By Mary Gourlay

It was early one afternoon and Paula’s family appeared at the hospital window, her twin brother perched on her Dad’s shoulders to see inside. The hospital grounds around them were lush with the recent shower of rain and a string of droplets from broken guttering edged the window. She stood up and wobbled her way to the end of the cot to get closer to the faces she knew. The glass kept them distant and she longed to be on the other side. Her Mum, just in vision mouthed,

“Be a good girl,” and smiled.

Paula swallowed and looked at her brother, he was crying and pushing towards the window. Dad stepped forward and Tommy’s hand flattened on the pane, she leaned up over the cot end to try and do the same but the gap made this impossible and she cried; he cried too. A nurse appeared from behind and placed her firmly in the middle of the cot, she waved at the family to say, that was enough and the window cleared. Paula drew up, she dragged her nightdress over her head and stomped about the cot naked; screaming in rage. The nurse tried to calm her but was bitten for her efforts, so Paula was left alone with her tantrum, until she crumpled exhausted in sleep. Her eyes opened to a blue light in the darkness, the rails of the cot breaking it up. She lay bare, waiting for someone to come; hearing the squeak of shoes on the floor closer and closer. But no, off they would trail, leaving her alone.

Paula had this memory as they walked through the swing doors of the hospital. The waiting room was empty for a change, she had been there so many times for some excuse or other and she was sick of it. Alan sat down and pulled out the appointment letter while she checked in with the receptionist. Almost immediately a voice came out of a doorway and beckoned them in.

“I’m Doctor Kenny. Nice to meet you both, please sit down.” His manner was so clipped and confident, she thought he’d only patronise her, lucky she had Alan there.

Lowering herself in the seat, Paula took a breath and said quickly,

“I’m here today to make it clear I intend to have my baby at home, as I’ve a right to do,”

she paused, “and it seems to me, there’ve been so many obstacles thrown in, to make this as difficult as possible.”

Doctor Kenny’s eyes cast down reading the notes,

“I can see here that it’s your first baby. You know, it’s very unusual to have a first baby at home, safer in the hospital where there’s the expertise and equipment at hand. I’d strongly recommend you reconsider.”

Looking at Alan he went on,

“How do you feel about this?”

“Well, we want our baby to be born at home, there’s no been any problems wi’ the pregnancy and we’ve a midwife that’s happy to help, so that’s what we want.”

He sat back in his chair and reached for Paula’s hand.

The meeting didn’t last long after that, but not before Doctor Kenny said he would be in contact with the midwife. Paula thought, that’ll be an interesting discussion: Rena Leaver was a woman of conviction, determination and a radical not to be meddled with. She had the unfashionable attitude that it was a woman’s right to choose on all sorts of matters, particularly childbirth.

On the way out of the hospital, the condensation on the corridor windows brought back the memory of Tommy. He was always a dreamer and would suck two fingers to help his concentration, in fact they both did, but he twisted his hair at the same time, she didn’t. In her mind, she could see him doing it as he lay on the floor with his chin resting on his arm, watching the man on the screen in a white suit slowly making his way over a black pitted surface. He turned to look at her and she saw he was excited.

“When I’m big, I'm going to go there.”

“Where?” Paula had asked.

“Up to the moon.”

“Oh no, Tommy, you can’t go there, you might never get back.”

“You’re just a scaredy cat,” he said between sooks.

But, it wasn’t the moon that took him away, it was the fall through the roof of a derelict building only a few years after they’d watched Neil Armstrong’s first steps on it’s surface. She pressed her lips to push down the empty breath still inside, it was so long ago.

Outside the air hit her, she was here, slowly plodding forward without him.


Alan unlocked the front door, and she picked up a letter on the way in. She headed for the kitchen and put the kettle on, flicked the central heating switch and opened the letter.

“He’s going to do it!” She shouted, so Alan could hear her.

“Do what? Who?”

“The GP has agreed to attend the birth.”

“That’s great, just in time.”

She sat at the table, kicked off her shoes without bending down and rubbed her legs. She was tired and the thought of the stairs exhausted her.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said as he climbed into bed beside her.

“No, but it’s what we want for our baby that matters.”

The bed creaked as he switched off the light, now she could sleep.

A few weeks later the same room echoed with a cry, Paula fell back on the pillow exhausted, a weight of wet skin met her chest and she cradled the slippery back. Looking down, a head rolled round to meet her eyes and she slipped her finger inside his palm.

family, loss, defiance, conviction