Wednesday, 3 October 2012


One October morning, shortly after my return from Elba, I was happily raking over a gravel path in the front garden when I heard a cry for help from the house.
 I rushed in and found Eve in the kitchen holding her corpulent tummy, her face creased with pain.
 'I think I’m in labour.'                          
 'It’s not due for ten days,' I protested.
 'I think I’m going to have it now!'
 Eve had had the choice of either going to hospital or giving birth at home, and she had chosen home because the very helpful visiting District Nurse had said that it was usually better for the mother.
 I got her upstairs to the guest room which I had turned into a delivery clinic, that is I had moved one of the twin beds into a corner and the other centre stage so that the doctor and District Nurse could move around doing whatever they had to do when the child decided to emerge. I had also placed an empty cot with clean linen and cellular blanket in another corner. What I had not done, because there was plenty time, was prepare the various buckets, towels and disinfectants which I had been told would be be necessary.
 I settled Eve in the bed, propped her up against the pillows and felt a surge of panic when she threw off the bedclothes, leaned forward gritting her teeth and inhaled and exhaled deeply as I had seen mothers do in too many films featuring emergency births.
 I rang the doctor who wasn’t there, rang the District Nurse who wasn’t there either and failed to remain calm.
 I had read that it was essential for placentas and umbilical cords to come out after the baby or the mother might haemorrhage. The infant would also have to be held upside down by its feet and slapped so that it cried blue murder.
 Eve grabbed my hand. I might as well have clamped it in a carpenter’s vice and turned the screw, her grip was so fierce.  A painful spasm shook her body and she cried out. This brought little Nicolas from the nursery where he had been temporarily forgotten.
 For a moment he looked at us both and frowned.
 'We’re playing doctors and patients,' I explained.
 Eve tried a brave smile but instead emitted another cry of anguish. 'Ring the doctor again. It’s going to happen any minute.'
 I didn’t argue though I thought she was exaggerating. I reckoned she would have a good few more contractions with pauses in between before the main event. I rang the numbers and this time the District Nurse answered and said she would be with us in ten minutes.
 Back in the labour ward I lied. 'She’s on her way but said it would be quite a few hours yet so....'
 'It’s happening now!' Eve was not in a mood to suffer fools gladly and was gasping for breath.
 I looked on, terrified, and allowed her to stop the blood circulating to my left hand again.
 I had sensibly left the front door open and, after an eternity, heard the District Nurse coming up the stairs. She stuck her head round the door, took one look at Eve, tore off her coat and rolled up her sleeves, Miss No-Nonsense herself, efficient, reliable, a saint.
 'Hot water, but not too hot, and towels, every towel you’ve got, and a bucket. And maybe you could get the little boy away from under my feet.'
 Nicolas had crawled under the bed with a toy bulldozer. I grabbed his leg, pulled him out, carried him to the nursery and shut the door.
 'Mummy’s having a baby. It won’t take long. Just be a good boy and sit in here,'  I begged. Not really understanding but sensing the drama, he did what he was told.
 I got all the towels from the linen cupboard, a bucket from the kitchen, ran up the stairs, ran down again, put the kettle on, ran up again to check on Nicolas, ran down again because the kettle was whistling and, as I started up the stairs again the house was suddenly filled with the piercing  cry of a new human being protesting at being expelled from the safety of the womb.
 'It’s a boy,' the District Nurse said wrapping up the bright pink being in a towel, 'and can you please take that bucket out of here and bury the contents in the garden You can plant a tree on top of it. Placentas are very good for roots.'
 I glanced at Eve who looked like death, exhausted and soaked with perspiration. I glanced at my new son who looked like a severely disorientated dried tomato.
 I grabbed the bucket and tried not to check the contents, but of course I did. Not pleasant. Years ago I had seen the entrails of pigs dumped in front of me at the salami factory, so I wasn’t squeamish, but an after birth is not anything I would recommend anyone to study too closely.
 I got my spade, dug a hole at the bottom of the garden, dropped the placenta into it and covered it over. I then rushed back to be with Eve who was now lying back on the pillows with a contented smile on her face, the little boy resting on her chest.
 'Why did it come so soon? ' I asked the nurse.
 'The doctor miscalculated I expect. He’s not very good at maths.'
 I made all of us a cup of tea, sat down on the spare bed next to the nurse and heard some thumping from the nursery.
 'I think your elder son would like to be let out now,' she said.
 I opened the nursery door and Nicolas looked up at me with a furiously accusing expression.   
 'You’ve got a baby brother,' I said, picking him up.
 'Why?' he asked. It was one of the few words he liked repeating.
 'Because.' I answered. Always a good explanation.
 The District Nurse took the baby from Eve and laid it gently in its cot and tucked it up warmly. I helped her change the sheets and get Eve into a fresh nightdress. She checked that all was well, had to leave but would be back promptly. Mother should rest as much as possible and the baby would have to be fed, but for a while things should be calm.
 I saw her out. The whole business had taken less than an hour and we were now parents of another child, another life, another dependant.
 Before drawing the curtains I made sure the newborn was breathing and studied him for the first time. His eyes were very tightly shut and he looked incredibly knowledgeable, as had Nicolas when newly born, a wise expression that would disappear. I again got the impression that he had come from somewhere very important and knew a great deal more than any of us on earth, but it would all be forgotten and he would shortly just be another baby crying for his feed and messing up nappies. The difference, of course, is that he would be more intelligent than any other infant in the world and loved to death by both Eve and I.
 'Does he look like a Matthew?' Eve asked sleepily.
 We had decided on the name weeks before.
  'I think so....' I said.
  Nicolas looked at him thoughtfully then whispered his opinion. 'Small,' he said.
  'Yes,' I agreed, 'but he’ll grow.'
  And, as mother and newborn drifted into well earned sleep, we went down to the kitchen to eat some quite tasteless fish fingers. 

Mother with baby
Father with son a few years later

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