It was ridiculous in retrospect. Her entire life from aged 10 onwards had been devoted to ‘get thin quick’ schemes and nine short months were dominated by manic efforts to transform herself into a generously proportioned elephant. To no avail She gained precisely one and half stones and did not acquire the bloom of the models in the Mother and Baby magazines.
You can’t always get what you want.
As the second trimester slipped into the third, the lack of general interest from her nearest and dearest in what would now be universally termed as her bump was disappointing.But she found that she did not care – much. An interesting new development was her enthusiasm for teaching.
Everyone at Oaks Haven – including Andrew Penn, was delighted that she intended to come back and her fifth form threw a surprise party for her in the school library. They had made cakes and savouries and had knitted bootees and matinee jackets. Her sixth form presented her with a copy of Richard Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde. The thought of returning to a promotional post was truly exciting. She would have a marriage, a baby and a career. And all the Truscott/Chase/Nicola and the kiddies/ Hunt / Cleghorn/Chudleigh/Donald and Gillian and Eric dissatisfactions could be sidelined.
Oscar Wilde was remarkably perspicacious.
To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance…….
Month six was accompanied by birthing preparation and she had a choice of the customary hospital classes conducted with chilly efficiency by a Nurse Ratched figure, or alternative sessions in a Community Centre run by the Dorlich Branch of Birth and Baby Bond. The latter was strongly recommended by Gillian, who was National Secretary of The Bond and had written various incomprehensible papers about perineums and dilation. She was a firm advocate of natural childbirth minus gas and air; pethidine and (perish the thought) epidural injection; predicting a grisly outcome for women who succumbed to these evils:
Of course you’ll want to go to the Bond classes; drug-free labour is best for baby by the by – you’re a bit on the small side – is it growing properly?) and all they want to do in hospital unless you’re VERY FIRM is to drug you up; cut you up and whip it out so they can re-use the suite. And some doctors are gung-ho with the scissors and it can wreak havoc with your sex life….. (winking at Donald).
The Dorlich Baby Bond sessions were run by women who spoke like the Chudleigh matrons and dressed in Indian cottons from the Adini label. She joined a small group of six and nobody was overtly unpleasant, but after the second session, she gave it up.
Everyone else was accompanied by Daddy, in the cloying words of Course Leader Hannah, and the Daddies were full participants, pushing and breathing beside their respective Mummies.
In fact, some of them were rather better at it, she reflected – and it did seem a shame that it would be Celina rather than Ned for example, who would be called upon to take centre stage when the time came.
Paul refused to accompany her:
Oh really darling – I mean – can you see me on the floor with my legs in the air? (an unfortunate comment in the circumstances). You’ll have to be a brave little soldier and go to the front on your own – and anyway, I’ve got fencing class at Chudleigh. It was a blessing really and an excuse to do what she liked best – read about it from the safety and sanctity of her own front room.
Gillian was caustic; questioning her full commitment to this pregnancy, especially in light of the appalling news that she had decided to continue with her job. Donald had been an absolute stalwart, attending every birthing class, and had gone beyond the call of duty by taking the reins as Treasurer of the Picks Norton Branch.
Of course, David and Susan had been dearly wanted children… (glancing at Paul).
They were sitting in Gillian’s new cane armchairs in the Picks Norton conservatory, sipping pre-dinner drinks. Paul (with bare feet and frayed jeans) was sitting opposite Donald (in light sports jacket and deck shoes). Good old Doz (laughing) quite the trooper weren’t you – all that panting and blowing with the girls!! You must have felt terribly deprived when Gilly had Caesars –
And that was the end of that.
She assembled piles of babygros and sleep suits; cot sheets and blankets. The pram, a carrycot/stroller hybrid, took pride of place in the hallway. And they bought a dog.
Her mother regarded the acquisition of Splosh; (a retriever /saluki cross masquerading as a red setter) as the pregnancy equivalent of sunstroke.
Everybody knew puppies were prone to extreme expressions of jealousy – such as biting newborn babies and even killing them. She did not expect to preside at a funeral before the christening of her first grandchild.
But Splosh, with his floppy ears; feathery back legs and boundless energy was, as the Prince of Wales would later observe in reference to his second wife: non-negotiable.
She had never taken to the standoffish cat Perdita, and Splosh was the perfect excuse to make Conyham Crescent a cat-free zone. He chewed her father’s slippers and slept on the marital bed – sometimes in the marital bed and a household with a dog and a baby on the way was a family.
Paul and Splosh became inseparable and the dog would sit on Paul’s greatcoat in The Falcon – an accepted member of their social set. Her husband considered himself to be the very model of a dog-owner (there are no bad dogs, only bad masters) but she deplored his method of dog- toilet training which consisted of alternately rubbing the dog’s nose in its faeces and administering a blistering kick to its side.
He had been caught in the act when she stumbled into the kitchen at dawn, having been woken from sleep by canine whimpers and squeals.
Splosh cowered next to the cooker and she thrust her pregnant stomach between him and Paul, screaming at him to kick her next.
For God’s sake don’t be so WET - he’s got to learn - unless you want to be treading in shit every morning? And anyway, he has learned now, haven’t you?
(scratching the dog’s ears as it licked his hand).
As it turned out, he had. There were no more ‘accidents’ and man and dog continued to enjoy a relationship of mutual devotion.
But she had not liked it. And when she later discovered Splosh happily chewing his way through Paul’s prized first edition of the Beckett novel, ‘Molloy’, she took its companion ,‘Malone Dies’, from the shelf and gave him that too.
Months seven, eight and nine crawled along; punctuated by heartburn and a slight recurrence of the original morning sickness. She started her maternity leave and mused about child care.
State nurseries were virtually non-existent and her idea of childminders was derived from lurid Victorian pot-boilers about baby-farming or kitchen sink stereotypes of curlers, fags, wet nappies and a general patina of neglect and grime.
The obvious solution was to employ a properly trained nanny – someone who would look after her baby in its own home while she was at work, and make themselves scarce when she returned. Cherry Peabody, aged 22, sporting a distinction in her child-care and nursery nurse course, fitted the bill and she felt tremendously efficient to have made these arrangements before even experiencing a contraction.
As month nine began, contractions were to the fore; in theory if not in practice. Now that she had declared UDI from The Birth and Baby Bond, she felt free to book an epidural in advance – and did.
She banned Paul from the birth.
It was going to be a nasty experience she could tell. She had no desire for her husband to see her trussed up like a chicken and possibly doing something unmentionable like losing control of her bowels at a key juncture. She did not see how marital relations (which had taken a nosedive anyway, due to her Hunt/Cleghorn/bookseller demons) could ever be resumed following such an occurrence.
Her idea of the perfect birth was to endure nobly ( assisted by the pain-dispelling epidural) and then to greet Paul with babe in arms, from the vantage point of a freshly plumped hospital pillow, glowing with health courtesy of Clarins, Chanel No 4 and Timotei.
That was the plan.
In reality, the baby was two weeks overdue and she was admitted to hospital for a pessary induction. It was horrible – all of it – and when she emerged from the other side – she understood why all her friends had discussed their pregnancies but not the births.
Honesty was not only not the best policy – its practice on the subject of childbirth would lead to the elimination of the human race because no woman alive would subject herself to such torture voluntarily.
The hours of waiting for the pessary to take effect were passed by a re-reading of Malcolm Bradbury’s campus novel, The History Man. She had loved it on publication because it reminded her of university days at Dorlich and now the onset of labour was punctuated by the escapades of Howard Kirk; Flora Beniform and the anally retentive student. She was transferred to the Delivery Suite just as Barbara Kirk concluded the novel by attempting suicide at her own party.
Suicide seemed the preferable option during the following hours when, amidst screams, she was informed by her anaesthetist that she was one of the unlucky 10% for whom epidurals did not work.
Nothing else worked either, including pethidine; gas and air and even the baby monitor which broke, eliciting controlled hysteria when it was assumed that the baby’s heart had stopped. Paul was telephoned at Bunter’s where he was wetting the baby’s head in advance of its birth, assisted by the Truscotts and Percy.
He arrived in the Delivery Suite to view his wife; legs akimbo in stirrups, screaming all the swear words in her vocabulary, plus some gas-and-air-induced imprecations about Frances Hunt and Aiden Cleghorn.
Vanessa June was born at 9 am after a thirty-six-hour labour. She was placed in an incubator and thence in a cot at the bedside of her mother on the ward.
The baby had mild jaundice, and breastfeeding was painful due to a touch of mastitis in her left breast.
She had booked to stay for a week – which was a relief because her parents had arrived and she suspected that once at home, she would revert to being the child as usual and her mother would transform into a larger than life Mummy/Grandma rolled into one. At least in hospital she was indubitably the mother and was called Mum by the nurses in case she was in danger of forgetting it.
Vanessa was a long baby with extremely big hands and tapering fingers (like meat hooks, announced Paul ). It was difficult to say whom she resembled if anybody and she only started to feel like a separate person as opposed to a body part that had miraculously become external ( like a heart or a pair of lungs ) when she overheard a nurse mention the baby’s name in conversation with the doctor.
Her parents visited daily – as did Paul – although in the devoted Daddy stakes, he was already falling short. Bonnie Corner, in the next bed; an experienced mum of three, was surrounded by flowers and gifts from her husband as marks of gratitude for the safe arrival of baby Joshua. Admittedly Ian Corner resembled an albino rabbit of middle years with squinting reddish eyes – but a present was a present and Bonnie had them and she did not.
Apart from a cheap tin of talcum powder courtesy of Ursula who took a quick look at her new sister and then started fidgeting and whingeing to be taken home.
Lynne came up trumps on her fleeting visit – although true to her word, Aunty Lynne was never an option:
Here (depositing two bottles of Moet et Chandon on the bed) this is for both of you. No, not you! (pointing at Paul). If she’s anything like her mother she’ll like this and she’ll get it through the breast milk. Nothing like starting early!
And she had cards and flowers from her teaching colleagues and Betty.
Two days before she was due to go home, Paul missed Visiting Hour. He had not mentioned a prior engagement and failing death, she could think of nothing that should take precedence over time spent in the company of his wife and new daughter.
On departure day, he was early, brandishing the brown corduroy carry cot and a white baby gro for Vanessa. She changed her baby’s nappy and looked at her husband.
He looked amazing.
Gone was his usual garb of ill-fitting jeans; frayed shirt and tattered combat jacket. He was wearing a sharp grey suit with matching waistcoat and a crisp tailored shirt fastened at the wrists with gold cufflinks which on closer inspection were mini compasses. His shoes were narrow, pointed, grey lace-ups and his hair was shaped and layered.
Her first thought was that he was a bastard because he had obviously indulged in an exorbitant sartorial splurge and had neglected to buy her anything for being virtually ripped asunder in the course of giving birth to his child.
Her second thought was that he was a bastard because the clothes were reminiscent of the Cleghorn/Hunt wardrobe – and where the hell had he been last night?
When his opening gambit was: I’ve got something to tell you, her second assumption was in the ascendant and she wondered who would look after Vanessa if her mother was imprisoned for murdering her father.
It was not infidelity but it was a betrayal of another nature.
He had got a new job.
Without saying a word, he had applied for the post of Head of Department at a fee- paying boys’ school. He had been interviewed for the post two days ago and that was why he had gone missing at visiting time. It was a highly academic establishment with no boarding component and habitually knocked the spots off Chudleigh for Oxbridge places. And it was in Northern England – almost another country.
So that was my surprise! exclaimed Paul with a merry laugh. Of course your Mum was in on it – I had to swear her to secrecy And now we’ll have our own home and our fresh start and it’s all you’ve ever wanted isn’t it?!
She asked what her father had said about it.
Well, not much – but you know, he never does, does he? Eric was thrilled of course – and Doz and Gilly were jealous! It was almost worth it for that!
She fiddled with the nappy pin. She had got the hang of disposables in hospital and the idea of switching to Terries and nappy pails at home was not appealing. But at the rate Vanessa was excreting, she would get through a pack of disposables in a day….
What about my job?
What? enquired Paul, You know, I think I can see a bit of Lilias in her. Around the eyes….
My job. I was going back to a scale post. And they’re expecting me. And I arranged all my maternity leave. And we’ve got Cherry for Vanessa…….
Oh – well not to worry darling! It was a grotty old dump anyway wasn’t it?
And everyone on the staff seemed a bit bonkers – like that drunk who pissed himself at Necker’s – remember?
You’ll be able to spend time with this little one – and pick something up later when you’ve shopped around. Absolutely no rush whatsoever – and we won’t need a nanny to start with because you’ll be at home, won’t you?
He was a bastard.
You bastard! You fucking nasty, selfish arsehole bastard! You swine! You FUCKING PIG!!!!
She had screamed at the top of her voice and was quickly surrounded by a posse of nurses; one whom she recognised from the Delivery Suite.
Now come on Mum – we can’t have you upsetting the babies can we? Mum’s a bit overwrought (glancing sympathetically at Paul) and Mum used a bit of BUILDERS’ LANGUAGE before baby made an entrance, now, what about a nice sweet cup of tea?
And she drank the tea and went home as a married woman; daughter; mother and dog-owner without a career.
Because you can’t always get what you want.