It’s a boy!
It was a Wednesday; I was due in London mid-morning to make a presentation in the City. Darlingest was nine months pregnant and restless; she didn’t sleep much. At 2.00 a.m. she woke me for advice. Should we call the midwife? Should we drive to Cheltenham? Or should we wait? The birth of our first had been traumatic and tiresome; we’d been back and forth to the hospital three times, the labour had lasted nine hours, then she’d been induced. Darlingest preferred to wait.
Half an hour later I’m woken from a pit of darkness. A loud, beckoning wail screams through the house. I’m up with a start. I go to comfort my wife who I find leaning against the bath on her hands and knees.
‘Call the midwife!’
We are joined by our two year old daughter Zozo. She seems a passive observer; half-asleep. Darlingest issued instructions.
‘I need some water.’
‘Get some more towels’
‘Call my mother.’
I reach from some towels which she spreads on the floor.
Zozo appeared back at the bathroom door holding the drinking cup she’d taken from her bedside table; Darlingest takes a sip.
‘Bedroom’ she said trying to get up.
‘Read this,’ she then said and pushed a book towards me opened on the chapter titled ‘Emergency Home Births’. It wasn’t a chapter it was single page. I felt like a teenager trying to cram minutes before the Chemistry exam he knew he would fail. I scanned the list of instructions: towels, scissors, string ….
Zozo and I helped Darlingest back along the corridor to our bedroom.
We were living in a converted 17th century meeting house in an insignificant village mid-way between Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon: a sign on the road into the village declares ‘You are entering Shakespeare Country.’ I liken the Cotswolds to ‘The Shire,’ with its lumps and bumps and twisting brooks, like mashed potato and peas drizzled with gravy and sculpted by a child. Houses are often thatched and mostly made of warm, orange sandstone. We had escaped to the country to make babies; it would be Zozo’s second birthday the following week. Previous experience, if the experience of having one child is enough to go by, suggested to my wife that she would go a couple of weeks beyond her due date and that labour when it started would be long and protracted. i.e. We’d have ample time to grab bags and drive the thirty miles across the Cotswolds to the hospital in Cheltenham.
Time had run out. Darlingest lay against the end of the bed and issued instructions. Her Mum appeared and took Zozo downstairs. I called the Midwife; Darlingest took the phone. She garbled words between contractions; the midwife told us to stay put and called an ambulance.
As the baby’s head emerged I put out my hands expecting it to be gulped onto the floor, as I’d seen with lambs and various other mammalians in real life and on T.V. I expected to catch it like a slippery rugby ball, but it was stuck. The umbilical cord was twisted around the child’s neck. There’d been a line or two warning about this in those instructions. I got my fingers around the umbilical cord and pulled it over the baby’s head; the tension on the chord and its plasticated toughness surprised me; I could see why it could have choked the baby had I not done something. With the next contraction the baby’s right shoulder pushed through, followed by the other and with a little bit more movement the baby tumbled into my hands. Using my fingers I cleared the gunk from the nose and mouth, umbilical chord still attached. Then I noticed.
‘It’s a boy!’ I said, feeling I’d uttered a cinema cliché.
I looked at his squashed face, admired his pink ferocity and his compulsion to wriggle and cry. I passed our son to Darlingest who got off her knees, turned over and propped herself against the end of the bed with this great bulbous lump of a baby against her chest.
There was someone at the door, the midwife had arrived. She was delighted with the scene. The first thing she did was to turn down the lights.
‘How about a cup of tea?’
A little later I tied and cut the chord following instructions from the mid-wife. Later the midwife ran a bath, handed me our boy and took my wife away to bathe and deal with the placenta. I clambered into bed, propped myself on a pillow, laid our ‘boy-version, our ‘little-man,’ this unnamed thing against my chest and slept.