African Adventure – Part 7

When we got back from Mongu, we had a few changes to deal with. First of all, my husband’s job changed. He went from working in the communications section of the government to being a lecturer at a technical college. Our housing was tied to his job (he being the male) so we also had to change house. We didn’t have to move the furniture since that went with the house but our few belongings, linens, dishes, clothing had to be packed and moved.

Our new house was a “maisonette” or a townhouse, and boasted three bedrooms since our baby was due any day, and best of all – hot running water! We still had no washer so the laundry had to be done in a large tub, outside the front door. It was very difficult as I was now in my last month of pregnancy, but we managed.

We needed to hire a nanny to look after the baby and we began asking friends for names. One couple was leaving to go back to England and they recommended their nanny, Victoria, who accepted the job. The timing was perfect since I was giving birth during the school holiday and had to go back to teaching when the new term started.

It was July, which is winter in Zambia. It was quite cool in the house since some of the higher windows didn’t have glass in them, only screens. It was sunny every day and the high temperature would be around 20C (60F).

Our baby was due on July 14. At 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 23, 1967, labour began. A couple of hours later we went to the hospital, where I was instructed to put on my nightgown and climb into a bed. My husband asked to be allowed in the room with me during labour which absolutely horrified the nurses. “You can’t go in there. She’s having a baby!” I sent him home and told him he might as well go to Mass.

I was told there was only one doctor on duty and that she was in another hospital building. They had no way of knowing where she was or how to get hold of her.

At some point I fell asleep and woke up with the sound of someone moaning. I was in a room all by myself and couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. I fell asleep again and the same thing happened. You guessed it – it was me. Labour was getting intense.

I kept thinking about my mother and how proud she would be of me. When the nurse came in to check on me, I was smiling. My mother had eleven children and I felt sure I could produce this baby, with or without a doctor. Around 1:30 p.m. I told the nurse I had to push. She said, “Oh, no. It will be many more hours, maybe sometime tonight.” She started to leave and I asked her to check.

She ran to get another nurse and after three or four pushes, Michelle Helene was born, 8 pounds, and absolutely adorable. She entered the world and started crying just as the doctor walked into the room.

It was the perfect birthing experience. I was alone for probably 90% of the time, thinking of my mother and how happy she was going to be. But I had expected to have a boy!!! My mother had four boys before I was born and I thought I’d be the same. When they told me it was a girl, I can’t tell you how utterly thrilled I was. I looked at her and whispered, “My daughter. My daughter.” I was just as thrilled with our three other daughters by the way!

My husband had gone to Mass and then went to lunch with friends who told him it would be hours before anything happened. He arrived at the hospital to find his daughter lying in the nursery, and looking very much like him.

He came into the room where I had delivered and saw his wife enjoying a cup of tea and eating a little piece of cake.

I walked to my “room” which was just a narrow bed in a long line of beds, out on the verandah of the hospital! The place was enclosed by screens and I can tell you it was c-c-chilly! This is where I spent the next couple of days, getting to know my new little sweetheart.

Meanwhile, how to get a message to our families…

We had asked my parents to not use the telephone for the hour between noon and one p.m. their time, for the entire month of July as we would try to telephone with the news. Both sets of parents were expecting their first grandchild and I can’t imagine how nervous and excited they were. We tried. We really tried. We tried for five days and didn’t get further than a telephone operator in Britain.

After five days, we sent a telegram. We didn’t know it but that didn’t get through either. I had written a letter from the hospital and my parents finally got word that they had a granddaughter about three weeks after she was born.

A wonderful experience that has brought a lifetime of joy!

Thanks for reading. – Maureen


7 responses

  1. I remember well as a soon to be Aunt for the first time how excited we all were. Every time the phone rang……and then the letter!!! We were over the mon thrilled to welcome Michelle Helene into our family though we would not see her in person for some time yet.
    Wonderful! Wonderful posts!

    • She loves it and she loves the fact that she was born in Africa. A few years ago she was a docent at a museum and she told the children, “I was born in the winter but my birthday is in the summer.” It took them a while to figure it out! Thanks for reading. – Maureen

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