This week I attended two book signing events, one at Whalley Library and the other at Waterstones in Preston.
What struck me most about talking to the men and women who came was that no matter how long ago the birth of their baby was, they remembered every detail of the event as though it was yesterday and were eager to share it with me.
Rita was one of the women. She had written me a letter and handed it to me in a sealed envelope just before she left. I waited until I got home and sat down with a cup of tea to read Rita’s words. The letter opened by saying ‘I am currently reading your book with great interest and enjoyment, though it has confirmed the anger and upset I have felt for the past 37 years regarding my poor treatment and lack of care….’ Rita went on to detail how she was 31 when she was pregnant with her first baby and deemed ‘high risk’, how she didn’t want to be induced two days post dates as she felt healthy and how she was shunned by the staff for having that opinion. She then gave an explicit account of how she was given an injection of pethedine when in labour and it made her sleep. The midwife (she describes her as small and stood on a stool) hit her and told her to wake up and ‘push’.
There are so many more strands to this sad story, just as horryfying. The cruel midwife’s actions are unthinkable, and had an everlasting effect on Rita’s life. I often talk to midwives about the impact they have during those intimitate and uniquely special moments when a baby is born, and how their words, actions and body language resonates through generations. I will speak to Rita again as she left her number, and because she told me that writing the letter had helped her to feel more at peace. Her troubled memories shouldn’t be.
Veroncia Hall, my lovely yet long lost friend came from Didsbury to the Preston book signing. Veronica features in Catching Babies as she was one of the influences on me choosing to become a midwife. Veronica came with Marion, another friend from the ‘old days’ who has recently and delightfully come back into my life. It was fabulous to see them both. Veronica went to the children’s section of Waterstones and brought back the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, and she turned to page to page 10. ‘Listen to this’ she said….’I love this passage, and once had to read it at a friend’s wedding’.
“What is REAL?” asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day… “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
“Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand… once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.
I had never heard or read this before, but I will certainly remember it. I bought the book. Afterwards my special sister in law Gill and dear friend Lynne went to meet Marion and Veronica for a glass of fiz on Winkley St, another unexpected suprise! We will certainly return there!
PS…I met John Welshman in Waterstones, the author of Titanic: the last night of a small town. Friendly and interesting, John is a historian and works as a senior lecturer at Lancaster University. He told me has also written another book about evacuees during the second world warChurchill’s Children . I shall be purchasing both books, and look forward to relishing each one.