This description of how you arrived has been lying around for 30 years, but I don’t think you’ve ever read it. It seems a suitable time to hand it over to you. Enjoy!
Lots of love, Dad.
March 15th 2008 (Lauren’s 30th Birthday)
DAD, 1978: This “event”, like some huge machine coming down the road at us, had been foreseeable for nine months and there was no way of avoiding it. But of course, the only reason that the “event” ever takes on a frightening aspect is that every mother in the world has a gruesome tale to tell about it.
As usual, I can’t sleep. The baby’s daytime is my nighttime. My stillness is an invitation for her to party, and right now my bladder is her dance floor. Perhaps she is wriggling to the sound of muffled, bassy gunshots pounding through the bedroom floor. Woody is downstairs playing Call of Duty online with his work colleagues. By day they are smart, creative computer nerds, and by night, a highly coordinated unit of marine commandos. Should I mention to him that I’ve been having contractions for the last two hours? Maybe later, he deserves this one last indulgence while life is still unencumbered and spontaneous.
When he finally joins me, somewhere after 2:00 a.m., I open with a favourite line from an episode of Red Dwarf, “I don’t want to cause any panic or alarm.” He regards me with panic and alarm. “I think this might be it.”
“Oh, Christ. I suppose I should go and pick up the birthing pool in the morning…” he trails off and falls, battle-weary, into a deep and noisy slumber. How does he do that? It’s infuriating, the ease with which he can simply switch off. Still, good for him, he’s going to need the energy…
DAD: The doctor arrived after 11:30pm and gave Rita an examination. He then informed us that we should go immediately, but not quickly, to Nether Edge Hospital as Rita’s cervix was dilated 7 cm (out of 10 cm!) At this stage we thought it would be a doddle, as Rita was so far advanced without too much discomfort.
It’s now a full day since this ordeal began. Woody is being incredible. If I didn’t have his sturdy, ever-present frame to sway against, I think I would be a rabid, thrashing mess by now. So much for “hypnobirthing”. There goes five hundred bucks I’ll never get back.
Our bedroom has been a somber place for the last sixty seconds. The midwife is visiting to assess me again. I am incredulous to discover that I am still only 2 cm dilated. I want to yell at her, “YOU HAVE TO BE FUCKING KIDDING ME!” but I still have the presence of mind to realise the psychological implications of hearing myself say it out loud. Thanks to Woody, I am still in control, just. Let’s at least hold on to that.
I want to avoid intervention as far as possible, but I also want things to speed up, so I’m tempted by the amniohook. I need help making the decision, though. All I need is for Woody to say, “Let’s do it,” and I’ll be sold.
I can tell he’s wrestling with the decision, but he sees that I’m exasperated and opts for cold logic. His eyes give me the nod and I am instantly relieved that he agrees with me. Our ninety seconds is up, here comes another contraction…
DAD: Rita had been put in a pre-labour room where I could sit and keep her happy (!) with the damp sponge and moral support. Occasionally during the night, I would be sent out to the lobby while Rita was examined. The worst part was not being able to help her or share any of the load. Progress seemed to be slow.
I don’t even know why I’m in this stupid fucking bath tub! It’s the doula’s fault for telling the staff that I do well in water. No I fucking don’t! Doesn’t she remember that we barely used the stupid fucking pointless pool?! Ugh. No… no.. she’s just trying to help me avoid the drugs. Calm down. Maybe it’s Woody’s fault. He’s been doing this with me for the last twenty-seven hours and if he’d given it any fucking thought at all he’d have realised that I need to stand and move around. God! Idiot! No… no… breathe… he’s just trying to help too. I HATE THIS. It’s my fault. I should have said no, but all these IDIOTS around me keep telling me what to do – AND I KEEP DOING IT! FUCK! Whose birth is this anyway?!!
Poor Woody, his face looks like he could cry any second, but he’s still managing to offer words of support. This is hard for him, I can tell, I want this over for him too. Time to say something.
“I can’t do this any more. It’s been over a day and we’re still only half way dilated – and THEN I have to push. I can’t do this for another day. Help me.” Woody is looking back and forth between me and the doula, distraught. He will make them do it. He will save me.
DAD: Rita had felt fantastic as soon as the epidural had taken effect, not feeling anything from the neck up waist down, and would recommend it to anyone.
I’m sitting on the edge of what passes as a “bed”, legs dangling, groaning deliriously. The contraction briefly passes and we position ourselves for the insertion of the spinal catheter. Woody, now the only person I fully trust, is standing in front of me, taking the weight of my arms on his shoulders. Our foreheads are pressed together in hope, in love, in need and in practise to keep me still, lest one accidental twitch should render me paralysed.
It’s done. That wasn’t so bad. I look up and bring my arms back to my lap. Uh? There is a nurse standing where Woody was a second ago. How did I not notice the switcheroo? Oh my god. He’s sitting on a chair, head between his legs, breathing through an oxygen mask.
“What happened?! Are you okay?”
“Oh, he just looked a little pale all of a sudden. He could probably do with something to eat,” the nurse tells me. Oh, jeez, that’s right. All this time, he’s been standing, supporting, fetching, driving, watching helpless as I suffer and go insane. He’s been so focussed on me, he hasn’t had time to eat. My poor soldier. Of course, that will be his story. Nothing do to with the giant needle he just saw, no.
DAD: Around 3pm it was time to try for the birth. Soon, the monitor showed that the baby’s heartbeat had dropped dangerously low. Dr. MacNab (known as Mac the Knife) turned to his colleague, “What do you think?,” to which the reply was, “I’ll go and get my wellies on.”
I can’t believe I’ve been pushing for so long. This is simply hideous. I want her out of me, but I feel like I could split in half if I push any harder. Woody is holding my right knee up by my ear, and the doula the left. This is the greatest indignity I will ever suffer, vagina exposed to the world, and feces peeling from my anus. I turn to the only place where my vision is still in focus: my husband’s face. He is joining the chorus of cheerleaders, lying with every push that we are nearly there. Two hours ago I believed them. Now I feel duped. They are practised at this, but now I see the cracks on Woody’s face, betraying the truth: we are not nearly there. Not at all. It’s all the cue I need when they offer me assistance from the ventouse, “YES! JUST GET HER OUT!”
DAD: It was with apprehension that we looked at each other and said, “See you in a bit,” but Rita put on a brave face as I headed back down to the lobby. Time dragged. My worst fears went around my mind as I stared out the window. Would I have a healthy child or not – would I have a wife or not! And then.. was that a cry? And then another. That was my child! I just sat there staring out of the window, breathing in the deep, slow, deliberate way that people in shock do when they are trying to stop the lump in their throat and the tears in the eyes. I wasn’t very successful.
This had better be the one. Oh, god, I think it is. Yes, definitely. Oh, god, she’s coming out. That’s it, that’s the size of her head. No, wait, a bit more. That must be it. Fuck, this is excruciating. Oh, fuck me, it’s going even wider. And wider. And now wider at the top too?! Really? I think she’s breaking my clitoris! Oh, god, I hope I still have a clitoris.
What’s going on? What the hell was that snipping? Where’s Woody? What was that blubbering noise he just made? Is he crying? Oh, good, that means he can see her!
Ahhh, wow, it’s over. I am empty. Ah, yes. Can I go to sleep now? Wow, someone’s baby is making a racket down the hall. It sounds like it’s in the room.
“Lauren, look at your baby!” pleads the doula. What? A baby? Huh. No, I sleep now… Oh! Right! The baby!
I just have enough strength to lift my head for a second to glimpse the huge, bloody mess the OB is dangling over me. Okay, that’s all I’ve got. My head crashes back down onto the pillowless bed. Woody has disappeared into the throng of medical staff to hold the baby. Good, that means I’m off the hook for a while. Now where’s the laughing gas? Ouch, stitches.
DAD: I walked towards Rita, glancing at the little bundle moving in the plastic cot, and smiling enormously. The baby was beautiful. She had a light covering of hair, fully grown finger nails on purple-prune hands, and deep blue eyes. I think we had been prepared for the possibility that the baby would be ugly as sin, and were both relieved that she wasn’t!
It’s over. I did it. Sweet Jesus, look at the size of that thing. That huge lump just came out of me. I am the Champion of the Universe!
Woody is holding her so that I can see her face, “Do you think she looks like a ‘Scarlett’?” I have no idea and I am too frazzled to give it any serious consideration, so I just nod, the gas pipe still firmly lodged in my mouth.
And now I can see it – our family picture. There is my husband, my love, cradling our baby, already doting on her, fascinated by her every feature, her every move. He is gentle, calm and brave. And I am suddenly moved to cry.
DAD: On Thursday morning I woke up and lay with a smile on my face and tears streaming from my eyes into my hair. I was a father! The whole thing was so weird!