Tessa Barrie is a blogger and wannabe novelist from Jersey, Channel Islands, who believes life is too short to be niche.
8th October 1959
'Mrs Grant's waters just broke, Phyllis,' Nellie hissed down the phone. There was silence, followed by a heavy sigh.
'Good job, I love my job, innit? Try and keep her calm, if you can, and I'll be round in a jiffy.'
'Easier said than done, Phyllis love.'
Hands clawed around the drying rail of the Aga, with her knees slightly bent, Elizabeth looked down at the puddle she was standing in and started to cry. Surprised by this rare display of emotion, Nellie put an arm around her shoulder.
'There, there, Mrs Grant, it's been a long do for you, but you'll be holding your beautiful baby in your arms very soon now.'
'Baby? What about my beautiful Rayne shoes? It's the first time I've worn them.'
By the time Nellie half pushed Elizabeth up the grand Jacobean staircase to her en-suite bedroom, Phyllis had arrived.
As Elizabeth's contractions intensified, she became hysterical.
'Don't you realise I am in pain? I knew I should have stayed in London and had it delivered by a proper Harley Street physician, not a tin pot provincial midwife. Call the bloody doctor!'
Dr Gladstone had just finished his morning surgery when Phyllis called.
'Mrs Grant has gone into labour, Doctor Gladstone, and she seems unusually distressed.'
'I'll be there right away, Phyllis. Try and keep her calm until I get there.'
'Easier said than done, Doctor.'
Dr Gladstone graduated from Edinburgh Medical School in the summer of 1938, just in time to serve in World War II. He survived Dunkirk and other atrocities of war, before moving to Gloucestershire with his wife in 1948 to find solace. Nothing fazed him anymore, especially not an overwrought, self-centred young woman about to give birth for the first time.
Dr Gladstone drove from his surgery to Silkwoods in his Armstrong-Siddley Hurricane, affectionately known as his indulgent fair-weather motor. He used his sturdy Landrover Defender to reach patients living off the beaten track, in all manner of inclement weather.
Arriving at Silkwoods, he let himself in and climbed the baronial staircase listening to Elizabeth moaning,
'Where's the bloody doctor? My Harley Street physician could have got here quicker.'
'I'm here, Elizabeth.' Dr Gladstone strode through the door, taking off his fedora and putting down his bag.'
'Hello, doctor.' Phyllis and Nellie chorused in relieved unison.
'Now, Elizabeth, I would like you to breathe in through your nose to the count of three. And then breathe out through your mouth, to the count of four.' Phyllis and Nellie both inhaled and exhaled, lulled by the soft, reassuring tone of Dr Gladstone's lilting Scottish accent. The resonance reflected the calm he felt within but was failing to convey to Elizabeth.
'And I just want you to get this thing out of me!'
'Elizabeth, your baby's doing fine.'
'Well bully for the baby, I'm not!' Looking down, she watched as Dr Gladstone, brow furrowed, peered at her vagina. His squinting eyes, magnified by the lenses of his round, metal-framed spectacles, as he calmly announced that the baby's head was crowning. Phyllis and Nellie leaned in for a closer look.
'This is all so bloody infra dig,' Elizabeth wailed. 'I feel like one of Will's prize heifers giving birth with everybody gawping at my pudenda.'
A deep-throated groan escaped her lips as she kicked out her right leg, the heel of her foot impacting the bridge of the good doctor's nose. The grandfather clock in the hall struck noon, as Lisa Elizabeth Grant shot out of her mother's vagina coated in a mix of amniotic fluid, blood and vernix. Her cries were barely audible, drowned out by her nineteen-year-old mother's blood-curdling screams.
Elizabeth would never be a natural when it came to motherhood
'That's the last time I'm ever bloody well going to go through all this! Do you hear me, Will Grant? You can keep your trousers on in future!'
Will heard as he ran down the path from the farm to the house, as did all the neighbours living within a five-mile radius.
Faint rays of watery autumnal sunshine poured through the mullioned windows into Elizabeth's bedroom. Its high, raftered ceiling and wood-panelled walls had witnessed births of hundreds of children since the house was mentioned in the Doomsday Book. The old oak floorboards squeaked and groaned as Phyllis moved around the four-poster bed.
Elizabeth lay panting, her eyes glazed, staring at the Colefax and Fowler fabric canopy above her head. Lisa was still lying between her legs. Her first cries and gasps of breath calmed as, blinking her eyes, she tried to focus on the midwife.
'You have a beautiful baby girl, Mrs Grant.' Phyllis announced with pride as she cut the cord, before wrapping Lisa in a dusky pink towel. Making cooing noises, she clasped Lisa to her ample bosom, as Elizabeth closed her legs with a groan.
'Don't worry, Mrs Grant. Things will start feeling better down there… in six to twelve weeks, give or take. Holding your baby for the first time will make you feel like all that pushing and shoving has all been a labour of love.' Elizabeth wasn't convinced, frowning as Phyllis leaned forward, gently putting Lisa in the crook of her right arm.
Feeling the warmth of her daughter's tiny body against her skin for the first time, she stiffened. Elizabeth would never be a natural when it came to motherhood, viewing the swaddling child with suspicion as if trying to work out which way was up. She separated the towel with her thumb and forefinger and peered inside.
'She has a full head of hair too,' Phyllis chirped. 'Most babies are born with precious little hair. Both of mine looked like Yul Brynner when they popped out, especially our little gal.'
'A full head of hair?' Elizabeth repeated robotically.
Eyeballing her mother for the first time, Lisa's soft gurgling turned into a full-on bellow. Elizabeth recoiled, holding her at arm's length.
'Take it away, it's much too loud! And it's covered in hair!'
'Some babies are born with a full head of hair, Elizabeth. It's perfectly normal.' Dr Gladstone reasserted himself, walking over to the bed and putting a hand on Elizabeth's shoulder. She flinched at his touch, so he retracted his hand. He was holding a bloodied white handkerchief to his nose with his other hand, still stemming the flow after Elizabeth's right heel jab.
'Yes, overdue babies can often have a full head of hair, and your gorgeous girl was more than just a trifle late in arriving. And it's also perfectly normal for babies to cry when they are born. I always worry when they don't.' He exchanged knowing nods with the midwife, but, despite the soothing tone of his voice, Elizabeth's face scrunched into a scowl.
'Well, not only is this one covered in hair, it's greasy and sounds more like a wild banshee than a baby! Take it away and wash it!' Elizabeth commanded, handing it back to a dumbstruck Phyllis.
Happy Birthday, Lisa Grant
'I swear if anybody touches one single hair on my child's head, they will have me to answer to!'
'You have a daughter, Will, many congratulations.' Dr Gladstone slapped him heartily on his back, his steely grey eyes twinkling.
'Would you like to hold her?' Phyllis asked. Will's face lit up as he took the tiny bundle in his arms.
Lisa immediately stopped crying, reaching out a minute hand towards his face, in slow, uncoordinated, jerky movements. He held her closer and felt the feather-light touch of her small fingertips brush against his chin. His tears were spontaneous.
'You're so beautiful,' he whispered. 'I'm going to take great care of you… always.'
'Oh, for God's sake, Will! What about me? I've just forced that great big head out of my vagina!'
© 2020 Tessa Barrie