The Dreyfuss Trilogy

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Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bedlam Maternity

Finally, the paperback edition is out.

It should filter through to Amazon, WHS Smiths, Waterstones etc, in the next 3 to 4 weeks.

However, you can buy a direct copy from me, signed.

There are ten books in the 'First Edition', run - the first ten books off the printing press.  They come signed, with a personal message if you want one, and it includes post and packing for UK mainland only.

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1  left!

First Edition is £11.99.

The normal edition, trade paperback size, is £8.99.

If you wish to buy one and it to be posted abroad, please email me for a quote on postage.

I'm so happy this is finally here.  I've been terribly ill for a few months (since Christmas) and this was delayed as a result of this.  Hopefully, this is a sign I'm back in full swing!

Paypal will accept all major cards: do make sure you tell me if you want a personal inscription (and what you want me to say) in the special instructions on the link.

Link below, and on side bar to the left of this post!
    


Editions
Includes p&p UK Mainland only

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Sample Sunday December 23rd


As Bedlam Maternity launched on Friday, I've given one more chapter of the story.  This is chapter 5.  It will be removed after one week.


Interview with me about Bedlam Maternity HERE.

STRONG LANGUAGE WARNING: Street Urchins in London SWEAR.  A lot.

It was a screaming night of horrors. Friday night after the pubs were out, full moon, August, heat wave and it hadn’t rained for several days. The hospital staff melted, the doors didn’t stop bringing in alcohol sodden, blood-stained and fractious human beings set on making sure someone else knew how miserable they were. Even maternity was creaking at the sides and the temperature was unbearable. Even state of the art PFI builds did not include air conditioning in the NHS (or was that especially…?). Hot sticky babies wailed in the sweating, exasperated, and exhausted arms of their mothers. The staff were run ragged, trying to keep their cool in all aspects, before they too became part of the problem. Rose was swearing under her breath constantly, about how few hands they had, and how much work: but management never listened. There was never a shortage of managers who wouldn’t listen.
There was no quiet lull at any point that night, and at 4 a.m., Rose’s beeper told her to phone A&E. A young woman, heavily pregnant, who appeared to be drunk, or stoned, and in pain. She was refusing to give her name, and the police had brought her in, worried for her safety. Rose went down herself with two orderlies to assess the woman: please don’t let this be visited on her, this duty, this night.
It was, indeed, the person she had feared it was: Omega. With a curse to the gods for doing this to her tonight of all nights, Rose fixed a comforting smile on her face, and welcomed the street waif.
‘Omega, I presume? How nice to meet you, I’m Rose, one of the midwives.’ She nodded to the police officer who was sitting in the cubicle, making sure Omega stayed put. ‘Thank you, Officer, are there any charges, or can you go?’ PC Edwards, well-known to Rose, looked as old as she felt that night. Sweat poured off him, under his knife jacket, and he reeked of stale sweat, alcohol, and vomit. He nodded to Rose, and left without speaking. Sometimes, you could just be too drained. Rose hoped he’d manage a cup of tea before launching back out into the fray.
‘Of course there aren’t any charges! Fucking bastard didn’t need to bring me in, didn’t need to threaten me to get me assessed!’ Omega’s rant was interrupted by a scream, and she doubled over her rippling stomach.
‘May I…?’ Rose asked kindly, and with infinite courtesy, as if it wasn’t the middle of the night and endless drunken vomiting and emergency stitching of eyes and cheekbones wasn’t taking place in the cubicles all around her.
Omega nodded her consent, and Rose applied gel onto her tummy, and then applied the probe. A few moments of trying to catch the right spot, and then the baby’s heartbeat pulsed out of the monitor.
‘That seems fine.’
‘Of course it’s fucking fine. I told the knob, didn’t I? It’s just Braxton Hicks.’ Omega doubled over again.
‘I’m not so sure, you know. May I?’ She again waited for Omega to nod consent, before attaching the bands over her belly. Within a few moments, the wave pattern had started to appear on the read outs.
‘You’re in labour, Omega.’
‘FUCK!’

Omega, as far as anyone knew, was over twenty years old, but she looked twelve. She was tiny, half starved, and looked like she’d walked out of a Dickens’s novel; if Dickens’ waifs had rainbow coloured dread locks and nose and tongue piercings. She was feral, and had been for at least three years, as that’s how long she’d been in the East End. She spoke with a strong Glaswegian accent, but when asked, stated she came from ‘Fuck you’re nosy, aren’t you?’ She’d been picked up by the police several times, and nothing had ever been found out about her. She was intelligent, and extremely pro-active in taking care of her ‘rights.’ When the police had tried to have her put under a care order as even if they didn’t know who she was and they felt she was a minor, she’d got a local legal group to defend her rights: they couldn’t prove she was under eighteen, and her bone x-rays suggested she was at least twenty. It was the first time the local authorities had found themselves on the receiving end of a bone scan to prove age and they backed off. Trying to claim she was illegal was a lost cause — she claimed no benefits and there was nowhere to send her back to, unless they felt Glasgow could be deemed an entry port by Borders Agency (something Rose would not put past them.)
She had never been arrested, had no record sheet: had no name. She moved from protest camp to commune to squat, taking part in every street demo against everything there could be. She’d been assessed as mentally competent, if belligerent to authority, and there was no way of finding out her real identity. She was ‘Omega’ and when asked, she’d say that was her name; she ‘always came fucking last.’
Omega had stayed out of everyone’s reach until she’d fallen pregnant. Then Social Services had tried everything, including trying to get a court order to make her undergo medical assessment. Omega had blocked their attempts with her network of woman’s groups and legal centres, but she had agreed to a full assessment on blood work and scan, etcetera, when she was at about 30 weeks: purely to ‘get them to shut the fuck up.’ Maggie Saro-Wiwa, who had been the attending midwife, had stated to all her lead team members that she was sure Omega had simply wanted to know the sex of her baby.
The baby was fine. Omega did not have HIV or any other nasty in her blood. ‘I’m not fucking stupid, I never shared,’ and whilst she did have a remarkable series of both injection marks and self harming scars (her left arm was a tapestry of healed over horizontal slits that looked like it should be on display at the Tate) she had never presented with fresh self harm, or either drug or alcohol problems to the authorities. Wherever Omega had escaped from, she’d made a clean break and nothing could ever be traced.
The pregnancy had sent the local authorities into a frenzy. The baby was fine, she was clean and clear: there was nothing they could do until she birthed. She’d refused all help to ‘transition’ her into a mother and baby unit, or a flat of her own. To do that, she’d need an identity and she wasn’t going to give up her ‘freedom’. But she knew she was on an inevitable outcome with the baby. The second it was born… the baby was gone. Every maternity unit in Greater London had a briefing on Omega by Social Services. The second she presented in labour at any GP or hospital, or the second she was seen with a baby, Social Services had to be called. The police would be ten seconds behind. Bethlehem Maternity had been deemed the most obvious place she’d end up, given her usual haunts, and that’s where she’d had her agreed scan (with a human rights lawyer in the room with her). The file was upstairs, and every team had been briefed personally by Maggie. Rose knew PC Edwards would have already contacted Social Services.
They arrived about twenty minutes later, when Rose and Omega were talking through whether this was a real labour, or a false start. Rose was pretty persuaded that Omega was in the first stage of true labour. Omega was of the opinion that this meant nothing, and even if she was, this could go on for two days or more like this. Rose had to agree. Social Services weren’t stupid enough to try and speak to Omega, they sent another nurse in to fetch Rose out. Rose had to tell them they weren’t sure if they were admitting Omega yet, and observed the weary-eyed look of the poor sod who’d pulled this shift. His name was Tim and he was actually quite nice and not at all dim. Tim went off to start the phone calls.
By the time Rose had returned to Omega, her human rights lawyer had phoned through. Rose, Omega, and the lawyer, a woman named Marsha, had a nice chat on the phone, during which time Maggie Saro-Wiwa arrived, shaking the sleep out of her eyes. Omega actually said hello to Maggie, and winked.
The drama unfolded without any mistakes: after all, everyone had rehearsed their lines for weeks.
Marsha arrived with the morning sun, to find that Maggie and Rose had persuaded Omega up to maternity, to an empty side room, and were sitting talking to her whilst every one drank tea. Omega didn’t argue by this time that she was in real labour. Freed from the constraints of the cubicle, she was walking up and down the room, resting now and then as she controlled her breathing. Rose was relieved to see her relax herself into the dance of the labour. Everything about her actions belied the scarecrow, disorganised, and scattered nature of her appearance.  
They quickly filled Marsha in. No, Omega had not agreed to being admitted, but had been happy to pace about in the room as long as she was brought tea and food. Marsha had smiled at this, and looked over to Omega.
‘Yeah, I fucking told them. They ain’t gonna tell me what to do, and starve me into submission.’
Omega had made her feelings about medicalised birth, and bossy mares telling her she couldn’t eat or drink during labour, quite clear. It was also clear Omega knew what normal procedure was and was ensuring she stayed in labour, her way. ‘I ain’t fucking well being laid down on my back and strapped to a fucking machine.’
Maggie had agreed to all her demands, just to get her to stay. Marsha joined them for tea and toast, which only Omega and Marsha could eat, as Maggie or Rose would be sacked if they were found to be eating or drinking from the supplies left for the patients. Rose had gone to the staff room and returned with two mugs for her and Maggie as a way of sharing the space with Omega. Dr Khan, the OB registrar, was hovering outside in an anxious state of feeling too junior to take the flak and inexplicable gratitude that he’d been banned from going anywhere near Omega by dint of being both a doctor and a male. The consultants would arrive for clinic in an hour or so anyway. He was double, triple, and quadruple guessing his own decision not to call someone in on the basis that Omega wasn’t actually that near delivering, and hadn’t been admitted. Rose felt sorry for him: this really was more bite than the young man knew how to chew.

Marsha had, it transpired, a prepared speech. If Omega was genuinely in labour, she would accept admittance into the ward, but only on her own terms, and only when she wanted to. Marsha and Omega had talked it through thoroughly, and Marsha explained it to the two midwives that Omega knew she would have to birth with someone official there.
‘In case something isn’t right. I want my baby to be well.’
But she didn’t want doctors, fuss, or medicines. She would accept the presence of a female midwife, as long as the midwife did as she, Omega, instructed her. As long as the midwife ‘left her the fuck alone.’ She just wanted to be in charge of her own body, and then birth on her own, if it was possible.
‘I know they’re gonna take her. I don’t mind that. I just want to birth her my way, and give her the best start. I’ve taken care of her these past few months, and I want her to be free and happy when she goes. I don’t want no fucking doctors sticking things up me, or pulling her about. I wanna give her a good start. But I ain’t fucking stupid. I’d go birth in the woods if I could, but I won’t risk it. Just in case summit happens to me, an’ she’s left alone. I don’t want that for her. They’d hound me if I didn’t come in, so this way, I decide.’

There wasn’t anything to be said on that, as Omega was correct. No one could force admit her, no one could make her accept treatment, and all hell would break loose if she did try to birth on her own. This was uncomfortable for the hospital, but it was the most sensible way for Omega to get what she wanted. Marsha was also a great help: every time Omega went overboard in screaming about hospitals and their abuses, and how they couldn’t control her, Marsha would let out just a bit more detail on the substantial planning for the birth.
‘Omega was offered a private midwife, paid for by a contributor to the law centre. She refused.’
‘Damn right I refused. This is my body and my BIRTH. Fuck you if you think otherwise. I ain’t being fobbed off by some controlling git with charity. I don’t take nothin’ from no one, even a well-meaning smug middle class bitch.’
Rose was pretty sure Marsha was the well-meaning smug middle class bitch.

It was also Rose’s personal assessment that Omega had birthed before, and it hadn’t been good. Maggie agreed with her when they discussed it afterwards. They’d both seen birth trauma this profound before: quite often, sadly. It had just never presented as it did in the surprising package that was Omega. Rose wondered if Omega was agreeing to birth in a hospital, her way, as a final up yours to the system, just as she’d come in with PC Edwards when she knew she didn’t have to. Everyone, hospital, police, Social Services were dancing to her tune: it was a powerful amount of control she was exerting. Control that would end the second the baby arrived. Until the baby was born she could call the shots and she was certainly taking advantage of it.
Maggie and Rose drew up a care plan for Omega that specifically stated that not a single person could touch Omega, or speak to her, unless it was a medical emergency and she was unconscious. Omega announced she was leaving now, and would come back, when she was nearer birth. Maggie had blanched, but Marsha had been kind and said, ‘We have places set up for her, near here, where she can be with others as she labours.’ Omega said it rather more baldly.
‘I don’t fucking care what you fucking want. It’s my body and YOU don’t get to tell me what to do with it. It’s bad enough you’ll fucking take my baby, you ain’t taking me, too! And no fucking doctor is gonna rape me with his hands and fucking probes when I tell him to fuck off and you bitches hold me down.’ She’d stabbed her finger in the air at Maggie. Maggie had flushed a little then looked away, giving the ground to Omega.
‘We’ll walk you to the door, Omega.’
For a fleeting second, Omega looked embarrassed that she’d shouted at her. Then the hard street face was put back on.
Omega elected to leave the unit by the stairs, which as she was actively labouring, was a good, wise choice. All the windows were open full, and as they descended down, there was a feeling of moving in and out of cooler patches. Rose and Maggie and Marsha walked her down, and then Marsha took her on out through the main door. They watched them walk down the street, stopping now and then, when Omega’s body pulsed, then setting off again.
Behind them, Tim the social worker, who had been forbidden by Marsha to even see Omega, never mind speak to her, on pain of an assault charge, was kicking a chair.
‘There’s a fine for damaging hospital property, you know.’ It was PC Edwards, who had obviously stayed to see it out. Either that, or had been told to stay, since he’d ‘persuaded’ her in.
‘It’s just WRONG!’ A punch flew into a wall. Tim was also suffering from the heat, clearly. Even now, in the early hours of the day, it felt like they were living in a sweaty armpit.
‘It’s her body, Tim.’ Rose knew the words would be wasted, but said them anyway.
‘As if the baby has no rights.’ His disgust was evident to all.
Maggie patted him on the back. ‘Come on, let’s get you some tea, I think she has hours to go.’
Rose went back up to the unit to write everything up and do the hand-over to the next shift. With luck, she’d be off duty when Omega returned, and the poisoned chalice would have passed her by this time. She was so drained she took a bus home, washing all the sweat and grit and worry off her body in a long, cool shower before falling into bed.

She was so groggy when she woke up. She decided to bus it back up for the shift turn. Strange, she could make it in the freezing rain and snow, but a heat wave knocked her out: she was getting old. The bus was cloying and sweaty in the searing afternoon heat. Thank goodness she was on nights.
Reception was busy as she strolled through, nodding hello to people as she passed. A woman in hijab was standing in the middle of the lobby area, Rose sent her a smile as she passed. Then stopped dead, ice sliding down her spine. As she turned back, the woman was gone. Ordering the hairs all over her body to lie back down, Rose rushed over to the back stairwell, and pushed through the double doors. On the other side, alone, she collected her breath and her wits. Footsteps coming down towards her made her move up. She passed an orderly, made it to her locker, and sat down. It wasn’t so much that she thought she was wrong, it was that she knew, she felt, that she wasn’t.
The hand-over went smoothly enough, with enough work to keep Rose too busy to dwell on too much worry. She felt as if someone was dancing on her grave. In terms of work, she’d hoped to find Omega had returned, birthed, and was gone, but it was not to be. Maggie, who was refusing to leave until it was all over, had tried to get some sleep in her office, but the heat was making it impossible. She set herself to sorting out her files instead. Rose popped in on her every couple of hours, and they both fed each other tea. Rose had started the conversation about Shafiah a dozen times, but had trailed off into other areas. She found Maggie asleep on a staff couch at about 2 a.m., and slipped a light sheet over her.
Dawn brought the usual increase in admissions, and Omega. She was very close to birth, and she needed two friends to help her into the unit. She was red, sweating, and grunting, but clearly in that zoned out state of acceptance and anticipation that made all midwives marvel when they saw it. Rose sent an orderly for Maggie, and told the admissions people to phone Social Services. Tim would surely be delighted that he was back on shift for this one. Almost as delighted as Dr Khan, who went off to wake up Dr Howard. Eileen Howard was the senior consultant who had undertaken Omega’s screening, and had worked both with the hospital’s legal team, and Marsha, for weeks. Rose reckoned Dr Howard was swallowing the most bitter of the pills currently being fed them all.

They moved Omega into a birthing unit, where she stripped naked apart from a multi coloured scarf on her head to hold up her dreadlocks. Her body showed the ravages of abuse on several levels. All the equipment stood to one side, utterly useless, as Omega continued to walk, move, groan, squat, and at times, get on her hands and knees. She did use the birthing ball.
‘I’d have preferred a fucking pool, you know.’
No way was Omega going to control them to that extent, and she knew it.
It was odd, Rose observed, or was it telling? Omega never swore at the baby, or her own body, just the others. If anything, she was talking to both the baby, and her body, in low and gentle tones.
Her birth companions were taking duty in the room in shifts. Although the term ‘birth companion’ was a bit of a misnomer: they weren’t helping Omega at all. They were, however, writing down every word the staff spoke, and no doubt everything they did. Rose watched the clock, and saw her shift come to an end. Great, this cup would pass her by. She stood, from where she’d been writing notes, to announce to the others she would leave when Maggie returned from the hand-over with Lucy Manning.

Shafiah was standing beside Omega, who was squatting on the floor. She was looking straight at Rose.

Rose turned and sat down so quickly she felt dizzy. The helper, Jazz, looked up at her, and then wrote something down. Omega was in her own birthing zone and didn’t appear to notice. Rose concentrated on her breathing. She would get it under control. A gentle knock preceded the door opening, and Rose felt she must have leaped two feet in the air, but no one seemed to have noticed. The shock of who came in covered the shock of Shafiah’s appearance.
Maggie came in first, followed by Dr Fiona Gray, in midwife blue. She had a name badge that simply said ‘Fiona.’ Maggie was breezing through the ‘we have a changeover’ routine; assuring Omega and her helper, that she, Maggie, would be staying. ‘Fiona’ came over and picked up the pen from Rose, and jotted down the time she and Maggie had arrived. Rose found herself talking to Omega, with no idea of what she was doing, or saying, or why.
‘You’re very close, Omega, and my shift has changed. May I stay? I’d like to.’
Maggie, ‘Fiona,’ and Jazz all shot Rose a look. Rose doubted she’d ever felt so exposed, so vulnerable, given all the circumstances. She dreaded being told to fuck off, and then having to leave the room to face Tim and the police.
Omega just shrugged. ‘Sure. Save you telling tales to the filth outside.’
Jazz laughed and the tension broke. Rose moved across the room, to sit nearby Jazz, and Maggie continued to watch the labour actively, as Rose had been doing. ‘Fiona’ kept the official notes going.
Omega, on all fours, started a low moaning. The upcoming shriek was clearly signalling what Rose, Maggie, and Jazz could see: the baby was crowning. Maggie picked up a clean towel, and got down on the floor on her knees.
‘As I said, Omega, as soon as she’s free, I’ll take her outside. You are ready for that, aren’t you…?’ Rose felt every stomach muscle she had clench. Sweat popped out on her brow. Beside her, Jazz was enthralled by what she was viewing, and had stopped writing.
A birthing scream broke the air in triumph, the baby’s head popped out. Maggie placed the towel underneath. Omega slumped forward onto her elbows.
‘That’s it, girl, one more push.’
Omega pushed her daughter into the air, and the gentle receiving hands of Maggie supported the perfect, white-coated bundle of life. The baby had a shock of dark hair. Maggie pulled the baby to one side as Dr Gray clamped and cut the cord. Rose moved forward, and Dr Gray stood up. Maggie handed the baby over to Dr Gray, who left the room, Rose having opened the door for her. Jazz, shocked, sounded out a sudden ‘Oh!’
Rose turned to her. ‘I’m sorry, there isn’t another way.’
‘But can’t she even hold the baby…?’ Jazz’s face drained of colour and tears formed in her eyes.
‘No, I fucking can’t.’ Omega was still on her knees, but had lifted her head up. ‘Told you the bastards would.’
Jazz shook her head, and then looked at her watch, and carried on observing.
Maggie asked Omega if she wanted the injection that would help expel the placenta, Omega told her to ‘fuck right off’ but did say she was dying for a drag. As she turned over onto her back, a wonderful cry of life shattered the air in the corridor outside. Omega looked up at Maggie, tears flooding out of her eyes.
‘Please, could you go see she is all right?’
Maggie nodded, and left, cleaning her hands. Rose sat down on the floor beside Omega and they both awaited the placenta’s pleasure.
Jazz had brought Omega a glass of water, and then gone out, just as Fran, the other helper, came back in. Maggie came back after about ten minutes.
‘She’s wonderful, Omega. Happy, healthy, hearty, and protesting her treatment loudly.’
Omega laughed. ‘That’s my fucking girl, go get them.’ Then she broke down in tearing sobs. Jazz came over to attempt to give her a hug, but Omega sent her off with a ‘Fucking leave me alone and write your notes.’
Omega cried, loudly, quietly, silently at times, as they all sat on the floor, waiting. The placenta passed about 25 minutes after the baby, and was intact.
Maggie asked if they had permission to examine it, and her.
‘You can fuck right off. I’m taking that with me. Jazz!’ Jazz put forward a large Ziploc bag, and Maggie and she slipped the warm placenta into it, then left it aside in a surgical bowl to cool.
Omega did ask for help to get up onto the bed, and for a cup of tea. Maggie and Rose got her settled, and Maggie went off for tea and toast. Rose sat quietly. Omega cried but would still accept no comfort. When snot was stringing down her face, Rose handed her a clean towel. Omega took it, and buried her head for a few moments, then threw it on the floor with all her strength. Then she burst out wailing again.
‘She’s gonna be okay, isn’t she…?’ Rose was surprised to find Omega was addressing her.
‘No reason why not.’
Omega nodded. ‘No, no reason. She sounded healthy enough.’ Her sobs started up again.
Another knock, the door opening gently. It was Marsha. Rose stood up to go, and Omega’s hand shot out and grabbed her arm.
‘No, please, stay.’
Rose nodded, and sat back down. Jazz and Fran got up and left, leaving Marsha to talk to Omega. Marsha held paperwork in her hand.
‘They have full care, as we knew would happen. I have the paperwork, it was biked round from the judge’s home. It’s all in order, they even spelled her name correctly.’ There was a wry smile as such paperwork was usually quite haphazard. Not this time. ‘They do want to speak to you, but I told them you didn’t want that. Is that still your wish?’
Omega nodded, which allowed Marsha to leave and send Social Services away.
Maggie brought in a tray of jam and toast. Rose slathered some for Omega and handed it to her. Omega couldn’t eat for tears. Rose took a risk and touched Omega’s arm, gently. Omega turned and buried herself into Rose’s shoulder. Maggie busied herself with paperwork; it’s not as if there was anything else to do.
Omega sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. Rose held her, gently, finally lifting her free hand up to rub down the young mother’s back. After what seemed like hours, but was probably no more than thirty minutes, Omega sat back, exhausted. The tears subsided. Maggie handed her a mug of tea with three sugars in it, and she and Rose tidied the bed. Omega was bleeding freely onto the sheets, and they covered her with a clean sheet. Then they sat down, and waited.
It took about an hour, but Omega finally started to talk. Marsha had come in and gone, and Fran and Jazz had been dismissed. Rose, who was now off duty for three days, had agreed to stay and help Omega get dressed when she wanted to leave. Marsha left and Maggie stayed. No member of staff could be left alone with Omega: it just was.
Omega’s story was by no means unusual, or coherent, and all Maggie and Rose really got clear was that last time, when the Social Services had stood in the corridor, Omega had not had a ‘good birthing experience’ as the text books put it. The baby, in addition, had been stillborn, which Omega knew was her fault, due to ‘her being the worst fucking person in the world.’ It was clear that Omega had been in care at the time, and Social Services had been involved with her for years. They nodded, and listened, both lost in a parade of memories of similar births they had attended.
Omega said the moment the doctor stitched her tear back up without using an anaesthetic to punish her for her son dying, was the moment it made sense.
‘I knew why it had happened, and I knew what I needed to do. I needed to get free, utterly free.’ And so she’d left the hospital, and her name, and her life, behind.

By the end of the tale, Omega was shaking with exhaustion. Rose sat with her as she napped, and Maggie went off to make sure everyone knew she was still in the unit, not to be disturbed, and that Marsha was fully informed and happy with Omega’s treatment.
Rose felt her own exhaustion and hunger, but ignored them. Even without Shafiah’s appearance, Rose would have felt it was important for someone to stand watch over this fragile, broken young woman. The good thing about Omega letting go her story, and her tears, was that she was being observed post-birth: all looked well. Her colour was good, she was eating and drinking well, and had been to the loo.
About five hours after the baby had been born, Omega woke from her nap, and asked Rose to send for Marsha. When Marsha arrived, Omega looked her straight in her eyes and said ‘I want to see my baby. I want to raise my daughter. Tell me how I can make that happen.’

Rose went home by taxi, exhausted but hopeful. Omega had taken Marsha’s expert advice to heart and had started by allowing the hospital to do a full medical on her. When Rose left in the late afternoon, Omega had been admitted properly and was sleeping after having accepted some pain relief. She’d given Marsha her full name and date of birth, and Marsha had gone off to find her records and prepare a case for Social Services to put together a care plan that would allow Omega access to the baby, whom she’d named Storm.
Rose knew the odds of the young women (who’d told Marsha she was going to stay ‘Omega’ and she needed a deed poll for her name change asap) ever getting her baby back fully were poor to non-existent. But Rose believed in miracles, and had seen one or two of them in her years. Perhaps this was one. Regardless, she had a chance, and in this life, you took the chances you could and prayed.
After she phoned through to Tommy, and said she’d be round next afternoon to catch him up on something, she fell gratefully into her bed, and slept the sleep of the exhausted, as best she could in the heat.

Her sleep was disturbed before she was ready, in the early morning light. Someone was banging on her front door. As Rose staggered down the stairs, trying to pull herself out of the quicksand, the thought that Shafiah was on the other side of the door froze her solid. The banging carried on and she shook herself out of it: as if ghosts could bang on doors.
When she opened the door and saw who stood there, and the awful grey tinge to her skin, the bloodshot shock in her eyes, Rose knew what happened. Maggie Saro-Wiwa didn’t need to speak. Rose knew in her bones that Omega was dead


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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Sample Sunday December 16th


Final preview chapter of Bedlam Maternity which launches this coming Friday.




Leave a comment on the this post to enter into a giveaway for a free copy of the ebook.





There was no answer to give to that question and as the year moved on and slowly began to turn on itself, they gave up talking about the situation.  There had been no more occurrences and no more information had come forward about Shafiah from anyone.  Tommy had offered to talk to the local Imam about how the Islamic communities viewed ghosts, but Google could furnish her with that and not get her into trouble with either the hospital, or the community that was protecting Shafiah’s identity.
The walk to work, or rather the walk from work, got more troublesome in freezing cold and rain, but turned out to be a lifesaver for the ice and snow.  As London once more literally slid to a stop around her, with ‘unseasonable’ winter snow, she was one of the few staff members who always made it on shift.  It might take two hours to slog in on ice grips, and sometimes three to get home, but she was managing it.  It was doing wonders for her thighs.  So few of the others were managing in the worst of the weather that she took her sleeping bag in and left it in her locker.  She wasn’t going to be charged £25 per night for the privilege of sleeping in a hospital bed when she was saving the hospital’s neck: which is exactly what the Trust had done to staff the previous winter.
The ice was flooding out Accident & Emergency, as it always did.  Broken limbs from falls were straining resources and every now and then a bed was being used in Maternity for some poor battered soul that couldn’t find refuge elsewhere.  So when her beeper had gone off to call A&E urgently, she hadn’t been too concerned, thinking it was a bed chase for another ice victim.  Another ice victim it was, but one far more serious than anyone had anticipated.  The woman, who had slipped backwards and smashed her head on a wall, had lain unconscious for an hour or so in the snow before being discovered.  She was suffering from concussion, hypothermia, and blood loss.  The flap of skin that had been opened on the back of her head had bled freely the entire time she’d been down.  She was also heavily pregnant, easily over eight months gone. 
Rose reached A&E as the OB registrar was sending out the orders for theatre.  Despite their best efforts to stabilise the mother, the baby was in distress and was coming out.  The mother had drifted in and out of consciousness in the ambulance, and the senior anaesthetist was being called in.  The neo-natal unit was at full stretch and short on staff for Theatre.  Rose was due off shift in 30 minutes and Lucy, her relief, wasn’t in yet.  Lucy had a long way to come from Essex and had been making shifts, more or less, but had been hours late in the past week.  Rose made sure the delivery unit was as well prepared as it could be, warned all the staff where she’d be on change over, and confirmed she would attend.  She changed into theatre blues and scrubbed up.
The attempts to remove the baby were being hampered by the problems of trying to get the mother’s core temperature up at the same time as opening her for major surgery.  Theatre was so packed with surgeons and doctors, Rose couldn’t get anywhere near the mother, who was plugged into several high tech pieces of equipment she didn’t recognise. 
Rose hated theatre and avoided it at all costs: it was a bad shift if she found herself in there.
There wasn’t much to assist with, given the stream of specialists each trying to maintain their discipline over the body of the poor mother.  Dr McGhee, the head of the neo-natal unit, was working hand in hand with Dr Gray, the OB consultant.  They were prepping everything before making the first incision, in order to reduce the stress on the mother.  Rose had seen Dr Gray do a caesarean in under three minutes, from first cut to baby free, and had little worry about the intervention.  The issue was the accident.  They were clearly ready to proceed, as Dr McGhee had turned to Rose and indicated she wanted a warmed receiving blanket, which Rose unfolded across the older woman’s arms.  Rose picked up a neo-natal breathing mask and had her hand poised on the oxygen switch.  McGhee turned and nodded to Gray, who put the scalpel to the swollen belly beneath her.  Rose averted her eyes as the steel sliced through skin, blood vessels and muscles.  When she looked back, one of the other masked surgeons in the room was pulling open the cavity whilst Gray sliced on down to release the baby.  She pulled the head up and out, and between them, Gray and Dr McGhee had the baby out and on the cloth within 30 seconds.  Rose moved forward with the mask.  Dr Gray clamped and severed the umbilical cord and the press of bodies closed out the mother from Rose’s view.  She kept her thoughts on the tiny baby girl Dr McGhee was dealing with.  Behind her, the steady beep of the heart machine reassured everyone the mother should make it.
McGhee and Rose assessed the baby.  She was perfectly warm, small, and tightly curled.  She did not like being manhandled and Rose was sure the tension levels in the room halved when the little girl burst forth her outrage at the manner of her birth and the sudden removal from her mother.  Lung development was Good Enough.  She was also sure she heard the mother’s heartbeat double blip in response to the cries.
When McGhee had the baby connected to the monitors and the temperature and oxygen levels stabilised, they moved her upstairs to the Neo-Natal Unit.  Behind them, the others carried on working for the safety of the mother.
McGhee and Rose barely spoke to each other in the lift, their thoughts and efforts were only for the tiny bundle of life in their hands.  She was thin, but steadily flushing through with pink, and still squalling in fits and starts.  
Baby Nakalinzi was weighed, checked, prodded, injected, and generally fussed over for more than an hour, then settled into a deep and much needed sleep by the caress of her attentive nurses.  Rose had felt the heavy stab in her heart ease as the little one had settled into life, and stayed over long in the unit until the babe was softly asleep.  She then went to check on the mother and put in place all the arrangements they’d need for her to start to care for her baby when she woke from surgery.
The mother, Mercy, was out of theatre but being kept under sedation.  Her body had stayed strong throughout and her heartbeat was regular.  Discussions were taking place on where she should be placed and Rose spoke up for her going into the new rooms designed on the fourth floor to accommodate mothers in need of post-operative surgical care.  Yes, she was more high-dependency than usual for that unit, but her baby would be just upstairs and it would facilitate skin to skin and establishing breastfeeding.  Wasn’t that the whole point of the new rooms?
When the discussion got heated, Rose backed out of it and waited respectfully for the surgeons to finish arguing their territory.  The decision was tipped by Dr Gray, who argued that care was care, no matter where the machines were plugged in and that getting Mum and Baby together was best for both of them.  The unit was designed to give specialist post-natal care and the head injury was not that major.  Mercy was moved to a side room in the maternity special care unit on the fourth floor.  Baby would come down to join her as soon as it was safe to do so.
Rose was watching the thick snow settle outside as she did the paperwork for Mercy.  Her temperature was stabilised and her stomach wound clean and neatly sutured.  All her vitals were excellent and her prognosis was good.  She’d be kept sedated for about 24 hours, to give her body time to recover and heal, and then they’d proceed with waking her up.  The x-ray had shown a small fracture on her skull, but there shouldn’t be much more complication than the concussion.  The snow and ice had robbed her of more than the backwards slam into the top of a low brick wall. 
Her nose twitched by the lack of father, or any other human being in attendance at the unit to see how she and the baby were, Rose went looking for relatives.  A couple of hours on the phone to Social Services provided the answer that there were none, well, no adults.  Mercy had only arrived in London two days earlier, from an immigration detention centre.  She and her three year old son had been in detention for the past six months, nearly 60 miles north of London, in Bedfordshire.  She’d been released to have the baby and the boy was already in foster care, having been found by police when the ambulance had been called for Mercy.  The hostel they had been in was paid for by Social Services and they only had info on her from her two nights previous.  Typically, she’d been released to the local borough that she’d been in before she was lifted by the Borders Agency, and returned to it, despite not having any home or connections there for the months she’d been away.
Rose sent two messages out to the local charities and the churches that supported refugee claimants.  Someone would have been helping her when she was locked in Yarl’s Wood, but it may take time to track someone down who knew her.  She spoke to Social Services again, to confirm the boy was okay and to get the name of whoever was going to be assigned to sort all this out.  Rose had a bad feeling in her bones.  The East End had seen generations of refugees swarm through its streets: in many ways the times were the worst possible for them.  She’d tended the birth of babies that had then been deported in their mother’s arms, back to whatever terror they had been fleeing from.  She prayed the baby upstairs now would not be another one.

By now she was several hours past her shift end.  The snow outside was building up.  The entire unit was understaffed.  She argued with herself about the best course of action: go home where she wouldn’t have much time for sleep, but could let go the stresses, or stay here and sleep where she could, for as long as she could manage.  Indecision took her back up to the neo-natal unit, where the baby was still fast asleep, the monitors pinging away as they should.  It occurred to her that no one may have told the mother she had a daughter: she’d been in general surgical care after all.
She slipped down the back stairs, something she had been avoiding where possible these past few months.  As she passed the fourth floor window she expected to feel a shiver, but did not.  Telling herself again she was being ridiculous, she went on down to the ward, and went into the room Mercy was in.  The woman was alone, the machines all keeping their vigil for the staff.  Rose pulled a chair up to the head of the bed, and seated herself.  She held the woman’s hand in her own, stroking the back of her hand, as she told her that she had a daughter.  A healthy and happy daughter who was being cared for by loving arms, just above her head, on the floor above.  Her daughter would be down to see her the next day, when she woke, and that Mercy was not to worry about her son.  He, too, was safe.  Both her children were safe, and Mercy should sleep, rest and recover.  So she could wake up and hold them close.
Rose blinked the tears from the corners of her eyes as she patted the woman’s hands, and stood up.   
The shiver caught her breath.  Her feet felt frozen to the ground.  Her breathing stalled.
There was someone standing on the other side of the bed.
Shafiah.

The need to react was totally overtaken by the door behind them opening and closing with a bang.  Rose turned her head too quickly, and felt dizzy, slumping onto the seat.  Dr Gray came over.
‘Are you all right, Rose?’
Rose, who was as pale as the snow catching on the window sill, nodded.  ‘Startled, just a little startled.  Been a long shift.’
Shafiah was gone.  Obviously, since Dr Gray hadn’t screamed. 
‘I do appreciate the over-time Rose, I really do.  Especially now.’  Dr Gray left Rose to pick up Mercy’s chart and give it a quick look see.  Fiona Gray was not an emotional person, not in the least sentimental or personable.  She took everything and everyone at face value and never seemed to notice that most of the staff didn’t like her very much.  Professional respect was all she required from everyone and Rose wasn’t offended by the absent way Fiona didn’t quite chat to her as she conducted her analysis of Mercy’s chart.  She was grateful for the opportunity to collect her thoughts and to calm her racing pulse.  Dr Gray moved down to where Shafiah had been standing, and addressed Mercy.
‘Apologies, Miss Nakalinzi, I came to inform you your daughter was safe and well.  But I suspect that Rose got here first.’  Dr Gray smiled over at Rose, who was almost as thunderstruck by the comments as she had been by Shafiah’s appearance.
‘I’ll leave you to it, Rose.  Good evening, Miss Nakalinzi.’  Dr Gray left the room.
Rose stayed seated as she tried to piece her thoughts and feelings back into some sort of shape.  This task was overtaken by the arrival of Lucy Manning, who had finally made it in.  Rose and she retired for some strong tea, and a brief hand-over.

Whilst she was nodding on the couch in the staff lounge, snug in her sleeping bag, Rose realised that Dr Gray would not have screamed even if she had seen Shafiah.  She’d never met her, and what was the strangeness of a woman standing in a room by a bedside?  The strangeness would have been the supernatural appearance and disappearance. Besides, she, Rose, hadn’t screamed on either occasion.  She wished she could talk to Tommy Doyle: she fell asleep praying.
Lucy Manning shook her awake in the wee small hours.  Rose knew from the touch and the pale face that something was very wrong.  As her own eyelids flickered open, Rose saw that tears had been shed by Lucy’s.  What on earth was wrong?
‘I’m sorry to wake you.  I just had to have someone to talk to.’
Rose pulled herself out of the shreds of sleep as she pulled herself out of the sleeping bag.  There were two steaming hot mugs of tea by the table.  Lucy sat and huddled round hers, waiting for Rose to wake up enough to join her.  Rose ran her hands through her hair, gave her face a quick rub and sat down, blinking.  She lifted the mug up and wrapped her hands round it, breathing in the heat. 
She listened.
Tears came first, and Lucy dabbed at her eyes with a paper hanky.  It was scrunched and well used.  She blew her nose.
‘Sorry, Rose.  I couldn’t let the younger ones see me.  It’s not good.’
Rose nodded.
‘Is it a baby?’  Rose had never known a midwife who didn’t cry after a still birth, or an early death.  You just did it in private, away from the family.  Their grief came first.  You let it out afterwards.
Lucy shook her head. 
Rose sipped the tea.  It was sweet.  Lucy had put sugar in it; sugar for shock.
‘No, it’s a mother.’
Rose swallowed more tea which no longer tasted sweet.
‘A mother.  They’re taking her downstairs now.’
Every nurse referred to the morgue as ‘downstairs’, no matter where it was located.
‘The baby?’
‘It’s Mercy, Rose.  Mercy is dead.  She had a heart attack and… and she never held her baby, not once.’
Lucy dissolved into sobs, quiet wracking sobs.  Rose placed her right hand on Lucy’s shoulder, witness to her distress.

It took ten minutes or so for them to get each other in full control.  Lucy washed her face in cold water to calm her eyes, and Rose did the best she could to make it look as if she hadn’t slept on a couch.  Lucy’s tears had stained her blues so she changed into new ones as Rose dressed for her shift.
Together, they went over all the paperwork, making sure every i was dotted and every t crossed.  The normal paperwork of the ward was an impeccable detailing of every moment, intervention, and event of the birth and after care.  There was precious little detail in Mercy’s, given she’d been in Theatre and then unconscious, but they checked and double checked everything was sensible, in order, and as it should have been.  There would be an internal inquiry; there always was.
Rose watched Lucy begin the long trek home in the snow and ice, and set herself to the task of keeping the entire shift on track.  It was usually the next shift in from a death that saw the most disruption.  The staff on duty took their shock home, but the next shift came in under a pall.  Every subsequent birth was high tension in the minds of the workers, and every happy mother holding a baby an invite to tears.  She also spent some time with Maggie, going over even more paper work.  Maggie was controlled and deadly rage: she was personally insulted any time a mother died under her care.  She’d seen too many dead mothers in some of the places she’d worked with relief agencies.  In war and famine, the mothers and children usually came last.
With some relief, Rose trudged back home over the melting ice, some fourteen hours in Lucy’s wake.  Another four days of rest was in front of her, and the pain of the death behind her, disappearing in the rain.  
She bought smoked salmon from the all night deli.

Tommy had once again lit up his pipe, and sat puffing away, the smoke drifting around the living room.  Rose was huddled over another steaming hot mug of tea, this time it had a liberal application of whisky, care of Tommy.
The silence, the easy, comfortable, friendly and well-used silence between them, was doing more to soothe her than speech.  The silence allowed her tears to flow.  Tommy puffed away as the salty fluid dripping from her eyes drained out the canker in her soul.
Rummaging for a hanky and blowing her nose and drying her eyes, was the signal for conversation to start up again.
‘You think it’s coincidence?’  Her voice was too defensive, and she knew it.
‘No, I don’t, lass.  I think there is a puzzle here.’  He tapped out his pipe before tapping more of his special baccy mix in. ‘I just don’t know what it is. What she is trying to say to us.’
‘Death is pretty simple.’ Rose sat back, exhausted. 
‘Dying may be simple, in a first this happens, then that sort of way.  But death itself… that is never simple.’  Three deep puffs, and a long stream of smoke sent upwards, away from the table.
‘Death is a divine mystery…?’  She tried for a rueful smile.
‘Is it death, ‘tho?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘How many people have died in the hospital, since that poor lass fell to her death?’
Rose considered.  ‘Lots’.
Tommy nodded.  ‘Now, this is a hard one.  Have any mothers died, since?’
Rose swallowed hard as the tears swelled up.
‘Or babies, in fact?’
Rose looked over to Tommy, pinning him with her gaze.  Tommy took the assault, and sat quietly until Rose herself looked to one side, breaking off the connection.
‘Your brain is like a steel trap, Father Doyle.’
‘It takes one to know one, Sister Templar.’ It was an old joke between them, since Rose had once been a ward sister, before titles had become managerial gobbledygook.
‘And the answer…?’
‘Two mothers and one baby have died since Shafiah did, in the wards.  One was a woman who’d been in cancer treatment when she became pregnant unexpectedly.  She was dying and there was very little hope of more than a year in any event.  She stopped all treatment, went home, and prepared for her baby.  She died in the unit, with the baby in her arms, about two days after the birth.’  Rose envisioned the scene that Lucy had described so poignantly:  Mum and Dad in bed together, the baby on Mum’s chest, Dad’s arms holding them both.  The mother’s parents sitting in the room, grieving the loss of their child whilst trying to hold onto the joy of a new grand-daughter.  She left a few moments’ silence, to collect her thoughts.
‘Then there was the Mum and baby we lost a few months ago.  Very unusual. Mum was on holiday here, from Devon.  Hit by a car.  Placenta previa, in addition to serious chest injuries.  She bled to death, baby died in utero.'
‘You were on duty?’
‘For that one I was on stand-by, she was in theatre when I came on shift.’
‘And did you… have a visit… for either…?’
‘No.’
‘Could someone else have?’

Rose had no idea, and she had a delicate look around, chatting to people, listening hard, looking for signs over the next few weeks.  There was no hint anywhere that anything unusual had been occurring. Given how superstitious most hospital staff were, she didn’t know if she was relieved, or disappointed.  The inquest on Mercy recorded it as a tragedy and the hospital was praised for how well it had cared for her.  Anyone can have a heart attack, at any time, and the fact she was wired up to a series of machines when she had hers, was evidence that all measures to keep her safe had been taken.  Both children were put into the system for adoption and thus become British citizens.  Rose had the comfort of that; that Mercy rested with both her babies safe from deportation.  She was buried not far from Shafiah’s unmarked spot, having the same anonymous burial on the council funds.  Rose would walk past, and say silent hellos to them both, and assure them their children were happy and well cared for.
Or so she prayed.