I couldn’t believe it. All the times my mother had told me about her day-and-a-half labour, which came 10 days later than it should, and there I was, 2 weeks early, experiencing what I could already tell were rather strong contractions, thick warm fluid soaking my trendy, under-the-bump, skinny maternity jeans. I sprang—bounced—into action.
In less than 15 minutes, I had showered (don’t look at me like that, I don’t go out with greasy hair) thrown on a plum-coloured caftan-style maternity dress and some flip-flops, grabbed my pre-packed baby hospital bag (one of the ones you buy, already assembled, and just add a few items if the mood strikes) and rung my best friend.
Oh. My best friend. I suppose it seems unlikely that I’d have one of those, but in fact, I do. His name’s Richard, he’s gay in that sleek, obvious way that only grannies don’t pick up on, and he agreed to be my birthing partner because when I asked, I nearly cried, and as he said, it made me seem almost human—and how could he turn down another human being in need? Richard does have a bit of a socially conscious (in the social conscience sort of way) side, to be fair; I’m almost certain he donates money to Amnesty International, and used to make signs for Pride parades, until his parents told him they really were proud of him in any case, and he was ‘hardly the only gay in the village’ (as his mum put it, rather cheekily). Then she got him a Little Britain shirt, and that was the end of that; I mean, if your elderly, well-to-do parents, who had you somewhat later in life and are a bit behind the times generally, can accept your homosexuality, it’s not that big a deal, is it? No need to march and protest and paint ugly glittery signs.
So now, Richard just indulges his humanitarian urges by giving monthly donations to a few select charities, and being THE nice gay guy of every group he’s in. In spite of his deliriously good looks (tall, blonde, chocolate eyes like a puppy’s) he never seems to find true love with any of his many, many suitors; and so, luckily for me, when I rang him at half-past-eleven that Tuesday morning, it was only his boss he had to make excuses to, and not some horrible possessive lover with a pirate goatee (he likes them with tiny, well-trimmed beards, I don’t know why).
“Richard Ashbrooke,” he answered within 3 rings, in his melodious, well-bred tones. I couldn’t resist the cliché of shouting, “Rich, come quick, the baby’s coming!” and I think he was going to accuse me of making a bad joke, but right at that second, I let out a noise that was half-gasp, half-grunt, all pain.
“Anais, love, I’m on my way. I’ll be at yours within 10 minutes. Have you everything you need?”
“Except an epidural,” I said weakly, still breathless from the contraction. He chuckled, but his heart wasn’t in it—I could hear traffic noises, he was already driving, and, as another contraction slammed into me about 5 minutes later, I was grateful like I’d never been for anything else, at his speedy response. He came through my front door just as it was finishing, took one look at my face, and practically carried me to the car.
“You’re very strong, aren’t you?” I said, a little surprised. He looked down at me, hunched over the very arm that was supporting most of my weight, and instead of having some banter about how often he went to the gym, or how pasty and underfed was so unfashionable, he said simply, “I am, rather. So you just let me take the weight for you, there you go, into the car, now.” He kept up his gentle, soothing comments for most of the drive to the nearest private hospital, not counting the 2 minute call in which he basically said he was bringing in his friend, her waters had broken and she was in a lot of pain, and please could someone be standing by.
Naturally, as I said, it was a private hospital; there was no wait at all, we were met at the door by a very friendly-looking woman who introduced herself as Maya the midwife, and very soon, I was ensconced within a birthing suite, a random, middle-aged obstetrician peering into my nether regions.
“I am Dr. Schweitzer, and I am on call today, and because you are doing this so quickly and splendidly I will look after you until your doctor arrives, and—ooh, you are 8 centimetres, my goodness,” she said, “And contractions less than 7 minutes apart. We must be quick, quick, if we are using the epidural.”
I felt a moment of sheer, blind panic. It could apparently take ages for women to dilate the last couple of centimetres, and then, it could be hours on top of that. I didn’t think I could bear it. Dr. Schweitzer saw, and patted my hand reassuringly.
“There, there, now. The anaesthesiologist will be with you in—look, here he is now—and you’re going to have one more contraction, which will be a bit worse because we are needing you to sit up now for a moment, and in just another few minutes,” she said, keeping her tone level as I grunted in pain and grabbed her hand in a bruising grip, “In just one or two more minutes, there will be no more pain, ja? Just sit very still now, for the epidural.”
I can’t describe to you the amount of pain that they expect you to ‘sit still’ through. I did a horrendous job, shaking, grunting, and in the end, I had 3 contractions like that, sat on the side of the bed, trying to inhale gas and air as I bent double to try and get my spine as straight and defined as they required, before finally, I was told to lie back down, and that I would feel much better soon.
I did. I felt so much better, about 5 minutes after lying back down, that I began to sing songs—not any songs, but songs from musicals, which are a guilty pleasure of mine, and one of the few things Rich and I have in common. Richard looked at Dr. Schweitzer, horrified, as I launched into ‘Money Makes the World Go Around’ in my best German accent, but she laughed.
“It’s the gas and the air, and the relief, you know, of the pain. I enjoy the musical Cabaret myself, don’t worry,” she said, and then, she moved back between my legs, to have a feel of my obliging cervix. Because I, too, was being very obliging, she asked me to sit up a bit more, lean forward a little, and sort of move around in bed. “We will try to speed things up,” she said brightly, with a beaming smile when I began to rock back and forth in time to my own rendition of ‘Maybe This Time.” Unfortunately, that was a poor choice; I got to the line, ‘Everybody loves a winner…’ and burst into loud, slightly aggressive tears.
“It’s true,” I sobbed, tears rolling down my cheeks. “I’m a loser, and nobody loves me.” Attempting to help, the Doc mentioned Richard, at which point I cried louder and shouted at her that he was just my gay best friend. “And if he wasn’t gay, he’d probably leave me anyway, just like everyone else does!”
At which point Richard chimed in, pointing out that no one ever left me, I always did the leaving, to which I replied, “Only because I don’t care about them!” which then led to my realisation that I’m actually not a very nice person (not something I generally care about) and, crying louder, I began repeating the line, “I’m evil, I’m an evil bitch, and my child is the spawn of Satan,” at which point Richard dragged Dr. Schweitzer to the other side of the room to have a quiet word of explanation, thereby prompting me to shout, “See? See? He’s leaving me already, and it’s not even his baby!” at which, in a divine act of cosmic charity, my normal doctor walked in, and said soothingly, ‘Shh, Anais, think of the little Bun. Everything’s going to be fine, now, listen to me. Just lie back for a minute, let me see what’s going on, and then we’ll decide what to do next.”
“You remind me of my da,” I said, suddenly very weary. Dr. Frost looked at me briefly, his patient grey-blue eyes calm and curious, as I mumbled on. “You’re just like Da. He has horses, lots of horses, and he’s there every time one of his mares—he calls them his girls—foals.”
It was true. My own silver-tongued Irishman of a father, who could neither talk about menstruation, nor ovulation, nor even, for the most part, his unborn grandchild, hadn’t missed a foaling on his farm since he’d inherited it from my grandmother. As if I’d been speaking aloud, I carried on, “He moved back to County Fingal, you know. After my gran died, he got the farm, and he moved back. He’s been there since… since… he moved back around the time I started university. 10 years? He’s been there 10 years,” I said, feeling miserable, “And now I’m all alone.” Taking a deep breath, I started to launch back into ‘Maybe This Time’; Richard saved the day.
“We’re off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz!” he fairly shouted, skipping over to my bedside. “You’re not alone, Anais. We hear he is a whiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was. I’m here for you, I’m right here,” taking my hand, and continuing the song. I joined in, and all of a sudden, everything was happening so fast.
Dr. Frost (I’m sure I said, ‘you’re not frosty at all!’ at one point, but I choose not to remember it) sat me up and positioned himself at the end of the bed. Dr. Schweitzer, a happy, expectant look on her face, took my left hand, while Richard kept hold of my right. As Dr. Frost instructed me to begin pushing, I refused to stop singing, and wound up singing a song that basically sounded like this:
“Ugh, ugh. WIZARD. Grunt. Grunt. OZ. Ugh. grunt. Ugh, grunt. EVER A WIZ. Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. I CAN’T! Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. IS ONE BECAUSE. Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. Grunt. BECAUSE…”
Then, out of nowhere, everyone stopped singing, Dr. Frost said, “One more push, that’s a good girl,” Richard and Schweitzer squeezed my hands hard, and the silence was erased—pretty much forever, as I was soon to discover—by the amazingly loud, undeniably enraged sound of a baby crying. Before I knew it, Dr. Frost said reverently, “She’s a girl,” and handed her over to me; and I took that wet, bloody, screaming, smelly thing, and put her as close to my heart as I could, and as easy as that, she stopped crying, and started making positively cute snuffling noises; and I reached up to undo my dress, so she could feed.
Dr. Frost and Richard helped by bringing me a maternity bra and nightgown, wiping myself and the little one down quickly, and changing the sheets. Dr. Schweitzer had to go, she was on call and needed somewhere else. On her way out, she turned to me, face soft, patted me on the shoulder and said, “Well done, she is beautiful,” and I looked up at her and said sincerely, a world of gratitude and emotion radiating from my very core, “I don’t think you’re a Nazi,” which she kindly overlooked; and within a surprisingly short while, the baby had been weighed and tested and had all her basic functions checked, and they handed her over to me… and left us alone.
I wasn’t as scared as I’d assumed I would be—too tired, I expect—but I did feel a bit silly calling her ‘Bun’ now that she was out. My last thought before we both drifted off (in a very unsafe position, with her in the bed next to me, for which I was severely bollocked an hour later when Maya the midwife came to check on us) was that really, she was going to need a name.