Happy Birthday Joe

Its a very early wake up for me most days and most days I roll over and go to sleep. But today is different. I am up early and already he has gone to work. I’ve missed him! Its the thirty sixth anniversary of his birth today! It takes me back to the first moment I laid eyes on him, and much further than that, as this tome will tell!

Unlike each of his sisters and his brother, his Dad was the first to hold him and he held him for quite a while! I was being put back together after his cesarian delivery! It was 2.00am before I could hold him. His Dad had gone home, exhausted. I could not contain my joy. It was a brief introduction because an attack of panic when he coughed up fluid made me ring the emergency button. The nurse explained that this was not uncommon cesarian births and took him back to the nursery to clear it up and give him some oxygen.

I was 35. My pregnancy was labelled geriatric by the specialist in gestational diabetes. The first time I heard that description was on a visit from him and his team of interns towards the end of my lock up in the antenatal ward. “This is a geriatric pregnancy, admitted with gestational diabetes”. I felt like specimen rather than a woman!

I have always been a writer I think. I used to think I was destined to be a nun. It sort of ran in the family. But “destiny” turned out differently! I have written from childhood. In February 1980, aged 29, I wrote:

I look at you and see a miracle
In spite of me, you're wonderful
and I love you!
My hope for you, my child
is that you will remain
and independent.
I thank God for you.
I thank your father for loving me
and giving me you 
and I thank you
because you are you......

My boy, my son, my life!
You stand so straight and tall
and yet you're so afraid and breakable!
Stay happy son!
Keep your faith - for its your special gift!
Believe in yourself
and love yourself!
You bring me joy and love and hope,
you give me reason for living.

Megan Elizabeth
My little love!
You're the lucky one
You can learn so much.
Look to your sister to learn about 
art and music
determination and strength
fairness and compassion.
From your brother, seek
creativity and faith
generosity and humility
optimism and love.
I love you so, you have brought me joy
You are with me, and yet not mine.
As you grow, I hope I can remember 
How special you are to me and mine. 

I think the prompting for my poetry was the fact that another baby was on the way because not long after that I wrote ,

O little child who isn't yet, 
How I am longing for you to be.
I want to know that you're within me
growing and becoming.
the gift of life is so precious.
its our ticket to eternity
I want to pass this gift on to you
to give you life, through me
to carry another being within you
brings unspeakable joy
nothing is greater or more rewarding,
more frightening or humbling.
So my child who isn't yet
be assured your life is coming
I'm waiting for you, longing for you
and ready to make you mine!

And now, from April 2nd, 1981, I read the tear stained entries:

O little child who isn't 
You have been and I 
never knew you
O the ache I feel inside, the emptiness there was once
Joseph? Rebecca - who were you?
I felt you move - just once - 
but I know you were
I loved you without knowing you.
Why did you die? Were you not right
or me?
I suppose you never knew I loved you
But then all you knew in your
short "before life out here" time
was warmth and security
You never had to shed tears or know
I still long to hold you,
I'm still ready to make you mine
If I could just stop loving 
a life I never knew
which is as much a part of me as my heart
Oh little child I know you are
we gave you life, a soul
and you live in bliss and love.
Reach down to me somehow, help me
and reassure me my faith. Make me again

And there are three more entries that are not poems. " I lost my much loved, unknown baby on Wednesday, March 18th, 1981"
"On January 28th, 1982 I lost another much loved, much longed for unknown baby - they will be done"
"January 12th, 1983, another soul in heaven"
"March 28th 1984, our 7th child - a dear little daughter"

In 1981 I turned 30. I held a middle management position at my school. We had paid off the home loan. My husband had a good job and for the first time in our relationship we decided we would “try” for a baby. From experience, we knew there was not much effort required and to use a term which I loathe now, but was part of my dialogue then we “fell” pregnant with very little effort. Assuming it would be a pushover having experienced three “push outs” ( 8 pounds 7 ounces, 11 pounds 13 ounces and 9 pounds 6 ounces) we fell!

Unpaid maternity leave was the order of the day. We were ready for that. I sewed baby clothes, we found the bassinet, the baptismal dress, the shawls. My husband changed jobs and with his payout and in preparation for the new arrival we purchased a brand new Mitsubishi 7 seater bus ready for the family extension. The only change was that instead of my GP looking after me, it had become “de rigueur” to be referred to an obstetrician. He was a lovely older, doctor.

At what we thought was about 7 months since “we fell” he had trouble finding the baby’s heart beat and I was sent for, what was then brilliant new technology , an ultrasound.The building this took place in still stands. Every time I pass it I remember. The lovely straight talking, much younger doctor said “And what’s up with you?” “The doctor can’t find the heartbeat” The specialist did what he had to do and then said “There is no heartbeat, darling. Your baby is dead.” It was as if the entire world just stopped.

I rang my husband at work. No mobile phones of course but the receptionist allowed me to ring. I drove to my mother’s house, banging on the door. “What ever happened?” “My baby is dead” ” Don’t be ridiculous!” And then we talked. She told me that she too had miscarried early in her second pregnancy. I had not known that. She miscarried one night in bed after attending a religious procession. She described the foetus. She remembered everything! She had five more children after that but she never forgot! She told me about her dearest friend whose baby had died in utero at 8 months and who had to wait until she went into labour to deliver her baby. Secret, silent anguish they and so many others endured.

I wonder about this now.. The term “missed abortion” was used.I had not heard it ever! The management plan was the same as it had been for my Mum’s friend. I had to wait for “nature to take its course” which it did. But in the interim, I walked around, I did the shopping, I hugged the kids. My youngest daughter Megan Elizabeth found me crying one day. She was three. She put her arms around me and said “Silly old Joseph has gone to heaven”!

I gave birth (to death) late one night on March 18th 1981. The baby was whisked away. A nurse, who I knew, said to me “the sac was not broken.” I knew this was a good sign because my Aunt who had been a nurse had told Mum about the risk of infection if that had happened. the next thing she told me was “I baptised your baby”. Did I care? Was it a boy? Was it a girl? Did it have anything wrong with it that could be seen? What will happen now?

My parish priest dropped in before I had left hospital and told me that I was lucky the baby had not “got to 28 weeks – you won’t need to have a funeral”. The only explanation that I could console myself with was that before being called to Holy Orders, he had been a plumber! (Not that plumbers are not wonderful people!) I was placed in the post natal ward. The woman from the Nursing Mother Association, all clipboard, leaflets and smiles, appeared at the end of my bed and chirped “And is baby breast or bottle?” ” My baby is dead”. She immediately burst into tears. It must have been a horrible thing for her. We chatted a bit while she got herself back together.

Three more times it happened. The last time, I was prepared. There was a new obstetric registrar in the hospital. I had no information about the gender of any of the others. I had not seen any of them. It didn’t occur to me to ask either. The platitude “ nature taking care of its own” frequently used was no help! I was admitted as soon as the death of the baby had been determined. There were signs that I recognised, so I knew too. The birth was induced. I was 26 weeks into the pregnancy. So when a bright young intern dropped in late in the evening, after the drugs to start the process had been administered, gleefully announced himself saying “Good evening Mrs Roach. My name is…… and I am here to witness a birth….” and before he could emit another syllable I said ” well, you’re not witnessing this one.” and he launched himself out the door!

I asked the registrar if I might see the baby after delivery. I had not asked before and no one had offered. He explained he would see the baby and if he thought it was safe for me ( in terms of my reactions I suppose) he would happily do that. After delivery, he brought her to me.What followed was the biggest paradox of my life! Tiny. Perfect. Unspeakably wonder filled. I had expected to be desperately sad. What I felt was total peace and absolute completion. He held her, wrapped. She was cradled completely by the palm of his hand. He said “This baby is as much your child as any of your other children. She had the same potential as they have. She is and will be forever part of your family.” I remember the size of her foot – as big as my little fingernail. The beautiful curve in the shape of her ear. Her lovely, profile. I did not hold her. He asked me if I would like to but the asking was enough. Perfection..

I did get feedback medically speaking. There was nothing to indicate why. There was nothing to indicate what was done with any of the foetuses – my daughters. I have nowhere to go to mourn them as I have with my mother and father, my grandparents, my siblings, my ancestors! I have no birth/death certificates. I presume somewhere in the bowels of some storage facility there are medical records but no offical registration of them.

And then, on the night of our firstborn’s 15th birthday I imbibed a little too much champagne and soon after realised it was on again! The geriatric, gestational diabetic mother was admitted early in 1987. I joined a group of four other geriatric mothers in the private rooms (thank God!) of the antenatal ward and prepared myself, as best I could, for the most intrusive, the longest, the most undignified process of getting him out! I had everything available! I learned how to inject insulin in order to be allowed out for the weekends. My Dad visited me every day. I attended my first ever antenatal classes and met some lunatics on the cusp of giving birth!

An entire day of being induced, including the placement of a cap on the baby’s head because they were worried about his heart rate ( I did not know the gender at the time), being mid stream on the bedpan when the the diabetic specialist brought his team of students around to view ” a geriatric, gestational diabetes pregnancy during induction” , having an epidural in case there was to be a cesarian so I could be awake for the birth, post that procedure, baby went into foetal distress which required a blood sample from his head ” Now, Mrs Roach, the nurse (as tiny as a stick insect) is going to climb up on the bed and if you turn on your right side and place your left leg on her shoulder …” “DO I HAVE A LEFT LEG?” and just as the intern ( I guess) was approaching with a hideous looking large syringe type thing, there was a knock on the door!

My first thought was that if that was my parish priest coming to visit or give me communion I might just pretend I was dead. But it wasn’t. By this stage the magnificent Registrar who had taken me through the delivery of my 7th pregnancy was now in private practice and was my obstetrician.
“WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON HERE!” He came straight to me and I said “If I could just do this with some dignity”.He told the team to desist! It was early in the evening. “You’re going to theatre.” And off I went! Of course, the epidural did not provide me with total numbness even though he waited a long time to see if it could and in spite of groans and death stares from a couple of nursing staff I was knocked out completely and woke up in recovery. My husband was holding my hand. “We have a son.” “Is it a boy?” “Yes”. “Is it alive?” “Is it a boy?”….. true, dielirious, relief, wonder, joy!


My Dad met Joseph one morning on his daily visit. I was in the shower and I could hear Joseph crying. I hurried as best I could post surgery to get out. When I arrived in the room there was my wonderful Dad leaning over his crib singing to him while Joseph was having none of it and yelling his little head off! “Dad pick him up” ” Can I?Should I? What if I hurt him?” He picked him up Joe shut up! Dad cradled him and said “Hello Joe Blow” and the unbreakable bond was sealed – forever!

Now Joseph is our comfort and support and strength. When I was doing loop the loops around the cuckoos nest, he held us all together. He has wonderful skills but his greatest skill and gift is his compassion. He works in aged care in the dementia unit. He is confronted every day by the war between process and compassion! He is what aged care needs! He learned about the loss, the sadness, the frustration, and the joy in every second that occurs when the essence of the elderly person shines through in dignified Elder like fashion and connection, through his relationship with his GrandKen , my Dad his Grand Pat, my mother.

In jest and at the risk to his personal safety he reminds me how to get out of a chair, how to retrieve something from the floor, where I put my glasses or why I left the door open. He loves his Dad just as all his siblings do. People talk about the pride they have in their children. I don’t use that expression. Instead I say I am honoured by the fact that they continue to allow me into their lives. They didn’t ask to be born. But I am glad they were! All of them!

In August, chronologically speaking I will be literally twice as old as he is!

You made me happy!

2 responses to “Happy Birthday Joe”

  1. Voices from the Heart……………I’m amazed at your Resilience & always your gift of storytelling – so beautiful & such a gift to the family.


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