Leary, wife of comedian Denis, recalls with rueful humor the weekend in London that turned into a five-month stay when their son was born prematurely.
Leary is one of those rare chroniclers of motherhood able to find the middle ground between sentimentality and science as she records both her joys as well as fears—she was sure the baby would stop breathing if she left his room. Disarmingly frank about her naïveté, she is also touchingly appreciative of the care she received at University College Hospital, which has the best neonatology unit in London. In March 1990, Leary’s husband was largely unknown in the US, but the BBC had asked him to appear on a TV show in London—all expenses paid. Ann, 26 weeks pregnant, also came along, but the next day, while out walking, her waters broke and she was rushed to hospital. There she was examined and put to bed, but her son Jack was born a week later. Ann had packed only for a weekend, the couple didn’t have much money, but the hospital staff, her family, and the new friends she made, all rallied around to help. As she recalls those difficult months, her fears that Jack might not survive, and the loneliness (Denis had to go back to work in the US), she admits to crying a great deal. But she was impressed with the medical care she received, the kindness of the people, and the continued stiff-upper-lip attitude, though she was shocked when her fellow patients, waiting to give birth, smoked and drank caffeine. Jack was eventually strong enough to leave the hospital, but they couldn’t fly home until his lungs were more mature, which meant finding an apartment—and taking care of Jack on her own. Now, 14 years later, she confesses to having a lingering scar from the experience, “a heart wrenching awareness of the prodigious wonder of Jack’s existence.”
As much about life in a foreign clime as about motherhood.