8th October 1959
The day a young Margaret Thatcher first became an MP for Finchley, Elizabeth’s waters finally broke in front of the Aga in the kitchen. She was way over her due date, and Anna had rung a few times during the proceeding weeks, asking if she was okay and offering to chat about things. Elizabeth had declined, her sense of bravado giving everybody the impression she knew exactly what to expect.
As Nellie called the midwife, she could tell from the glazed expression on Elizabeth’s face, she hadn’t got a clue what was about to happen. Standing with her hands clawed around the drying rail of the Aga with her knees slightly bent, she looked down at the puddle she was standing in. The dispassionate Elizabeth started to cry. Surprised by her display of emotion, Nellie put an arm around her shoulder.
‘There, there, Mrs Grant, it’s been a long do for you, but you’ll be holding your beautiful baby in your arms very soon now.’
‘Baby? What about my beautiful Rayne shoes? It’s the first time I’ve worn them.’
By the time Nellie half pushed Elizabeth upstairs to her bedroom, the midwife had arrived. As her contractions intensified Elizabeth became hysterical, so the midwife called the doctor to calm her. Dr Gladstone graduated from Edinburgh Medical School in the summer of 1938, just in time to serve in World War II. He survived Dunkirk and other atrocities of war, before moving to Gloucestershire with his wife in 1948 to find solace. Nothing fazed him anymore, the soft, reassuring tone of his lilting Scottish accent, reflected the calm within.
‘Now, Elizabeth, I just want you to count to three and breathe in through your nose, then on the count of four, breathe out through your mouth…’
‘And I… just want… you to get this bloody thing out of me!’
‘Elizabeth, your baby’s doing very well. He or she is just about to make their presence known.’
‘Well bully for the baby, I’m not doing very well… just get it out of me!’
Brow furrowed, Dr Gladstone peered at Elizabeth’s vagina through his round, metal-framed spectacles and calmly announced that the baby’s head was crowning. Elizabeth’s piercing scream echoed around the Churn Valley as she kicked out her right leg, the heel of her foot impacting with the bridge of the good doctor’s nose.
It was just after midday when Lisa Elizabeth Grant first tried to make her presence known. She shot out of her mother’s vagina coated in a mix of amniotic fluid, blood and vernix caseosa. But her cries were barely audible, drowned out by her nineteen-year-old mother’s blood-curdling screams.
‘That’s the last time I’m ever bloody well going to go through all this! Do you hear me, Fergus Grant? You can keep your trousers on in future!’
Fergus heard as he ran down the path from the farm to the house, as did all the neighbours living within a five-mile radius. And, given his relationship with Elizabeth, it was likely Lisa would remain an only child.
Faint rays of watery autumnal sunshine poured through the mullioned windows into Elizabeth’s bedroom with its high, raftered ceiling and wood-panelled walls. The master bedroom of the impressive Cotswold stone manor house had witnessed births of hundreds of children over the years. The old oak floorboards squeaked and groaned as the midwife moved around the four-poster bed. Elizabeth lay panting, her eyes glazed, staring at the Colefax and Fowler fabric canopy above her head. Lisa was still lying between her legs. Her first cries and gasps of breath calmed as, blinking her eyes, she tried to focus on the midwife.
‘You have a beautiful baby girl, Mrs Grant.’ The midwife announced with pride as she cut the cord. ‘She has a full head of hair too. Most babies are born with precious little hair. Both mine looked like Yul Brynner when they popped out, especially our little gal.’
‘A full head of hair?’ Elizabeth repeated robotically, her eyes still staring at the canopy.
The midwife wrapped Lisa in a dusky pink towel, making cooing noises before clasping her to her ample bosom. Elizabeth closed her legs with a groan, which the midwife picked up on.
‘Don’t worry Mrs Grant. Things will start feeling better down there… in six to twelve weeks… give or take. In the meantime, holding your baby for the first time will make you feel like all that pushing and shoving has been worthwhile, and it’s all been a labour of love.’ Elizabeth was far from convinced.
The midwife leaned forward and gently put Lisa in the crook of her right arm. She immediately started to cry, and Elizabeth stiffened, feeling the warmth of her daughter’s tiny body against her skin. She was never going to be a natural when it came to motherhood.
Elizabeth viewed the swaddling child with suspicion as if trying to work out which way was up. Separating the towel with her thumb and forefinger, she peered inside. Eyeballing her mother for the first time, Lisa’s grizzly cries turned into a full-on bellow. Elizabeth recoiled, holding her at arm’s length.
‘It’s not only hairy, but it’s… so loud!’
‘Some babies are born with a full head of hair, Elizabeth. It’s perfectly normal.’
Dr Gladstone reasserted himself, walking over to the bed and putting a comforting hand on Elizabeth’s shoulder. She flinched at his touch, so he retracted his hand. He was holding a bloodied white handkerchief to his nose with his other hand, still stemming the flow after Elizabeth’s right heel jab.
‘Yes, overdue babies always have a full head of hair and your gorgeous girl was more than just a trifle late in arriving. And it’s also perfectly normal for babies to cry when they are born. I always worry when they don’t.’
He exchanged knowing nods with the midwife. But, despite his reassuring tone and the calming Scottish resonance to his voice, Elizabeth’s face scrunched into a scowl.
‘Well, not only is this one covered in hair, it’s greasy and sounds more like a wild banshee than a baby! Take it away and wash it!’ Elizabeth commanded, handing ‘it’ back to the dumbstruck midwife.
‘And cut all its hair off! It can’t possibly be normal!’ The moment Fergus burst through the door.
‘I swear if anybody touches one single hair on my child’s head, they will have me to answer to!’
‘You have a daughter, Fergus, many congratulations.’
Dr Gladstone slapped him heartily on his back, his steely grey eyes twinkling. As a hardened professional, he scolded himself for feeling emotional. He and his wife had not been blessed with children and, after his first meeting with a Fergus, Dr Gladstone had always held a deep affection for him. He was nine-years-old and recently lost his mother. Fergus had broken his arm having fallen out of a tree, and was determined not to cry. He had watched him grow into a sensitive and caring young man but, at twenty, he couldn’t help but wonder if was he ready to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood.
The midwife placed Lisa in his arms. Trying to make out her father’s features for the first time, she immediately stopped crying, reaching out a tiny hand towards his face, in slow, uncoordinated, jerky movements. He held her closer and felt the feather-light touch of her small fingertips brush against his chin.
His tears were spontaneous. Holding his daughter for the first time, he was overwhelmed by his emotions. She was so small, so vulnerable.
‘You’re so beautiful.’ He whispered. ‘I’m going to take great care of you… always.’
Elizabeth looked up from the bed, her body flooded with post partum fatigue.
‘Oh for God’s sake, Fergus! What about me? I’ve just forced that great big head out of my vagina!’