As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Today I'm writing the day that I was born in the county of Berkshire, England. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed where needed. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
On the night that I was born, mum and dad were at a party with their friends from work. It was a cold and miserable Saturday night in November 1975 and since I wasn’t due for another few weeks, they were making the most of their freedom before their lives revolved around grown up and boring things like stinky nappies and a baby that needed feeding. But I had being the little excited explorer person I was, had other plans, and I never liked to miss a good party!
No sooner had they arrived at the party, when Mum realised that I was on my way, and a very scared Mum and dad were soon whizzing off to the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading. The very same hospital that the actress Kate Winslet (of Titanic fame) was born just a few weeks before me! Well if it was good enough for a Hollywood movie star to be, then it would do for me and I wanted in on the action! Of course no one knew who Kate was then, apart from her mum and dad.
Hospitals were a bit different back then, because dad’s being allowed into the birth of a baby was still quite a new thing and not all dad’s wanted to be in for the birth, and not all nurses and midwives, and not all mum’s liked the idea either. So I don’t know whether my dad was there in the room when I was born or not. It might be that he was told to wait in the corridor until the nurse came and told him he had a daughter, or he might have been there holding my mum’s hand because she would have been in a lot of pain and probably very frightened because she was still young herself and this was her first baby. They usually gave mums special medicines during the birth but there weren't quite as sophisticated as they are today and some made mums feel very anxious or knocked them out completely so they didn't remember anything.
The midwives and staff were very strict, new mums had to simply do as they were told because hospital people knew what was best, you weren’t allowed to argue with them. There were also doctors or ‘obstetricians’ as they were called because they were specialist doctors who delivered babies and didn’t do other doctor things like fix broken legs or give you medicine for your chicken pox. The doctors still wore white coats, and the nurses and midwives had paper hats that they pinned to their hair with hairgrips, and they wore white cotton aprons over their nurses dress. Nobody wore scrubs back then, even in America. Back in the 1970s it was quite usual for the Midwife or the nurse to be a lady and the doctor to be a man, because even though lots of the soldiers in World War Two in the 1940s gained medical experience and started to work in hospitals after the war, they only began joining the Nursing Registrar in 1951. Even in 2015 there were only 103 male Midwives in Britain, compared to 31,189 female midwives which I think is a shame because men and women can be equally good as nurses and midwives, especially now that the dad is allowed to be there in the room when the baby is born.
My birth wasn’t an easy one for mum and mum wasn’t allowed to see me at first so she was frightened that I would die because I was born much earlier than I should have been. But there was nothing much wrong with me. I screamed very loudly, and I was born on Sunday morning at 2.15am weighing 5 pounds and 5 ounces. Mum was told to rest and she wasn’t allowed home for a few days, which was quite usual then as new mum’s usually stayed in hospital for a few days to get their strength back and to make sure they knew how to change a nappy and how to bath the baby. It was probably lucky that I was born in that hospital and at that time, because the policy was changing and in other hospitals mum’s were no longer to be kept in hospital but were now going to be discharged the next day so that their family could look after them at home.
Mum must have been quite funny after the doctors gave her the special medicine when I was born, because at first she named me ‘Psyche’, then ‘Imagine’ then ‘Lexi’. I wouldn’t have minded being called Lexi, but I’m very glad she didn’t call me Psyche or Imagine because that would have been very strange when I became a psychologist as a grown up. A Psychologist called ‘Psyche’, or an author called ‘Imagine’. She eventually settled on the name Sarah Jane. I didn’t much like it much because it was too girly and I didn’t feel like it suited me, but I’d much rather be a Sarah Jane than a Psyche or an Imagine!
Dad wasn’t much better, because if I had been a boy, then the tradition in his family was to the call the boy Norman, because his first name was Norman, and so was his dad, even though none of them ever used the name Norman, because none of them liked it much!
Norman sounded like a really boring and dull name to me, but I didn’t mind it so much when I read about where the name came from, as it was the term given to the Norsemen; the Vikings, who invaded Britain a long time ago.
I quite fancied being a Viking. And it was better than Sarah which meant ‘Princess’. I hated princesses. In the Disney films on television, and in the storybooks and fairytales the princess was always wearing a dress and horrid shoes and wasn’t allowed to play outside. No wonder the princess always looked so pale and skinny and sickly. Instead she was made to live in a tower or to spin golden wool indoors on a spinning wheel for the King. She always seemed to be cursed by a wicked witch or poisoned and would fall asleep for hundreds or years and could only be rescued by a handsome Prince giving her a kiss.
It seemed to me like the boys in the stories always had the most fun. At least they were allowed outside, and could have wonderful adventures and fights with dragons and knights. Way more fun than sitting indoors all day knitting or sewing.
Sometimes it seems strange to me that the day we are born is the most important day of our whole life, but we don’t remember a single thing about it. I would love to know more about the day that I was born, but perhaps it is a good thing that we don’t remember because it would be quite a scary thing to go through and to suddenly be picked up by all those doctors after being all warm and snug inside your mum’s tummy for months. And then taken to a special room where all the babies are put into plastic cribs together and not with their mums on the ward. If I had a baby I wouldn’t want it to be taken away, I would want it by my side all the time so I knew if it needed feeding or changing or a cuddle or whatever. Knowing me I probably wouldn't have minded, what with being an explorer and liking to see new places.
I don’t even know the name of the midwife or the doctor who helped deliver me, because that is never written on your birth certificate but the name of the person who registers you at the office does get their name on the form, even though they really didn’t do anything to help you be born.
I always imagined that the midwife who delivered me was called Netty and that she was a chubby Irish lady, with round glasses and a big smile and red rosy cheeks. She would look after my mum and stop her from feeling afraid, and then when I was born she would pick me up and wrap me in a white fluffy blanket, and look down at my face and say something like ‘sure, would you look at her. Such a perfect baby. This one is going to go far in life, definitely a world famous explorer’. And then I would smile back up at her with my perfect baby smile. And Netty would smile at my parents and they would smile back, knowing that they had done a good job and that they were incredibly lucky to have a baby like me in their world. Then Netty the midwife would go and sit at the maternity hospital reception for a while, put her feet up on the counter, and dunk a Digestive biscuit into a nice hot cup of NHS tea, knowing that she had brought a very special baby into the world.
But I don’t know the midwife’s name, and instead I only know the name of the pen pusher at the Wokingham and District Office of Registration of Births and Deaths and all they had to do was to sign my birth certificate to say yes I was a baby and yes I was born on the 16th November 1975. The person who did all that signing was called Netty, Netty Ogden, and though I am sure she was a very nice and kind person and was just doing her job, I still think that the midwife deserved to get their name on my birth certificate, along with the name of my mum and my dad, not just a complete stranger who just saw that I was in fact a new baby!