A Mother's Diary
Fiorella Nash FAITH Magazine January-February 2007
Negotiating the anti-baby world of air travel this autumn made me understand why a grizzly bear will strike a man dead if he makes the mistake of getting between her and her cub. In a bold strike against terrorism, Hugh Ambrose had to have his own passport, no doubt to make him slightly less likely to hijack a plane if the rusk supply ran out. As we checked in, E and I were hauled in front of a security officer to taste the revolting baby food we were carrying; Hugh’s Calpol was unceremoniously confiscated; E had to prise the teddy bear from his hands [the response was what E fondly calls auto-waa] and just in case mother and child were not feeling sufficiently browned off by this stage in the proceedings, I was forced to stand the other side of the security barrier while my baby and hispushchair were searched. It did not help that a packet of baby rice had exploded inside my suitcase, leaving it coated with a film of suspicious-looking white powder. But the last straw was waiting for that happy moment when the plane begins its descent and every baby on board starts wailing. I had been advised that the best way to keep a baby’s ears from hurting was to breastfeed. ‘Oh you can’t do that!’ protested the stewardess. ‘It is our policy to forbid breastfeeding during landing in case of an emergency.’ I could not help feeling that if the plane chose this moment to fall out of the sky, I would not be too distracted to say a quick Confiteor. I mentioned the medical advice and continued.
“Next time be more careful - use a bottle or a dummy.” Oh dear oh dear, hell hath no fury like a Latin woman being ticked off by a complete stranger over her nursing methods. I promise I just looked at her. “Well, let me just ask if you can continue to breastfeed for the time being…” Conveniently enough I was granted the necessary dispensation though I am not sure what the alternative would have been, given that I was feeling a tiny bit bolshy by then. There would hardly have been much PR potential in a Daily Mail headline such as: Mother Arrested for Breastfeeding Baby on Plane.
Sucking happily away, Hugh Ambrose remained oblivious to the rapid changes in pressure and was almost asleep by the time we touched down. I don’t pretend to be infallible, but in situations such as these mother definitely knows best. And Hugh Ambrose appeared to agree with me. 35,000 feet over Corsica, he said his first word: "Mamma".
The family trip to Malta could not have been better timed. The day before we flew out with my parents, their Wiltshire home had racist words scrawled all over the outer walls. As my father related the story to me, I thought of the ugly arguments I have had with colleagues and friends who angrily deny that racism is a problem in this country, or imply that it is all our fault for being here in the first place. I thought, ‘explain this away! Go on, deny that it happened or find some way to pin the blame on my parents for moving to Britain or me for polluting the gene pool by marrying an Englishman.’ Fortunately, the heat was taken out of the situation by the people of the town, who reacted with characteristic kindness and even I found it impossible to be angry for long.
Malta, lovely Malta. I knew Hugh Ambrose would go down a storm with my family. ‘What a big, strong, handsome boy he is, God bless him!’ ‘How cheerful, God bless him!’ And, naturally, ‘who would have thought it, darling, a little mother!’ It was wonderful being in such a child-friendly place. Waiters, bus drivers and complete strangers smiled reassuringly when Hugh Ambrose was being a little noisy and reached out to ruffle his hair or tickle his feet as they passed him in his pushchair.
It was not just my family we had come to Malta to introduce Hugh Ambrose to. A few days before we returned to England, we travelled to the island of Gozo and made a pilgrimage to the Marian shrine of Ta’ Pinu. I came here once to pray for a good Catholic husband and returned on my honeymoon with him in thanksgiving and to pray for a child. So now I returned again, fifteen months later, to present my child to Our Lady.
It was a rough journey, bumping along dusty roads in a minibus that had seen better days. Our priest sweltered in the back, wearing a cassock meant for an English winter, and regaled us with a rendition of Poisoning Pigeons in the Park in sign language. “I tell you what I’ll do,” he had promised at dinner on the previous evening, “when I present him, I’ll throw him at the icon of Our Lady. If she catches him he doesn’t have to be a priest… put the fork down. If you stab me with that fork you’ll go straight to hell. It’s not worth it.” As if to make up for the mayhem he caused during his baptism, Hugh Ambrose behaved delightfully during the Mass, smiling and chuckling all the way through. Then he sat in my arms in serene silence whilst the priest blessed E and then me before carrying himto the icon of Our Lady, where he prayed that Mary, Hugh of Lincoln and St Ambrose would watch over him all the days of his life. Amen, I do hope they will.