“Excuse me Sir, you do know you just went through a red light and it has taken our fastest car and best driver to catch you?”
“Listen pigwheels, I gotta pregnant lady here and if I don’t get her to hospital in the next 5 minutes she’s gonna give birth in this car. Do you really want to risk that happening? Huh? Do ya?”
“Sorry Sir, we had no idea”
“Hey don’t sweat it flatfoot – you’re not paid to think.”
“Would you like a police escort to to the hospital Sir?”
“Do you really think you could keep up with me?”
“Not even our helicopter could keep up with you Sir! You’re just too fast. And slim.”
I zoom off, leaving the police shrinking in my mirrors, foot to the floor I’m weaving between honking articulated lorries on mountainside roads, a sheer drop on one side flirting with my wheels; at a railway crossing we skid under the closing gates and out the other side, a beautiful passer-by faints because she is so bloody impressed. A traffic jam ahead takes me on to the pavement and smashing my way through a wall of cardboard boxes which have been stacked there for no apparent reason. A fruit stall collapses humourously as we speed past and a Frenchman waggles his fist at us in a comical fashion before falling over. My wife looks at me with sexy adoration “Thank God you are so bloody ruddy brilliant,” she says “and slim”.
I handbrake turn into the hospital car park, lift my wife effortlessly out of the car and run in to the maternity ward with her in my arms. ”Oh James” she says…………………….
“James, wake up, WAKE UP YOU PIG!!!”
“I think I’m in labour”
I try to talk but my cheek is stuck to the pillow with spit. It’s just after 1am.
I take the pre-packed bags down to the car and then spend 5 minutes trying to quietly fit the giant birthing ball into the boot. The night is hushed, expectant – like it’s holding it’s breath. My wife waddles out of the front door and eases herself in to the passenger seat, already on the phone to the maternity unit, describing contractions – she is very composed. I ignore the odd curtain twitches: they signify that our ancient neighbours know it’s begun. “It” being the end of their quiet street, forever. Well, not forever, but certainly longer than they’ll live, which is effectively the same thing.
“They want to know how long we’ll be?” my wife whispers.
“ETA 5 minutes” I say confidently, slamming the boot and racing round to the driver’s seat, already regretting the use of “ETA” – not as much as that time I used the word “beverage”, but regret nonetheless.
My wife translates “We’ll be about 25 minutes”.
The car starts, there is plenty of petrol, there are no flat tyres. The drive to the hospital is misty but uneventful, there is nothing on the road, all the lights are green. There are no diversions, no surprises. We are in control and organised. We are in control and organised. We actually are in control and organised – maybe I am growing up? Maybe it’s just happened, mere hours before I become a father? Well thank fuck for that.
“So you’ve finally grown up, on the way to have your first child – that’s cutting it a bit fine.” says my brain.
“Shut up Brain!” I reply.
I have 8 pound coins for the parking. Actually I have 10, but 2 are spare in case of RCDT – when they go through the machine without stopping. I hate it when that happens – there is no reason for it. Then you have to open-mouth-breathe on it and re-try. Because that’ll work won’t it? Or try and “spin” it down the chute? Or worse still, just “examine” the coin and try again? Well not anymore: the new “grown up James” has appropriate spare coinage – in your face random-coin-dissatisfaction-technology, you won’t bother me tonight. I have also recently made peace with the sheer expensiveness of parking at a hospital, reasoning that this must be how the NHS is actually funded.
We walk past the entrance to A & E where 2 brothers are crying and smoking, mechanically. They have the same eyes and the same tattoos, sharing a cigarette and the same bad news. And it strikes me then that this is the building where life stops as well as starts, where dreams and hopes begin and end. One day I will be them, trying to come to terms with the shock of never seeing someone again, never speaking to them. But not tonight. Tonight is about beginnings not endings. There is somebody I am desperate to meet.
As a man on a maternity ward, your official title is “in the way” so you keep to a corner until the midwives have left. There is a cultural sexism based on experience here, a self fulfilling prophecy of gender bias so, like the posters say, the best you can do is to “keep calm and carry everything”. Before labour really kicks in you may be left alone for long stretches of time, watching your other half ride out the wave machine of ache that is contractions. Offer water and try to be useful, arrange the room, locate the toilets and the vending machine – DO NOT MAKE JOKES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. These are the rules. Later you’ll need to hold her hand and apologise for everything. And I do mean everything. But not yet. I spend my time massaging her back, digging my thumbs into the bottom of her spine, I have read that this interferes with the pain receptors – which might be true, then again I have read that there is a pregnant man in America, I’ve even seen pictures, which can’t be right- so who knows. Astride her birthing ball for 3 hours, time bleeds away. Eventually my wife asks if she can have a go and reluctantly I get off. People come and go. We present a birthing plan and the head midwife raises a formidable eyebrow.
“It says here you’d prefer no pain relief?”
“Just gas and air – I’m fine” my wife replies.
The midwife looks at me as if I might be behind this – I’m not and I attempt to convey my innocence with a grimace and shrug. Sadly my shoulders never went to RADA and I look like I’m doing an inappropriate Robert De Niro impression.
“Okay well you’ll be with Nilminie then, she won’t offer you anything”
And then she’s gone and a tiny woman is with us; together we move my wife on to the bed. The midwife is silent, efficient and lifts my wife with no apparent effort, her brown arms are wiry levers, they hint she is capable of lifting many times her own body weight – like an ant. Her face is dark and wrinkled – she has the comforting look of a shaman about her, an aura of mystic capability. The room is stifling and yellow, just how yellow is not yet apparent because the lights are dimmed and the dawn is a long way off. There is some dried blood on the floor, it’s a long long way from the bed. I hold my wife’s hand. The squaw nods her approval.
People will tell you that waiting is the worst part, they are talking bollocks – it’s crowning, crowning is the worst part by miles. I, of course, am speaking as an observer, but holding hands with someone can give you some insight in to how they feel. Listening to their screams and pleads can provide a good indicator as well. I can assure you that whilst “waiting” my hand was absolutely dandy, a little clammy perhaps but overall it was fine, delightfully uncrushed. Between contractions we even had conversations, don’t ask me to remember what they were, but conversations nonetheless. There is a marked difference with crowning. You don’t have conversations during crowning. There may be accusations, maybe some swearing, a little name calling, a fair amount of blame allocation, but nothing you could describe as a conversation. And how could you? When you’re stretching and burning and the brain can’t quite conceive of how you’ll survive what’s happening to you, how physiology could betray you like this, the suffering enormity of slow expulsion. Another deep deep breath, holding it, forcing it down, deep down, knowing that’s it’s the only thing that is going to push this thing out, that to stop it hurting you’ve got to hurt some more. Opening your eyes and realising that it has not ended, not knowing when it will end, if it will end. The panic of disorientation, being lost in pain, a stranger now telling you not to push any more, forcing you to pant through agony, to linger here – drowning in pain with someone holding you down, never being able to reach the surface. What? Yeah, you’re right I don’t know, all I can do is try to imagine, the best description my wife gave me went
“LIKE GOD GIVING YOUR FANNY A CHINESE BURN”
She’s eloquent like that. Anyway that’s crowning.
Our midwife, I never get her name, is a woman of few words; whether it’s a language barrier or just the distillation of a lifetime’s experience, she only says two things throughout the birth.
“Go poo poo” and “blow candles”.
She says “go poo poo” a thousand times that night, not “push” which I suppose could be a little ambiguous or “bear down” which is downright puzzling, but “go poo poo”. After a while I even join in, chanting at my wife to “go poo poo” and really getting into it, it becomes an incantation, an ancient baby summoning spell. I stop after I am accidentally kneed in the groin and looking back I can completely see how it might’ve been annoying at the time.
And then the rules of physics change, reality bends and allows something very big to come out of something very small. It is a mind-boggling trompe l’oeil, literally a second after the baby is born I cannot be convinced that it has just happened. I look up and there are now 4 midwives in the room – I have no idea when they got here. I don’t really care. I can’t take my eyes off of the baby: purple, slimy, perfect. Laying there like he’s just been washed up on the beach of life. They scoop him up, clean him off and tell us we’ve got a son. A son. Our Son. My son. I cut the chord, which feels a bit like I’m a minor celebrity opening a new supermarket, and holding our baby, kiss my wife.
“Oh James” she says and this time I am not dreaming.