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U3A Writing: Babies

"Life was far from easy. We had oil lamps and a primus stove. The water had to be carried in, and all cooking and water to wash was heated on the black range...'' Peggy MacKay, the wife of a fisherman, recalls the birth of her first baby in a little house on the seashore in the north of Scotland.

Our first baby was born at home in our little house on the seashore in the north of Scotland on January 27, 1947, in the winter of the big snow.

She was a beautiful eight-and-a-half-pound baby, and her dad thought she was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him. He was 35 years old, a bit older than most new dads, and he adored his new daughter.

Sadly things did not go well for us. When Jeanne was five days old all her skin peeled off, and she was wrapped in muslin nappies until she healed. But by that time she had an infection in her hip.

John had made all her bottles during the night, but when she was three weeks old, he had to leave us to go to Campbeltown to fetch a new fishing boat. The following day I discovered that our baby had one hip and leg swollen twice the size of the other, so I had to send for the doctor. He took one look at me, prescribed iron tablets and M & B tablets. I had septic spots on arms and face.

Then he wrote a letter to the surgeon in Golspie, and that was the first of many trips, 18 miles by train or bus and a half mile walk to and from the station. I got bottles of penicillin to put in each feed, so that entailed three trips a week for two weeks then once a week.

Meanwhile, John and his father were held up on the west coast, as both the Crinnan and Caledonian Canals were frozen solid. During this time John was taken into hospital with suspected diphtheria, which, thankfully, was a severe attack of tonsillitis. However, he was administered aspirin to gargle. He was allergic to the aspirin, and I got a phone call via my friend Mabel to tell me he was seriously ill. I could only hope and pray, as there was nothing I could to.

At this time my mother-in-law was terminally ill, and she died on March 7, by which time John and his father flew to Inverness and then by train for the funeral. They later returned and followed an ice-breaker through the canals with the boat.

A further blow was to follow when my father died on May 22nd, and I was unable to go to his funeral, as I was still attending hospital with Jeanne.

When Jeanne was three months old, her hip was lanced to relieve a huge abscess and then daily visits from the nurse. By this time John was home and going to sea daily. The baby flourished in the beautiful summer of 1947, during which my friend Mabel and I used to bath our babies (she had a baby boy three weeks after I had Jeanne), put them ion the prams in their night clothes and walk along the seashore. The men were at sea all night in summer, and we made the most of the good weather.

Life was far from easy. We had oil lamps and a primus stove. The water had to be carried in, and all cooking and water to wash was heated on the black range, my pride and joy, polished every day with black lead and silver polish. The clothes were washed in the baby’s bath on a rubbing board.

Jeanne was a good baby. She just ate and slept and was never a problem, bright and sunny, just a joy.

Three years passed and our second daughter, Catriona arrived. But by this time our little cottage hospital had opened, so she was born there, a chubby nine-pound baby with a shock of dark hair, which eventually was a head of curls.

Catriona, however, was not quite as placid as Jeanne. So life was pretty hard work at times, although we had a bit more idea how to deal with a baby then with the first one. And there weren’t the same complications until they both had measles when Jeanne was four and Catriona one year old. Catriona was quite sick, and there were after-effects.

When Catriona was three years old we got our lovely new house with all mod cons, newly built. Life was much easier, and the girls were growing fast. We had no washing machine but lots of hot water.

Then came the surprise - another baby. By this time Jeanne was seven and a half years old and Catriona was four and a half. We told them that there was to be a new baby, and they decided she would be Mairi. No question that it could be a boy. My friend Mabel had sleepless nights worrying about the possibility that it could be a boy.

But Mairi was born in the cottage hospital in July 1954. However, she was not a placid, easy-going baby and never slept a night through until she was three and a half years old. So that took some getting through, but of course we did.

John was only too happy to help and be a dad, and they all have happy memories of their early years in the far north. They are all loving and caring daughters, and I consider myself very fortunate to have them.


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