I am a Christmas person, by which I don’t mean I love Christmas so much that I cannot wait for it to arrive, but rather I spent nearly all of it trying to be born.
Finally, I managed it on the 27th. By all accounts is was a perilous affair that started on Christmas night and nearly took me and my long-suffering mother to early graves.
The adventure happened at home, with a single midwife in attendance, which was the norm in those days. For good measure my great aunt, who had some connection with the Red Cross, was there to assist me in making the painful journey.
The account of my birth was the first story I got to know well because it was momentous, with an unforgettable Christmas at the heart of it.
The very beginning of the story is a bit hazy, for who knows when I was conceived? It is strange being at the centre of such a personal tale and yet having to rely entirely upon other people’s telling of it; fortunately my mother’s version of events, which must be the most reliable, is the one that stuck with me, not least for the frequency of the telling. I greatly enjoyed being told my own, special Christmas story, of being the absent present, although it does create a remote sense of self which could never be altered except through some sort of therapy, I imagine.
My mother begins the saga somewhere mid-year. She relates that I just kept growing at an inordinate rate, threatening to burst out of her slight four-foot-eightiinch frame. She could not see her toes when she looked down, she could not bend to touch her knees, nor her feet, but she was reassured that all was well. S
he continued working until the Christmas break, expecting me to arrive just before Christmas, a bundle of a gift in time for the celebrations, a double joy of Baby Jesus and me in one. I may have been the main character in the drama but I did not know my part and turned up too late to do it justice. The bit of the story she never told, and now she is too old to remember, was what exactly did I do to alert her that I had had enough of living vicariously and was ready to see the world and fend for myself.
If only I knew what I was dreaming during that long sleep, and what triggered my wakening. Having given birth myself I know that when the moment comes it is violent.
I remember none of the trauma of those endless hours of battling to push my big head into the light, then the hours of wrestling enormous, bodybuilder shoulders through a tiny canal and not having much success. I can only sense the relief felt by all present, me too, of those malleable joints eventually finding a way of manoeuvring one shoulder out and withstanding the crunch and dislocation of being like that until its partner could be released as well, eons later.
But the elation was short-lived. The rest of me, from my waist down, was stuck. With no telephone in the house, a message had to reach an ambulance to get us to the hospital. and the nearest was Parks Nursing Home, only marginally nearer than the General Hospital, both miles away from the beautiful, then remote, valley of Diego Martin.
I was distressed. My mother was exhausted from the battle. I had missed Christmas and it seemed like I might never experience one. My aunt went on the offensive and together with the midwife they decided that all of me had to arrive, with a last-ditch effort. I may have intuited the danger and I too made a big push and heaved very large buttocks out.
A night, a day, and a night later and the ordeal was over, my mother – unaided by drugs – and me – by forceps –had survived. I was blue, but one good slap put the cool air into my lungs. As the midwife rested me down, I rolled over and held my head up. I was going to be just fine.
The bit of the story that explains a lot to me about our lives now is that the next Christmas I was still clinging to my mother’s breast. I was always happiest when she was around. I would cry all night unless I was in her arms. I remember at the age of six hiding behind a Morris rocking chair in the drawing room, next to a large fern, and peeping at my mother as she strode elegantly along the gallery, in high heels, her hair in soft rolls on her crown, her tummy full of my much-longed-for brother, and being awed by her beauty.
I loved her then and I love her now as she enters her 100th year. Each Christmas I relive our story of life and love.