The Displaced Nation

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Me and my shadow: LIBBY’S LIFE #48 – Hospital visiting hours

Kate here. Sorry. No journal entry from Libby today, so I’m writing it for her — but I think you’ll agree she has a good excuse.

Three days ago on Monday, April 23rd, at 2:02pm and 2:11pm, Libby’s twins entered the world.

Understandably, Libby has been a little preoccupied  since then.

~ ~ ~

It’s a little over a year since I first met Libby. We were both browsing in Waterstones last March — or rather, I was browsing and she was buying self-help books by the truckload, desperately trying to make the best of her enforced expatriation. Over a couple of Danish pastries, I gave her the idea of writing this blog, and I’ve been surprised by her doggedness in the endeavour.

Admittedly, I’ve also been taken aback by her candid accounts of life in small town America. Presumably her landlady and husband don’t read the blog. Not to mention her mother-in-law.

As it happened, I’ve been in Albany on business this month, crossing my fingers that my time here would coincide with the birth of Libby’s twins. When I got a text from her on Tuesday, announcing their arrival the previous day, I was thrilled. She’d beaten the system and had the twins before her scheduled C-section.

“Twins r here! Overjoyed! Visit us!” her first text said, exuding that post-birth hormonal high. I remembered it well.

The next text, twelve hours later, was less high. It said: “Pls bring Boston Cremes and decaf iced coffee. Or normal coffee but don’t tell nurse at desk.”

I duly arrived at the maternity ward — “Family Birth Center” — clutching a box of the requested doughnuts and clandestine joe, and was given lots of suspicious looks by a nurse who appeared to have been trained by the TSA.  When I’d convinced her that I was here to see a friend and her new babies, that I wasn’t going to abduct said babies, that I hadn’t imported TB from Europe, and hinted that it was none of her damned business if I intended to stuff six Boston Cremes down my throat in front of my friend, she grudgingly allowed me to knock on Libby’s door.

The rooms in American hospitals compared with English hospital wards are…Well. Think “Waldorf Astoria.” Then think “Youth hostel.”

Libby’s room contained two beds, and she sat on one with her back to me, chatting on the phone. She seemed to be the only occupant, which is just as well because the spare half of the room was taken up with a flock of helium balloons and the contents of the local garden centre. I felt rather silly with my modest pot of one pink and one blue hyacinth, but took consolation at the sight of an empty Dunkin Donuts cup by the wastepaper basket, which indicated my food offering would be more welcome.

She heard me enter and turned around. “Just a minute,” she mouthed at me before plastering a fake smile on her face.

“No, Mum,” I heard her say. “You put maple syrup on pancakes, and peanut butter on toast. No, not the other way round. Yes, I’m sure. Marmite is fine on American bread, Jack will eat that too — he didn’t? That’s unusual…Oh. Well, I suppose Marmite doesn’t taste too good on cinnamon toast, so — look, just give him a banana now, and Oliver will sort him out later. Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. I’ll be home tomorrow. Hang in there, OK?”

Libby clicked the Off button on the phone. The fake smile disappeared.

“Jesus wept!” she shouted. “I leave the house at 9:30 on Monday morning to give birth to twins five hours later — without an epidural, I’ll have you know — and she can’t even cope with the correct topping for cinnamon toast?”

She breathed in deeply, then let it out slowly. Five times she did this. She’d obviously had lots of practice at this quite recently — whether in labour or while trying to cope with her mother, I couldn’t tell.

“Anyway,” she said eventually, this time with a genuine smile. “You came to see us! That’s lovely.”

“I brought these.” I set the flowers and coffee on one of the bedside tables, and fished around in my tote bag. “Baby clothes. M&S.”

“How cute is that!” She’d adopted some of the American vernacular since our last meeting, I noticed. “They’ll look very sweet in these little vests, won’t you, my babies?” she cooed in the direction of the balloons.

I glanced around the room, peering into the depths of the flowers and balloons for evidence of cribs and newborns.

“Libs? Where are the babies?”

She looked alarmed for a moment, then relaxed. “Oh! That’s right, they’re not here. They’re in the nursery. The nurses keep running off with them when they haven’t got enough to do, which is quite often. There’s only me and two other women in the unit at the moment. Quite surprising, when you consider the circumstances of the conception. Then again, I suppose I was early.”

I was confused for a moment, then remembered. Hurricane Irene. Not much else in the way of entertainment when the electricity is out for a week. In a couple of weeks, this place would be a lot fuller.

“And how are Sam and Megan doing?” I asked.

She tilted her head on one side. “Who?”

I frowned, wondering if the old saying about losing your brain cells in the maternity ward was doubly applicable when you had twins.

“The bay-bies?” I said, enunciating slowly.

Libby laughed.

“Didn’t I tell you? They’re not Sam and Megan any more. They’re George and Elizabeth. They were born on Saint George’s Day,” she explained, “so Oliver and I thought that something more English, more regal, might be in order. And of course Elizabeth is my real name, but we’re going to call her Beth — Oh, look! Here they are!”

Two nurses wheeled two trolleys topped with clear plastic cribs. In each little crib — bassinet, I think they call them here — lay a tightly wrapped bundle with a stripy hat perched on one end.

One pink hat, one blue.

Libby sighed. “They’re hungry again. Especially George. George is always hungry.”

She shuffled around on the bed, twiddling with controls that raised the head into a backrest. One of the nurses propped a couple of pillows in front of her and handed her a baby. Libby tucked it under her left arm, and then tucked the other baby under her right. She nodded at the two nurses, and they left the room.

The babies fed, their eyes closed. One of them  — the pink hat; Beth, I assumed — worked a fist loose from the swaddling and waved it around. The fist bashed the owner’s face, and she stopped feeding and howled at the unprovoked attack by a strange flying object.

“Silly baby,” Libby murmured affectionately.

Beth twisted her head from side to side, looking for the food source again. Libby helped her find it.

“You’re very pro at this already,” I said, impressed. Feeding two babies at once; one had seemed complicated enough, as I remembered. But Libby seemed a different person from the uncertain little mouse I’d met a year ago. This Libby was confident, efficient…

I’d spoken too soon.

Libby’s eyes filled with tears, which ran down her cheeks unchecked because both her hands were occupied, holding the twins.

I stood up, plucked a tissue from the box by the bed, and wiped her face.

“Did I say something wrong?” I asked.

She shook her head and sniffed.

“It’s nothing. The baby blues — remember those?”

I nodded. They’re not easily forgotten, those third-day blues.

“Remember wondering how you’re going to cope at home on your own?”

I pondered. As I recalled, I was overjoyed to leave the noisy NHS hospital, where six mothers in the same ward insisted on “rooming in” with their squawking babes.

“I was glad to get home for some sleep.”

“But it’s different here! They wait on you, hand, foot and finger! I don’t have to do a thing — not even change nappies! And tomorrow I’m going to go home, and my mother will want nursemaiding because she doesn’t understand how the shower works or something, and I’m going to be all…alone!”

She wailed, and one of the babies — Blue Hat — lifted its head and wailed in sympathy. Pink Hat followed suit. All three Patricks wailed together.

“Can’t you stay?” she pleaded.

“I thought I’d stay a couple of hours — ”

“No. I mean, stay with me. At our house. Just for a few days. My mother is useless, and I’ve asked too much of Maggie already, and Oliver means well, but… We have internet, you could work from Oliver’s den. It would mean so much to me, just to have someone sane and female around the house until I get my act together.”

I thought. I only had one more meeting tomorrow morning, and would be working at home in Milton Keynes after that for a week. It would make no difference to anyone else if Home was MK or Woodhaven.

“I can probably change my flight,” I said, although it did occur to me that perhaps Oliver might not be overjoyed at this arrangement.

Libby leaned back against the headrest, and sighed shakily.

“Thank you so much.”

Then she sat up again.

“And guess what! You can write my blog again next week!”


Next: LIBBY’S LIFE #49: An unwelcome blast from the past

Previous: LIBBY’S LIFE #47 – Showered with affection

Stay tuned for Friday’s celebration of Obscura Day!

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Img: Map of the World – Salvatore Vuono

6 responses to “Me and my shadow: LIBBY’S LIFE #48 – Hospital visiting hours

  1. Janice April 28, 2012 at 8:10 am

    Congratulations Libby! Thank goodness Kate is there to help you.

    • Kate Allison April 28, 2012 at 8:22 am

      I don’t know about Libby, but I’m exhausted. Having her mother coming to stay wasn’t a good idea – no wonder she needs reinforcements!

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