The Dingo’s Got My Baby
A GIRL AT LAST
Early in 1980 our family (myself, Michael, Aidan and Reagan) moved to Mt Isa in north-western Queensland. I was pregnant and the first time I visited Dr Irene Milne, Michael decided to come with me to meet the new doctor and make sure I had decided on a good one.
When we got into the doctor’s office and Dr Milne questioned me on my medical history, Michael gave the answers, much to my amusement. Although it seemed to throw the doctor a little, I was used to Michael doing that when we went out, so as long as he didn’t give the wrong answers, I let it ride. After that visit I went alone and I could see that the doctor was quite relieved that I could actually talk and knew my own mind after all. (In years to come Michael’s answering for me on that one visit still stuck in her mind as peculiar.)
The doctor asked me some questions about my first two births and said I was obviously one of those people who had a ten-month gestation period, not nine. ‘I will not touch you until you have gone ten months,’ she said, ‘then, if we go too far over that, I will bring the baby on. We won’t worry about it until then.’ Sure enough, just a few days after the ten months, the baby started to make its presence felt. I felt a little uncomfortable the night before and wondered whether I was having contractions or whether, indeed, it was a false labour. It was my dad’s birthday and I thought if I was going in, it would be lovely to have a baby then, especially if, as we hoped, the baby was a little girl.
Well, she wasn’t to be born that day. At two the next morning, I got up and went to the toilet, then wandered around the house timing myself. When my contractions were five minutes apart, I knew it was time to go. My friend Jenny who was going to look after the boys couldn’t come in the middle of the night, so another friend, Neroli Goss, was on standby if I had to go during the night. I woke Michael up and said, ‘Honey, you’d better go and get Neroli in a hurry, I’ve got to go.’ I expected him to be only a few minutes at the most, seeing she was half expecting him.
While he was away, I started to get anxious that he had been gone too long. That got my stomach in a knot and next thing I knew I was vomiting. That put my contractions out of order and from then on they came spasmodically. He arrived back nearly three-quarters of an hour later with Neroli and her husband Neville in tow—both looking sleepy but fully dressed. Michael asked how I was going, then said, ‘We’re pretty hungry. Do you think you could get breakfast before you leave?’ Neroli’s mouth dropped open and she was about to remonstrate with him, but I shook my head and said, ‘Never mind, I’ll get you breakfast. You’ve taken so long, I’ve done the washing ready to be hung out and I’m not going to go yet for a while after all, but we will have to get there fairly soon.’ So they all had breakfast. Neroli had been watching me fairly closely and although she didn’t have any children of her own at that stage, she said, ‘It looks like it’s time you went. Are you OK?’
I replied, ‘Yes, but I do think it’s time I went.’
She said, ‘Right, I’ll get him out the door.’ So she shooed Michael out the door, and off we went. He then took close notice of the contractions I was having, decided it really was time to move and put his foot down. The more bumps we went over, the worse it was. When we got to the hospital, I was glad to get out and go in. We found the nurse was in a panic.
‘I thought you were coming ages ago. We figured you must have had it on the way here or something had happened,’ she said.
I assured her I was OK.
I was prepped and put into a room and Michael took off home. He had to be there before school, as Neville and Neroli were both teachers and would have to leave. He would get the boys up, send Aidan off to school and bring Reagan to see me for a while before taking him to Jenny’s, then come back before the baby was born. I was having quite an easy labour compared to the boys. There was no pain in between the contractions and I was managing to deal with those.
Finally the nurse said, ‘I think we will put you up in one of the rooms, there’s a free one now. The baby’s obviously getting closer; you’re ten minutes apart now.’ She would get a few things ready and was I OK?
‘Fine,’ I said.
As she went out, I said to her, ‘I am starting to push.’
She said, ‘Rubbish!’
‘I am!’ I said.
She said, ‘I will wait for one contraction and see what happens.’ Well, nothing happened. Not one thing.
‘I don’t care,’ I said. ‘The baby is very close. It is going to come in the next few minutes.’
She said, ‘OK, do you want an injection?’
I said, ‘Yes, please. Let’s hope it will work before this happens.’
‘It will work in about twenty minutes,’ she said.
I thought boy! It better be before that, or this is going to hurt like hell. Although I was having an easier time, I knew what the final few minutes were like.
So she gave me an injection and said, ‘I will just get all the other injections ready. I will wait for one more contraction, just in case you are right.’ She turned around, picked up the syringe, and plunged it into the bottle ready to start drawing up the liquid, and I went into contraction. She took one look at me, said, ‘Oh, gosh,’ and pushed the emergency bell.
As a bell rang in the distance, we heard rushing foot steps down the hall. As Michael opened the door and walked in carrying Reagan, the nurse reached the foot of the bed, and the baby arrived in a whoosh. Michael stopped just inside the door and the charge nurse, who had been running behind him, almost went slap into his back.
‘Well, that surprised everyone!’ the charge nurse said. At the same time the nurse said, ‘Well, it’s a girl. Just what the doctor ordered.’ I had seen as she was born that it was a girl and yet I thought—it can’t be! I had been so disappointed when Reagan was another boy, and I thought, They’re going to tell me in a minute that it is a boy and I have seen wrong. It can’t be a girl. I wouldn’t allow myself to get excited. I’d been too disappointed before, and yet I knew this time it was OK.
Well, Michael said it all for me. ‘Are you sure?’
The nurse looked at him and said, ‘Yes I am. Do you want to have a look for yourself? I’m sure it’s quite plain.’
Michael, still standing there with his mouth open holding Reagan, looked at her and said, ‘Oh . . . er . . . no thanks. I’m sure you’re right.’ He stood there for a few more seconds and then said, ‘Do you hear that Reagan? You’ve got a baby sister . . . Did you hear that darling, we’ve got a girl?’ And so we did. A beautiful little girl—3 kilograms (6 pounds 5 ounces)—with very dark violet eyes, so dark a purple they were nearly black. Black hair and olive skin. Apart from her eyes being darker, her hair just slightly bluer-black, and being smaller, she was the image of Aidan.
Michael rushed out to the car to grab his camera. When he came back he started taking photographs. He even talked Dr Milne into having her photograph taken with Azaria. She later said she thought he was a bit strange taking all those photographs but knew new fathers often did things she thought odd.
Reagan had seen his mum, and seen more than he bargained for. Michael took him out then and let him go and play while the doctor came to stitch me up.
When Michael came back later that afternoon I asked him what Reagan had said. He said, ‘Nothing much, he just sat there quietly thinking about it and then later he commented, “Mummy had a lot of blood on her and so did bubby, didn’t she, Daddy,” and he never made any other comment than that.
Aidan, when he heard, was quite incensed that he had not been allowed to stay home from school. He said, ‘I wanted to see bubby born too! How come Reagan was allowed?’ We had to explain that it was purely accidental. Nevertheless, it was a bond that Reagan would never forget. He loved that little girl.
As Reagan had in effect been Aidan’s ‘baby’ so Azaria was Reagan’s. Aidan had guarded Reagan carefully. ‘He is my baby, you stay away from him!’ I worked in the camp store and when it came time for Aidan’s meeting, Reagan had to go too. Aidan would push Reagan in the baby carriage across to the door while I watched, and the girls in charge would help him take the pram up the steps and park it. They were supposed to be officially babysitting for me while I was in the store, but no, they informed me, Aidan wouldn’t let them near Reagan. He would sit at Reagan’s side and if Reagan woke up, Aidan would roll him over and flop him forward on a chubby little fist, burp him and give him his bottle.
Reagan who, like Aidan, had pyloric stenosis (a restriction of the sphymeter muscle into the stomach, making feeding slow and bringing up wind without projectile vomiting impossible) was bottle fed not breastfed, so Aidan was able to enjoy feeding and taking care of his little brother to his heart’s content. He was very possessive. If Reagan cried and he decided it was time to go for help, he would head towards the door and, on one occasion, he even told the girls that he could get down the steps with the pram by himself! Knowing that the handle of the pram was almost above his head and this wasn’t true, they assisted him anyway. I heard him saying loudly, ‘Don’t touch my baby’, looked out the door and saw him.
As they grew, Reagan and Aidan were great mates—and great enemies. Nobody fought together like those two but let anybody pick a fight with them, and that person would meet a solid wall of Chamberlain brothers who knew how to protect each other.
Reagan, of course, had been looking forward to his baby. For long enough he had said, ‘How come Aidan had a baby and I didn’t?’ We had explained to him it was because he wasn’t there at the time. Now he was getting his baby, and he was excited about it. When he saw her wheeled down from the nursery the first night and had his first hold, he was entranced at the tiny, weeny fingers and toes, and then the little black eyes opened and looked at him, and the smallest mouth he had ever seen in his life opened in a big ‘O’ and blew a bubble, the first of many. And so she got her nickname, ‘Bubbles’.
Jenny was the only friend who visited me while I was in hospital, as I wanted a good rest (knowing I had two lively boys at home as well as the new baby), so the others all waited to see us when I came home five days after Azaria’s birth. I had a private room and, although that is good for rest, sometimes it gets a bit lonely. Once when I wandered up to the nursery, I saw that the girl next door to me was on her own and starting to go into labour. She was obviously a little worried, her visitors had gone home and she was alone. I stuck my nose in to say hello. I was bored and so was she, so we sat and chatted.
It was her first baby and she asked me a few questions. She was a lot calmer when I went out. She said she was a local policeman’s wife, and later that night I saw him arrive in his uniform. (I discovered that another woman I had met was also a policeman’s wife, but I wasn’t to find that out until quite a while later.) The other woman I befriended had obviously also delivered the day before. I asked her whether she had what she wanted and she said, ‘Yes, a little girl,’ quite delightedly, adding, ‘I believe we had our babies fifteen minutes apart. I was in the other room yesterday when you had yours and heard all the commotion.’ So we swapped news, as mothers do, of how our labours had gone, and later we compared little girls. They were very similar in size and we were thrilled with our daughters. I eventually went home and thought no more about it.
‘Think Pink, Mum’
I decided that I would like to tell people myself that my daughter had been born. It always seems so unfair that the husband has the good bits—no pain, and the fun of announcing the news. I asked the nurses in the Mt Isa Hospital if I could use the phone. I was told I could make a couple of local calls, but I could not ring long distance. So, admitting defeat, I asked Michael to ring his parents and mine. He rang his parents but my parents were not on the phone so, rather than ring the neighbour like we usually did, he decided to send a telegram. It was very simple: ‘Azaria born 9:16, 11 June, 6 lb. 5 oz. Mother and baby both well.’
My parents had been waiting for some time to hear about the birth of their new grandchild. They had just gone for their daily walk when the telegram boy went past them. Mum said, ‘I’ll bet that telegram’s for us,’ and so they stood at the top of the hill and watched which house he went to. Sure enough, the boy stopped at their house. So they walked back to get the telegram, fully expecting it to be about the baby. They read the telegram.
‘Azaria. Well, she’s had another little boy,’ said Mum. ‘I wonder why they called him Azaria?’ Dad commented that the spelling was odd—perhaps we had meant ‘Azariah’ and left the ‘h’ off. Maybe Michael had simply spelt it wrong, or we had chosen a different spelling. It really did not seem to fit with Aidan and Reagan. Mum thought I’d be disappointed because I dearly wanted a little girl; if the baby was a girl, they had planned to ring.
I thought this time they would be so excited, surely they would have rung now I was home. But we heard nothing from them until a tape arrived. Mum began very politely and cautiously, ‘Well, congratulations, we’ve got a new little grandchild, a little boy. How lovely.’ She went on telling Aidan and Reagan how much fun three little boys would have with cars and toys and playing cricket and football. I thought, she’s really having me on. She must know I’ve had a girl and she’s teasing me. But I knew this wasn’t really Mum’s style.
And then she went on, ‘Now the name Azaria—have I said that right? It’s not quite what we expected, and we would really like to know how to say it? Is it after the three Hebrew boys?’
Then I realised they really thought we had a little boy. I laughed so hard I nearly cried. I wondered how I was going to tell her. If I rang up and said that we didn’t have a little boy, she might think that he had died and be very upset. I hadn’t decided how to break the news without distressing them when Michael arrived home. His comment was, ‘They can’t be serious. Ring them up.’ So I did.
I rang Lin and John’s next door. Lin said, ‘Hang on, they’re here now.’ Then Mum came on the phone, excited to hear from us as usual, and asked how we were going, and how the baby was, and I said, ‘Fine.’ By then my ideas of how to get the news across had flown out the window and I was madly trying to think of a way to tell them.
Mum said, ‘Now, how do you say his name? Because we are not sure.’ Suddenly I knew how to tell them, and I said, ‘Well, Mum, you have to think pink first.’
She said, ‘I beg your pardon.’
I said, ‘You heard me. You have to think pink, not blue, before I tell you.’
A very puzzled voice came back, ‘Think pink? Is that what you said? What do you mean? Oh, you don’t mean it’s a girl.’
‘Yes, it’s a girl!’ I said.
I heard her say, ‘Daddy, it’s a girl, she’s had a little girl,’ and then I heard him say, ‘Oh, how lovely,’ and everyone else exclaiming in excitement too. For over two weeks they had thought it was a boy. It took a while for them to calm down again, then I was able to tell Mum all about Azaria and how to say it ‘As-aah-rea’, like in the aria you sing. It was great, she was really thrilled.
I tried again to persuade my parents to come out for a holiday to see Azaria while she was little. Mum had never seen any of our children when they were really small and I thought it would be nice. They had never been to Mt Isa, we could take them around, and they would really enjoy themselves. But Mum decided against it, they were busy and shouldn’t really spend the extra money. So they didn’t come.
I tossed up whether to go on a mission appeal trip Michael and a volunteer were making to the Bourke region in the gulf country, or stay home. As we were going on holidays shortly, and Michael was only taking a small ute, things would be difficult and I decided against it. So Michael went without me, and the boys and I enjoyed the time on our own. We were in a routine and Azaria was easy to look after. Although she had a touch of projectile vomiting like the boys had had, it was mild and nothing that I couldn’t cope with. She was troubled with wind because of that, but compared to sessions with Aidan and even Reagan, she was a joy to me. She would play quietly and soon had nice strong little rounded limbs.
She would stay on her bouncinette by my feet, keeping an eye on what I was doing as I worked around the kitchen, or lie beside Reagan watching him play with his toys on the lounge room floor. When she was tired, she went to sleep and when she woke up, we suddenly found somebody looking at us very quietly. She cried only when she had a pain or it was overtime for her feed.
She was quiet most of the time, but she talked to herself, her toys and her mat. I took one picture of her with a beautiful shawl my mother had knitted for her. I put it over the couch and lay her on it. She went cross eyed trying to look at the pattern of the knitting and talked about it to herself. I captured her talking, a picture that Michael never liked much, but then it didn’t have the memories for him it had for me.
When Azaria was about five weeks old, Reagan stood on the side of the shopping trolley in the supermarket (one of those with the baby bed in the top) to get a better view of the fruit scales, and the full trolley tipped. Another shopper and I dived for the trolley and Azaria, but although I managed to stop the weight of the trolley, Azaria still fell out, trapped between the cement floor and the trolley. I immediately took her to the doctor as it had been a hard fall with a bang on the head. The receptionist got me in to the paediatrician as my doctor was busy and, noting no damage from the fall, he remarked on how strong she was for her age and how bright and well developed.
The next day, Aidan got chickenpox. He had two whole pox and apart from being a bit crabby and off colour, he was reasonably OK. He was hardly over it when Reagan succumbed. Reagan, like his mother, does a very thorough job of it if he gets ill, and he developed the worst chickenpox I have ever seen or heard of. He was covered head to foot in pox up to four centimetres (one and a half inches) across. At the height of it I would just get him off to a peaceful sleep, and then he would turn over. The weight of his little body would burst the pox and he would be stuck to the bedsheet. This would pull as he turned and he would wake screaming. I would have to sponge him very carefully off the sheet, he would turn over and go back to sleep, and shortly the process would be repeated. Michael was still away on his church trip at the time. On the third night, Reagan became delirious. I sponged him down, knowing that there wasn’t anything more to be done. I’d read the medical book and knew that he wouldn’t be any better off in hospital. At home he would get individual attention.
As he got worse and my attention to him was necessarily more, my time for Azaria was less. I was breastfeeding Azaria and carrying her around with one arm while talking and reading to Reagan and smoothing his hair with the other. The feeding was fine, although I was getting very tired. The problem was burping her. If he got delirious during the nightfeeds and woke up, I would prop her up and hope for the best.
By morning, not only did I have a very miserable little boy, whom I thought now needed additional medical attention, but also a baby screaming with wind. I’d lost the home number the doctor had given me so I rang his surgery. The receptionist there promptly told me he did not make house calls, so I asked to speak to him personally. She was extremely rude and refused even to put my phone call through. Furthermore, she said, no other doctors in Mt Isa made house calls either and I was a very negligent mother for not bringing Reagan down to the surgery where they would fit him in between other patients. I was desperately tired, I had a screaming baby and an extremely ill small boy. I couldn’t drive them in that condition myself. I’d have to get the doctor’s permission to call an ambulance—and how could I get that when no doctor, apparently, would come and see Reagan? The last thing I needed was somebody berating me for being a neglectful mother. I was angry now, as well as distressed, and I told her that I did not appreciate her attitude. I was not neglectful, but I would be if I brought him down in his condition. I then hung up and burst into tears.
Fortunately at that moment Michael walked in, having come home a day early. He found me sitting on the floor by the phone in tears. When I explained the situation he said, ‘I’ll have a piece of that woman.’
‘Don’t do that,’ I said, ‘she’s a receptionist and I have to take Azaria there for a check-up shortly, it will only make things worse. It’s not worth it.’
He said, ‘Well, I think I’ll have something to say about it. It’s unethical. I happen to know that other doctors do house calls. We’ll just find one.’ And he did; a doctor was there within the hour.
He told me I was right—Reagan didn’t need to go to hospital and I was looking after him perfectly well at home. There were a couple more things that I could do now, but he definitely shouldn’t be taken outdoors in that condition.
He later said he rang the doctor in question and reported the misinformation I had been given. Michael went down and saw the doctor also. It wasn’t so much that the receptionist had said no, but that she had told us no one did house calls, then tried to stop Michael reporting her to the doctor on top of it all. The doctor apologised profusely and Michael left. I never thought much more about it at the time.
For Azaria’s six-week check-up, both of us were dressed in our matching black and red outfits. It was the first time I had ever taken her out publicly in a little black cotton dress I had made for Reagan and it caused quite a bit of comment. People either loved or hated it. Dr Irene Milne’s nurse asked if she could show her off and walked around with her for a while. When she came back she said, ‘Lindy, you have been here for ages. Who are you waiting to see?’
I said, ‘Dr Milne. It’s Azaria’s six-week check-up.’
She said, ‘I’m sure your card isn’t out.’
I said, ‘I wouldn’t be surprised, I’ve been waiting at the counter for ages but the receptionist won’t speak to me.’
She volunteered to check up for me, returning to say, ‘No, it’s not out.’ I saw the doctor within the next ten minutes. As with any other patient, the baby was stripped off ready for her check-up in the corridor and weighed by the nurse, so Dr Milne never did see the black dress.
It was still midwinter at that time and fairly cold at night. As I wanted to dry-clean Azaria’s blankets, one of the easiest things to do was to put her in Michael’s sleeping bag, so I popped it in her cradle, lay her on it and folded the top layer across. Because of her wind problem I had one end of the cradle propped up slightly to help her sleep. Like all my children she loved to sleep on her tummy, and when I put her down she would just put her head on one side and go straight to sleep.
As she moved in her sleep, she would wriggle down to the bottom of her bed, and she would be at the end of a warm tunnel with the top open. Of course, when she cried, the sleeping bag muffled the noise. I would hear a little scuffle, sense she was awake and go in and, sure enough, she would be worming around in the bottom. She sometimes used to make herself so hot with her wriggling that she would be red in the face. One time I went in, she had managed to make a little hole in Michael’s sleeping bag and the super down was coming out. She had been playing with it and, because she was hot, it had stuck all over her and she looked like a brand new bird, just starting to grow down. Reagan thought it was a huge joke and called her his little bird for quite some time.
On one occasion, I went down the street to buy myself a new dress for church and a number of things that were coming up, such as a seminar Michael was running. I needed something decent and didn’t have time to do any more sewing at that stage. I did not intend to take long, found parking close to the shop, and said to Reagan, ‘Bubbles is asleep. I don’t want to wake her up. Will you wait in the car out here with her? She will wake up for a feed soon and when she does, you call out and tell Mummy and I will come and get her and bring you both into the shop.’
I was trying on clothes when I heard a yell of ‘Mum,’ and a cry, and thought, hello, she’s awake. I put my dress back on in a hurry and said to the saleswoman, ‘I will be back in a moment. I will just go and get the baby.’ As I walked to the door of the shop, Reagan stuck his little head out the car window and said, ‘It’s all right, Mum. I’ve just given her the bottle. You don’t have to come and get us.’
I said, ‘OK,’ and went back to the woman and said, ‘Mr Independence is feeding her.’
She laughed and said, ‘That’s all right.’ I went on with my changing. A little while later, there was another yell, ‘Mum! Mum!’ I started to go out again. I got to the shop door and a clear little ringing voice came across to me, ‘It’s OK, Mum. She’s just got some wind and I’ve burped her and she’s done a big burp. But you’ll have to change her pants because they’re stuck.’ This sounded interesting. The lady grinned at me and raised her eyebrows, and I grinned too.
I went over. Reagan had been trying to do everything for her, including changing her nappy. I have my own way of putting a nappy on. It doesn’t come off in a hurry, it fits from newborn to two-year-old very tightly and manages to look like a nice little throwaway nappy without being bulky and floppy—often to my girlfriends’ disgust, because they can’t manage to put a nappy on anything like it. Reagan had got that nappy three quarters of the way off, then the pin had stuck and looked in danger of going in. She, of course, was not cooperating but happily and wildly kicking and cooing and playing.
He said to me in some disgust, ‘I told her to lie still but she won’t listen.’
I stifled a smile, ‘Yes, babies tend to be a bit like that, you know. You were.’
‘Oh,’ he said and grinned delightedly.
When I changed her nappy and brought her into the shop the lady’s face was comical when she saw the size of the child and the size of the baby. But when he perched beside Azaria to play with her and started telling the lady how wonderful she was, she soon realised I wasn’t taking a chance, and had a real little pro on my hands.
It was no wonder Reagan was later hit so hard when she was taken from him and no wonder he initially rejected his new little sister, Kahlia, and took so long to accept her.
Michael was never good with nappies. When he did put them on, they seemed to come straight off again. They always seemed to be on upside down, inside out, or the wrong way round, they were thick where they should have been thin and vice versa. One day Azaria had had a lot of wind and I simply had to get down the street. As Michael walked in the door I said to him, ‘Can you look after Azaria for a while? She’s just been fed, bathed, changed, burped, and is asleep now, so she’ll be right. She should be pretty tired and sleep solidly for at least three hours.’
He said, ‘You better be right. Off you go and don’t be long.’ Promising to be not much more than an hour, I went.
I was quick as I could be because I knew she was unsettled, but still thought that she would be OK. Reagan went with me. As we came home, walking up the back stairs, we could hear her yelling. Reagan took off ahead of me and I heard him say, ‘Where’s bubby?’ Michael looked at me and said, ‘See if you can do something with her. I can’t. I’ve tried everything. I even tried to feed her, she doesn’t want a bottle.’ There I saw the bottle I had given her about an hour and a half before, and left sitting on the bench ready to tip out. Michael had heated it up and reused it. It was only the comp bottle and she had had no more than two mouthfuls. The mixture can’t have been too good sitting on the bench for that long but she wasn’t interested anyway. I went round the corner and there she was propped up in the clean washing on the lounge, yelling.
I picked her up, gave her one pat on the back, at which she gave an almighty burp and immediately stopped crying. The exasperated look on Michael’s face was probably indicative of all distracted fathers who try everything except what is needed. He uttered an explosive, ‘Well, how was I to know she had wind? I never was any good at this sort of thing. I’m going down to my office.’ And off he went.
Aidan, who was home from school, appeared round the corner and said, ‘I told Dad she probably had wind, but he reckoned she couldn’t have because she hadn’t had anything to drink. Besides, he’s put the nappies on all funny.’ He had managed to take her nappy off but couldn’t get the new one on. Thinking of boys, he had put three nappies on top and one underneath. Thank goodness she hadn’t wet! I would have all my washing to do again and a wet couch as well. When Reagan and I had a look at the nappies, we had a good giggle and they both declared that when they grew up and had kids, they would know how to put nappies on because Daddy’s Mummy couldn’t have taught him.
Azaria was flesh and blood. She laughed and she cried and she talked, like you and me. It’s no good saying she was only a few weeks old, she was just a baby and didn’t have a personality. She knew and she understood. And when I sat with her in my arms at night feeding her, I talked to her and told her things. Sometimes we watched TV together, sometimes she stopped feeding and looked at it then looked at me and raised her eyebrows as if to say, ‘Fair go. You don’t expect me to believe that, really.’ And then she’d laugh when I answered her. She knew. Maybe some babies are simply dull because their parents don’t talk to them and don’t give them the opportunity to respond. Some people said that Azaria smiled because she had wind, but when I took her to the doctor, we were talking and Azaria was listening then, she looked at the doctor and she smiled—a straight, knowing, direct smile. Dr Milne said, ‘That’s no wind, that one.’ Dr Milne enjoyed babies. Azaria was small and dainty and pretty. She had little long legs and olive skin and big purple eyes, very expressive eyes, dark like her grandma’s, very like Aidan but smaller and daintier, as a little girl should be.
I bought her a little white and turquoise frock. It was supposed to be for a one-year-old, but when I took in the little shoulder straps, instead of it being a bodice and short skirt, the bodice went to her waist and the skirt to her feet. It looked like a long frock and she looked like a little princess, with frills over her shoulders and around her toes. I bought her a little pink sunray pleated dress I was longing to put on her. I usually made all the things for myself and the boys, but I wanted something special, something pink I couldn’t make. I hunted all over Mt Isa for that dress. It would have fitted her when we got back from the Rock. She had little shoes that were still too big for her, never worn. Now she wore the little dresses that Reagan had had.
She was small but strong. In my mind’s eye I can still see her, at five weeks, bouncing in the Jolly Jumper I hung in the doorway. I used to put a magazine down the back of the harness to hold her head upright. She had the strength in her arms and legs but not quite yet in her neck to stay any length of time without support. She would jump and rest her head on the magazine, laugh and giggle and throw her arms around, strengthening her little legs and bouncing about on her toes. She loved it. It kept her occupied quite a bit while I got the dinner and talked to her.
In the evenings when the boys were asleep and Michael was still out, I would feed her. At first in hospital I had trouble, she didn’t want to feed and I had cracked nipples and was extremely sore. As I hadn’t fed the boys I was determined to feed her and I was feeling self-conscious—by your third child you should be an old hand but I wasn’t. So instead of being uptight in hospital, I incurred the wrath of one of the sisters by telling her that I was going to put Azaria on a bottle because of the way she was vomiting. I held out for that and I did it, despite the fact that she told me I was an unnatural mother because of it. I went home, let my nipples heal, and then decided to try again and see whether I could feed her. I knew you could breastfeed a baby if you wanted to, even if it was adopted, so I decided to try and see if it worked.
I started in the bath and, instead of giving her a dummy, I gave her the breast. Gradually she started to suck and got used to the change of shape. As she sucked, my milk came in, as it does to a new mother. I discovered my milk was not as plentiful as I would have wished and found out how to resolve that too.
When Azaria was five and a half weeks old, Michael had to give an all-day seminar for which I was doing the catering. About seventy people were enrolled. I took Azaria with me and put her down in the kitchen; as people came down they said, ‘Where’s Azaria?’
I would say, ‘Over there.’
‘Goodness, she’s quiet!’ and there she would be playing in the basket on one of the benches.
The day went well all except for a minor mishap. I went to change her nappy and noticed that she had managed to hit her umbilical cord and it was three-quarters off, dried and bleeding. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, it was swinging free and, like a broken toenail, was going to pull and really hurt if not cut off. So I went down to the car, got a tiny pair of scissors and used them to chop her cord a lot closer down. Then I pressed the cord back into shape and put her nappy on without any further trouble. I wiped the scissors clean and put them back in the glove box. As far as I knew I hadn’t got blood on anything.
At her six-week check-up Azaria was fit, well, and healthy, and Dr Irene Milne was impressed and proud of her progress. She was interested that I had managed to start breastfeeding again, even though I had initially stopped. Things like that were interesting to her because that was her field; so many people had said it couldn’t be done. By the time we got to the Rock, Azaria was fully breastfed, and I was carrying only emergency comp feed bottles.
In the evenings I would sometimes sit watching television while she went to sleep in my arms. I kept telling myself to put her down before she got big enough to realise she was being held so much and was being spoilt. And yet always it seemed as if tomorrow was soon enough. I felt that I needed to hold her; she was so beautiful that it seemed as if it wasn’t true I’d had her in the first place, and she would disappear if I blinked. So I continued to hold her although my instincts said I shouldn’t.
Sometimes for hours at a time I would sit up at night just holding her in my arms and cuddling her. How glad I am that I did. I have got that special time to look back on, and I know that I spent much more than her fair share of time with her. She knew she was loved, she knew she was wanted, she loved her family, she responded to them all very happily and, despite her tender age, it was obvious that she knew she was loved.
The Dingo’s Got My Baby
In 1980, nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain was taken by a dingo from her family’s tent near Uluru in Australia’s remote Northern Territory. Her body was never found. In a terrible miscarriage of justice, her mother Lindy was wrongfully convicted of her daughter’s murder and sentenced to life in prison. It was seven years before the conviction was overturned. This is the true story behind a tragedy whose echoes reverberated around the world.
“This is the story of a little girl who lived, and breathed, and loved, and was loved. She was part of me. She grew within my body and when she died, part of me died, and nothing will ever alter that fact. This is her story, and mine.” Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton
“Page after page demolishes the myth and fables that have been spun around a nation’s obsession with the baby’s disappearance.” The Sydney Morning Herald
“What first struck me on meeting Lindy was her sense of humour and surprising lack of bitterness. Here is a woman who has been under such macabre and intense public scrutiny and yet through all the tabloid hysteria they haven’t managed to capture the real Lindy at all. There are so many myths about Lindy and the Chamberlain case that have still not been dispelled and to read this book is to get closer to the truth behind the story that has continued to fascinate Australia for the past 24 years.” Miranda Otto, Actress, Lord of the Rings Trilogy
Previously published as Through My Eyes in 2004.
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Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton was born Alice Lynne Murchinson in New Zealand. When she was twenty months old her family moved to Australia. On 17 August 1980, while on a family holiday, Lindy’s daughter, nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain, was taken by a dingo from a camping ground near Ayers Rock (now Uluru). After two inquests and a police raid on her house, Lindy Chamberlain was tried and convicted of the murder of her baby daughter. She was sentenced to life in prison with …
The Dingo’s Got My Baby