Talking of the twins…
Yes. We being the royal we, as in ‘im indoors’ and me. I asked him to fetch me a drink of my (non-alcoholic) wine from the fridge as he ‘owed me one’ for the day.
“Oh yeah?” he says.
“Yeah,” I replied, “for not being there when they were born.”
They – Victoria and Leon James – were the subject of our conversation because it was their BIRTHDAY when we were having our little chat.
I am not going to tell you that they turned 39 yesterday because that would be quite rude of me, but on the other hand it will save you the trouble of trying to recall what year it was when they had their 3rd birthday party in Zambia. It would after all be quite a schlep for you to have to go trolling through Into Africa with 3 kids, 13 crates and a husband to find out.
I’m sure I mentioned in said book that when they arrived they came as a bit of a surprise. But I didn’t tell you about the palaver that went on in order for them to arrive actually in the hospital. So if you have five minutes to spare (or ten, depending on how fast you read) and fancy being bored with enlightened on the issue – I promise, no gory details – then read on.
Back in the ‘70s Wednesday was my mum and dad’s night off from their pub. Occasionally, when Ziggy was working away from home, I would go out with them to one or few of the other local hostelries which they enjoyed. On this particular evening, the 22nd March 1978, we went to a pub called The Waterloo not far from where I lived.
As we sat chatting in the bar, mostly about what 17-month-old Brad had been misbehaving at that day, I made an observation.
“You know Brad was five weeks early, hey?” I asked.
“Well tomorrow it will be exactly five weeks until I am due to give birth to this baby.” I stated.
“Oh!” “Is it really?”
“It occurred to me,” I went on, “that with Ziggy working all week in Southend which is several hours drive away, if anything like that should happen this time around, I might need some help getting to the hospital. Perhaps we should, you know, make a plan.”
“Hmm, yes” said Nancy, my mother.
In the event that this one fights its way out as quickly as Brad did (16 hours start to finish, including the doctor in charge trying to stop him coming*) then we couldn’t hang around waiting for Ziggy to take me to the hospital. *NO, he didn’t try to push him back inside! He tried to stop his emergence with drugs – which clearly didn’t work.
A discussion duly took place between Nancy, Mev (my dad) and myself with ‘the plan’ being made.
We enjoyed the rest of our evening and I was duly dropped off at home. Relieving the babysitter – our next door neighbour – I briefly explained our plan to her, as she would likely have to be party to the exercise. She agreed to help whenever needed.
Fortunately Brad was not an early riser but the next morning I was awoken suddenly at 7 o’clock, with a very familiar damp feeling under my backside. Yep, my waters had broken.
My first call was to Ziggy, or his digs to be precise as this was light years before cell phones existed. He came to the phone, saying he was in the middle of eating a hearty breakfast. I told him the good news.
“You’re kidding me. It’s not due for weeks yet.”
“Neither was Brad. And it is exactly five weeks early, to the day. Just like Brad!”
“Oh Shit!”, which was the sort of response I had expected.
“Okay, so now what?” He asked.
“Don’t you worry about it. We actually made a plan last night and everything is under control. Nancy will take me to the hospital and you just get there as soon as you can. It would be nice if you could be there for the birth this time.”
I had to have that one dig, as he’d missed being at Brad’s arrival because he had been in the hospital car park eating fish and chips whilst I was giving birth!
As this conversation was taking place only minutes after my damp discovery I told him to finish his breakfast first, which he did. He then packed his bag, paid his accommodation bill then nipped along to the site he was working on to explain that he wouldn’t be working that day. This was the Thursday before Easter so he was due to drive home that night anyway, for the long weekend.
Next I phoned my mum. I got the same response, more or less.
“Are you being serious?” she asked, “not doing a dummy-run ‘just in case’?”
I assured her I was deadly serious but that she shouldn’t panic.
“I was in the middle of preparing the sandwiches for the pub, have I got time to finish them? Have you actually gone into labour yet?”
“No, it’s okay, only a few twinges to let me know this is the real thing and that I didn’t just pee myself in the bed.” I assured her. “You have plenty of time to finish making your sandwiches.”
By this time Brad was awake and demanding my attention so we went down to the kitchen for breakfast. Then I finished packing the small case I’d put aside for taking to the hospital. I had made sure this was ready well in advance.
I didn’t want a repeat of the performance I’d had with Brad. On that day, a Saturday, once we realised what was happening and that Brad was arriving much sooner than we’d expected, it dawned on me that I had nothing prepared. I mean, I didn’t even own a night-dress. So Ziggy dropped me at my folks’ pub while he went shopping in town to buy me a couple of nighties, as well as some other bits and pieces. By the time he returned to the pub to take me through to the hospital, the customers were getting very nervous about my presence, as I was starting to get contractions. But that’s another story.
Next I went to Betty next door and asked her if she could look after Brad for us while my mum drove me to the hospital. No problem, just call me when you’re ready to leave, she’d said. I made sure Brad was organised with toys to keep him occupied and I was folding the terry-towelling nappies which had just finished drying in the tumble dryer when my mum arrived.
“What on earth are you doing? You shouldn’t be working now.” She was such a fusspot. “Are you getting any contractions yet?”
“Oh about every twenty minutes or so,” I answered calmly.
“WHAT? Let’s go!”
Brad was more than happy to stay with Betty, who had four kids of her own albeit older, and my mum promised to come back to look after Brad as soon as she’d seen me comfortably (??) settled at the hospital.
I think now is the time I should just explain a little about my home town. Burton upon Trent sits, as you might imagine, on the River Trent. The main body of the town lies on west side of the river and there are a couple of fairly substantial suburbs on the eastern side. We lived in one of those. My parents’ pub sat in Burton ‘proper’ on the other side of the river near the Town Hall and the railway station. The hospital was also on the west side of the river, but further away from us than my folks’ pub.
So within fifteen minutes of her arrival, Nancy and I were on our way to the Andressey Hospital, as it was called then. As she drove she mentioned that the traffic was ‘getting a bit hectic’ at the bridge when she came over it.
In 1978 there was only one bridge over the River Trent at Burton, so as you might imagine it could get quite busy. This was especially so if travelling in a westerly direction, because there were four busy roads all converging onto this one bridge. It was even more hectic on the days when the very popular outdoor market was held twice a week, which was on Saturdays and Thursdays.
Now if you remember, I mentioned earlier that this was the Thursday before Easter, so as well as the lure of the market, every man, woman and child, with their dog, was making their way into Burton as all the shops would be closed on Good Friday, and they had to stock up for the long weekend.
We drove down the steep Bearwood Hill Road, which filtered into Newton Road before reaching the traffic lights controlling this wonderful junction.
Alas we came to a standstill partway down the hill behind about eight cars which were interlaced with two double-decker buses. That in itself was a bad sign as buses in and out of our suburb normally only came one at a time. And all those vehicles in front of us had to fight with the traffic on Newton Road before they could even reach the traffic lights.
We slowly made progress with each change of the lights and had only three cars waiting in front of us when my mum asked me,
“Are you alright, our Ann? You seem to be doing some huffing and puffing. How often are you getting the contractions?”
“About every ten minutes,” I grimaced.
I thought my mother was going to have a seizure herself. She started ranting that she was going to call for a police escort, though quite how she would do this was beyond me. Never a policeman in sight when you need one!
“Then I’m going to toot my hooter,” she said. I managed to stop her just in time.
“No-one will know why you’re doing that mum. And if they did, they can hardly move out of the way, where would they move to, it’s choc-a-bloc on that bridge?” She conceded my point.
But I had to stop talking to put a bit more effort into the breathing exercises I’d been taught in antenatal classes a couple of years ago. It was supposed to relieve the pain. Bullshit!
As I sat and breathed with varying degrees of severity my mum eventually got us across the Trent Bridge, then she let it rip. It was as if she were daring a police car to pull her over for speeding so she could get an escort, a move I was now becoming in favour of. But at the pace we were going, I was more concerned that we might finish up in A&E instead of the maternity unit!
She abandoned the car near the front of the Andressey building then walked with me until we met a nurse, to whom we explained that things were pretty imminent. As she lead me through to the check-in desk Nancy went and put the car in the designated car park before it got towed away. Nancy joined me as the woman behind the desk was finishing taking my details. I had told her that I was five weeks early but she didn’t seem bothered about that and said,
“Right, if you’d just like to get your towel and toiletries and take a bath…”.
“Oh, there won’t be time for a bath!” Nancy and I piped up in unison.
Not unless I’m down for a water-birth, I muttered under my breath.
With a look which said she hadn’t believed a word of anything I’d said, the battle-axe handed me over to a nurse who had arrived nearby.
“Right, let’s find you a bed,” she said.
I knew the general procedure from my previous visit. There was a long ward full of beds containing females in various stages of agony. The rule of thumb was that the sooner you were likely to pop, the closer your bed was to the exit, which lead to the delivery rooms. This staff nurse obviously had more sympathy for my plight than the dragon woman, as she put me in a bed second from the door. My status was also supported by the fact that I was having my third contraction in the space of ten minutes.
Once attired in the stunning hospital gown and settled in the bed, I was having a really bad spasm when Nancy suddenly said,
“Oh, I’m so sorry Ann, but I just can’t stay here and watch you in such agony. I’m going to have to go to Brad,” and with that she was gone.
The staff nurse conducted a physical examination and was surprised when I told her I was five weeks early.
“You can’t be,” she said, “you’re too big.”
I assured her I knew exactly when the baby was conceived and that I was five weeks early.
With eyes rather wide she continued, “Well if you are, you’re having a very big baby!”
Now, that I did NOT want to hear. When Brad was born he weighed in at a miniscule 4lb 14oz (2.2Kg) so compared to most women, I’d had a relatively easy time of giving birth. But it certainly hadn’t been without pain, so I dreaded to think what it would be like expelling a ‘very big baby’.
But I didn’t have much time to dwell on that because ten minutes later I went into second stage labour. That surprised them a bit.
It surprised me too! Despite having gone through it all before, I had forgotten exactly how strong the involuntary urge to ‘push’ the foreign body out became at this point. And one must not do that, until told to so by the attending doctor, or in my case, midwife. So they teach you (at antenatal classes) how to breath properly to contain that urge.
For those of you who haven’t done it – men mostly, I reckon – you might have noticed that there is more to this child-bearing business than meets the eye.
After some to-ings and fro-ings the staff nurse, aided by another nurse, eventually wheeled my bed out of the ward, down the corridor and into a delivery room.
As they got me where they wanted me and readied all their gear, I panted and groaned my way through another agonising contraction. The next minute the midwife smiled at me and said,
“Okay Ann, you can push whenever you’re ready.”
Nothing happened. I had no more urge to push a baby out from between my trembling legs than jump naked off a fifty storey building. So we all just waited.
Then suddenly it came again. Fed up with having to hold it back previously, I pushed with all my might. I’m not sure how many pushes I made, I wasn’t too fussed about counting at the time, but eventually at 12:45pm out it came.
“Well, you’ve got a little girl… she counted all the fingers and toes … and she’s just fine,” said the staff nurse.
They wrapped Victoria in a foil blanket and after briefly showing her to me, put her straight into an incubator for premature babies.
“But we thought you’d have a bigger baby than this!” and promptly stuck her hand into the cavern very recently vacated by my new daughter and said, “Oh, there’s another one in there!!”
Well that threw the buggers into a bit of a tizz, I can tell you. They’d only catered for one.
“Just wait while we go and get another incubator, Ann.”
“Don’t worry, I’m going nowhere!” I replied.
So they faffed around, sorting out all the extra bits and pieces they needed, while I gazed and whistled at the ceiling. They really should put some nice pictures up there for people lying here, I thought.
Leon James was born exactly five minutes after Victoria. One push and he was out. He could have been born much sooner if they’d been properly prepared!
He too was immediately cocooned in tin foil and shown to me before being placed in his own box.
The twins then had to be rushed by Ambulance to the Special Care Baby Unit which was housed on the other side of town in Burton’s General Hospital. As they were wheeled away the midwife looked at me.
“You don’t seem too surprised by finding you’ve had twins, Ann,” she said
“That’s because I’m not. I told my doctor over a month ago that I thought I was having twins, because I could feel them moving in different places. But he wouldn’t believe me!”
Way back then, unless there were signs of problems, the average mother-to-be only got to see the gynaecologist four weeks before she was due to give birth. I hadn’t made it that far so hadn’t had a scan.
“I can’t wait to see the doc’s face when I tell him!” I said.
His wasn’t the only face I couldn’t wait to see. Ziggy was going to be in for a bit of a surprise too. Shit, everybody was!
Alas, still needing the recovery facilities afforded by the maternity unit, I had to remain at the Andressey. I was neatly draped and sitting up in bed when Ziggy arrived just after one o’clock. He stood by the bed.
“So how are you doing? How long do they think it’ll be before you have it?” [One does not deflate back to normal size immediately after childbirth. I still looked very pregnant.]
“What do you mean, how long? It’s already happened. You missed it. Again.”
“No! I came as fast as I could. Broke every speed limit on the way here.”
“Yes, I’m sure you did. But it all happened pretty damn quick.”
“So what have we got? TELL ME!”
“At 12:45 Victoria was born,” I told him with a big smile.
He was so happy, laughing and dancing about like a maniac beside my bed.
“And at 12:50 Leon James was born!” I continued.
“What? What did you say? Did you say we have a boy as well? Twins? TWINS????”
His face was an absolute picture.
After he got over the shock we sat and chatted about what had gone on. Then he was anxious to leave. He said he couldn’t wait to tell my mum. Before he left he established that he would be able to see the twins in the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU).
He planned to go home, give my mum the good news then follow her to the pub so that he could leave Brad with them there for half an hour while he went to the SCBU. Of course he would come back and see me later.
As he left the ward his grin was so wide it almost reached into his ears.
What a day that was! Thank you my babies. XX