My mother taught me live history. Left untold, what she taught me would blend into stories long written off as ridiculous. No page, paragraph or footnote would dignify the story she told. It would be lost among old, respected portrayals of  superstition and ignorance.
However, Isabella told me her story of times when, put in the mildest terms, life was uncomfortable. I was unprepared for her half question, half statement: “Boy, you never know how much pain you (children) cause me.” Though the answer had to do with childbirth, the detail was not obvious. Isabella described pain that started months before she gave birth to her last child. That pain never ended. It was not always present. But well into her nineties, without warning, her left shoulder still sometimes “lanced” her.  

Isabella Scobie

My mother suffered shoulder pain in the background to initiatives intended to reduce, if not remove pain. When she gave birth to her first child, the term "health care" did not exist. Yet, fourteen years later, her eighth child entered a world increasingly concerned about such care.

Isabella lived faraway from cities like London, with celebrated hospitals where health care was easily visible. Less visible were the strenuous effort she put into the basic, human element of care. By 1962, she had four children, all pupil teachers waiting in line for formal teacher training Two others were yet to join the line, soon abandoned by her fourth child. That child chose other professional training.

My mother's pain became more significant as centuries of British settlement gave way to reverse migration. Her fourth child travelled to England in years when English hospital matrons discovered that, contrary to earlier belief, West Indians were educable. British hospitals ignored cautionary advice about immigrants. They offered no incentive to nurses, like my sister, to return home, to offer better care than our mother received. On the contrary, British settlement took on new meaning. Hospitals offered to a generation of new nurse-midwives lifelong employment in England. 

I could not know the pain my mother felt. Nor would you know about it, except she told her live story which, unavoidably, is also about me. 


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