Shelley: Day 1

Only one part of this is sad: my twin sister Shelley died on 26 June 2021.

Every single other thing about Shelley is happy. Happy and interesting and funny and clever and important. I’m not going to dwell here on any part of Shelley being gone, only stories from her life.

Undoubtedly the best place to start is on the very first day of her (and my) life, a lot of which was captured by my father in a letter to his holidaying parents only a handful of hours after we’d made our appearance.

The poignant thing about this letter — aside from the fact that it describes circumstances in which two humans emerged prematurely from my mother when only one was expected — is that a day after it was written, Shelley was having open heart surgery. I‘ll write in more detail about that another time, but broadly speaking, one of the valves in her heart wasn’t doing what it ought.

She survived the surgery, of course, and almost as if to prove that it was no impediment, became a black belt in karate and had two children of her own. A lot of people used Shelley’s heart surgery scar, which peeked out over the neckline of her clothes at the top of her sternum, to tell us apart.

But when this letter was written, nobody knew — although I assume the doctors suspected — that less than 24 hours later one of the very small babies would be having a very precise operation.

Anyway. The letter from my father.

Monday 31st May

Dear Mum & Dad,

Everybody should have a day like today — just once, to compare all the others with. It went something like this, starting last night.

Dinner and cards at Hulmes’ — quite uneventful and one rubber each — the usual result. Carolyn a bit uncomfortable, Mrs Hulme a bit tired, Mr Hulme his usual garrulous self (and looking and feeling very well, in the circumstances), and me — as usual. Michael in a travelling cot inside.

Ten o’clock, pick up Michael, good-nights and thank yous and off home. I ironed my shirt for today, and Carolyn finally agreed to pack her bag for hospital. She had a mild dose of the trots over the weekend.

Five this morning. Carolyn’s wiggling around in bed woke me up — “cramps”, she said, “pain in the tummy”, and off to the toot. “So, if there’s anything you want, or any problem, wake me and I’ll do it” quoth I.

Which she did, at six forty-five, as usual, with a cup of tea, as usual, and Michael’s bottle, as usual. And maybe, possibly, contractions, as unusual. 7:15 it’s definitely on. Carolyn rang her mother who had volunteered last night to mind Michael, and she arrived about 8:00. Now down to five minute intervals, in the car heading for Royal North Shore at 8:10, crawling in peak hour at 8:20, four minute intervals. Between Chatswood and Artarmon at 8:30, dead stop in traffic, I’m telling Carolyn she’s down to nearly three minute intervals. Actually it’s 2 1/2, and lasting 40–50 seconds. The hell with this, down the wrong side of the road (which was clear), in the side gate of the hospital, pull up at the Maternity Block, wait for finish of current contraction, and at the reception desk at 8:40. Straight up in the lift, Carolyn straight into labour ward, and I read the paper. Read the paper. Read the paper.

9:05 — “Can I see Carolyn before she has the baby?” Stunned expression. “Ditto repeato”. Silence. “No.” “Why not?” (Concerned). “She’s having it now.” “Oh.” Read paper, read paper.

Enter left, Doctor, suitably attired, at 9:15. “Mr Thornely?” “Yes.” “Well well!” (Which is enough to send me up the wall at this stage) (You too, huh. Well this is a round-by-round description, so don’t go turning the page to see what happened next. It won’t help, and it’s cheating, anyway.)

“How’s Carolyn?” Wreathed in smiles, takes out hand in traditional manner. “Twin girls” was the last thing he said before he went out of focus. Well, you can pretty well imagine how the conversation went after that.

This time I did have to climb up the wall — to get back on my feet, and promptly burst into tears. So that’s the way it all happened. I saw Carolyn about a minute later, and she was absolutely tickled to bits with herself. So was I, and I still am.

They were totally unexpected of course. The full story is best illustrated by Dr Truscott, the $120 gynaecologist who’s been looking after Carolyn right through. After the first one was born, “Christ, there’s another one!” Next time I’ll get a $10 vet.

Now, the babies. First off the production line, a pilot model I suppose, was 4lb 12oz, about 1/2in of black hair, blue eyes naturally, a pointed chin, and the cutest little dolly thing you ever saw. I’ve no idea of her length, but it ain’t much. She got into gear straight away, and is doing famously.

Three or four minutes later, on the next contraction, out popped the second one — 6lb 1oz, fairer hair, less of it, a bit crumpled up, and a bit off colour. But she got her breathing gear started fairly quickly, then both of them went off to the Premature ward. They weren’t due until the 26th.

When I saw them this afternoon, Carolyn was very dopey from a needle to reduce her blood pressure, although it had been normal right through the pregnancy. Each of the babies opened one eye, weren’t impressed with what they saw, and slammed shut again. The little one is in a bassinet, and the bigger one is in a humidicrib until it gets a lot more strength. A pediatrician saw them both as a matter of course, and I’ll talk to him tomorrow.

Apart from the blood pressure, Carolyn is 100%. It was a copy book birth, even with the hypersonic speed. Carolyn had a very easy time, did all the right breathing exercises at the right time, stayed relaxed, and got full marks from the Doc & the nurses.

Meanwhile, back at Orange Grove, the whole thing proved too much for Mrs Hulme, who felt pretty sick, and called Chris MacNicoll (Lyn’s wife) and subsequently one of her other friends. They washed up, made beds, did ironing etc, but Mrs H. got worse. I think it was a combination of blood pressure, events, and more than a smattering of hamming.

So at 12:30, I have her in the car, and book her into Mona Vale hospital for observation. Then back to North Shore, while Margie Donovan took care of Michael. Then back to Mona Vale to find Mrs H is quite OK and gone home, then back to Donovans for dinner.

In all my spare time, I tried to line up a housekeeper or baby-sitter or similar to take care of Michael during the day, and to top it all I had people coming at 7pm, which I deferred to 9pm, to pick up the Valiant that I sold to them on Saturday.

And the phone didn’t stop ringing until 9:30 pm — Adelaide, Brisbane and Windsor called one after the other with congrats. Someone at work must have put out an all-stations signal.

So here I am sitting in bed at 12:30am, and Michael asleep in his room. Which is as good a time as there will be tonight to give it away, and go to sleep.

As I said, everyone should have a day like today. Twins! Marvellous.

And I’m glad to detect a perked-up note in your letter from Austria. Carolyn very much appreciated Mum’s note.

I hope this catches you soon, and I’d cable if I knew where you are. I’ll write again as soon as the world regains its usual 22 1/2 deg. attitude.

Love from ALL of us,




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