John Thorne looked at his patient with amazement. “Your suspicions are correct, Mrs Walsh. You are twelve weeks pregnant and the baby is due late March to early April. Congratulations. You and your husband must be very happy.”
“I haven’t told him yet but I will tonight.” Annie smiled happily. “I’m sure he will be overjoyed.”
“If I believed in miracles I would say this is one. How are you feeling?”
“I have been sick every morning. I’ve done my best to hide it from Hayden just in case it was a false alarm.”
“Well, I’ll give you something for the sickness. And I can assure you this is no false alarm.” He placed a cone shaped instrument on Annie’s still flat stomach. A booming, whooshing sound could be heard. “That is not your heartbeat. That is the baby. Is that confirmation enough for you?”
Annie did up the belt on her dress noticing the hole had advanced by one space. I’ll be buying maternity clothes soon, she thought. Now to tell Hayden.
It took a while for it to sink in but when she repeated to him several times he was going to be a father, Hayden was ecstatic. He wanted to tell Ma straight away and of course they should tell Ruby as well. They discussed what it would be like to have a boy. Then they talked about having a little girl. Whatever it was, Hayden was delighted at the prospect.
Annie had never felt so happy or so well. Once the morning sickness subsided she glowed with good health. The scorching summer weather did not seem to affect her but she did develop some peculiarities. She craved grapes, which was fortunate in an area like Mildura. However, she wanted particular grapes, usually behind barbed wire fences, so that Hayden was often found crawling along the ground to get the most luscious bunch for his beloved.
In early April, 1951, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Doctor Thorne delivered her, holding her up and proclaiming her the “miracle baby” with a twinkle in his eye.
As Annie lay in her bed in the Mildura Base Hospital, bound tightly in bandages as was the custom, Hayden came in to see his wife and daughter.
“I’ve been thinking of names,” he said. “Ruby wants May, Ma wants Ridgway because that was her maiden name. I thought maybe we could make a combination of your name and mine. How about Haydie?”
“I don’t think that’s a name,” said Annie.
“It is now. How does Haydie May Ridgway Walsh sound?”
“As long as it keeps you and Ma and Mother happy then I’m happy too.”
Annie was more concerned about her baby, who cried continually until feeding time which was held at strict four hourly intervals. The nurses told her they were giving baby a supplement as her milk wasn’t strong enough. To top it off Hayden came in on the third day with plans. This was something she dreaded but she lay patiently on the bed as he told her he was leaving the Customs House. “We are moving into the Sunraysia Motors site. I’m thinking of expanding into different sorts of motors, not just for irrigation. Also we are moving house. It’s bigger and nicer than our last place.”
It was all too much. Her breasts became sore and she developed “milk fever”. She always blamed Hayden for that.
One week after the arrival of Haydie, Hayden arrived at the hospital with the truck and loaded Annie and the baby into the front seat. The new residence was a little further out of town and it was with great pride he drove into the yard and turned off the ignition.
“It’s lovely!” said Annie. All around her were chrysanthemums, dahlias and roses in bloom. Camellia, rhododendron and azalea bushes showed promise of flowers to come and tall palm trees gave the garden a tropical feel. The house was larger and newer than their previous home. Behind a bird bath she could see the verandah and a front door flanked by two glass panels. Standing at the door was Mother, welcoming her daughter and grandchild with open arms.
The relief that Annie felt on seeing her mother was immense. She was so worried she would not remember what to do and that she would be unable to care for the baby. Feeding and changing nappies and getting Haydie to sleep all seemed insurmountable problems. Ruby, or Kay as she was now known, wasted no time organising the household.
“The first thing I am going to do is buy you an electric copper. Lighting the fire underneath the copper each day to boil the nappies is like living in the Stone Age.”
And so Annie was introduced to modern conveniences. She turned the switch and the water in the copper miraculously heated to boiling point. Mother helped with the bottles of top up formula, feeding the baby and giving Annie time for much needed rest.
One day, as Annie awakened from an afternoon nap, Mother came into the room with Haydie in her arms. “I’ve just been talking to that nice man, Jack Hamilton. He wanted to know how you and the baby were getting along. What a lovely man. Where was he when I was young and single?”
“He was off fighting in the First World War,” replied Annie. “Maybe you should have waited until it was over before choosing a husband.”
“Well if I had you wouldn’t have been born.”
“Besides,” said Annie, “You are a happily married woman who has had all your dreams come true.”
Mother looked sad. “You know Harry and I have a business relationship. There is not much … affection. In fact sometimes he frightens me.”
“He doesn’t hurt you does he, Mother?”
“No, but his words can be cruel and he does threaten me, although I don’t think he would ever do anything to harm me.”
Suddenly Kay doubled up in pain. She quickly handed Haydie to Annie and rushed to her room where she lay on the bed holding her stomach.
Annie rang Doctor Thorne immediately and described her mother’s symptoms. Half an hour later an ambulance arrived to take Kay to hospital.
Kay had gallstones. Dr Thorne could perform the operation immediately but Kay was stubborn.
“I want to go to a Sydney hospital. I want a specialist to do this operation. Someone who has done it thousands of times!”
The next day Kay flew back to Sydney and Annie was alone with her new baby. Although she was worried about Mother she relished the freedom of having the house all to herself. Hayden came home from work earlier than usual now that Kay was out of the way.
One night he brought the news that Jack’s son was arriving home from England. “Jack wanted to know if you would like to bring Haydie into the office to show her off.”
Hayden’s new office was near Hamilton and Brown. Annie arrived the next day, pushing a pram and carrying Jack’s precious diary. As he came into the office he gave her a familiar smile but she was shocked by his appearance. Not only had he lost weight but also he lacked much of the vitality that was so much a part of him. She wondered if anyone else had noticed. Jack introduced her to his son Hugh who stood quietly while his father told of his experiences.
“He visited the estaminet where I used to play the violin! And… he found Denise, the proprietor’s daughter who used to put a shot of rum in our coffee!”
Hugh joined in enthusiastically. “She was looking very smart for her age and living very comfortably in Doullens. She said Dad used to lead the singing and was always the life of the party.”
“So you were in France as well as England?” Hayden asked.
“Yes, I followed in Dad’s footsteps all over the Somme. Visited Corbie where Dad got his Military Medal. I tried to imagine what it was like but of course there has been another World War since those days.”
Annie handed him the diary. “Would you please give this to your father. We have kept it far too long but we both wanted to finish reading it.”
Hugh took the diary eagerly. “I have been looking for that,” he said. “My plan is to type it up into a book so all the family can read about Dad. I’m going to put the photos he took at Gallipoli in the front.”
Haydie was passed around for all to admire. Hugh sat in a chair bouncing her on his knee.
“Good practice for when you have your own,” Jack observed with a smile.
“Goodness, I’m not even married yet,” said Hugh. “Plenty of time for that.”
Annie rarely saw Jack but she asked Hayden for regular reports and the news was not good. His health was deteriorating but still he worked as hard as ever.
The time came when Hayden opened the front door and looked at his wife with a sombre face. “Jack’s dying! He was admitted to hospital and they don’t think he’ll come out.” He wrapped his arms around Annie and openly wept.
Annie remained dry eyed. Her days of crying were over. For months she had listened for the crunch of footsteps on the gravel, knowing they would never come again but hoping nonetheless. Thoughts of Jack were relegated to a secret place, buried in the dark recesses of her heart. She poured all her love into her baby. Didn’t Jack say that was why she was put on earth! She was here to nurture and grow this child and no matter what happened she would devote her life to that end.