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                          CHAPTER ONE

Labor started at 4pm on Monday, October 25, 1993 while I was teaching creative writing at The City Lit in London, a job I had managed to get despite my being eight months pregnant.  “I have to work,” I said, trying to look sane and competent but knowing I was a hormonally fucked crazy person who had been pick pocketed twice that week wandering around London thinking about my soon-to-be-born baby, staring into space and consuming numerous portions of Banoffi Pudding.  

“You’d better go to the hospital,” my youngest student Tom said looking panicked. He was a laid-off bricklayer who wrote horror stories about people turning into cement.

“No love,” Margie said. “Its nothing like the bloody movies. She’s got time.”

Margie had been an EMT driver until she was made redundant. My writing students looked panicked. Part of their dole package was free classes and now their teacher was going to become a mother and abandon them.

“I’m coming back,” I said, patting Norman who wrote about squirrels because 'he liked’em.' “I can bring the baby to the crèche in a few weeks.”

“Well then go and have it then,” Tom said, looking at my heaving stomach as if it were far more horrific then anything he’d ever imagined in one of his stories. “Have it and come back.”

It took 72 additional hours of labor before my son was born, eyes open, silent, a contradiction to every sad loss I knew, the eyes of my dead sister, the power to crush all resistance. Several days earlier he had suddenly stood up, a footling breech like the other children born into my family. My obstetrician, Yehudi Gordon, deliverer of celebrity babies, famous for water births, enemy of c-sections and fond of suggesting to neurotic expectant mums that they accept their fears of motherhood, had told me to come to his Harley Street the next day and to bring my husband.

“We’ll turn him,” Yehudi said. “Easy as pie.”

Not. At least not any pie I’ve ever attempted.  Possibly he could have claimed “as easy as shooting, skinning, stuffing and cooking a wild boar.” The next day my husband and I arrived at his Harley Street Office and were ushered into a small room containing an ultrasound machine.

“Okay,” Yehudi said. “Let’s do this.”

From above it must have looked like an awful attack on a very pregnant woman. Yehudi placed both of his hands on either side of the baby bump and began to push clockwise. I had my feet braced against the wall while my husband, ever the journalist, held my hand while positioning himself to watch my insides on the Ultrasound.

As the baby reluctantly circled my husband asked the Ultrasound operator, “What are those?”

"Her kidneys,” the man responded. 

At that point I stopped listening and tried to remember how to meditate, to disassociate, to breathe. My baby dug his heels in and Yehudi looked tired. I felt a deep sadness. Already my son was feeling the push of authority. His will was enormous but Yehudi would not relent.  Because of this last minute migration, his head was not in the right position to dilate the cervix, thus the endless, largely unproductive labor, thus the midwife’s suggestion twenty hours in that we go and take “a nice walk.”
And so we did. St. John’s Wood was a leafy, wealthy London suburb, home to Paul McCartney, the Apple Studios and briefly, many years previous, my family. In1968 my family spent a year living in London while my father wrote another novel on sabbatical from Rutgers. I went to fifth grade at Barrow Hill Comprehensive where I went up against the school bully who had managed to control a class of thirty fifth graders, largely through verbal cruelty but often with physical violence.  She was a pretty well dressed girl with perfect knee socks while I was a wild haired American whose school uniform was invariably wrinkled and frequently torn.  

Because of my refusal to bend to her authority I spent the year in Coventry and was also punched in the mouth by a diminutive hit man who ran up to me and demanded in a Cockney accent: “Is your name Molly Moynahan?” When I nodded, he punched me hard enough to split my lip open outside my favorite sweet shop where I was about to spend my stolen handful of shillings.

Being sent to Coventry meant no one speaks to you or acknowledges your existence. Each day after lunch you walk outside into the school yard and stare at two bricks, which were at the right height to be stared at, while the bully’s supporters stood in a circle muttering threats.
After months of being tortured by my peers, my mother was asked in by the wonderful teacher, Mrs. Sadler, who told her what was happening and suggested things be allowed to continue so “the children can work it out.” I have no idea if this was the best decision but I did not cry publically and in the spring a story I wrote was read aloud and eventually things improved.

I don’t think anyone asked me if I was having a hard time at school. I wasn’t being beaten across the back with a yardstick as I had been in first grade in Ireland so the situation was deemed acceptable. To avoid questions about my lack of friends, I rode the public buses on the weekends and sat in the Library until teatime. My older sisters were focused on hemming their skirts until their bums were visible and wearing makeup bought from BIBA, the swinging sixties in full swing.  I rode the Piccadilly Circus Bus over and over until one day the bus driver leaned back and told me there was no circus, just a traffic circle, called a ‘circus’ in England.

“I know you Yanks expect something like elephants and clowns but it’s nothing but a turn-around love, nothing but a circle.”

My parents rented a house with a live in landlady named Mrs. Watt who had taken on all the airs of a member of the royal family but in fact was from a very different class. Mrs. Watt’s spouse was deceased and she often had very long cups of tea with the gardener who my parents and Catherine, my oldest sister, referred to as “Mellors”. This was the kind of family I came from, one whose shared humor depended on your having read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and knowing that Mellors was the gardener and bonking Lady Chatterley.

The D.H. Lawrence jokes continued that year when we were driving the green Volvo my parents had purchased across France into Spain where we were going to live in a rented villa. Apparently I was so horribly bored I started to read Women In Love assuming a book with such a racy title would have to contain sex scenes. Alas, it was all talking until a promising skinny-dipping scene occurred.

“What’s a luminous loin?” I asked my sister Catherine; sure it was some sexual part I had never heard of.

The screams of laughter that greeted this inquiry pleased me mightily. This was the toughest audience I would ever face.

After a few rounds around the park where I informed my husband I was over the whole “natural childbirth bullshit” and would like to go to a hospital where I would be given morphine and have my baby removed by a nice surgeon, I suddenly knew I was in a place I knew very well, a place that made me feel so sad it knocked my breath away harder then the waves of labor pain. We were standing at the gates of a school, a school surrounded by brick walls, the gates opening up to a yard, a yard that dead ended in a wall, a wall I could describe with my eyes closed. And there was a girl, a girl in a too large jumper, socks falling, eleven years old, shoulders squared, back rigid, staring at the bricks, the bricks at eye level like old friends that would help her not cry. Someone should have brushed her thick brown hair. She would not turn around, she would not ask them to be friends, she would not be pitied. Nothing was worse then pity.

As I stood there holding my belly I saw her, so stubborn, so hurt already, alone, wild, brave and angry, I thought, turn around. Turn around and tell someone how much it hurts to be treated like a freak outcast, tell your parents to put down their drinks and listen, tell your sisters, tell someone. But I didn’t turn around. The lunch bell rang and she tilted up her chin and she narrowed her eyes and she waited.  Finally, she walked across the yard alone when it was safe to go inside. I tried to tell her I loved her, to tell her life would get better but then I remembered it would get terrible first and also it wasn’t possible to keep her from that future. She would survive and we would know one another.


  1. A good read; love the last 2 paragraphs in particular. Not sure about this line: "Margie had been an EMT driver until she was made redundant."


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