Now that Midwives has taken over from Downton Abbey as everyone’s favourite, the usual questions are being asked about how authentic these tales of childbirth in the old days really are. They should ask my mother, whose story of the day she had me proves that life then is about as far removed from how things are today as you could imagine. There was no pain relief and no attentive Dad, but she did have a bottle of Champagne on hand. Her confinement took place at home, where a nurse was on hand, who came equipped with a gas and air machine, but didn’t find out, until it was too late, that she didn’t know how to work it. The doctor had been called, but he arrived when it was all over, as did my father. This is how my mother described things in a letter to her parents the following day:
“After Charlie (my father) and the doctor arrived they made a hammock of a sheet and carried me through into my own bedroom and we straightaway celebrated Jonathan’s arrival with a bottle of Champagne. And never has wine tasted so wonderful to me! The doctor, whose only part in the whole procedure had been to take my pulse, then retired to the lounge with Charlie and between them they drank all but the dregs of that bottle of whisky you brought us from Scotland. Nurse and I were disgusted with him, but actually I was too happy to be mad about anything. Jonathan is Charlie’s choice of name – he cabled it to you before I could decide whether I wanted it or not. An hour after Jonathan was born we were all discussing how soon it would be wise to start with the next!”
The “next” didn’t arrive for 15 months and the doctor drove home merrily at half past ten, happy with a job well done. Yes, Midwives is spot on.