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Our First Child

Our First Child

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The narrative is a personal experience of the extraordinary journey of the author and his wife as they navigate the challenges of winter in Montreal while awaiting the arrival of their first child. From snowstorms to unexpected assistance, this narrative showcases the resilience and fortitude of new parents in the face of adversity.

The arrival of the first child is an exciting time for most couples. In our case, it was quite out of the ordinary. Here is what happened.

After receiving my Ph.D. degree in Nutrition from London University, I with my wife Sara left for Montreal, Canada for my postdoctoral training.  It was an exciting time for us. We were young and going to North America was an exciting prospect..

We I arrived in Montreal  on Friday afternoon in the first week of  November, 1968. I remember it being a sunny day with moderate temperature. My supervisor, whom I will refer to as Dr. G,  met us at the airport and  drove us  to our  fully-furnished studio apartment, which was on the 14th floor  of a high-rise building in downtown Montreal, about a mile or so away from the research institute where I would be working.  Both Sara and I were thrilled to have our own apartment with a small kitchen and our own bathroom with a shower. After our marriage in London we lived in a small bed-sit. The bathroom was common to all tenants on each floor. Equally  exciting was to see a telephone on the dresser of our apartment. We were told to call the telephone company to activate the line, which I did the very next day.

Sara found a clerical job at ALCAN, the Canadian Aluminum Company, few days after our arrival in Montreal. Neither my research institute nor Sara’s office was very far from our apartment. But winter was setting in and snow began to fall in the middle of November. But it wasn’t that heavy and we could walk to our respective works places. However, I was told by my colleagues that the winter in Montreal could be very severe.  Our first  encounter with the severity of winter in Montreal occurred on our first Christmas Eve. I worked at a institute where people from many different countries pursued research.  Knowing that we were fresh in Montreal, a German colleague of mine invited us to spend the Christmas Eve with them. They lived less than a mile away from us. I didn’t have a car nor could I drive at the time. My German colleague offered to pick us up by his car, but I told him it wasn’t necessary since we lived less than a mile away and would very easily walk to them. However, when we started walking we couldn’t believe how cold the air could be. There were gusts of very cold wind which smacked us right in the face. We could hardly breathe. Every 20-30 yards we had to find a shelter to recoup from the severe cold wind. After several such stops, we finally made it to my colleague’s apartment. He saw how miserable we looked and forced us to accept his offer to drive us back after dinner.

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My postdoctoral research under Dr. G’s  supervision did not go as well as I expected and after 4-5 months I decided to join another investigator at the same institute to pursue postdoctoral research in molecular biology. Around that time Sara became pregnant. We moved from one-bedroom  to a two-bedroom furnished apartment in an area called Cote-des-Neige, which was a few miles away from my research institute. Anyway, in the mean time, I learned to drive and bought a second-hand old Volkswagen Beetle. Sara left her job in anticipation of taking care of our upcoming baby. According to our gynecologist the baby was expected in the third week of December. We were hoping for a Christmas baby, but that didn’t happen.

Sara, who was, at that time, about 10 days overdue, decided to go for grocery shopping in a nearby underground  strip mall  in the evening of December 26 and I went to visit one of my friends, who lived about a mile away. While I was with my friend, it started to snow.  At around 9 in the evening, Sara called and told me that  she might be starting  labor contractions. I got very nervous and decided to return  home right away. But when I came out of my friend’s apartment, it was snowing heavily. All cars on the street were covered with snow and I  was unable to locate my car.  However, when I  located  it, I was unable to bring the car out because it was completely under the snow.   My friend brought  a shovel and together were managed to dig  the car out. When I got into the car and started the engine  I  was unable to move it out.  I was at a total loss.  I never drove a car before and had no experience in motor mechanics. My friend told me that the accelerator of the car must be frozen and asked me to keep engine running to heat up the car.  Indeed, after 10 minutes or so I was able to drive the car.  The Volkswagen Beetle, being a light car, gave me a very  hard time navigating it on the  snow-covered slippery roads. I drove very slowly and managed to reach our apartment about 45 minutes later, a drive that normally would  take 10-12 minutes.  When I reached home Sara told me that she wasn’t quite sure about her labor contraction. We decided to seek the help of our next door neighbor Mrs. Henderson, lady of 45-50  years. of age, who lived alone. She came immediately, placed her ear on Sara’s tummy and listened very carefully for some time. After listening several times  she assured us that labor had started. Meanwhile, snow had  started  to fall heavily combined with gusts of winds. The streets were completely blanketed. There was no way  that I could drive Sara to Elizabeth Booth Hospital, our designated hospital, which was about 10 miles away.  We called our hospital for help, but they were unable to send an ambulance because of the road condition. So we called the Emergency Service. After a short period a police car with two constables came to our apartment, equipped with all the essentials for delivering a baby. One of the young police constables with heavy French Canadian accent  asked Sara whether her water was broken to which she replied “no”. Then they told us that it was too risky for them to drive us to our designated hospital, but they would be happy to take us to the Jewish General Hospital, which was less than a mile away.  Once there,  Sara was examined by the attending physician who told us it would be another  8-9 hours before our baby would be born. They made Sara comfortable and we waited for snow fall to subside. Indeed, at around 2  in the morning  the blizzard subsided and we decided to call a taxi. Fifteen to twenty minutes later the taxi came to take us to the Elizabeth Booth Hospital. However, as the driver started to drive snow began to fall heavily again and the driver had difficulty in seeing the road despite the windshield wiper running  at maximum speed. The taxi driver decided to hold his side of the door open to watch the road and began to drive. He managed to bring us to the hospital about 45 minutes later. We thanked  and paid him. At that point I noticed  that I had only a few dollars in my wallet. But we were glad that we have safely arrived at the designated hospital. Sara reported at the front desk and a nurse quickly took her to the delivery ward where a doctor examined her and called her gynecologist. After a while I was told that I couldn’t stay with Sara any longer and  that I should look for a suitable place in the hospital to spend the night. It was then close to 4 in the morning and I was very tired. The cafeteria was closed. All I could find  to spend the rest of the night was the main lobby where I saw the night-guard sound asleep. Anyway, I located an empty bench in the corner and tried to sleep, which became difficult because of the heavy snoring by the night guardsman nearby. After few hours of rest I went up to the patient ward to inquire about Sara. I was told that it  would still be a few hours before Sara delivered. I decided to go to the bank to get some money. Those days, there were no ATMs and one had to go to the bank to withdraw cash. Since I didn’t have my car I had to take a bus  to go to our bank in our neighborhood, which took quite a while. However, when I returned to the hospital between 10:30 and 11 AM I was told by the front desk clerk that Sara had already given birth to a baby girl. Sara’s gynecologist, who delivered the baby, came out and asked me whether I want see my hairy little girl, who was lying in a cot near Sara. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I  saw the baby, who was just a perfect little new-born with a full head of thick long black hair, which came down to her ears. We decided give her a Bengali name. We called her Mita, meaning “friendly”, which she is.

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