Day 1, 06.49
Our unknown midwife is Peace, and she delivers on the promise of her name. Within a few short moments of being bustled into the dim glow of a room on the home-from-home unit we no longer feel the loss of our designated midwife quite so keenly, or at least I don’t. Ellie is riding the roller coaster now, and hardly minded to feel the loss of anything except the seven and a half pounds of child inside her and all the suffering of labour that’s coming with it.
Peace, I am soon to learn, has been responsible for single-handedly shooing in a sizeable proportion of the Earth’s population in both the third world and our world over the course of a career spanning more decades than she’s willing to admit to. In the spring of her vocation she’d kept a tally of the lives she’d ushered onto the planet, but had soon lost count. When I ask for a conservative estimate, she shakes her head and whispers fondly, “thousands, …thousands.” I like her, and I’m glad our small contribution to the Great Numberless will arrive in her hands.
Peace settles Ellie in, in as much as Ellie can be settled in, and starts running another never-to-be-sat-in bath, saying she’ll check on us in a few hours. She’s preparing us for the medium-to-long haul here, but clearly the fourth person in the room is tearing up the script and writing their own birth plan. With the pace of proceedings showing no sign of relenting and every sign of accelerating, Peace brings her experience to bear and ensures Ellie maintains her breathing between contractions. This is, of course, my job too, along with maintaining a steady flow of isotonic sports drinks and foodstuffs small enough to fill any space not taken by an unborn child. A steady flow of gas’n’air (entonox) is becoming increasingly crucial at this juncture too, along with an uninterrupted massage programme and as much emotional support as I can manage in between regular snacking to stop myself falling into the abyss of hypoglycaemia at this ungodly hour.
There’ll be no let-up from this point, prompting Peace to look up at me on occasion and silently mouth the words, “too fast, too fast.” Should I be concerned? Instinct tells me that Ellie’s body knows what it’s doing. Our imminently-arriving child’s body definitely knows what it’s doing. It’s getting out, and will need catching at the far side of the room at this rate.
Any parent’s perception of time is mangled at this point, whether they’re the parent doing the pushing or the pacing. Most feel the stretch of minutes lengthening into hours, or even hours into days, but here and now I feel the hours have contracted into minutes more forcefully than the muscles of Ellie’s womb. The sun’s rise has pinkened the stone of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster, the traffic congeals on the bridge below and above us long-haul flights from across the globe nose along to Heathrow. And directly in front of me the bloody head of a brand new human is starting to show, only hours after the first early warning cries of “MOTHERFUCKER.”
This first glimpse induces a new existential panic within me, and the B-word lives again. Will I BOND? The question courses around my mind without answer, adding itself to the Peep Show commentary that is already playing in a significantly sized portion of my brain. “Will it happen? Will it be instinctive? How can it happen if part of my head is detached enough to be asking in the first place?” The inner dialogue becomes a torrent as nine months of fevered imagining gives way to reality. “I always cried at this point in One Born Every Minute, am I going to clam up now it’s happening to me? How will we be with each other, Ellie and I? Will there be a Hollywood moment? Will we kiss? Should we? What is she thinking? Is she thinking? They always kiss in One Born Every Minute, don’t they? Unless they’re with a mate because Gaz did a runner and he can’t man up enough to be there. SHUT UP YOU IDIOT, YOU’RE ABOUT TO HAVE A CHILD.”
There’s nearly a fourth person in the room now. A head has emerged. It’s blood red and facing down into the bed. Ellie is unaware of this, not quite blissfully so but the gas and air is helping. Peace places a hand on either side of the head with great care and asks Ellie to give on last push. “Oh my God, is the head out?” asks Ellie, and I can only nod. My left arm has been supporting her knee in its preplanned yogic position for some time now, and is beginning to feel like it’s been injected with fast-setting concrete. Peace’s face is a mask of concentration and I realise that however ‘routine’ (albeit rapid) this labour has been, we have arrived at a critical moment.
This child is not with us yet, I’m certainly not hearing anything, and as Peace’s two-handed grip tightens I’m seized by the irrational fear that this woman actually has no idea what she’s doing at all, in fact who let her in here, she’s about to rip our baby’s head clean off, for God’s sake be careful! But Ellie pushes for the final time and out shoots a beet root coloured rag doll. Even now, an air of surreality pervades. The combination of gore and colour (not to mention mind-altering tiredness), and the almost mechanical jerking of the new arrival briefly lend it the look of a badly-made stop-motion animation puppet in an Eighties horror movie.
Only now can Ellie sit up and see clearly. We both gasp in shock and wonder and each catches the others eye for a fleeting moment. She is crying, and only then do I realise that I am too, and have been for some time. Our baby is lifted up towards us for immediate skin-to-skin, and the crying is without cease. Ours, not the baby’s, which has yet to even start. Amid all of this there is no thought for anything, even the sex, subject of much speculation since we opted for ‘a surprise’. In fact, it’s a full two minutes before I’m first to note that I’m no longer the only person in the room with a pair of balls, and our intuitive guess at a girl has evaporated and is forgotten. We do not care. How could we?
And as he’s swaddled and capped by the safe hands of Peace, the worries of a lifetime fall away to be replaced by new ones, and two words make their first real appearance in my vocabulary. I am a father. I have a son.
(I did, of course, cut the cord. I fully intended to, but had and still have no idea why. I always light the barbecue, and I do the carving on a Sunday, too. Again, I have no idea why.)