I had a show at six o’clock so I rang my friend whose father is an obstetrician. I wanted to know if it meant I had two weeks, two days or two hours to go. They weren’t home so I rang the hospital. I was having contractions four to five minutes apart, but not uncomfortable. It was my second pregnancy and everyone says they’re different.
The mid-wife explained that at 37 weeks you often have cramps at the end of the day. Told me to put my feet up and if it gets bad, take some paracetamol. Then added, if your waters break, ring me back. So that was that. I got a hot water bottle, sat on the couch and watched TV. But I knew I wasn’t going to sleep.
At 10.30, Martin wandered in from the bedroom wanting to know what was happening. Were we doing Plan A? Ring my sister to look after our two year old son and head to the hospital. Or Plan B? Just wait. The contractions weren’t nasty, but maybe we should ring. I stood up. My belly heaved and…woosh! The baby slid into the birth canal. I’m not kidding. I screeched.
Oh my God, my water’s just broke. Ring Rachel. I’ve got to go to the toilet.
Waddling down the hall I heard Martin tell her not to rush. To finish her cup of tea if she wanted! I sat on that toilet expecting relief but straight away realised I didn’t need to go. I needed to deliver a baby. Right here. Right now.
Get the bag. The car. Do something. We’ve got to go!
I hurtled instructions at Martin like spears and gasped five fast, deep breaths. Stop. Stop. I told myself. Hold it together. Another five breaths before I screamed like I was being murdered.
Where’s Rachel? It’s happening!
I bellowed at Martin’s confused face as he appeared round the door. He told me she was on her way but not hurrying. Fortunately Rachel, being my older sister and mother-of-three, said she’d elected to ignore Martin’s advice and had headed straight for her car.
Martin! What are you doing?
He was running back and forth, with bags and pillows and asking if he should change the sheets on our bed so they’d be fresh for Rachel. I couldn’t believe it.
I barked at him to ring the hospital. The same midwife answered. Hearing my screams she said I sounded different. She’d noticed. Told us to come in immediately. Martin grabbed what he thought was my hospital bag but later turned out to be a bag of op-shop clothes. I yelled for him to ring the ambulance.
Holy God! Holy God! Holy God!
I leant over the basin. Sat on the toilet. Leant on the basin. The toilet. The basin. The toilet. Prior to this moment, I’d thought I’d like to experience birth without an epidural. What the hell was I thinking? Why did I think I could do this without pain relief? I could hear Martin hollering at the ambulance officer from his study. Yes, study. We only have a wall-attached, landline. Why? Because Martin’s into reliability over mobility when it comes to phones. I know. I know! So I’m in the bathroom screaming like a mad woman and Martin’s shouting from his office.
How much time between contractions? Can you feel the baby?
Non-stop contractions. The head! I can feel the head!
When Rachel pulled into our driveway she said she’d found the house fully lit with the front door open. Thought we were being considerate. Said she’d arrived all relaxed, with a head full of blissful new baby thoughts. That was until she heard my scream.
Rachel’s face burst into the bathroom as my hands cupped the baby’s head. Her mouth dropped open. It was birth in all its raw and gaping glory and in that second the baby, like Rachel and I, was suspended.
Get off the toilet.
I can’t move.
I knew the next contraction would be it. I screamed at the ceiling and woosh…out it came.
I flopped onto the tiled floor.
Rachel rushed to the birth bowl. She said the baby was like a little boomerang, head up one side, feet up the other but neither touching the water. It was a perfect, little, blue baby. Clamping one hand over the broken umbilical cord, Rachel scooped it up and, with her finger, cleared its airway. She told me later all she could think about were those movies where they hold the child upside-down and slap them. She rubbed its back instead.
Breathe baby, breathe. Breathe baby breathe.
I clung to her words.
Come on little man, come on.
It was another boy?
At last, a shrill scream filled the space.
Martin rushed in with a towel. The ambulance officer had instructed him to wipe the baby’s face and wrap it up. But the towel was like sand-paper. The type you keep to wipe floors on rainy days. Rachel reminded him this was a new born baby. He reappeared with a decent towel and she wrapped it into a cocoon.
So what is it? Girl or boy?
No one knew. No one had checked. Rachel unwrapped. The baby wasn’t blue anymore, but pink.
A healthy, glowing, pink, baby girl.
So beautiful. So brave. So clever.
We all were.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem