Dr.'s Bert and Mary Granger of Lavenham, Suffolk, were more excited than they had ever been in their whole lives. After years of unsuccessful attempts, Bert and Mary were expecting a baby girl in September… and not even horrendous morning sickness could deter the happy parents-to-be from telling the whole small town about their impending bundle of joy.
The Grangers really were perfect for each other. Bert was never one to share his personal history and, instead, found it safer to stick to the facts and figures. His bookish appearance only added to his social ineptness. His dark brown eyes, hidden behind thick glasses, always seemed to dart around during conversations and his slicked back dark brown hair only accentuated his somewhat large ears. Bert was relatively tall, but always hunched over under the weight of his school books. Mary, on the other hand, had honey colored eyes and a mess of light brown curls upon her head that always looked meticulous, even in the messy bun she always wore. She was a bit more outgoing, but her conversations always seemed to end up being about her most recent scientific experiment.
When Bert met Mary in dental school, his idea of flirting involved quizzing her on the parts of a tooth (enamel, dentin, pulp, cementum, and the periodontal ligament) and the metabolization rate of novocaine. Luckily for Bert and his love life, Mary found his intellectual ramblings a turn on and soon the pair became inseparable.
Trivia nights over a pint or two (or three) at their local pubs developed into a nightly occurrence. For the first month, they were at the top of every leader board in the county. However, the pair fell in the standings because they were too busy talking about anything but facts and figures. Abandoning all reason, the pair married after only 3 months of dating and opened up a dentistry practice in their small town of Lavenham soon after graduation.
Bert and Mary developed a name for themselves in their community… and not necessarily for their dental work. It was common knowledge that patients of Granger Dental Associates were in for quite the history lesson while they were incapacitated in the Grangers' chair with their mouth open, unable to change the subject. Topics ranged from Wolsey's 'Amicable Grant' Resistance in the 1500's to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's experimental film, Apotheosis, filmed in the town square in the late 1960's and everything in between.
Nonetheless, Bert and Mary were so passionate in their long winded history lessons, patients couldn't help but be entertained by the stories and tended to completely forget about the sharp objects scraping their teeth. Entertainment and history aside, however, patients couldn't help but heave a sigh of relief when the Grangers switched topics to the upcoming increase of their family.
Mary first suspected she was finally pregnant during a particularly vivid dream full of owls flying throughout their house and the surrounding village. When she woke up, she swore she felt the fluttering of owls inside her stomach. The feeling was so overwhelming that she just "knew" she was pregnant. Bert, on the other hand, had done all the research and "overwhelming fluttering" was definitely not a symptom of pregnancy. A quick trip to her doctor, however, confirmed they had finally managed to get pregnant.
In between patients, Bert would walk over to the library to "study up." Instead of shuffling along through the cobblestone streets, Bert couldn't help but whistle with a spring in his step. It wasn't long before all of the librarians knew of the "whistling papa" and his unending quest to know absolutely everything about his pregnant wife and future daughter.
"What's on the syllabus today, Dr. Granger?" asked Mildred the head librarian.
"Did you know that my daughter," he smiled so wide at the mere mention of the word that he paused momentarily, "is currently the size of a zucchini?"
"Is that so?"
"Yes! And is about 1.5 kilos!"
"Such a wee one!" Mildred laughed.
"Mary, though," Bert dropped his voice to a whisper, "has put on more than a stone! 1.42 stone to be exact! Which is actually-"
"Albert Granger!," Mildred bristoled, "Don't you dare insult your wife's weight! Her body is carrying your-"
"No, no, no!" Bert interrupted, "I didn't mean it like- I just meant- It's just fascinating that-" Bert's ears were burning red. "She's the perfect weight, actually, for how far along she is. That's all. She's perfect. That's what I wanted to say… b-b-but I only whispered her weight because there are people around and-"
Mildred smiled and patted his arm, bringing his ramblings to a merciful end. "You and the other Dr. Granger settle on a name yet?"
Bert beamed. "We were trying to come up with a nice, unusual name fitting of her, erm, unusual parents," he said in a rare moment of self realization, "but all we have been able to agree on is either Jean or Davis."
The old librarian chuckled. "You lot aren't so much unusual but you're definitely quirky, that's for sure. You got your quirks, I'll say."
"Right you are!" Bert laughed.
"We just got that new book in for you… 'Carbo-something Something in Pregnant Women and Newborns,'" Mildred pulled out a freshly opened parcel from under the desk full of books.
"Carbohydrate Metabolism in Pregnancy and the Newborn 1978 First Edition?"
"Yeah, that's the one - let me find it." Mildred rooted around in the box before pulling out a large, heavy dark blue medical textbook. "I haven't had a chance to catalogue it yet but it's not like I won't know who has it," she said with a twinkle in her eye as she handed off the hefty book.
"The Moore's down the lane are also expecting a child this fall," Bert said absentmindedly, thumbing through the thin paper.
"The Moore's aren't going to want this book," Mildred said with a laugh. "Just bring it back when you're done."
"Of course! Will you also ring me when the Advances in Child Development and Behaviour, Volume 8 is returned?"
"I thought you already read that one," Mildred exclaimed.
"Oh I have," Bert grinned, "Twice. But third time's the charm, right?"
Mary dabbed her mouth and walked out of the loo. She was 36 weeks pregnant and still felt as though there were owls constantly fluttering in her stomach which didn't bode well for her ability to keep anything down. Her doctor assured her everything was progressing nicely despite her sickness and her husband confirmed after a few weeks of research.
As miserable as she was, the excitement of having a baby trumped any discomfort. She plopped down on the sofa next to Bert who was, not surprisingly, reading another textbook. He hurriedly put his book down and pulled a small notebook and pencil out of his breast pocket.
"How much do you think you, erm, expelled that time?" Bert asked, touching the tip of the pencil lead to his tongue before bringing it to meet the paper.
"Haven't the foggiest," sighed Mary.
"But I have to log it!" Bert protested.
"I think it's time to stop logging my vomit volume, dear," Mary tried to smile.
"We have to have a complete and comprehensive chart to show the doctor when we go next week."
"No, we don't," she replied carefully. "Dr. Higgens has seen countless pregnant women with nauseousness. He knows what he is doing."
"You don't want to plot it anymore? Are you feeling ok? That's not like you!" exclaimed Bert, sitting straight up. "Is it time? It can't be time. You're only 36 weeks 2 days and-"
"No, no, there's nothing wrong," she said. "I'm just tired of the science of it." The horrified look on Bert's face made her giggle. "I just want to enjoy these last few weeks of being pregnant without constantly thinking about my vomit."
"When have you ever been tired of science?!"
"Since a parliament of owls took up residence in my uterus for the last 36 weeks and recently seem to have been fornicating like rabbits," Mary said, giggling again at Bert's face. "Come on, why don't we talk about some names while we tidy up the nursery?"
"Ah, another 'nesting' episode," Bert said as he pulled out his notebook again but froze when he saw Mary's face. "Nevermind."
In the middle of a brilliantly sunny September day (even though owls usually fly at night) Mary felt as though the owls residing in her large stomach were fighting to escape into the bright, crisp air. Both she and Bert were taking a lunch break at Grangers' Dental Associates in between patients because Mary was stubborn and wanted to work as long as possible.
Mary doubled over mid bite and let out a moan Bert had never heard the likes of before. He was so taken aback, he sloshed his tea all over his starched white dentist jacket.
"Mary? Honey? Erm, what's wr-"
"What kind of brilliant scientist can't even identify when his wife is going into laaaabbboooorrrrr?!" she screamed as another contraction hit her like a wave.
In a fumbling and clumsy mess, very unlike the Grangers' usual way of doing things, Bert somehow managed to get Mary to the local hospital. She was whisked from the waiting room, leaving Bert standing there, not knowing what to do for the first time in his life. Eventually, he came to his senses and logically deduced, after much consideration, to ask the nurses station where, in fact, he had to go. Thankfully, they led him to the room where his wife was already changed into a gown and in bed.
Things progressed quickly, especially given it was Mary's first child. Before the Grangers knew it, it was time to push.
"Push!" the doctor tried to yell over the din of Mary's screams and the nervous humming of Bert.
"Stop. Humming!" Mary yelled.
"Erm, sorry!" said Bert, but he continued to hum without realizing it.
"Stop bloody humming!"
Bert blinked a few times in confusion and then ceased. He looked on in silent concern.
'Good. You're doing good, Mary," the doctor said. "Just a few more pushes should do it. You're doing a great job."
"Watch out for the owls," Mary said through gritted teeth. "Their talons are out."
"What's that?" asked the doctor.
"Well, you see, when Mary first had an inkling she was pregnant, she felt-"
"Shut it, Bert!"
"Yes, dear," he said, casting his eyes down. Bert may have studied all there was to know about childbirth, but he had absolutely no idea how to act around his very pregnant and very irritable wife.
"Just another few good pushes and you should be able to see your new baby's face," the doctor said.
Bert's heart fluttered and he grabbed Mary's hand. She smiled back at him through her pain. The moment was perfect. It was exactly what he needed to do, no studying necessary.
After a few more good pushes, Bert did, indeed, get a chance to see his new baby's face. He had never seen anything as beautiful, not even that perfect moment right after removing a child's braces. His heart soared. The most indescribable feeling washed over him. No textbook could ever explain the love he felt for the wisp of brown hair and the tiny button nose he saw before him. Everything else ceased to exist in that moment.
Bert's overwhelming excitement was hastily interrupted by a sudden flurry of activity and a symphony of shouts. Before he knew what was going on, Bert was pushed out of the way by a rather round nurse in a white cap.
"What's going on?" his shouts were lost in the rapid cacophony. Nurses and doctors were streaming into the room, creating a barrier of white between him and his wife and baby. Bert struggled to see on his tip toes but kept getting pushed off balance. He soon found himself on the very edge of the room with no chance of seeing what was going on. Snippets of words were floating above the sea of white: "Baby... cord... blue... hurry…"
Bert had never felt more stupid or helpless in his life. There was always an answer. Always. If he didn't know an answer off the top of his head, Bert could always find it somewhere in a book if he looked hard enough. But there, in that hospital room, Bert knew absolutely nothing.
It felt like an eternity as Bert sat outside in the hallway, staring at the eggshell colored cinder blocks across from him. There were exactly 144 blocks directly in front of him in between the two hospital room doors. The block 2 rows up and 3 columns over from the left had a smudge on it that looked exactly like an owl. It took every ounce of strength Bert had left to not get up and scuff it out with his rubber soles (after kicking it a few times, that is).
Bert didn't even notice the heavyset doctor standing to his left until he felt a hand on his arm. "She's almost ready to go," the doctor said. "How are you holding up?"
Bert couldn't muster a reply. Instead, he put on the most British "stiff upper lip" he could muster and nodded quickly. The doctor's hand fell off his arm as he stood and took the 5 strides into the hospital room to the left, vowing not to kick the owl. As he opened the door, his dark brown eyes landed on his beautiful, smart, incredibly sad wife sitting on the bed and staring out the window. Her arms were painfully empty.
"Let's go home," Bert whispered.
Nearly a year later on a blustery Tuesday morning in early February, Mary was leaning over Mr. Gus Quips, a rather handsome older man with a dusting of grey in his temples, when she was struck with a peculiar feeling.
"And then, during the Lavenham Smallpox epidemic of 1712- Owls!" she exclaimed, accidentally jabbing Mr. Quips on the cheek with her dental hook.
"Ow!" yelled Mr. Quips.
"Yes! That's right! Owls!" Before Mr. Quips could mumble another word, Mary flew out of the exam room and down the hall where her husband was writing in the chart of his last patient. "Bert! Owls!"
"I feel owls again!"
"What?! Are you sure?" he said, dropping his pen into his coffee cup.
Silence surrounded them. The weight of the revelation was two fold: there was excitement but there was an overwhelming sense of fear.
"Should we go to the doctor then?" Bert asked quietly.
"I think so."
"Erm, excuse me," said Mr. Quips, standing in the doorway, still rubbing his tongue against the inside of his cheek. "I have to get back to work. Can we finish up?"
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Quips," said Mary, snapping out of her daze and back into "dentist" mode. "Of course. I'll be back in a moment to finish up your filling." Mr. Quips disappeared back down the hall and Mary stood up, straightening her jacket.
"Shouldn't we, erm, talk about this?" Bert asked.
"We can talk about it after we're done with patients."
"The patients can wait."
"No. They can't," Mary said, walking out the door.
Bert took a deep, shaky breath. His heart was pounding faster than a hummingbird. For the second time in his life, he didn't know what to do. Losing their baby in childbirth was absolutely devastating. Both he and Mary were severely depressed for months and had only just started to get back to some sense of normalcy. Laughter, while still sporadic, was finally finding its way back into the Granger cottage.
The turning point in their grief was a frank discussion 4 months ago. Through tears, both admitted they never wanted to try for another baby. The loss of the child and the previous miscarriages had taken their toll. Mary and Bert agreed that they'd give it a few more years and just adopt a child. Only when they talked about, analyzed, and came to that conclusion were they able to start living again.
The owls obviously changed everything. Bert's stomach rose to his throat. His head fell into his hands. What Mary didn't know was all of the research he had done after all of their failed attempts at pregnancy. The calculations didn't lie - there was a very high probability she would lose this child and he knew, with certainty, they wouldn't be able to survive it.
With every passing month of her pregnancy, Mary and Bert became more and more detached from whatever was growing in Mary's stomach. While Bert's quirky calculations were a staple of the last pregnancy, both found comfort in being completely scientific about the whole situation. Every morning, after meticulously brushing their teeth, Bert and Mary would step out into their bedroom for their new morning ritual.
Surrounded by massive pieces of paper filled with grey-toned graphs and charts, Bert would bring out the measuring tape, place it at the top of the uterus, and stretch it along the top of her stomach. "Fundal height: 35 centimeters," he said, reading the tape. Mary would plot it on the graph. Mary would then get on the scale. "Weight: 70.3kg." Again, the number was plotted. The only "non-scientific" number they'd measure was the owls. "How many owls are flying around this morning?" Bert would ask.
"At least 15," Mary said, and the number would be plotted.
They never discussed the implications of the measurements or made any hypothesis; the numbers were the numbers were the numbers and that was it, thank you very much.
The nursery hadn't been touched. After they lost the baby, Bert and Mary quickly converted the nursery back into a storage area. Being the practical people they were, they converted the changing table into a catch-all for charts and the crib into a storage area for dental casts. The pale purple walls that were once bright and cheery seemed dingy and were covered with a very fine dust from the plaster casts. The brilliant white lace curtains were replaced with sensible blinds to hide the room from the sun. Neither Bert nor Mary found themselves in the room all that often.
The patients at Grangers' Dental Associates tried to strike up conversations about the upcoming birth, but conversation was quickly brought back to the history of their town or a scientific rant. Bert would only mumble pleasantries to Mildred the librarian when he checked out the new editions of various dental textbooks and journals. If it weren't for Mary's ever growing baby bump, no one would have any idea they were expecting.
By the time Mary was 38 weeks along, the terror she and Bert felt was bubbling to the surface and making them both quick to anger. During one of their morning measurement sessions, Bert fumbled the measuring tape. "Fundal hei-" he stuttered as the tape fell to the floor.
"Bert, what on earth do you think you're doing," chided Mary.
"Sorry, love," Bert muttered. He quickly retrieved the tape from the floor. "Fundal height: 39 centimeters."
Mary plotted the measurement and took a step to the right towards the scale. "Oh!" she exclaimed, plopping down on the bed holding her stomach.
"Mary?" Bert asked tentatively.
"The owls," Mary said with a glint of fear in her eyes. "We have to go to hospital."
22 hours later, a beautiful baby girl with bright, brown eyes and thick brown hair entered the world in a flurry of activity. The doctor, a seasoned practitioner, had never had another birth quite like it and was still shaking his head in disbelief an hour after he had left the room.
As soon as the baby was born, Dr. Hawthorne, who distinctly remembered the tragedy that had befallen the Grangers a little more than a year before, had a dreadful moment of déjà vu. The baby's head emerged with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around her little neck and was turning very blue very quickly. Then, all of a sudden like magic, the tight cord seemed to unravel like a snake before his very eyes. He nearly dropped the newborn he was so surprised. He quickly passed the baby off to a waiting nurse and stepped out of the room to clear his head. Maybe he was a bit too old to pull a 24 hour shift.
Bert and Mary went through all of the motions expected of new parents. They took turns holding her and obsessively counting her fingers and toes. They chuckled at her full head of hair; Bert even swept it up into a faux mohawk at one point. Nevertheless, the nurses in the safety of the nurses station all remarked at how distant the pair seemed to be. It was no matter - sometimes it took a bit for the shock of it all to wear off.
Before they knew it, it was time for Bert and Mary to name their beautiful new baby. Mary took a deep breath and stared into her new daughter's eyes. Her heart still ached for their lost daughter but she wanted, desperately, to be able to love her just as much. "Jean," she whispered with a tear. Bert stiffened at the first mention of the name in over a year. Surely she wasn't going to name their new baby after the one they lost. Mary looked over at the nurse. "Hermione Jean Granger. That's her name. A nice, unusual, smart first name, isn't it?"
"Very unusual indeed," murmured the nurse as she wrote the name on the chart and left the room to tend to the other six children born the 19th day of September, 1979.