A week later, Sarah went into labour and could feel the baby squirming and pushing. She wondered if it was a boy or a girl. Her contractions became more intense and painful. By mid morning Henry went to the house above and got Mrs Grimshaw who had attended the births of most of her nine grandchildren. Then he went across the street and beckoned young Louisa who had helped when her older sister gave birth and had worked on and off at Manchester’s lying-in hospital where women who were sick gave birth. Next he got Jane. She had been staying with Uncle William the last few days waiting for the birth, and had slept in his rocking chair.
The three women crammed into the back room where Sarah was in bed. Henry had stacked the other beds against the wall so the women could get in and out more easily. Somehow Sarah had worked right up till earlier that week, when it became too difficult for her to walk far, let alone work. Her factory had kindly agreed to employ Emily, at a child’s rate of course, while Sarah had the baby and nursed it for a few weeks. She had urged Albert to find a job too so they could pay their way. Not surprisingly, he didn’t want to work in a factory and was at that moment out seeking an apprenticeship with a bootmaker.
Henry gave his love to Sarah and wished her well, before leaving for Uncle William’s where he would stay the night. Albert and Benjamin would stay there too, using their jackets as bedding. Louisa’s mother minded Thomas and Catherine. After work, Emily would also go there.
The women got pieces of cloth from the trunk and put them under the mother-to-be. Jane prepared various medicines for her, and some gin to help ease the pain, while Louisa added coal to the fire and made sure the door and window were shut to keep out the cold. Mrs Grimshaw, with her vast experience, held Sarah’s hand and offered her comfort and encouragement. But having a baby held no fears for Sarah. This was her sixth, though her first in Manchester. The other five had all been born in the bedroom of their Middleton cottage.
Soon she was having contractions every few minutes. She gasped and groaned, and complained of backache, so Jane rubbed her back between contractions. Louisa wet a cloth and put it on her forehead, and gave her a cup of water with plenty of gin.
To Sarah, it seemed like it was taking hours. Her grunting got louder and she pushed as hard as she could despite the pain. But she was pushing too often.
‘Only push when it contracts,’ Mrs Grimshaw said.
‘There’s the head,’ Jane said, getting ready to pull the baby out. ‘It’s got Henry’s hair.’
When its head and shoulders were out, Jane took hold of it and eased it the rest of the way. The baby gave a loud cry. Sarah, panting with relief but still in pain, managed a slight smile as Jane held up the newborn, umbilical cord still attached, just far enough for her to see it.
‘A girl,’ was all Sarah could say. She knew Henry would have preferred a boy, but she was quite happy with a girl.
Louisa clamped the cord and cut it, while Mrs Grimshaw told Sarah to keep pushing to expel the placenta.
When Sarah and baby were cleaned up and calm, Mrs Grimshaw gave her the little bundle, wrapped in a shawl to keep it warm. The pair lay together. She put the baby on her bosom, but the little one was too tired to feed. The women bustled about, tidying up and preparing supper for themselves. While Louisa went home at dusk, Jane and Mrs Grimshaw put the beds down and stayed to help Sarah during the night. At daybreak Jane could just make out mother and baby lying next to each other, asleep. Life was so beautiful, she thought.
– end of excerpt –
My historical novel, A Weaver’s Web, is available at the following sites:
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