Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Birth Story

By Belinda

The writers group that I belong to met tonight and our topic was "autobiography." I hadn't written anything new, but shared a story that seems fitting to share here again: Birth Story. The internet is an amazing research tool and I was actually able to find a reference to the pathway described in the tale I heard so many times:

Here is a story that I heard every year on the eve of my birthday, which is on June 1st. Mum stopped telling it after her stroke, but the wonderful thing is that the weekend before the stroke happened (in October 2003,) I asked her to tell it to me again. This was because Susan Stewart's daughter Marjorie, was interviewing me for my biography, for a school project, and I wanted to make sure I had the details right.

Talking to me about it must have stirred up memories, because Mum wrote a long letter to me that weekend, chronicling the whole thing. It was the last letter she ever wrote, because that Monday, she collapsed at the post office in the village, where she had just put the letter into the box. The stroke she was having took away her ability to write, or even articulate many of her thoughts, so her last letter is a special treasure.

Mum was expecting me on June 12th 1950. In those days there were no such thing as pre-natal classes and women's bodies were a mystery, even to some women. I remember as a pre-teen, Mum telling me the "facts of life;" wanting me to be prepared and not horrified at the changes she told me were coming. No one used to speak of such things when she was a child and she told me of girls being terrified when suddenly they started bleeding--even thinking they were dying.

She showed me a diagram of a baby growing in the womb, and then going through the stages of its delivery. That carefully saved scrap of paper was all she had had to prepare her for giving birth. On one of my recent visits to England I found it among some papers. It was almost sixty years old by then and Mum said that I could keep it--this "baby birthing road map."

Mum had only been in England for three years in 1950. That England was far from cosmopolitan and she often felt like, and was called, a "foreigner." Her mother-in-law's welcome, when Dad brought home his beautiful, dark haired bride to meet her, was, "Couldn't you have found an English girl to marry?"

Her family was far away in Holland and Mum was all alone on the day she went into labour, almost two weeks early. She lived in a house called Silvermount Cottage, deep in the countryside near the little village of Woldingham, Surrey. The people she lived with were away on a trip to Liverpool, and Dad was on duty at the Guard’s Barracks in Caterham.

It was May 31st and she had a terrible stomach-ache all day, but in between the griping stomach pains, she spent the day washing baby clothes, which had arrived in a package from Holland, sent by her own dear mother.

As it began to get dark, the pain was more insistent and she knew she had to get help. She began to walk to Woldingham. It was quite a distance and she knew she needed to get there fast, so she took a short cut up a hill, along a rough path through the trees; a path so steep it was called locally, the Drainpipe. This was the part of the story that Mum loved to laugh about; how she climbed the Drainpipe.

It was a great relief when she made it to her friend Mrs. Saffin’s shop, where she said to Mrs. Saffin, “I think I have a cold on my bladder.”

Mrs. Saffin said, “You don’t have a cold on your bladder, you’re going to have a baby!” and quickly called a doctor. They got her to Redhill Hospital, and on the stroke of midnight, I was born.

Mum always emphasized that all through the labour she kept thinking that at the end of it she would be holding her baby and that was what made the pain bearable. When they gave her the baby to hold she asked the nurse, “Is that all?” and the nurse said, “Isn’t that enough?” She counted fingers and toes and thought of what a miracle it was to be holding her own baby.  

I was named after the 1948 Oscar winning movie, Johnny Belinda, starring Jane Wyman, in which a doctor in Cape Breton tutored a deaf mute girl. Also influencing this choice of name was a newspaper comic strip Belinda, aka Belinda Blue-Eyes, created in 1936 by the cartoonist Steve Dowling (1904-1986) and scripted by Bill Connor. It was published in the U.K. newspaper Daily Mirror (Wikipedia.) Although I always wished as a child for a plainer name such as Kate, or Janet, I was relieved that I didn’t end up with Mum’s second choice of name: Mariandl. In comparison, “Belinda” was a tame name!

I never felt anything but cherished, fully and completely, by this wonderful mother. I thank God for her life and her love.

Proverbs 31:28 (New International Version)
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;


Brave Raven said...

Amazing!! After all that to ask, "Is that all?" It shows the grace with which she approached life. An inspirational and brave lady!

Belinda said...

Brave Raven, I found it amazing to find a satellite map on the internet of the approximate route she walked that gruelling evening while in labour.

violet said...

What a wonderful story... and I'd like to express my sympathy on the passing of your dear Mum, Belinda. So nice to read the lovely reminiscences.

Belinda said...

Thank you Violet. I have been so grateful for this blog as a place to record and share the journey with Mum. The added bonus has been others "knowing" her.

swissdebbie said...

...though we are far away, over the years I have grown to know you better through your blogs dear cousin, I am glad at least someone treasures the family history because not much of it is left.....

Belinda said...

Dear Deb, WE are the family history now--and we are still here. :) The story continues and we are joined, although far apart. You are right, I do treasure family history, and people's stories are very important to keep somewhere.