied and knew what was best. And how delighted he was, over the moon, no arguments. And how the nurse laughed at how gobsmacked he was.

My father, on the other hand, was overjoyed with his new son, but had another worry on his mind.

Their old car was always falling apart – it was a bit of a Johnny Cash special – a one piece at a time sort of a jalopy.

My father hovered at the end of her hospital bed and sighed: “My big end has gone.”

Call it a medical emergency in auto land.

In those days, time seemed to move so much more slowly. A new mother got two weeks in the cottage hospital for each birth – the cook ran up a batch of home-baked scones and fresh shortbread delivered on silver service.

My mother shared a room in the turret with just one other person and she looked out every day on to the people's park and the pair of swans necking on the lake and the children playing chase across the grass.

No wonder she had six... I'd have gone for a dozen.

And I remember sitting in our old Volkswagen in the car park as my father nipped in for a visit when our youngest brother was born. Children were kept out too. My sister and I waved wildly and she waved back from her tower room, but she was no Rapunzel. Even if she'd had a mile-long plait, I'm not sure she'd have dropped it down for us to clamber up.

And we looked grand from a distance. My father got us out in a fashion. If she'd looked closely enough, she'd have seen we were wearing an eclectic mix of Aran jumpers and woolly tights – forget the skirts, it was whatever our dad could grab from the cupboards.

We probably had each other's pants on and, certainly, odd socks – I'm still guilty of a bit of that.

Our hair was scrunched up into tight buns so that, from a distance, it all looked sort of OK. Take down the buns and the knots and tangles looked like a bad day in macramé land.

Our dad was never one for hearing us cry – so rather than deal with tears, he threw away the brush that was catching in our tangled hair, stuck it all up with an elastic band and trusted my mother would sort it, after two weeks in heaven hospital. What joy was she coming home to.

Now, you are hardly through the door of the hospital when they're getting you out again. Forget the home baked delights of yesteryear. There's still the compassion and love. Of course there is. And I know those who have little time but still make enough to sit and hold someone's hand.

It's hard to stand guardian in the ebbing moments of a stranger's life. Harder still when you're young and just starting out.

My niece is just setting out along that path.

“Nip n tuck,” I tell her, “Get into a bit of that.”

Do I mean it? Well, I wouldn't say no to a little these days. But she rolls her eyes. I don't envy her the journey but if people remember her in the way my mum remembers the gentle doctor who brought me into the world more than 50 years ago, then she'll have done a good job.

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