Pearl wants to see the child," Jim said.
"I'm afraid that's impossible Mr Bradley. The morgue is closed
and I would need authorization to enter it and remove the
neonate. Why didn't she ask to see it in the delivery room?"
"I don't know," Jim replied, "but she wants to see it now and say
goodbye to it. It's hers and she wants it."
"What is it Mrs Bradley wants?"
It was the matron who appeared in the doorway and heard the
last part of Jim's statement.
"One of Mrs Bradley's twins was born dead and she wants to
see it," Sister Warburton explained. "I am trying to explain to Mr
Bradley that we dispose of neonates who are born dead."
"Yes, quite," the Matron said. "But do I understand that she
wants to see the child?"
"Is the child in the morgue?"
"Go and get it. Wrap it in a shawl and let Mrs Bradley hold it for
a moment if that is what she wants to do."
"No buts sister, do as you are told."
This was as unexpected and as inexplicable to Sister
Warburton as if Dr. Proctor had issued the order himself. She
put on her cloak and left the maternity unit. She was incensed
by the matron's interference and more so by her overbearing
manner. She was sorry now that she had not rung Dr. Proctor.
He would have supported her but it was too late. She would
have to raise the matter at management level. This was a
serious breach of etiquette and policy. The morgue was in
darkness. She entered by the side door and turned on the
lights. The register of cadavers was in the office drawer and
she opened it. She found the entry and located the cadaver. It
was wrapped in mortuary paper and had not been dissected.
She lifted it out of the refrigerator drawer and asked herself
what she was doing.
'This is madness,' she told herself. 'I am doing something
forbidden by all the rules of common sense and common
She stood perplexed and for a brief moment thought of placing
the cadaver back and walking out of the hospital altogether.
She checked that impulse however, because it would only harm
herself and her long and devoted midwifery career.
'I must,' she told herself, 'keep a cool head, do as I am told and
let the matron see the results. If anything that would
demonstrate the indecency and morbidity of the order.'
She carried the package to the maternity unit and located a
shawl to cover and present the dead body in. The head was
large but in every other respect it was a perfectly developed
body. The little hands were beautifully formed, the fingers
closed, the tiny nails blue but complete. She suddenly felt a
surge of pity for the child that appeared to be asleep but was
dead. To her death was commonplace. For mothers who lost
their babies it was not and she knew that they could not cope
with it at the moment of birth when only death awaited their
longing for a living child. That was why she had always insisted
on removing the offending objects immediately they were born.
She was right and she knew that she was right. The dead had
no right to be touched or held by a mother who only wanted life
and living flesh. Even whilst these thoughts passed through her
mind, she held the little bundle, lifeless and cold, to her bosom.
It was strange that this unnatural act of bringing the dead to be
inspected and touched should affect her so much. The thought
of entering the morgue, of retrieving the cadaver, had been far
worse than holding and covering it. She waited for visiting
hours to finish and for all the visitors to go. Then she entered
the ward. No one suspected, except Pearl, that the bundle in
Sister Warburton's arms was a dead child. Pearl saw her enter
and she knew, from what Jim had said, that she was about to
see her baby, the baby that had been snatched from her and
taken away as if it were contaminated or evil.
Sister Warburton, holding the child in one arm, closed the
curtains around the bed with the other and faced Pearl.
"Mrs Bradley, do you want to see your baby?" she asked softly.
Pearl held out her arms.
"Yes, I do, I really do," she replied.
She placed the child in Pearl's arms and lifted the shawl back to
expose its face and hands.
"She is so beautiful," Pearl said. "Look at her mouth and nose,
"And her hands," Sister Warburton heard herself saying. "Aren't
they just perfect?"
Pearl undid the shawl and held the child close to her bosom.
"I do so wish you had lived," she told it. "It is so complete sister
that it must have had a soul and it must have wanted to live. I
felt there must be twins inside me. There was so much
"Yes but you are so fortunate to have a living baby Mrs
"I know but I feel so sad. You see I have lost her."
The tears came into Pearl's eyes and rolled down her cheeks. "I
don't think I would have felt any less upset had I lost both
This was a revelation to Sister Warburton. That the living could
not take the place of the dead was foreign to her thinking. She
had always seen mothers rejoice at the safe and happy arrival
of their babies. She had never guessed that the loss of one
could not be replaced by the gain of another. She felt
something inside her give way to a new understanding of death.
Death was not a dead body at all but the loss of a part of
"Yes, I do understand," Sister Warburton said.
"I'm so glad that you do," Pearl answered her. "You see I
thought you had no time for the dead."
It was true. Pearl's words cut deep into her heart. She had no
time for the dead. She thought of the dead as her enemies, her
failures. She had thought she was helping to ease the pain of
death by removing the dead bodies out of sight and by doing
so, out of mind, but now she saw that this was nothing more
than her own fear of death.
"My time is always so short, Mrs Bradley. I think I forget
sometimes what I am doing. You see there is so much to do to
save life and look after the living that the dead seem to steal my
time. I forget too that you have spent nine months waiting for
the child to be born. I only spend a few hours delivering it."
She found herself talking to Pearl about babies and delivering
babies and before she realised the time the night sister had
arrived. Sister Williams who came on duty at ten o'clock was
surprised not to find Sister Warburton in the office and with
much greater surprise discovered that the report had not been
written. She soon located her behind the screens and asked if
she might hand over the report. She had no idea that Mrs
Bradley was holding a dead child, not even when Pearl asked if
she might just keep the child with her for a little while.
"Of course you may," Sister Warburton replied. "I will come
back for her shortly."