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Consequences: Chapter 22

...She sent a servant to inform Charles of what was happening. I so much did not want it to happen, but my body would not be ruled by my mind. The maid led me to the next door bedroom, with me bent over with embarrassment and discomfort....

Mary is due to go to Scarborough, there to give birth. But after witnessing her friend Mary Ann give birth to twins, she herself goes into labour.

Jean Day's novel, based on an actual diary, continues to give an engrossing account of love and marriage in moralistic Victorian times. To read earlier chapters of this vivid tale please click on Consequences in the menu on this page.

Mary’s Journal

September 1st
I am planning on leaving for York on Saturday. Charles will travel with me and then come immediately back. He will have to manage on his own for some time, but I’m sure he is capable of doing that and he frequently visits his relatives anyway. Aunt Ann has everything arranged, and we will be off to Scarborough on Monday. I am dreading it. I don’t want to leave Charles, but I am getting too large now to fool anyone. Luckily we have had some cooler weather, so I won’t look conspicuous wearing a large cloak as I travel. If all goes well, I will be back here in Worcester by the end of the month. The baby seems very active, and is making me feel both tired and bloated these days. My feet have swelled up to such an extent that I cannot easily get my shoes on. But I want to pay one more visit to Mary Ann before I go. Her babies are due in three weeks time, but the doctor says they might come early.

September 4th
I was to be en route to York yesterday, but things have changed. I asked Charles to bring my journal so I can write in it while I am here at Mary Ann’s house. There is so much to write, I don’t know where to begin.

I went to visit Mary Ann as arranged on Friday, to say goodbye. But when I entered the house, the maid told me that Mary Ann was in labour and the midwife was with her.

I told the maid, “Pass on my good wishes.”

She said “Mrs. Boyce asked me to tell you when you called that you were to come up to the bedroom.”

I felt so strange and awkward going upstairs into the private part of another’s home. The maid indicated which room it was, and I softly knocked on the door. The midwife answered the door – but when Mary Ann saw it was me, she gestured for me to come in. Just then a contraction overcame her, and I couldn’t believe the pain and anguish that wracked her body. It lasted for a few minutes, but it seemed like much more than that. When she was able to talk again she said the contractions had started a few hours previously and were coming about every five minutes now. She looked so frightened and lost and when she asked me to stay and hold her hand, I could hardly deny her this little comfort. Her husband Fredrick was in London on business and not expected back for several days. I sat next to her on the bedside as another contraction ripped through her whole body. I could tell the midwife was not pleased that I was there, but since Mary Ann wanted me, I was staying no matter. And so on it went for another hour. Then she suddenly screamed and said she couldn’t cope with this pain for another minute, and the midwife told her to breathe quickly and to refrain from pushing.

I watched with amazement as the midwife exposed her lower body and I could see a patch of black hair coming out of that very private part of her. She held my hand so tightly the circulation was cut off. But she now seemed in less pain and before long she was told to push with each contraction. This went on for about five minutes only and suddenly she produced a baby girl, looking very small and fragile. But Mary Ann said she had the urge to continue to push, and not five minutes later another emerged. Both babies breathed without extra help, and the midwife tied the cords and put them each in their pre-ordained lace trimmed wicker baskets, lined with soft blankets. She covered them up and said she would deal with them later when she had delivered the placenta. Mary Ann gave another huge push, and out it came – like a large piece of uncooked liver. I had been brave for such a long time, but the sight of that huge unpleasantness was too much for me and I fainted. When I came to some minutes later, I was still lying on the floor. The midwife said, “I have no time to deal with the likes of you.”

I had hit my body awkwardly in the fall, and I ached all over. I tried to get up, but a sudden sharp pain shot through my abdomen. On Mary Ann’s urging, the nurse helped me to the couch on the other side of the room and I lay down. I was vaguely aware of the nurse washing each baby, and then letting the mother hold them in her arms for a few minutes. Mary Ann had told me that she had hired a wet nurse who would be summoned as soon as possible. For the moment, Mary Ann lay there looking quite the Madonna with her tiny babies in her arms. She looked so calm that no one who had not witnessed it would have realised how wretched she had been just half an hour before.

When I felt that I had rested sufficiently, I moved to get up, but noticed a red patch on my skirt and I suddenly felt as if I had wet myself. What was happening to me? It was too soon for me to have the baby, and I had to travel York and deal with it as we had planned. I had told Mary Ann that I was much farther along with my pregnancy and now she thought that I also must be in labour and suggested that the room next door be made up for me as I obviously could not go out in my present state. She sent a servant to inform Charles of what was happening. I so much did not want it to happen, but my body would not be ruled by my mind. The maid led me to the next door bedroom, with me bent over with embarrassment and discomfort.

The midwife, when she had finished with Mary Ann, came to inspect me to see what condition I was in. The maid had found me one of Mary Ann’s nightgowns and I had disrobed from my wet and bloody clothing. I was trembling with fear. I couldn’t believe that after all our careful planning this was happening to me. The midwife said that my pains were coming about ten minutes apart, and that the baby was unlikely to arrive for several hours, so she would go downstairs for tea and then come to see me in about an hour’s time to see how I was progressing.

Half an hour later, at three quarters past four Charles arrived. He had no idea what the problem was – the servant had only told him that I had immediate need of his presence. The servant had a carriage waiting outside to bring him to me, so he knew that it was serious. He looked as confused and troubled as I am sure I was, but I explained how I had fainted during Mary Ann’s delivery and hurt myself in the process; no doubt the shock had started off the early labour. He said he would stay with me for as long as I needed him. When I cried out during the contractions, he found it very disturbing. I tried to be brave, but as the pain started to get sharper and seemed to go on forever, I didn’t seem to have a choice – I needed to scream. Nothing else would do. I clutched his hand tightly. He found a cloth and wiped my forehead between pains. It was just so comforting to have him sitting next to me, telling me not to worry – when I knew that he was just as worried as I was.

When the midwife came back after an hour or so downstairs, she said I was progressing nicely and the birth would be sooner than she expected, most likely because the baby would be very small, being premature. She had asked me when the baby was due, and I had said November. I don’t know if she realised or not that I was lying. Things progressed and when it came close to the climax, she sent Charles from the room. So I was alone with her when our daughter arrived. She didn’t cry and she looked blue when she emerged, and I thought the worst (or, God forgive me, I almost said the best). The midwife first quickly tied the cord and cut it, then cleared her mouth and nose of mucous and blew gently down her throat, and soon there was a small weak cry. She didn’t sound like she had much life in her – not at all like the cries of Mary Ann’s babies and I feared for her life. After the placenta was delivered (I didn’t faint this time) and she had been cleaned up, the midwife handed my baby to me, and expected me to feed her. I was so unprepared for this. I had not intended to have any close contact with the baby in the arrangement with Aunt Ann, because I knew that if I held her and fed her, I would not have the strength to leave her. But now all our plans had changed. I had no choice. I put her to my breast and she half-heartedly tried to take milk. She was so tiny. Her legs looked like sticks with purplish mottled skin around them. She had only a smattering of black hair and her huge eyes looked dark blue. When the midwife felt that she had had enough sucking, she took her from me and put her into a drawer of the dresser, lined with a blanket and sheet to make a temporary bassinet for her.

Then she asked, “Do you wish Mr. Walker to come back in the room?”

Oh, I did. How I needed Charles to tell me what we were going to do now. The whole world had turned upside down in a day, and I just needed someone to tell me what we were going to do next.

Charles came to the bed and gently kissed me. He looked down at our daughter and said “She will be called Mary, after you, and of course that was my dear sainted mother’s name too.”

“What will we do Charles? We won’t be able to use our plan of going to Scarborough with Aunt Ann.” I started weeping. “I don’t know what we are going to do?”

This last hour sitting waiting for the birthing process to finish, Charles had had time to think. “First of all,” he said, “I have already sent a telegram this afternoon to Aunt Ann telling her not to expect you and that the plan is off. She will have to make the necessary changes to the story from her end.”

We had no choice now but to take the baby home and acknowledge that I had been pregnant all along. Tongues would wag – and I would be scorned but no other solution seemed available.

The midwife, having finished with me, had gone next door again to see how Mary Ann and her babies were progressing. She found that the second child, after having seemed to make such a good start in life, had died. She was lying stiff and blue in the bassinet, where she had left her not many hours before. Mary Ann was sound asleep and not aware that she had died. The midwife was ashen faced and very distraught when she came back into our room and told us what had happened. She knew from what I had let slip when I was talking with Mary Ann during her labour that I had not expected to keep my baby. She now said she saw a possible solution for us.

“I could put your baby into the second bassinet, and say that your daughter had been born so early that she couldn’t survive and had died soon after birth.” The midwife added, “I will leave now and let you think and talk about it for a few moments, but the decision needs to be made before Mrs. Boyce wakes up again, and the rest of the household are informed.”


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