The Labour Ward! (I.P.)
The Labour Ward! (I.P.)
Lucy and her friend, Amy, burst in from the garden laughing and pushing each other before the two of them disappeared into Lucy’s bedroom. Rachel, Amy’s mother, was sitting having a coffee with Rosie as she usually did on a Friday when one of them had collected the girls from their Gymnastics class. The two women took it in turns but they always ended up having coffee at Rosie’s house….
‘Do you know, your Lucy seems to be growing more beautiful by the day? She’ll be breaking hearts before much longer.’
‘Yes, I think you could be right.’
‘Do you ever think you did the wrong thing back then, Rosie?’
‘You never wonder about the other one?’
‘‘And you’ve never regretted?’
‘I told you…never!’ But that didn’t stop Rosie from glancing up at the letter peeping from behind the clock.
After Rachel and her daughter had gone home and Lucy had gone to bed Rosie sat drinking a cup of hot chocolate and thinking back to that day when she had entered the Edith Cavell Maternity Ward as a frightened teenager, abandoned by her boyfriend and disowned by her parents
Back then a heavily pregnant but very young, Rosie, came nervously on to the ward clutching her little case containing the few possessions she thought she would need for what she hoped would be a short stay in hospital. The kindly but brisk nurse showed her to her bed and started to help her get unpacked but then the nurse was called away. Before she went, however, she said,
‘These ladies have all had their babies so they’ll show you the ropes and put your mind at ease, won’t you, ladies?’
They either nodded or smiled in agreement so the nurse left young Rosie to settle herself in and get acquainted with her fellow occupants of the Maternity Ward. There were three mums that looked older than Rosie but the other mum seemed as if she was quite a lot older as Rosie guessed her to be in her late thirties or even early forties.
Rosie smiled nervously as she put her few possessions in the locker by her bed because she didn’t feel comfortable with four women watching her every move.
‘I shouldn’t put your dressing gown and slippers in there, dear,’ said the older woman, ‘you’ll need them every time you want to use the loo.’
‘She’s lucky she can still use the loo,’ said Mary from the bed opposite. ‘I’d give anything to be able to wee naturally!’
‘Oh, so would I,’ said Josie, ‘I hate having to walk about with this horrible bag thing.’
‘Just listen to you two.’ said Margaret from the bed by the Nurse’s Station. ‘Anyone think you had a tough time of it. Not like me I was in labour for thirty six hours with not a scrap of pain relief.’
Listening to the women’s comments made Rosie even more frightened and her usual ready smile froze on her face as she thought about what the women had said.
‘Take no notice of them, dear,’ said Alice, the older woman. ‘You’ve never heard a fuss like it when one of them went down.’
‘Wen…went down’ stuttered Rosie. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Delivery Room,’ said Alice, ‘I could hear their screams from here. If they had anything like my labour, they would have known what real pain was!’
‘Oh, you had a difficult delivery?’ enquired Rosie politely, though somewhat reluctantly. Hoping the woman would just say it was nothing she couldn’t handle.
‘Difficult delivery…you don’t know the half and I’ve already got three kids and their deliveries were bad enough but this time I’ve never felt pain like it. Stitched from here to here,’ said Alice, tracing a line down from her waist.
By this time Rosie looked as if she was about to burst into tears until Mary said,
‘Oh, you do exaggerate, Alice.’
While Rosie was trying to digest all that she had been told Nurse Williams came bustling back to see how she was settling in.
‘Now then, Rosie, I’ve had to put you in here because this was the only available bed and I thought these women would put your mind at rest as giving birth is a perfectly natural process and nothing to be afraid of, is it now ladies?’
‘No Nurse…nothing to be afraid of.’ They chorused, as Nurse Williams turned to leave the ward.
‘Stick with us, love,’ said Mary, ‘we won’t put you wrong.’
‘No, forewarned is forearmed,’ said Josie.
‘How will all this information about painful childbirth help me?’
‘Oh, bless you; you’ve got completely the wrong idea. It’s no good looking for any help. It’s just you and the pain!’ said Alice, hardly able to contain herself.
‘What?’ said poor Rosie, ‘Won’t the Midwife be in with me?’
‘Midwife, oh no, dear, they’re far too busy! Might pop their head round but that’s as much as… staff shortages see…and cutbacks!’ said Mary with authority.
When Nurse Williams was coming to the end of her shift she came back on to the ward to make sure her ladies were all nicely tucked up before switching the lights off but leaving the shaded night light on in case of emergency.
‘Goodnight Ladies, I’ll see you in the morning and who knows, Rosie, you might have had your precious little bundle by then.’
The next morning, Rosie was by some miracle still sleeping peacefully until the sound of the medications trolley woke her and she sat up with a start. Nurse Williams came bustling on to the ward.
‘Hello Rosie, you did very well last night. You should be jolly proud of yourself. Not a sound out of you…unlike this lot.’
‘What, you mean, Rosie has had her baby?’ said Alice.
‘Yes, and according to the night staff, not a sound out of her.’
‘Well, she must have had a very easy birth, that’s all I can say,’ said Mary.
‘Yeah, not like us,’ said Josie.
.‘Actually, no, Rosie didn’t have an easy birth but she dealt with it magnificently. So think on you lot and let her get some rest.’
However, when the babies were brought from the Nursery to the ward for their mothers to feed them, Rosie’s baby was having none of it. As soon as the young mum tried to take the infant from the nurse the little mite screamed the place down. Rosie tried desperately to get it to suckle but the infant just screamed all the more, so, after struggling for over an hour and with her breasts heavy with milk and her nipples sore from trying to get the baby to latch on, she fell back on her pillows exhausted and finally had to admit defeat. She pulled the cord that she had been told would summon Nurse Williams to ask her to take the baby back to the Nursery and give her a bottle. Nurse Williams arrived and took one look at the red faced, screaming infant and taking her carefully from Rosie said,
‘I’m not surprised she’s screaming. This baby needs changing.’
Once the baby had been removed, Rosie spent the rest of the morning dozing and trying to get mentally prepared for the next battle with baby in an attempt to get her to feed because everyone said breast was best.
The babies were brought back to their mothers for their next feed but Rosie’s baby was the last one to be brought in. All the other mothers were happily feeding their babies and so were not aware of how quiet her baby was this time but Rosie knew why. This baby was not the same baby as the one she had tried to feed earlier. For just one fleeting moment she thought of pulling the chord for Nurse Williams but then she remembered the nurse’s words as she took the screaming infant from her. She had said,
“This baby needs changing!”
So she reasoned that is what the nurse had done and, besides, she liked this one better! I have the daughter I was meant to have thought Rosie, looking happy and content for the first time since her arrival on the Edith Cavell Maternity Ward.
But Rosie had spent the last fourteen years worrying if this moment would come. She finished her drink but before going to bed she took down the letter and read it again. She couldn’t take it in. It was incredible that after all this time it had come back threatening to rob her of the one good thing in her life. For about the fifth time that day she opened the envelope and took out the letter with her eyes going straight to that one section.
“The baby you left the hospital with fourteen years ago is not in fact your child. I am very much afraid that it will be necessary for you to bring your daughter to the hospital so that a DNA sample can be taken. Rest assured the hospital is very conscious of the effect this revelation has, undoubtedly, had on you and your daughter and I understand you may need a little more time to digest this information. However, as this is the third letter I am afraid I must insist on a response from you as the other mother has already come forward but will not submit her daughter for DNA tests until you too have responded.
Rosie knew this time there was no escaping the terrible truth she had to tell Lucy of her birth. She made up her mind that the following morning, over breakfast, she would tell her daughter the whole sorry tale. When the deed was done Lucy had run to her room sobbing and pushing her mother away and Rosie knew she could not comfort the child she had always thought of as her daughter. Well now that Lucy knows I want this over as soon as possible, she thought, so Rosie rang the hospital and told them she would bring her daughter in on the following Monday. Poor Rosie felt cold dread lining the pit of her stomach at the thought of what would happen after the DNA test. Would the other mother insist on taking Lucy? Her only hope was that the other mother loved the child she had gone home with like she loved Lucy. Then she remembered the red faced angry little scrap that was the baby Nurse Williams first brought to her. What if that baby had grown into a problem child then the mother might well want to take Lucy from her. The thought brought Rosie out in a cold sweat. She couldn’t lose Lucy, she just couldn’t.
The letter was still behind the clock but Rosie was doing her best to shut it from her mind. She had spent years worrying about what would happen if this moment ever came but when she eventually opened the letter it told her that Nurse Williams had admitted she had brought Rosie the wrong baby the first time and so had swapped them. Rosie had spent fourteen years worrying about whether the mistake would come to light but the thing she had dreaded the most, a DNA test, had been the very thing that had proved irrevocably that Lucy was, indeed, her daughter.