Posted by: Corri van de Stege | May 3, 2007

My dearest Lara – 1

Here follows another story for you, a story that I might tell you when you are a bit older, but I think I will write it down for you now. After all, the original purpose of this blog was to write stories for you, 51 to be precise,  and so far I have given you a mixture of tales about things that affected me or that I suddenly remembered, or that simply seemed to come up at the moment. This story is one that you will feel close to because it is about your father’s birth, making him special, as you are special. It is not about anything gory; don’t worry, just about the circumstances and what happened. It was unusual, but then you may well think that all births are unusual as they are about a totally new human being, different from everyone that came before and different from everyone that will come after. That is unusual, you must admit. And circumstances, well births never happen at the right time, do they. This one however was definitely different, and not quite the way I expected things to happen. The circumstances were unforgettable and also brought home to me that people live parallel lives, even if they live in the same town, poverty and all that goes with it and well-to-do people with all the comfort that is part of it, or at least, that you expect to be part of it! Sometimes it does not quite work out that way, however, and then you realise how lucky you are, even if things are not going as well as they might have.

It was 1977, nearly winter after a long hot summer in Isfahan and the rest of the country, with failing cooling systems and water supplies, because of electricity cuts, making pregnancy that much more unbearable and I felt tired of the long wait and the discomfort. The electricity cuts were not due to any terrorist activity or malice, but rather to a growing infrastructure that began to burst at its seams. The expansion of the town, further down the valley into the new conurbation of university and campus further up the hill put too much pressure on the available resources and so, for hours, sometimes very long hours, on end there had been water cuts as well as electricity cuts, in soaring temperatures, making you want to leave for good, despite the relative luxury of the apartments with big American freezers and fridges. Husbands would fill up baths and buckets with water, to make sure that there was a supply should there be another cut. So, it had been a long and hot summer and November was pleasantly cool, we had all cheered up tremendously and it was time for a party, two birthdays to celebrate and I was not due for another week anyway.

‘Have a glass of wine’, Linda said ‘ that will make sure that you won’t go into labour…’ And I believed her; after all she was the expert, the qualified nurse married to a specialist. I had been on my feet most afternoon, preparing the food, rice, with the golden butter crust, Iranian stews, yoghurt mixes; my friends had turned up with the cakes and sweets, American and English and German delicacies, including the huge trifle, made from scratch. We were friends, had become friends because of where we were and what we shared, and had a good time, laughing and joking and I felt happily warm and content, sipping my one glass of wine and eating some of the food. The men were all connected to the university, they had studied abroad got doctorates and had come back to their home country with foreign wives, who had their own part-time jobs, from teaching in the campus primary and middle schools and the British Council just before the town, our side of the river, to part-time positions and jobs in the university. This was colonial living in modern times. We all had Iranian families that to a large extent determined also how we lived in and related to the society around us. We all knew how to cook Iranian dishes, even though my reputation for burning food had already become established: it all took too long for me, I used to prepare the food, put it on the stove and then completely forgot about it, because I became engrossed in a book, a conversation with a friend, or in preparing lessons for my English classes. But that afternoon I had focussed and I was very pleased with myself, the meal was good, everybody was enjoying themselves, and I felt almost detached from it all. Looking back, that was of course a bad sign, but I did not know that.

At two o’clock in the middle of the night my waters broke. I felt a pleasant warmth and thought it better to nudge your deep sleeping grandfather, who got up like a house on fire ‘Oh Christ, I’d better get Linda!’ grabbed some clothes and shot out. What to do? I was not supposed to go into labour right then, my gynaecologist was away for a week and although he had referred me to a colleague of his, this colleague was away for two days as well, not in Isfahan, not to be reached. Linda’s husband tried, but all the replacement’s wife could say over the phone that night was that he would not be back for another day. And I was due to have a caesarean; we knew that, so it was essential that I got to a hospital somehow or other.

Your father was obstinate even then – not for turning, decided to stay the way he was ‘Upside down for the rest of his life’, Linda said, ‘obstinate and doing things his own way!’ Verdict: caesarean, as they were not going to take the risk, not in Isfahan where facilities might not be up to an emergency, should things go wrong. Everything had been planned, a private consultant carrying out the procedure, in a private hospital. Only that facility was not available that particular night, because neither of the two partners was there…

So far nothing unusual of course, these things happen. Only in Isfahan they lead to quite dramatic circumstances, where you pinch yourself afterwards and wonder whether what happened was actually real, that you had not been dreaming it all. Your father is inextricably linked to this, the little bundle in a yellow wrap that was handed to me. But more about that later. When I held you Lara for the first time, a little bundle in a red suit, memories flooded back – it was like holding your father all over again, you are part of this, the next one, as you are part of your mother’s lineage. Special.

‘We’ll have to get A, he’s a good doctor, I know him, he will take care’, Linda’s husband said ‘he’s American educated and qualified. You should talk to him’. And off they went, your grandfather and the specialist, to one of the end blocks on the campus, came back and said ‘We’d better go. He’s getting dressed and will follow us to the hospital in town’. Linda was coming with us, we had a pact she and I, she would not leave me alone and as a qualified nurse it had been agreed that she would be allowed into the operating theatre. We’d heard stories about kids being swapped, getting the wrong label and you’d end up with a baby that was not yours. ‘I’ll make sure you have your own’, she said to me. ‘I’ll be there and take it away and care for it until you come round’. The whole thing quite bizarre, but at the time we felt very sane and I felt hugely comforted knowing that whatever the gender of the baby, whatever he or she looked like, it would be mine, even if I had not been conscious when it was born!

The three of us got in the car, meanwhile birthdays had passed from that of your grandfather to that of Linda’s husband, no party for him as his wife was coming with me, to comfort me and help me through. Your father’s birthday would be shared with him forever. I felt very sleepy, but at the same time worried about what was happening. A dreamlike existence began. Your grandfather got behind the steering wheel, Linda next to me in the back, and somehow or other there were some socks and a bright yellow cape-like thing I had for warmth. Chattering teeth, darkness outside, the road from campus to Si-oh-Se Pol Bridge seemed endless, wondering what was happening. Then the bridge ‘christ, of course, it’s a one way system!’, your grandfather cursed, foot on pedal. Then a policeman. There were no other cars on the road, he flagged us down. ‘My wife’s in labour’, your grandfather shouted ‘got to get her to the hospital’, and the policeman, jumping up and down, almost as worried as grandfather, waved us through ‘go, go!’ he shouted. So before your father was born, he got over the si-oh-se pol bridge in Isfahan, a one-way system, the wrong direction! Policeman waving, your grandfather cursing and in a panic, Linda in hysterics and laughing and your father and me, well I suppose we had given up by then and were simply waiting to meet each other… the rest of the world could take care of everything else. I just didn’t know what was going to happen, felt like I was in a dentist chair, open mouth, not knowing whether the anaesthetic would do its job or whether I was going to scream with pain. Simply did not know what was going to happen – had never been there before. Whatever, from now on it was between your father and me, only I did not know who he was going to be, what he would be like!

We speeded across the bridge, wrong way, no other car in sight and I still wonder what would have happened if there had been a car coming from the opposite direction. No one seemed to know where the hospital was but we found it. I was slumping by then, when we found it, a dark entrance, no one around. We got to the entrance, no one there, and knocked, trying to draw attention. A cleaner appeared and asked us what we wanted. By then, I had completely withdrawn, could not careless very much more, was busy with your father, detached, but the cleaner then said we had to come back next day because she was sure there was no one to help us… Both your grandfather and Linda went into spasms of anger and indignation and somehow or other we got through and were referred on. I remember a corridor where women walked up and down, groaning, remember the examination room, incredibly unpleasant but full of people and then student doctors until finally someone turned up, hands in pocket, leather jacket and I hissed ‘so who the hell are you then?’ Well, it turned out that he was Mr. A, the gynaecologist that we had been waiting for.

Your father was born around six o’clock in the morning, only I was not there, but for me he was born when Linda passed me a bundle of yellow cape, when I came round, and said ‘I know it’s yours! I was there and have not let him get out of my sight’. So you see Lara, I know you are part of me, as much as your father was. And as I said when I started, every single birth is special.

I left the hospital as soon as could possibly be arranged, with pneumonia. I had a vast room all to myself, where your grandfather and Linda cleaned surfaces and anything your father or I might possibly touch, with an antiseptic concoction. Well, considering the worry about MRSA nowadays in modern hospitals in England, perhaps that was wise. One of the first days a nurse passed by, congratulating me on the fact that I had managed to deliver a son and not a daughter (this was Iran after all), dropped a tray full of medicine and subsequently collected them all back from the floor and neatly rearranged them in the various dishes and pots on her tray. I think we, your father and I, survived because we both felt very special, meeting one another in such strange and unexpected circumstances. Nevertheless, your father protested the unfairness of the world for a long time as a baby and I could not really blame him, considering the surreal circumstances in which he was born, half Dutch, common sense, wanting an ordered world, finding himself in a situation that was not very bearable! Who could have blamed him?



  1. It was truly one of the most miraculous moments EVER… forgot to mention that you little boy got his first spanking shortly after he was born because he was a bit reluctant to breathe……all’s well that ends well.

  2. How can I say I was really surprised? I had been under the impression you were addressing these stories to your daughter. It is your granddaughter you re talking to – in writing though.

    Moving story this one, how isolated you appear in it! Is it isolation mothers go through when it is their turn to give birth to a child?

    Your narration caught my attention from beginning to end.

  3. Linda: thanks for putting me straight on one or two facts. Must edit this but in the end the facts were not that important, were they? We knew what mattered!
    Jose: thank you for your lovely comment -yes isolation was a very large part of all of this and probably still is for the next generation(s)!

  4. Well written and interesting stuff as always, seachanges.
    That boy must surely be lucky to have a mother like you 😉

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