August 3rd, 1986
Martha traced her fingers over her new daughter’s blonde hair and the tune her father used to sing just slipped inside her thoughts. Within minutes of her birth, she had named her Laura – a name they had agreed on together. A beautiful name for a faultless baby. She had ten tiny little fingers. Ten tiny little toes. A grip that could rival an arm wrestler. As Laura lay against her chest, her steady breathing brought peace.
Thomas had promised that he would visit today. Laura was dressed in a cute yellow dress, with a little bow at the back. Despite the difficult birth, she had struggled to the showers.
He hurried into the ward, and Martha waved Thomas over. In one hand he held a colossal stuffed rabbit. In the other a mixed bunch of flowers, with yellow roses at the core. He stared at the cot, where Laura lay sleeping. Entranced, he watched her chest rise and fall to the steady ticking on the clock on the wall. Martha had done the same. How could she have given birth to such a perfect little girl? Thomas blinked, and touched the clear glass between him and Laura.
‘I’m so sorry I wasn’t at the birth my little project, I tried to get away, but Charles and I prayed for her safe delivery.’
‘I felt your love Thomas, and you’re here now.’
‘She looks so tiny.’
Martha did her best to encourage Thomas to hold his child, ‘You can pick her up if you want? It’s okay she won’t break.’
‘She’s sleeping, I don’t want to wake her,’ Thomas said, the rabbit positioned at the end of the cot. He then motioned over the nurse to bring a vase over.
Eyes still heavy with sleepless nights, she smiled as Thomas arranged the flowers. Roses in the middle, blue tulips around the edge.
‘They’re beautiful, thank you.’
Martha, supported by Thomas, removed their daughter from her crib. She cradled Laura’s head in her hands. Manoeuvred her on to his lap. Heavy arms tensed against her weight, but Laura’s tiny fingers reached out and with gentle guidance, he leant back into the pillow.
‘Are you sure she’s ours?’ Thomas asked.
‘I’m sure. She looks a lot like you don’t you think?’
As Laura wriggled in his arms, he handed her back to Martha. She wanted to put Laura to her breast, but Thomas had taken time off work to be with them. Half an hour wouldn’t matter either way. However, her full nappy couldn’t wait.
‘What did your mum say about her new granddaughter?’
‘She says that she will see us all when we get home and settled, and asked what we were going to call her.’
‘You told her then?’ Martha asked, as she quickly changed Laura’s nappy.
Martha settled their daughter into the cot, the floppy eared rabbit put within her reach. Thomas propped up Martha’s pillows before he got comfortable on the chair.
‘She wasn’t happy at first, but when I explained it was your grandmother’s name, she kind of understood. Mother means well Martha, but she’s never really been good with children.’
Martha touched his knee, and his large hand covered hers.
‘When do you think you’ll be home?’ Thomas asked, one eye on Martha and the other on Laura.
‘The doctor says that Laura has to put on weight first.’
‘I need you at home Martha, I can’t work out the washing machine. The house is never as tidy when I try and do it. Look at my shirt, I need to wear my jacket because there is a burn mark on the back.’
‘I want to go home, I miss you, but they won’t allow me to go.’
Martha remembered the nurse’s explanation on why her milk wasn’t coming through sufficiently. Had advised her to relax. Stress was always a big factor in any new mother.
‘Maybe you should feed her by bottle then. At least you’ll both be home where you belong. You look exhausted and there’s no shame in bottle feeding. Mum fed me on the bottle. I gained weight without even trying.’
As the bell rang for the end of visiting hours, Thomas placed his arms around Martha’s shoulders. Kissed her gently on the lips. Within minutes he was gone. She called the nurse over, and told her she wanted to feed Laura formula. The bottle felt weird in her hands at first. Her breast felt heavy with all the milk, but it was better this way.
Laura struggled to accept the bottle, but eventually hunger prevailed.
‘See Laura isn’t that better. Your daddy just wants the best for you.’
‘Nanny!’ Tabitha’s cries brought her to her senses, as she tried to keep her emotions together.
‘Sorry love, Nanny was getting tired,’ Martha attempted a brief smile.
‘Nanny, please may I go on the ladybird?’
‘Of course.’ Martha gently picked Tabitha up and planted her on the ground. She tried to keep up with her little angel, who was now running at speed to the red and yellow climbing frame. A firm hold of her tiny hand, she was led along the top. Her eyes wandered over to Laura, who watched them from the park bench.
Martha felt a little guilty that she had to keep these meetings a secret, but couldn’t stop seeing them altogether. Thomas was missing out on so much. Every little smile, every little moment.