Later that afternoon, Blanche was outside with Hector. He was a wonderfully curious child, and liked to play 'archaeologist' with Blanche. The game consisted of him taking a magnifying glass round the garden, giving the occasional 'A-hah!' or 'Interesting!' as he gathered leaves, twigs and flower petals, and handed them to Blanche to 'catalogue'. She made piles and then he would crawl onto a chair next to her, and look at the items. She had given him a journal to write in, and he took extensive 'notes' in an endearing scribble.
"What's this one, Aunt Blanche?" Sometimes he left it up to her to make up what a leaf could be, and he would nod enthusiastically and write down what she said.
Before Blanche could come up with a story for the leaf, she heard a noise she thought she wouldn't hear in the country -an air raid siren. Hector jumped down off his chair and put his journal under his arm."
"Must we go to the shelter?" Blanche could hear the attempt to hide the disappointment in his voice, as playtime was cut short.
"Yes, dear, we must." She stood and took the boy's offered hand and glanced back at the house, wondering when the inhabitants would begin pouring out.
They were the first two into the shelter, and Hector turned on the lamp and removed his scarf.
"She'll be here soon, dear. Probably gathering up your sister."
Sure enough, Agnes, Veronica, and the others living in the house, entered the shelter minutes later, and secured the door behind them.
"I was washing my hair! Veronica was napping. Such an inconvenient time for a raid, really!" Agnes motioned to the towel on her head, and set her sleepy daughter down on the cot. "I hope nothing serious is happening."
Just then, in the distance, low rumbling was heard, and everyone looked around at each other. It sounded like a bomb had gone off miles away. It was followed by another one that sounded closer. Hector pressed his face into Blanche's hip, and wound small fists in the fabric of her skirt. She smoothed his hair and looked toward the roof of the shelter, wishing she could see what was happening. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Eunice slide an arm around Beryl's waist, and the older girl wrapped a comforting arm around the red head's shoulder, her wedding band catching the light cast by the lantern. Everyone held their breath, waiting for more.
Half an hour later, one more rumble broke through their silence, but had moved no closer. They sounded almost like distant fireworks; nowhere near enough to shake the shelter. Veronica had woken up and asked where they were. Agnes told her and snuggled her in her arms. Hector was still hugging Blanche's legs, and she leaned against the wall, continuing to stroke his hair while her other hand supported her belly. The extended time standing in one place was beginning to hurt her back, and she shifted uncomfortably, letting out a short hiss.
"Dr. Mottershead? You shouldn't be standing." Mr. Amanjit suddenly broke from his almost meditative state by the door.
"Oh, goodness, Blanche, sit here." Agnes hastily stood and took Hector's hand, leading him away. "I should have realized." Nobody had spoken in so long, Blanche had to clear her throat to reply. Her hips felt stiff, and she walked rather ungracefully to the cot. Mr. Amanjit crossed to her, and helped her sit down.
"Thank you." She sighed, grateful to take the weight off her feet.
"Oh, dear when are they going to give the all-clear? Dinner isn't going to cook itself, and it's not good for Dr. Mottershead to be out here for so long." Mrs. Thack said, looking at her watch anxiously. "We've been in here thirty minutes, for goodness sake."
"It's probably precaution. Wait a while, see no other attacks are on the way, and then send us back in." Mrs. Buck offered.
"Do you think they'd wait till after the 'all clear' to drop another?" Eunice asked.
"There's really nothing worth hitting out here. Probably miscalculated and missed the intended target." Beryl added. "Probably just surveying the damage now."
Blanche felt a small hand on her stomach, and looked down at Veronica snuggling up to her.
For another quarter of an hour they stayed in the shelter, talking quietly, or in Veronica and Blanche's case, dozing. Finally the all-clear sounded, and they started to make their way inside. As Agnes tried to relieve Blanche of Veronica, the young girl whined sleepily and clung to her aunt's neck. Agnes knew she would be cranky, having her nap completely disturbed.
"Come along, love." Agnes quietly requested.
"No." Veronica said groggily.
"Oh, just help me stand." Blanche no longer cared, having no patience for Agnes and Veronica at the moment -she just wanted to leave this room and get back inside. Mr. Amanjit stepped forward once again to help Blanche up from the cot, and steady herself before carrying Veronica back into the house.
News came the next morning that the bombs were actually tests the Royal Air Force were dropping in an empty forest miles from where they were. Also that day, Blanche was visited by a friend of hers named Natalie, who she had met in Cambridge. Natalie was once married with children of her own, but when her husband caught her with another woman, they had divorced. A brilliant woman in her own right, she had been a midwife by occupation, and when she left her husband, she had gone off to study different methods of childbirth. She had been introduced to Blanche, and the two hit it off and had stayed in touch over the years, meeting up whenever they could. Blanche contacted her when she found out she was pregnant, and had requested her help with the delivery.
"How is everything, Blanche?" Natalie asked as she thanked Mrs. Buck for the tea she poured out.
"I'm getting tired. Ready for this to be over."
Natalie nodded, "Not long now; you look like you've dropped. Is it getting harder to walk?"
"I feel rather like a hippo on land."
Natalie laughed and patted her friend's knee, before picking up her tea cup and taking a sip. "I have forgotten what a decent cup of tea is like. It's so easy to make it hastily when it's just you."
"I thought you had a lover."
"Not anymore. It's always those society ladies, isn't it? Bored with their lives, looking for a thrill. God, I'll never learn. And you?"
"Obviously not now." She cradled her belly with her hands. Within the past few days, Blanche felt like she was riding on waves of emotion, hormones surging in and out, and causing her to feel weepy rather quickly. It wasn't something she liked, and she thought she was doing a very good job keeping herself in check. She knew she was being vain and stupid, but she was feeling rather un-pretty at the present time, and felt a rush of self-pity that she tried to stamp out.
"You look even more beautiful now than ever, Blanche. Anyone would be lucky to have you."
Blanche blushed, and felt an irritating urge to cry, "Er, thank you." Hoping movement would distract her, she leaned forward awkwardly to pick up her tea cup and winced. Ever since she carried Veronica inside the house last night, she'd had a dull ache in her back. She should have had the girl walk, but she really hadn't wanted a tantrum, so she indulged her. The both of them had been to cranky and tired for a fight. She brought a hand up to massage the spot, but figured it was be something that would need to work itself out with time.
Natalie spent the afternoon with her, catching up and looking over the room where Blanche was intending to deliver. She'd considered a hospital, but after consulting Natalie, and remembering the horrible ordeal Agnes had gone through, she figured home would suit her just fine.
She was napping off the pain in her back when the door to her bedroom was pushed open, and Veronica streaked in, pulling herself up onto the bed and bouncing on her knees. Blanche started awake and felt the ache in her back spread.
"Veronica!" She heard Agnes's voice coming toward her room, and seeing the opened door she said, "Nanny and I told you we were eating dinner now. Aunt Blanche is sleeping, and will be coming down later."
"Not now?" Veronica asked, patting Blanche's head.
Blanche felt the clenching sensation in her back ease, and with it, her irritation.
"Aunt Blanche needs her rest, and you are not behaving like a good girl." Veronica bounced on her knees once again, and Blanche quickly put her hand on the girl's legs to still her.
"Darling, you must stop that." The movement combined with the spasms were making her feel a bit nauseous. Nanny had trailed up behind Agnes and knocked on the door.
"Nanny, would you kindly take Veronica down and help her with her supper?"
"Course, your Ladyship." She went to the bed and picked up the girl, who squirmed to get down, and walk with Nanny. She allowed her the independence, and the two left.
"Oh, Blanche, I'm so sorry. She's been dreadfully clingy to you the past few days."
"I think I hurt my back carrying her inside yesterday." Blanche said as another spasm began.
"I was worried that might happen. You already seemed off yesterday. I should have been more firm."
"It's my fault. I keep giving into her." Blanche carefully pushed herself into a sitting position. "I've been having pain all day."
"Do they come and go?" Agnes's tone changed and she walked closer. "What do they feel like?"
"Like an ache." She placed her palm across her back and let out a ragged breath. "Do you think a hot water bottle would help?"
"Blanche, where is your friend staying? I think you may want to call her."
"You don't think that I'm in labor, do you?" She asked, hoping to hear 'no'.
"I'm not sure. But when I had Hector, I thought my back was simply hurting. I let it go all day and would up giving birth on the bathroom floor."
"Maybe I should give her a call." Blanche had thought the start of labor would be more obvious, but with Agnes's story, she wasn't convinced.
By the time Natalie arrived, it was obvious. The pain had travelled forward and was more centered in her midsection. Not terrible at the present time, but Blanche could feel the potential for serious contractions later.
"I'll leave you two." Agnes offered.
"No," Blanche said, feeling a wave starting, "please stay." She sucked air through her teeth as the pressure built, more intense than the last.
As it build, Natalie began removing her traveling coat, her earrings and bangles, and gathered the hem of her muslin dress and tied it up shorter. She pulled her long thick hair out of the delicate combs, and wove it into a shiny plait before moving to Blanche. "Do you have a slip under your dress?" Blanche shook her head. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, it's fine."
Natalie startled Agnes as she unzipped the dress Blanche wore and stripped it off her body, leaving the woman in her stockings, knickers and brasserie. Agnes awkwardly looked away, thought not before noticing Blanche's stomach bore no stretch marks. Of course she thought she really is just made for pregnancy.
Natalie picked up a knee length nightdress and helped Blanche to pull it on, before helping her sit back on the bed as another contraction came. She noticed her friend's breathing change, and saw her body stiffen. "Just try to relax as best you can when they come." She said in her soothing voice, as she kneeled in front of Blanche, and pushed up the hem of her nightdress to undo her garters, pulling off first one stocking, than the other. Agnes took a seat beside the bedside table and watched. "Lie back, I've got to check your progress." Blanche scooted herself back and closed her tired eyes as Natalie gave her a check up. "Oh, Blanche, I'm surprised you have been so calm. You're nearly six centimeters dilated."
"Well, that's good news." Blanche said as Natalie pulled down the skirt again.
"If you move around a bit, you can help speed things along."
As Blanche paced around, she noticed her contractions intensify. Natalie let her walk by herself until she needed her, and quietly chatted with Agnes. They were distracted a while later by Blanche as she sat on the edge of the bed.
"I need to sit for a moment." Her voice sounded strained, and Natalie rose to stand in front of her.
"How are they?"
"Getting more intense." Blanche felt her body tense in preparation and brought her hands up to cradle her belly. Natalie moved forward to stroke Blanche's upper arms as the contraction began. Blanche leaned forward and rested her forehead against Natalie, and inhaled sharply.
"On the next one, Blanche, I want you to breathe in and out slowly." Blanche waited until the next contraction and heard, "Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Beautiful. Again."
The next one was surprisingly strong, and Blanche reached out to cling to Natalie's hips. Breathing out through her mouth turned into a low moan of pain, which oddly made her feel a bit better.
"You're doing so well, Blanche. Keep listening to your body."
Hours passed and Blanche was now leaning forward against her dresser, as Natalie massaged her back and helped her rock her hips side to side. Blanche's head was resting in her arms as wave upon wave of pain seized her body. She felt like there was no break and she was suffering one long contraction.
On last examination, she had been almost fully dilated and was now waiting for the next step.
Natalie noticed the change in Blanche's body as she began moving into the final stage of labor. Blanche felt a different pressure build, and lifted her head, "I think I need to push."
They went over to the bed, and Agnes poured cool water from a pitcher into a bowl, grateful she could finally help. Natalie helped Blanche crawl onto the bed and brace her back against the headboard.
Pushing offered relief from the contractions that spread like fire from her back, round her front, and down her thighs. At the same time, it exhausted her.
Breath ragged, and wild hair sticking to her neck, Blanche gasped for air as she gathered more strength to bear down again. She barely heard Natalie or Agnes's encouragements, and retreated into her own world. She panted and let her head fall back on the pillow as she rested for a moment. Agnes brought a cool cloth to her neck and forehead, and Blanche looked up at her with weary eyes.
"Nearly there." She whispered encouragingly.
Several powerful pushes later, Natalie driving her onward, Blanche heard tiny newborn wails, and experienced such relief and euphoria. She'd done it! She looked down at her baby in Natalie's arms as the other woman said, "It's a girl." and smiled brightly.
Blanche brought a shaky hand up to her mouth, absolutely in awe of her new daughter. Natalie quickly dried her off and wrapped her in a blanket, before passing her to Blanche, who instantly cradled her to herself.
"Thank you so much Natalie. You were wonderful."
"As were you, Blanche."
Blanche breathed a sigh of relief and closed her eyes as the baby nuzzled closer. After Natalie cleaned and packed her bag, she stepped out for a while to fetch some other things and rest, herself. Agnes sat on the bed, facing Blanche, and looked at her dear friend and her new baby. "Agnes, she's so beautiful."
Agnes nodded, "Yes she is, Blanche. She's perfect. And you were perfect."
Blanche stroked the feathery hair, and could do nothing to stop her tears, "Ohh, my darling. I love you." She felt as though her heart would burst as she looked at the miraculous child she hadn't know how long she had waited for for until this moment. She kissed her soft forehead and sniffed quietly. She brushed damp curls out of her face and realized just how tired she was, and at the same time knew she could not sleep if she tried.
She was enthralled. Everything about her baby, from her tiny nose and mouth, to her limbs she had no control over yet, absolutely captivated Blanche. The baby opened unfocused dark green eyes and looked up at her mother. "Hello." Blanche stroked her finger down a tiny open palm, and smiled when small fingers wrapped around one of hers. As mother and daughter took each other in, Blanche thought back to the night that brought her this beautiful girl, and was grateful to the man who had given her such a gift.
Natalie returned a while later and asked if Blanche was ready to try feeding the baby. Agnes bowed out then, returning to find her own children and tell them the news.
It took a few tries, but soon Blanche and her baby had figured it out. As the baby fed, Natalie recorded information down to be filed on official documents.
"What are you going to call her?"
"Felicity." Blanche said stroking the newborn's back.
"Felicity Claire Mottershead." Natalie said as she wrote the names down. "No homage to your love of Egypt, then?"
"No. That's what I love, and she may not. Felicity means 'happiness' and 'luck'. I'm so lucky to have her."
Natalie smiled at the meaning and reached out to squeeze Blanche's hand. "She's very lucky to have you." She turned her attention to the newly christened infant. "Aren't you, Felicity? You have the most wonderful Mummy in the world."
Blanche was no stranger to shocking the staff with her radical and 'new age' ideas. When she refused Nanny's offer to keep the newborn in the nursery, and instead keep her in her cot in her own room, the woman balked.
"But you need your rest, Dr. Mottershead. Surely you will be waning a good night's sleep."
"I'll sleep better if I know she's with me. She'll only wake if she needs something, and I want to be here to soothe her."
Nanny opened and closed her mouth several times in an attempt to choose a retort, and was distracted by Natalie carrying in a small bassinet. "Surely you don't think the baby should stay with her tonight? The poor dear is exhausted!"
"She wants her here. It's her baby, and she must bond with her." Natalie said, not missing a beat as she placed the cot next to the bed. "You may go, she'll call if she needs you." Nanny turned and left in a huff of confusion muttering about 'new age thinkers!'.
Blanche passed the baby to Natalie who swaddled her and laid her gently in the cot. Blanche sank down in bed, letting her tired body relax. She reached out to run a hand down the baby's warm belly, smiling tiredly at the small sounds she was making.
"Please don't be afraid to give me a ring if you need anything."
"Thank you for everything, Natalie. You are a wonder."
Natalie smiled, "Good night, Blanche."
"Good night." Blanche barely heard the door close before drifting off into a peaceful sleep.
She was barely aware of waking a few times during the night to feed Felicity, she was so exhausted. Both she and the baby seemed efficient at getting Felicity what she needed, and then letting mum back to sleep in the meanwhile.
Soft fussing woke Blanche and she slowly opened her eyes and squinted at the sun shining through the curtains. Blinking sleep from her eyes, Blanche moved to sit up in bed. She ran her hands up her face and through her hair before turning to the source of the sound. She smiled at her daughter, who was working her mouth with quiet popping noises.
During the feeding, Blanche took a moment to look away from her daughter and down at her watch. "Oh, my darling, we slept in. It's nearly eleven o'clock." She stroked Felicity's back when she was through, and nestled down against the pillows. Still a bit tired, she probably could have slept a few more hours, when there was a knock on the door.
Natalie entered with a tray and shut the door behind her. "Good morning, Mummy." She set the tray down on the bedside table. "Hungry?"
"Let me take her, and you can eat something."
Blanche felt as though she hadn't eaten anything in years, and enthusiastically started in on her oatmeal with milk and a touch of honey. "Thank you." She said in a pause after swallowing a mouthful, before taking a sip of tea.
"You're welcome. You need to keep up your strength to feed her." She shifted Felicity so her head rested on her shoulders. "How was last night?"
"Fine. She behaved wonderfully. I don't quite remember all of it, because I was too tired."
"No troubles getting her to feed?"
"Not at all. She's a good eater." Blanche looked down at her tray, which was nearly gone, "Like mother, like daughter, I guess."
Natalie laughed, "There's more if you'd like."
"No, this is lovely." She said as she began to crack open the egg.
They sat in silence for a while as Blanche finished off her plate, and sighed contentedly. "I feel wonderful. Everything seems so at peace."
"Motherhood will suit you beautifully, dear Blanche. I rarely see women take to pregnancy, and baby so well."
"It's probably something to do with my age." She replied, moving her tray back to the bedside table.
"I think it has something to do with your worldliness and open thinking." Natalie passed Felicity back to Blanche, who welcomed the weight of her daughter in her arms.
Afternoon crept along, and Blanche was visited by Agnes and the children, who were wonderstruck by the baby; they were fascinated by her tiny ears and small hands.
Veronica hesitated at first to climb into Blanche's arms for a hug while Agnes cradled the baby. She eventually set aside her jealousy for the tiny new girl who was stealing the attention, and snuggled up to Blanche and relayed to her aunt the day so far.
Propped up with pillows, Hector was permitted to briefly hold the baby. A proud smile crossed his face, finally feeling like the head boy while his father was away.
As days and weeks passed, Blanche and Felicity fell into a groove with one another, bonding quickly, and adapting to their new life.
Blanche returned one afternoon to the small library to check the back flow of work she'd missed over the months she was absent. Felicity accompanied her, tucked safely against Blanche's body using a shawl and a tying method Natalie had demonstrated. Blanche talked to her as she double checked the records hat had been filed away, filling her head with stories of faraway lands.
Felicity behaved amazingly each time they went to the library, and won the staff over in a way that had taken Blanche quite some time to do. Mrs. Rose, the owner of the library, loved to take Felicity while Blanche was occupied, and Felicity took well to all the attention she was receiving.
Her colleague from London, Jack, came to check on her and see her new baby.
"You have been blessed, Blanche," he said as he Felicity snuggled into his arms, "with a very easy baby. She'll travel well."
"She's wonderful." Blanche smiled down at Felicity. "I don't know how much traveling I'll be doing anytime soon."
"Not even once the war ends?" He looked up from the baby to stare quizzically at Blanche.
"I think I have a home in Cambridge that I haven't stayed at in quite some time."
"My, my. Will motherhood occupy your time fully now?"
"For the time being. Much as I'd love to keep working, she needs me. I want to be home with her. I can't miss a moment of her growing up."
"We shall certainly miss having you around all the time. I hope you still come for visits."
"Of course! And if you get any artifacts you know I couldn't resist, you know how to find me."
"You have a wonderful Mum, Felicity. Willing to put her career on hold."
"No. It's just time to start a new adventure."