May 2nd: I attribute today’s post to my eldest child, Joshua, born forty years ago on the eighteenth of April, a mere six weeks early. I had planned to celebrate this milestone with him and his Brisbane-based family, however, a certain virus canned that plan!
I remember the dream; the dream that haunted me night after night when I became a mother for the first time. In the dream, our dinner guests, Merle and John, had arrived. Roast chicken was on the menu. With a flourish, I open the oven door. Merle, standing behind me, peering into the oven, let out a scream, a piercing scream. And there the dream would end.
Nestled amongst the crunchy, browned potatoes, bright orange pumpkin and papery-skinned onions, a jaundice yellow baby, trussed up just like a number nine chicken, roasted to perfection, his little face smiling up at us.
Night after night, this dream invaded my weary slumber. Caring for a six-week premature baby had exhausted me. At birth, Josh weighed a mere four-point one pound. Following his birth, Josh and I stayed at the hospital for three weeks before being allowed to go home. Premature babies were in enclosed capsules in the nursery. Round holes in the thick plastic encasing, enabled the mothers to stroke their tiny babies or change the nappy but never to hold them.
My parents were poultry farmers. When my brother joined my father in the business two years earlier, they expanded into raising table chickens. They had their own label, White Stone Chickens, named after the famous Oamaru limestone.
Two days after Joshua’s birth, my Mum and Dad visited us in the hospital. Standing at the nursery window, I proudly pointed out Joshua’s crib.
“Harrumph,” said my Dad. “He looks like a number nine chicken.”
At each feed, he drank small amounts of formula before dropping off to sleep. Two hours later, he’d be mewing for another feed.
The Plunkett Nurse, a sombre unsmiling woman, visited every other day for two weeks after we came home from the hospital. She’d weigh and measure the baby, always tut-tutting and giving advice. Rather than reassuring me, her visits made me more anxious.
Woken nightly by the dream I’d leave my bed to check the oven and then the crib. And every night, I was thankful to find the stove empty, and my precious bundle wrapped tightly, serene and sleeping soundly in his crib.
The Plunkett Nurse stopped visiting so regularly. I went to my doctor in the small country town, near where we lived. At six weeks of age, the doctor advised me to begin feeding Josh small amounts of baby rice. This I did. He slept longer between feeds, and when finally my sleeping improved, the dream stopped.