Chapter Fifty-Nine– The Agony of a Husband
On that long day in June 1853, Margaret and John Thornton were fighting side-by-side to bring the birth of their twins to a good end. As time went on, John learned to recognize all the signs and proceedings of a confinement and of giving birth.
He could feel the slightest change in Margaret’s body when a contraction was coming, a tiny rippling of her back muscles under his hands. Then he would straighten his own back, harden his own muscles and tighten his grip on her waist, as he sat behind her, legs spread with Margaret between them. When it began, he would support her with all his might, to give her the extra strength needed for the contraction to be as efficient as possible.
This process was going on for long, excruciating hours, so long that John had lost all notion of time. He had seen dawn coming through the windows, where Dixon had forgotten to draw the curtains, busy as she was with bustling from the room to the kitchen in a supply of fresh hot water, hot drinks and food for everybody in attendance.
John could very well tell that Margaret was weakening rapidly now. He literally had to hold her upright during her labour. Yet he never allowed himself to stop encouraging her, firing her up, praising her efforts, telling her he loved her. Margaret’s tears of sheer exhaustion were falling upon his hands and arms and tearing apart his very heart in the process.
Was not this the outcome of his love for her? Had he not been the sole villain in this, by impregnating her? How cruel was this, when a man could enforce this kind of torture onto his wife, solely by loving her? By God, he swore he would find a way to spare Margaret further agony in the future or to die trying to!
Margaret had not an ounce of strength left. She felt completely drained, body and mind. Only John’s presence and strength kept her going. John … she was utterly grateful for her husband’s strong body behind her, his capable hands on her waist and his loving voice in her ear.
“Come on, my love. Hold on for just a little while. Doctor says it is not long now. Sweet darling, come on, push, my love, push!”
“I … I cannot … I cannot go on, John, I …”
“Yes, you can! Together, we can, my love! Come on, together with me, now, Margaret!”
It was only John that kept her going, Margaret thought. As long as she heard his voice, she could indeed go on! John, stay with me, John, please, help me!
The doctor’s voice came from somewhere far away.
“Dr Donaldson? Mrs Goodyear? Stand by, if you please … here comes number one! Oh, what a beauty!”
The haze of pain grew to an extremely high peak but, strangely, Margaret found she could endure it somehow. Her body was still fighting, though she did not know how that was possible.
Someone was pressing onto her stomach but her eyes refused to open and see who it was.
“Oh … oh, my God, Margaret! Sweet Jesus, Margaret … oh, oh …”
Was John crying? She could feel him sobbing but could not believe it. John, crying? Impossible!
“Come on, my brave, brave darling, push, PUSH!”
“There is the other one!”, Dr Chelmsford cried, “And what a healthy one it is! Dr Donaldson, take him, please?”
Suddenly the level of pain dropped to almost nothing and Margaret was left shivering with exhaustion and sudden cold.
“Nurse, give me an extra blanket! Here, Mr Thornton, wrap this around her, she is in shock!”
John tenderly wrapped his wife into the blanket and climbed out of the bed, helped by the strong hands of his mother. Hannah’s face was wet with tears but her eyes were shining.
“Oh, John! You have two sons! Two healthy sons, is it not, Dr Chelmsford?”
As his knees buckled under the sudden demand of being upright, John took a deep breath and tried to collect his scattered wits.
“Is it true, doctor? Are the children healthy?”
It was Dr Donaldson’s voice that answered. At some point John had noticed that the faithful family doctor had entered the room but he had been too busy with his wife to even greet him.
“Yes, Mr Thornton, I have examined the children and they are very well. Two strong boys they are, a little small as was to be expected, but strong nevertheless. Would you like to see them?”
“In a while, Dr Donaldson, if you please. Dr Chelmsford, how is Margaret?”
The London obstetrician turned to him while he was working on Margaret.
“She is completely exhausted, Mr Thornton, and asleep. The after-birth bleeding does not seem too extreme and I think we must leave her into the competent hands of Mrs Goodyear who will make her as comfortable as possible. I would be obliged if you and Mrs Hannah would leave the room now, so that we can do our jobs.”
“But …but I want to see how Margaret is and …”
At this point, Hannah took hold of her son’s arm and quietly but firmly led him out of the room.
Once outside, John’s knees did really buckle and he would have crashed onto the floor but for the strong, steadying hands of Nicholas Higgins.