Chapter 48: Isla
With each day of her pregnancy, Isla felt a little stronger. Although she was physically battered and bruised, she felt mentally strong. She was fighting not for herself, for whom she had little remaining fire, but for the new life growing inside her. She could imagine in intricate detail this baby in her belly although, unlike most expectant mums, hiding her bruises meant she had not experienced the joy of ultrasound scans which would have let her see her baby’s ghostly form and allowed her to make plans with a firm knowledge of whether she should be planning for a bundle of pink or blue joy.
For Isla none of this mattered. She felt certain she would have a girl, she would call her Milly after her grandmother Millicent who had always been a calm voice at even the stormiest times. In fact, it was Grandmother Millicent’s voice who Isla often heard in her head reassuring her and leading her on at the bleakest of times now. It was she who told Isla that she must be strong for her baby. And Isla was strong, speaking in reassuring tones to her growing bump, trying to calm both herself and her unborn baby when Simon had left them in a state of fear and panic.
Isla would feel her heartbeat calm as she spoke to or sang to her growing baby. The very thought of baby Milly penetrating her ragged breathing and helping her to draw her breaths deep, long and strong.
When the time came for Milly to be born, Isla attended the hospital alone. She left a note for Simon who was passed out in an alcoholic stupor in his chair and she got into a cab with her hospital bag and a belly full of baby and hope. She knew there were risks involved in going to the hospital. She was aware that it was possible even that her baby could, perhaps should, be taken away from her because no baby could possibly be safe in a house where such brutal and regular beatings occurred. But Isla also knew that she could not deliver her baby without help. The risks were too high and she was unsure she could keep her precious daughter safe.
So she entered the fray of a busy labour ward with midwives who were somewhat inquisitive at her lack of notes, but who were well accustomed to supporting women whom for one reason or another had felt it inappropriate or impossible to access antenatal care. More questions may come later, reasoned Isla, but for now everyone’s key focus was on the safe delivery of the life within her.
Isla was aware that she was the only woman alone on the wing and this made her feel a little sad, though she was unsure who she would want by her side. It was as she lay labouring alone, that she realised quite how isolated a life she had created for herself. Friends had either drifted away or been pushed, and her life was so insular these days that she rarely had an opportunity to meet new people.
She had learnt to be self-sufficient though. In Isla’s life, the only way to ensure things happened was to do them yourself and the only person on whom she had ever been able to rely was herself, and so she just quietly got on with it. She took this same approach now, choosing to tune out the husbands, mothers, sisters and friends of those around her and focusing instead in on herself and on the baby who would bring an end to her isolation.
She had read enough about labour and birth during her pregnancy to be aware of the process, so she knew she would be here a little while. She had prepared for this, bringing along several of her favourite childhood story books. She would read to her baby whilst she laboured – that would keep them both calm and help to pass the time.
She was on chapter six of One Hundred and One Dalmatians when Simon arrived. His arrival was completely unexpected and Isla would have greeted Simon’s presence with fear but for the fact that gathered in his arms was the most amazing bouquet of flowers that Isla had ever seen. It was simply breath-taking with all her favourite colours – and the smell was divine.
He walked calmly over to her, planting a kiss on the top of her head and asking her gently how she was. Isla was genuinely taken aback and found herself wondering how one man could be home to two such conflicting personas. But she liked this one. This one made her feel wanted and loved. This was the man she needed to hold her hand through childbirth.
Isla didn’t know how to make him stay, this other Simon, this kind, loving, funny, gentle Simon. She would give anything to make it so; but in her heart she knew that this would be temporary. In a way, the kindness he showed in these moments made it harder to manage the anger, disgust and fury that were so evident at other times. If he were consistently evil, perhaps she would grow more accustomed to it, but these glimpses of how life could be, made for a stark comparison and made the anger and beatings harder to take.
But right now she must not dwell on the past and on the future but on this moment right now. She had a job to do, a baby to birth and she must count her blessings that the right side of Simon had turned up to hold her hand today and welcome their daughter into the world.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.