I was 22 years old when I married an older widower with three young children and a year later I was pregnant, with my first and only child. I don’t remember much about the pregnancy, except that I developed toxemia (pre-eclampsia) and was advised to go into hospital at 37 weeks. I said ‘no, the baby’s not due for three weeks’, but my husband said ‘yes, you’re going in’.
It was a Sunday, about 4.00pm. Ray had to stay home with the children and in any case, he wouldn’t have been allowed into the labour ward. There were no other women in there that afternoon and very few nursing staff. I was settled in a bed and after a check-up by my obstetrician, I didn’t really see anyone after that for some time. I remember feeling a little scared; I didn’t know what would happen. In those days there were no books or courses on pregnancy and birth and only advice you got was about the months following the birth.
Every hour or so a nurse would come in and check on me. I lay alone in the room, on my back, and felt the contractions growing in strength and listened to the St Peter’s Cathedral bells nearby. At one point in the labour an electrician came into the ward to fix something and I recall him saying “Don’t worry dear, my wife’s had three. You’ll be fine.” I must have been moaning and groaning!
My obstetrician, one of the few women doctors then, arrived for the delivery just before my son was born (about four hours after I was admitted to hospital). The main thing I remember is that I was sure I was going to have a bowel motion and was frightened of soiling the bed!
Geoffrey was covered in black hair, even his ears, and I thought of him as a little monkey. I felt disappointed that he was a boy as I knew that I didn’t want any more children and would have liked a girl. I was allowed to hold him for a while and then the nurses took him to the babies’ ward. I was encouraged to breastfeed him and did so for a couple of months, even though it repulsed me. I know now, in hindsight, that I suffered from postnatal depression for the first three months after his birth. In those days such things weren’t spoken of and so I had to get on with the business of raising three children and a new baby.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem