Perhaps I should hesitate to start a post with what verges on a cliché, but I can’t help wondering where the years have gone. Back in the earliest days of this blog I asked myself the same question when DD celebrated her fortieth birthday, and today I’m looking back even further, to the day forty-five years ago, when, at the tender age of 22, DH and I became parents for the first time.
It was 1968, the year of students riots in Paris and the doomed Prague Spring in Soviet Czechoslovakia, of the last mainline steam trains in Britain and the first manned Apollo mission in the US. It was the year DH and I graduated and bought our first, rather decrepit house for the princely sum of £2,150.
We were subsisting on a student bursary of £500 a year while he trained as a teacher and once the mortgage had been paid each month, there was very little left over to live on . The house was minimally furnished with family cast-offs, the unused rooms still empty. The only clothes we bought that year were for the baby I was expecting and even those were just the few things I couldn't make myself.
I discovered very quickly how fortunate I was to have been brought up by a mother who taught all her daughters to cook plain, healthy and, above all, economical food. DH was away at college from Sunday to Friday evening, living in our ancient camper to save rent, while I was alone at home, trying to turn a neglected house into somewhere to care for a baby. I’d made a start by painting the kitchen what should, if the label on the tin were to be believed, have been a warm but muted shade of coral, but which turned out to be a vivid and virulent pink, which we had to endure until we sold the house four years later.
Two weeks before the baby was due I went for my weekly ante-natal check-up on the last Tuesday in November. DH was at college as usual, after a very pleasant weekend at home during which we’d celebrated his birthday. Out of the blue, the doctor who examined me said he was worried about my puffy ankles and on hearing there was no-one at home to look after me, insisted that I be admitted to hospital the same afternoon for rest and care until the baby was born.
As it turned out, DS didn't wait for the two weeks to be up before making his entrance. An accidental fall on a wet bathroom floor precipitated the first signs of labour and DH arrived home for the weekend to find that active fatherhood was imminent. When that Advent Sunday dawned, it was obvious that the baby was well on the way and DH spent the long day by my bed, fetching and carrying and making himself as useful as he could.
Back in those days it was mandatory for fathers to have attended ante-natal classes if they were to be admitted to the labour-ward. Being away at college all week meant that he hadn’t been able to go to the classes with me and the staff were adamant that he had to say goodbye to me at the labour-ward door and wait outside until it was all over.
He didn’t have long to wait. The first stage of labour might have been long, but the second was almost precipitous and DS made his entrance into the world only 20 minutes after I’d been wheeled through that door.
When he was wrapped up and given to me to hold, someone asked what we were going to call him. DH and I had whittled down the possibilities to two short-lists of names, but hadn’t yet made our final choice. At that point I could remember only one name from the boy’s list, probably because it was the shortest, but as soon as I said it out loud, I knew it was the only possible one. When DH was allowed in to see us both, I presented him with not only a son but a name, and suddenly we were a family and life would never be the same again.
Forty-five years on, DS is a husband and father in his turn, with a son who will soon be 10 and a very busy and worthwhile career. But on this Advent Sunday I can still see so clearly the baby with dimples, who looked up at me at the end of that long day and lodged himself in my heart for ever.
Postscript: It may seem almost unbelievable in these days of camera-phones, Facebook and Instagram, but we don’t have a single photo of either of our children until they were at least 3 months old. They were both born in winter and our first photos were taken when it was finally warm enough to be outside with them.