When I first met you I was a young novice midwife and the mother of two young children; the youngest was only six weeks old. I was so upset about leaving my baby to work all night, but we had found ourselves in financial difficulty and getting a midwifery position (just 12 hours a week) was a God send. With all the family rallying to support, I embarked on my first shift and you were there. Sister Gazzola. To be honest, I found you stern and quite imposing. When I told you this years later you were shocked, alarmed even, and you said that you never intended to be. As I grew to know and love you I learned that your sometimes serious expression was not what was in your generous loving heart. I also learned that you had suffered horribly in those years, part of your life that was to silently haunt you for years to come.
What can I say about our friendship now that you are gone? Do you remember all the long nights we shared for nine years, working together…chatting, knitting, and laughing? I remember how it was hard to get you to smile, but if something really amused you you would laugh out loud…and boy it always did me good to see that. But Carla, you did used to run us ragged. When I say ‘us’ I mean the junior staff who worked with you on a particular shift. You were in charge and we knew it. We had a strict routine of jobs to do before women ‘settled down’ for the night, and even though that kept us spinning, you would add lots more tasks to the list. But your priority was quite rightly the new mothers and their special little babies. Their comfort and happiness was all you cared about, and nothing was too much trouble. Nothing. You taught me to be more patient, and when I watched your interaction with tired, confused and anxious mothers I aspired to be like you.
Funnily enough, I didn’t really see you assist at many births, yet I desperately wanted you to be my midwife for Thomas and Olivia’s birth. And you were! The photograph above was taken just hours after you safely placed baby Tom into my arms for the very first time. It was when you facilitated the births of my children that I learnt so much. You didn’t speak during my labour, or disturb me. I asked you not to touch my abdomen during a contraction, and you didn’t. You quietly watched me, loved me and respected my wishes. Silence. ‘Just your quiet breathing could be heard’ you told me afterwards. How very blessed I was to have you with me in those special moments.
After Thomas’ birth you became a very close and special friend didn’t you Carla? You spent hours at my home, helping me with the care of four children. You stepped in when my wonderful Mum had her devastating stroke and helped more, you were like a second mother to me and I owe you much.
When you died in June this year in Italy after a much needed operation, I felt huge regret. I hadn’t seen you since 2004 when we visited you in your lovely apartment in St Nicola. Time flew by and there is no excuse. I heard that you read my book, Catching Babies. This must be one of the best things that has come from writing my memoirs, as you featured greatly within my story and it was dedicated to you along with others. I think you already knew how much I loved you, but you will have read how much you meant to so many other people after reading the book. I am happy about that.
Carla, we will never forget you. I have planned a Mass for you to celebrate your life and dedication to mothers, babies and families throughout East Lancashire and beyond. And my family benefitted the most.
Thank you, my friend.
Love always, Sheena x