Monday 22 July 2019

'I am writing these letters to you as a bridge between us' - Dad shares letters he wrote to his late baby

Anthony Jordan wrote to his baby Antonia Marie when she was born in 1970. Stock Image
Anthony Jordan wrote to his baby Antonia Marie when she was born in 1970. Stock Image

Anthony Jordan

July 21, 1970.

Dear Baby,

Last night and this morning were hectic times, for your mother especially, and also for me. It was a great surprise but a mighty relief when you began to make a push for the outer world. We had all the preparations long since made and it only remained to rouse our good neighbour in the early hours. She had agreed to give us a lift into the hospital. I felt sad leaving your mother there. It seemed a betrayal of sorts. But the nurse insisted and I was advised to return home and get some sleep. I slept until ten o’clock.                             

I've just now had my breakfast and dashed up to the local hotel to phone the hospital. The lady who took the call checked Mary's name and said, “There’s no news yet on her. She has not delivered so far". I must admit I was a bit shaken by that news. I was sure that you would have arrived by then. I didn't intend going into the hospital, until there had been positive developments, but our neighbour suggested that I should go in. So I'm off, hopefully to see you as well.

Love, Daddy"

That same night I wrote again:

July 21, 1970

Dear darling girl, Antonia Marie,

This day must have been the worst of my life, so far, though I do know that it could have been worse. When I reached the hospital I met a nurse who knew something about your mother. 

“Are you the husband?” she asked. 

“Yes, I am" I replied. 

"Where's sister", the nurse shouted to another nurse. 

Sister was in a nearby room. She was a middle-aged lady with greying hair and a kindly face. 

“Mr. Jordan?" she asked. 

"Yes” I said.

“Have you seen anyone else? Has Dr. X been in touch with you?" 

"No" I replied to both questions, becoming perplexed. “Well Mr. Jordan, I'm afraid there's been some trouble with the baby. There was no telephone number. The doctor had to do an emergency operation to try to save the baby, or else the two of them might have gone. Anyway, your wife is awake now. You'd better see her. The baby is in an oxygen tent and is doing as well as can be expected".

Words, words, words, they would not stop coming to assail me, there, on the bare hospital floor. The corridor seemed to close in on me. Others had been listening too, though I couldn't see them. Only her, the Sister, as she went on, speaking her piece, fulfilling her duty. 

The world within my own being was being crushed, as the long suppressed fears became nightmare reality.  I wanted to grasp all those words spoken by the Sister and choke them, annihilate them. But all my thoughts, all my wishes couldn't get me away from the reality that faced me. Though my legs were like lumps of jelly, scarcely able to support me, I heard myself calmly ask, "Where is she? ".

“Just through here" the Sister said indicating a nearby door. "Nurse, will you take Mr. Jordan in to see his wife; she has awakened again?" the Sister asked a nurse who was standing beside me, but whom I had not noticed previously. 

"Yes, I will Sister. Mrs Jordan has just awakened now. Will you come with me please?" 

I followed her as she opened the door to reveal a room containing about seven beds. Several women looked at me. The nurse led me to a corner of the room and she bent over a bed asking, "Are you awake Mrs Jordan; your husband is here to see you". She turned to me saying, "She is still a bit groggy but she is awake". 

The nurse left and I stood looking down on the distracted face of my wife, and your mother, Antonia. Her eyes were open and she recognised me, but did not speak. The message on her face was clear to me; - it has happened, what we were afraid of has happened - I sat on the chair beside the bed and slid a hand beneath the bedclothes to seek and hold her hand. I didn't know what to say; I didn't want to ask her what had happened, and I couldn't say I was sorry. Her lips moved; she was trying to speak. Her wounded eyes cried out for the mercy she had been denied. Then she spoke and I bent close to listen; "The baby is dead, I think. They won't give me a direct answer. The pain is terrible". I clinched her hand and hoped my eyes were telling her what my tongue could not utter. "Hurt me, hurt me, let me take the burden off you", ran through my mind, but I knew they were futile wishes. It was Mary who lay there on the bed, not I. She was the one who had to be cured. That was what had to be done. Her torment had to be eased. 

"They told me that the baby is alive" I said, "I'll ask to see it before I leave and I can tell you". 

We spoke no more words but looked at each other, keeping our hands clasped tightly. In a little while a nurse came to the bed and said, "I've got to give you an injection now Mrs Jordan".          

I gave Mary's hand an extra squeeze as I left. On the corridor the Sister, who was waiting for me, asked how did I find her. "Poorly," I said, wondering what she expected me to say. 

Just a few paces along the corridor lay the nursery. The Sister rang an outside bell. A young dark-haired nurse arrived and was told who I was. Sister departed and the door closed. The nurse said, "I can only show her to you through the doorway, I'm afraid". Then it is a girl, I said, the first time I had thought about your gender. “Yes" a little girl, the nurse confirmed. We reached the doorway and the nurse entered the room. She put a mask around her mouth. I could see four babies, each within a glass case on a trolley. Tubes and wires led into the cases. She opened the top of one of them and turned the baby on her side to face me. That was how I saw you, my dearest little one. "Jesus, God help her poor innocent thing. How beautiful, how perfectly formed she is; with her little crop of black hair. Why did it have to happen to you, poor little creature, my extension, our flesh and blood"? 

The tears rushed to my eyes as I tried to think. But the nurse was already turning you over on your back; your agitated breathing, fighting for life, continued. I didn't cry but I should have sobbed. I remained outwardly calm. The nurse came out and I asked, "How is she?" She didn't hesitate as she replied gently. "Not good I'm afraid. I'll ask the doctor to have a word with you". 

A female doctor arrived and said that they were doing all they could for the baby. She said that internal bleeding had affected you and that you did not breathe for some time after you were born. Then with the help of oxygen you did. 

"But she is breathing now herself, with some help. She is critically ill and has no more than a fifty-fifty chance. Four days should decide on the baby's survival". The doctor then left and the nurse returned. I took one last look through the door and loved fiercely the baby, you, who was mine, ours. "Live, please, live for life”, I uttered silently as we left.                                                      

When I felt that I could control myself, I walked towards the ward Mary was in. The nurse, who had given her the injection, was just emerging. She told me, "She'll be asleep in a little while". How long will she be out for? “I asked.” Oh anything for up to five hours and then we may give her some more. It's to relieve the pain, you know". "There's little point in me staying then?" I asked. "No, none" she replied, "apart from just seeing her now, before she dozes off". Within the ward the other women were sitting up, reading. All eyes followed me but no one spoke. Mary was, as before; only now she knew that sleep was near, and pain would be at an end for a time. I did not feel like remaining. I too wished to be away anywhere. 

"I saw the baby and she's a lovely girl, just like you. I'm not going to wait any longer. I'll let you sleep. There's no point in coming in again for visiting at eight o’clock as you'll be asleep".                                                                                                                                   

Outside I met the Sister. “Did you see the doctor in the nursery?" she asked, adding, "I'm sure she told you everything. They did their best". I agreed with her. Then I thought of baptism. "Has the baby been baptised Sister?" I asked. "I'm sure she has. That's standard procedure in a case like this. But I don't know if the priest has officiated yet or not. Would you like me to double check?" "No, no, it's alright if she has been baptised" I said. "Are there any names you would like used if the priest is here tonight?" she said. "Antonia Marie " I replied. She wrote them down on a piece of paper and we parted, she to her work and me to, I knew not what.                                                                  

I walked out of that hospital, my world crumbling in on me. What was to have been the best day became the worst. I have had to leave your wounded mother alone and near demented. I still don't know the full story of what happened to her, but I can guess that it was awful. She seems made for tragedy. And you; how have I left you? Alive at least, but with some hope. I am alone in all this and that makes it harder. We three are alone separately, each in our bitter bed.

Good night my two dearest, goodnight.

The next morning I made my weary way to the hospital on the number thirty-two bus. I wrote again that same noon.

Wednesday 12pm

Dear Antonia,

When I got to the hospital this morning I went straight to the nursery to see if you were still there.  The same nurse as yesterday let me in. "She's much the same as yesterday" she said, forestalling my tortured question. At the glass door, she handed me over to another nurse saying, "I'll tell the doctor you're here. He will be looking at your baby in a moment". This time the door remained open and the nurse wheeled the glass container across the room and close to me. You were as yesterday, still breathing heavily and quickly, almost as if afraid you might miss one breath and it might be your last...I longed to open the glass cover and lift you out and hold you in my arms. After all you were mine, ours; you did not belong here, you belonged at home, in the beautiful cot your mother had worked so hard on. Would you ever snuggle into the baby clothes that waited for you? Would you ever take my finger in your tiny hand and grasp it tightly, smiling playfully up at me? Would you ever do any of the thousands of things a normal baby would do, for I knew that a loss of oxygen at birth could have dire consequences for a baby. Some who survived were normal. Will you be among those my dearest one? Whichever, if you survive, I swear I will love you with a mighty love. If you make it, you and I and your beloved mother, will have good days to make up for these. O God, if You are, if You can, if You wish, make her whole. Let her live to us; don't take away the proffered gift. We need her. The nurse began to retreat again and I was choked with grief, but I held it in check.

The doctor had arrived and was making preparations to enter the room. I watched him examine all the babies and then he came out to talk to me. His words were those of his colleague the previous day, only more pessimistic. He instanced the risks involved if you did live. "As high as eighty percent of such babies who survive are brain damaged. Another forty-eight hours will decide it, either way. Its impossible to say but the chances are poor, for the baby is still critically ill. She's fighting, but her resources are small. The damage may have been too much. Still while there's life there's hope".

Your mother was much the same as yesterday too Antonia. She has severe pain in the wound in her stomach. It seems to be radiating throughout her body. They had to open her stomach to get you out in a hurry. We didn't talk much at all. I just told her how you were and we held hands for a long while. She got drowsy and I left. I will be back again tonight. Two colleagues, who care, have invited me to tea this evening.

Bye bye, dear".

Wednesday night

Dear Antonia,

A note, to say that I didn't visit you this evening. When I went to see your mother, she was in slightly better form. There were two women sitting at her bed as I went in. She finds it extremely difficult to talk yet. She can only whisper. She knows all about you. She said one of the nurses told her that the doctors never know whether to hope the baby lived or died, in a situation like this. I wanted to ask her about the operation that led up to it, but decided to wait a day or two. She will tell me in her own good time anyway. As other visitors came in, I could see furtive glances coming our way. On my way home dear, I was thinking about what the doctor said about you; Antonia alive but brain-damaged or no Antonia at all; which was the better? What a dreadful thing to have to say to a daughter. The choice is not mine my dear; in fact there is no choice; whatever it is, rests with God. I am content to put faith and trust in Him, but above all, hope. For though I might often have doubts on faith, I have never ceased to hope. I hope for you Antonia. I pray for you dear.

Rest peacefully tonight.

Daddy ".

My last letter to Antonia was written the next day;

Thursday 3pm.

Dear darling lamented Antonia,                      

This letter is to you, in Heaven, for where else could you be now? I went in a couple of hours ago and called to the nursery. One of the nurses I had met previously opened the door and exclaimed, "Oh Mr. Jordan, will you come in". “How is she?" I asked hesitantly. I saw immediately that she was thinking feverishly of what to say. Then she said it simply and clearly, "I'm afraid your baby died this morning". "What time did it happen?" I asked. "Shortly after four o'clock" she replied. The nurse said that she was sorry things had worked out like this, but they had tried their best. "You know it might have been all for the best" she said. "Do you know if my wife knows?" I asked. She replied that Mary did know. Then she had some papers she wanted me to sign, allowing the doctors to carry out a post mortem. She also had a message from the gynaecologist who wanted to see me in his consulting rooms, either that afternoon or tomorrow. The nurse let me out of the nursery quietly.                                                                                                                 

I walked to a nearby window and put my head outside. Then it began. The tears came and I could not hold them back. My shoulders shook. I was on a public corridor but I did not care. Footsteps passed by behind me. Later a hand was placed on my shoulder, "don't trouble yourself so, son". I turned aside. A woman with a mop and bucket was talking to me. "Was it your baby?" she asked. "Yes" I said, "I am trying to regain control". Other people were passing and they looked at me. The woman said, "you're young, please God they'll be plenty more. I had eleven myself and lost three of them. It’s hard but its God's will". As she spoke I dried my tears. "Don't let your wife see you cry now; go on into her", the kind lady said.                                                                                                               

 As I moved to go, I saw Mary come out of a nearby room. It must have been a toilet. She was barely moving, holding one hand against the wall for support. Had she heard me cry or even seen me? I didn't know. Her face was white and wan, her eyes doleful. She looked at me but kept going, struggling towards her ward. I followed her and helped her to get into bed again. I could feel the sympathy flow from the other women in the room. "You heard" she said when she finally succeeded in lying down. "Yes" I said, "just now". "They told me this morning; its probably for the best" she said. "Thanks be to God its over anyhow" I said, " Did you see her at all?" " No" she answered, "there was some question of it yesterday, but I could not walk". "She would have been severally brain damaged if she had survived" I said. "That would have been no life for her nor for us" Mary said. She seemed to regain some strength, now that she was back in bed. "Is that the first time you have walked?" I asked. "No, they took me out this morning already. I never thought I would be able to move, but I was. Did you see the neighbours?" she asked. "Yes I did". "They'll be disappointed". "Yes, they will; but the problem of the moment is to get you better and back home again".

Every so often Mary used to get searing pains that would leave her gasping, until they passed away. She thought it was caused by air in the wound.

"I think you'd better ring home,” she said."It will have to be broken gently to our mothers". I promised I would do that.                                      

I hope you don't mind that your mother never saw you Antonia. She had the hardest part to play. I saw you, thanks be to God for that. We are both in such a state that we might not know exactly what we are doing or saying. But I am writing to you, so that we will know what it was like, from my point of view. I am writing these letters to you as a bridge between us, which will last.

Bye bye love ". 

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