Poplar, March 1962
Delia had tossed and turned ever since she got into bed around two o’clock in the morning. She had suffered a grueling shift on the maternity ward , not leaving the operating theatre until after six o’clock in the evening due to an emergency cesarean section that began a few hours earlier. Her feet and legs were aching when the surgery was over, but she went on to work her shift at St. John’s Ambulance service anyway. Helping to lift the obese comatose woman on to the stretcher and then into the ambulance strained her back muscles and the pain had not subsided, even after two double strength aspirin.
Finally she was able to go home to Nonnatus House where she dragged herself up the stairs,brushed her teeth, changed into her pajamas and fell into bed, but she could not sleep. Patsy was leaving for Hong Kong in two weeks, the reality of which created two fold anxiety in her; the first being the uncertainty of how they would be able to nurture their relationship with so much distance between them; and the second being the concern as to how Patsy would cope without Delia’s emotional support. Between her body aches and her anxiety about their future, sleep was late to come, but just as she was beginning to doze off around four o’clock, she heard a commotion downstairs. At first she thought the tree branches were brushing against the side of the convent, but as the racket continued, she knew something was amiss downstairs, so dragged herself out of bed and went to find the source of the noise.
Sister Monica Joan was scurrying around the hallway with a look of terror in her eyes.
‘Sister, whatever is the matter? Why are you so upset? Why are you even awake at this hour?, exclaimed Delia.
‘The angel of death is at the door, he’s come for me’, she cried. ‘He’s been uttering his cry for me. There he goes again? Did you hear it, nurse?’
‘I don’t hear anything, Sister. Why don’t you let me help you to…..’, but before she could finish her sentence, she heard a weak sound, more like a mournful cry, coming from the other side of the door. Delia reached for the door handle, but Sister Monica Joan grabbed her arm and cried, ‘I implore you not to open that door; I’m not as yet ready to meet the grim reaper, my earthly duties are not as yet completed.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous sister, something is in danger; it’s freezing out there, and the angel of death will surely claim it if we don’t intervene’, said a determined Delia as she flung open the door. She grabbed the cardbox sitting on the doorstep and brought it inside. When she opened it, she quickly read a poorly hand written note lying top of a heap of bath towels, and all she could exclaim was, ‘oh my god, oh my god, oh my god.’
Her emergency training kicked in and she immediately-instinctively-knew she had to provide warmth to the creatures that were in the box, so she threw off her pajama top, bent down and lifted a tiny bluish creature from the towel it was wrapped in and pulled it’s blue body against her breast, then she directed Sister Monica Joan to pick up the second bluish creature and place it’s body in her other arm, which she pulled to her other breast. She next directed the Sister to go heat a pan of water so they could fill hot water bottles.
‘Oh, I’m not allowed to touch the stove, nurse,’ Sister Monica Joan said with a feigned pathetic tone in her voice.
Delia, franic and operating on pure adrenaline, barked ‘Then come here, Sister, and hug against me gently to see if we can keep them alive.’ Sister Monica Joan, with a very confused look in her eye just stared at Delia. ‘Please Sister, come help me, let’s be the angels of life.’ With that, sister Monica Joan moved delicately against Delia’s chest and put her feeble arms around her shoulders while staring disorientedly into space.
Delia looked over her shoulder and loudly called for Patsy and Trixie to come help, their room being at the top of the stairs.
Pasy was in a deep sleep, having conducted a long and difficult delivery earlier in the evening. She had gotten to bed about midnight, and immediately fallen asleep, so when she heard her name being called in the distance, she thought she was dreaming. ‘Leave me alone, whoever you are, go away’, she mumbled as she buried her face in the pillow, but then she heard Trixie’s voice from the other bed, ‘I’m hearing it too, Patsy, you’re not dreaming’.
Patsy sat up in bed, and the panicked voice became very clear, ‘Patsy, Trixie, please come here, I need your help, please hurry.’
‘Oh, god, that’s Delia,’ Patsy exclaimed as she jumped out of bed and ran toward the door, not stopping to put on her dressing gown or slippers. She came to a dead stop when she reached the top landing, her mouth fell open, and her eyes grew as big as saucers. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing; she must be in the middle of a nightmare from which she could not wake.
‘Patsy, come here,’ pleaded Delia, but Patsy was frozen by what she was seeing - Delia, naked from the waist up and being hugged by the elderly nun. This can’t be happening; it must be a joke. ‘Delia, if this is your idea of a joke, I’m not laughing.’
‘Patsy, for god’s sake, come here and throw a blanket over my shoulders, then prepare two hot water bottles, please, hurry.’
Trixie came behind Patsy and forced her to move, both clumsily stumbling down the stairs. Patsy, still dazed, went toward the lounge to grab the blanket off the couch. ‘Delia, in god’s name what are you doing? Please tell me you aren’t holding flea ridden animals against your bare chest.’
‘I’m trying to save your babies from freezing to death, that’s what I’m doing, Patsy,’ Delia snapped.
‘You have gone mad, Delia, you’ve lost your mind. What do you mean, my babies, for god’s sake?’ Implored an indignant and disbelieving Patsy.
‘I’m afraid she’s correct, Patsy’, said Trixie who was holding the ragged piece of paper in her hands.
‘What do you mean’, cried Patsy? ‘The world has gone mad’, she exclaimed. ‘Is this some joke that everyone is in on but me?’
‘Patsy, please bring two hot water bottles, now!’, exclaimed Delia, becoming more franic by the minute.
As Patsy began to fill the bottles, Trixie read the note from the box out loud:
“I want that red headed nurse mount to have them babies, the one that brought them into this world and kept them alive when they couldn’t get to hospital. I heard talk that they was going to be sent somewheres they might end up being child slaves, or worse. I can’t let that happen. Please take them and give them a good life; keep them together, they ain’t known no other way, please raise them together. I got no money or family to help me. It’s not their fault they don’t have no daddy to care for them, and it’s not their fault they ain’t white. Please give them a proper life, nurse mount. I won’t bother you ever again. I know a convent is supposed to take them in and keep them safe and help them get a good home. God bless, Maureen.’
Patsy’s mouth fell open as she realized what, who, Delia was holding. ‘Are those the O'Shannassy twins? Oh dear god; they were so frail. Delia, are they all right?’
‘Please bring me those water bottles, Patsy, or they may not be okay; they’re very cold. Please check to see if you can find a pulse.’
Patsy hurriedly completed filling the bottles, wrapped them in the towels from the box, and took them to Delia where she carefully laid them against each baby’s back. She thanked Sister Monica Joan for her life saving actions, and told her she would take over. She took a tiny foot in her hand and gently felt for a pulse, first one baby then the other. ‘I am getting a faint pulse from each of them. The warmth from the hot water bottles should stimulate blood flow and help their heart beat become stronger,’ said Patsy, now in full nurse Mount persona, as she began gently rubbing their legs trying to keep their circulation going.
‘Thanks, Pats. Could you pull an arm chair next to the stove so I can sit down, my arms are getting weak and I’m freezing with these blocks of ice on my chest. Turn on the oven too,’ asked a desperate Delia.
‘Of course’, said a still dazed Patsy as she moved Sister Julienne’s chair next to the stove. ‘Mrs. B will have our heads when she sees we have been wasting fuel.’
‘I am not concerned about what Mrs. B thinks at the moment,’ said an exhausted Delia. ‘Keeping these babies alive is all I am concerned about! We’ve kept them from the jaws of death once before, and we’re not losing them now,’ stated a determined Delia.
Barbara, who was now in the kitchen and confused by the unfolding drama, helped Delia to the chair and insured she was seated and the bundles balanced in her arms before releasing her hold. She pulled back the towel just enough to see a shock of black hair sticking up. ‘Oh my, that's not a puppy; it’s, it’s a baby’, exclaimed Barbara in total surprise.
Patsy, overcome with emotion that was about to manifest itself in inappropriate hysterics, looked at Delia and thought that with her disheveled appearance, and a baby on each breast she looked like something out of a Dickens’ novel. She stifled her urge to laugh hysterically when she saw the desperation on Delia’s face.
Delia looked at Patsy with a desperate, pleading expression and said, ‘Patsy, Maureen is right, that’s what happens to babies like these; they’re either sent to an orphanage, or somewhere where they are mistreated and abused. We can’t let that happen; you have to adopt these twins; you can’t let them go to an institution where they will never be held, or where they will lie in their own body waste for hours. You can't let them be shipped to some country where they will become child laborers or worse. Please, Patsy, they’re meant to be yours; you brought them into this world…’
‘Delia, that's what I do; I deliver babies, for god’s sake, I didn’t give birth to them.’
‘You breathed life into them, Pats,’ cried Delia.
‘That’s what we all do, Delia; it’s routine, midwives do that all the time; we expand their little lungs to help them breathe, it’s routine.’’
‘You made yourself, and me, into human incubators when the flying squad couldn’t get to the mother’s home because of the blizzard. You said when the flying squad finally got there that you felt as though part of you was being taken away, or have you conveniently forgotten?’, Delia cried.
‘Delia, I told you at the time that I couldn’t abide losing another baby; I did what I had to do to kept them alive. It’s true, I felt attached to the little ones, especially the little fellow, we were very close for quite awhile’, Patsy said as a wistful expression crossed her face, ‘but so much has happened since we returned to Nonnatus, and have you forgotten that I’m leaving for Hong Kong to care for my dying father? I simply cannot take on child rearing; I’m sorry, Delia, it’s out of the question.’ Patsy winced as she recognized the look on Delia’s face; she had seen it numerous times when she handed a newborn to its mother; Delia was bonding with these babies.
Tears streamed down Delia’s face, and she cried, ‘Patsy, you promised; you said we would find a way to have children. We stood right there in that chapel,’ Delia said while motioning toward the chapel with her head, ‘when we said our vows, you promised….’
‘Delia, I know what I said, now please, you’ve said enough, please…’, snapped Patsy, but as she stood there totally exposed to her colleagues, her mind replayed their conversation from that night five months ago in vivid detail, word for word:
They were lying on Delia’s bed cuddling in the afterglow of their vows when Patsy said, ‘Delia, I fear that over time I won’t be enough for you; I know how badly you want children, and it breaks my heart that I can’t give them to you. Maybe we can find a man acceptable to both of…….’.
Delia put her fingers to Patsy’s lips to shush her, ‘Patsy, I knew from the moment we met that you were what, who, I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I reconciled myself to the fact we would never have our own children, and I am fine with that as long as I have you.
‘Patsy, I don’t want a stranger’s baby; I don’t want to lie with a man just to steal his seeds. Any child from such a liaison would not be yours. Pats, I want your seeds so badly, I want to give you our babies, I want them to be part of you. God, Pats, I would give you ten babies if I could, but we both know it’s not possible, so that’s that,’ Delia whispered as her eyes welled up with tears.
‘Sweetheart, we will find a way to have our children, I don’t as yet know how or when, but I know we will have a family someday. I promise you that; I do love you so much, Delia.’
Patsy was snapped back to the present by the entrance of Phyllis into the kitchen, and where she found herself metaphorically standing naked before her colleagues; Delia had ripped off her facade, exposed her secret, stripped her of all of her carefully orchestrated pretense and charade, and left them shredded in a pile around her feet; she stood naked without defence waiting for her colleagues to ignite the heap.
The silence was deafening; time stood still; colleagues were in suspended animation; ‘Oh Deels, what have you done,’ Patsy cried softly, ‘what have you done.’