Affirming life, especially when threatened..

Today, I spent serious shopping time looking for the perfect cup.
A frivolous activity, you say?
Well, yes.
I agree.
Today, people died for want of clean drinking water
and I already have MY perfect cup.
This search today was to find a cup for my mother.

Mum with her first grandchild, Darragh, in 1986

Mum with her first grandchild, Darragh, in 1986


I have PLENTY of mugs.
Big ones.
Fat ones.
Small ones.
But my mother likes her tea from a china cup.
With a thin lip. So I searched diligently.
I checked in the St. Vincent de Paul shop.
No luck.
I got one that ALMOST ticked all the boxes, ironically in the Sue Ryder shop.
I say ironically, as that’s the charity that funds the housing complex where Mum lives.
When she comes out of hospital after surgery and radiotherapy, I’ll have the PERFECT cup for her.
That’s a promise.

The Christmas Box from America

I grew up listening to lots of radio. Radio 1 was the soundtrack of my childhood. This time of year, there would be plays, letters and essays read out about an author’s Christmas from a previous year. A common feature, especially if the author was from the west of Ireland, was the arrival, to great fanfare, of a box of gifts from relatives in the United States of America. I remember talk of parcels of clothes which would be worn to Church for Midnight Mass. There was a touch of the exotic about these gifts. The clothes would be new and unusual, not the staple fare of a drapery in a small country town.
With my mother’s family living in Australia, we would receive calendars with photos of landmarks there. At least once, a box with clothes arrived. My Aunty Fran sent her daughter Judith’s beautiful white dress which I wore for my Confirmation ceremony.
My mother’s Christmas present one year was to call her mother and sister in Brisbane for 45 precious minutes. The price of that call was £45. This must have been in the early 1980’s.
We just got off the phone with my eldest, Darragh, who lives in Maui, Hawaii. Last week we spoke to him for almost 4 hours, at a cost of the princely sum of €5.
But this evening, joy of joys, the box of gifts he put together for us arrived.

Elva and Eamonn with the box from Darragh in America

Elva and Eamonn with the box from Darragh in America

Such excitement! Such joy!
Among the thoughtful and carefully chosen presents, was a box of 12 packs of BRAND NEW PLAYING CARDS!!! A gentle comment on how often we have been about to play a game of cards, only to discover that the Queen of Hearts and Knave of Spades have gone gallivanting somewhere, only to be discovered shivering disconsolately, down the side of a chair or under the couch, or cunningly, masquerading as a bookmark in some tome on the shelf.
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Eamonn sorting a new pack of cards

Sometimes happiness really is in the SMALL things.
Darragh won’t be at our table this Christmas time to share dinner and woeful jokes from crackers. But it feels as though we are very close, just the same.

Celebrating the birthday of an adult who was my baby

Glass of wine?
Check
Reminisce with baby photos?
Check
Sentimental movie?
Check (The Time traveller’s Wife)
Chocolate?
Check (A tub of Heroes, intended for 5 weeks time!)

I have a curious sense of dislocation with going through the hours of this day, when 28 years ago I was giving birth to my first boy. It’s not the time that has elapsed which gives me this sensation but it’s the fact that he lives far away on Maui, Hawaii with a time difference of 10 hours between us. It can be hard to get a mutually acceptable time to talk on the phone. Thankfully, there’s post and text and facebook messaging and so many ways to keep a connection.
It’s odd to be celebrating in his absence, but it affirms for me that this day was SO significant for me and needs marking, even without the guest of honour.
I remember the details so clearly.. my Dad driving me to the hospital in Dublin and then leaving me and returning to Wexford.
Does anyone labour without a support person of their choosing now?
I was 19.
I had done antenatal classes in a group of 5 women with a local midwife, in her home. When she finished the business part of the evening, we would lie on the floor of her sitting-room, eyes closed, relaxing to soothing music, while she made tea. I think now that those classes were more about educating me to accept the hospital procedures than about helping me make informed decisions for mine and my Baby’s care.
I was told I was “going nowhere fast” as the partogram was consulted… imagine the cheek of me, to not dilate at the required rate of 1 cm per hour. So my labour was speeded up with oxytocin and after 2 hours of that, I was going mad and asking for pain relief. I was assessed as being 3-4 cms at this stage.The pethidine made me space out and I remember a midwife being annoyed that I wouldn’t focus on her when she wanted me to. 10 mins later, I told them I needed to push.
“Nonsense!” I was told briskly.
Then she put her hand on my stomach and there was a sense of urgency as I was wheeled from labour to delivery…. honestly, who designed this notion of orderly women dilating at a set pace, in a certain room, which then had to change DURING TRANSITION?!!!
In my 4 home births, I have laboured in the kitchen, sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, polytunnel, lane … oh, and in the mobile home for one birth… but I never moved much for the grand entrance moment… that was about being in my space and being comfortable and reassured with my trusted midwife, whom I’d gotten to know during the pregnancy and previous births.

And who had the bright idea that labouring and birthing women should lie prone? I was squatting for my home births.

The pethidine made Darragh drowsy and unresponsive.

“He has no rooting reflex!” I told the medic who let me hold him for 5 minutes before taking him away for 12 (!!!) hours.
“Are you a nurse yourself?” was the response and then the condescending you-would’nt-tell-these-porkies-to-a-child: “He’s a bit tired; we’re just taking him for observation”.
I was brought to the ward and told to sleep.
Sleep?
I lay there thinking: these are the MOST important hours of his life and I should be with him.
I got up at various times and asked several people could I see him and was told to wait til morning.

Now, I would roar til I got to be with my son, but then, I was too compliant and a “good” patient. Back in 1986, there was no rooming-in at this (or any?) Irish hospital.
Despite the separation and the staff feeding him formula without my permission, when my chart clearly said “breastfeeding”, we managed to get breastfeeding happily… thanks in no small measure to having seen my 5 siblings breastfeeding and believing it was natural and having been loaned La Leche League’s “Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”.

I was sure of two things: I was absolutely besotted with this new person, (the song I couldn’t get out of my head was Billy Ocean’s “Suddenly”, with the line “you wake up and suddenly, you’re in love”) and there had to be a better way to give birth.
Thanks to the Home Birth Association (then Home Birth Centre) and some home educators I met who had home births, I discovered that birth can be empowering and even ecstatic.

I’m grateful that we bonded fiercely, despite hospital interference, and that our connection feels strong and true.