In 1973 the policy for new mothers, in Britain at least, was to remain in hospital for ten days. This was to teach us to bathe, nurse, and care for the baby. All fine except that I had a little problem: Werner Forman.
At Queen Mary’s, the maternity home where I gave birth, babies were brought into the rooms during visiting hours. Germs were not considered a particular worry; the baby could freely be passed around for all the guests to admire. Well, Werner was not on board with this approach. He did not want Jofka in the room when visitors were there, period, finish, and out. This proved difficult and embarrassing. Friends would come and there I’d be, sitting up in bed, the radiant new mom, but where was the baby? In the nursery, I’d giggle, where entrance was forbidden and there were no glass windows through which to view her. Since Werner was present at each and every visiting period, I didn’t have the opportunity to cheat.
Part of me was glad that he, who’d been violently opposed to the pregnancy, was so protective. But really it was a pain in the ass. Extremely awkward for visitors who’d schlepped up to Hampstead to see the new baby, and for me, who tried to make excuses for Werner’s rigidity and was too passive or weak at that point to say, “Screw you and your belief in germs! This is not pre-war Czechoslovakia.” And so we’d sit in a grumpy circle around my bed, making polite small talk while the other moms in the room passed their babies around to the delight of their guests.
The situation grew so dire that I begged the staff to release me early. I think they considered me a security risk, a crazy new mom struggling with hormones, because when I wandered out into the gardens one afternoon, two nurses ran after me, yelling: “Mrs. Forman! Mrs. Forman! You’re to come straight in!” I just wanted to go home. The baby was nursing fine and I had the burping, diapering and bathing down. To me the maternity home with its various rules was becoming claustrophobic.
Weirdly, while Werner pontificated about the dangers of germs (which he pronounced with a hard G), he would not himself touch the baby. Not a kiss. Not a caress. Not a gentle, fatherly rocking the new little bundle in his arms. This odd detachment continued when I finally got home. We were still in the old flat, the only tenants in a large, creaky building. The crib had been set up in the dining room which shared a wall with our bedroom – actually sliding wood doors, permanently closed, right behind our bed, so I could hear every cry and whimper. But still. This was a concession to Werner, one I’ve regretted my whole life since. The dining room was a big lonely area for a new baby who should’ve been near the heartbeats of her parents. What I didn’t realize was that Werner who, from the moment I brought Jofka home, wouldn’t leave the flat or get out of his pajamas, was having a nervous breakdown.
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