“Is it time yet?!” I asked my wife anxiously, my boots half laced and my hand reaching for the car keys as she suffered through yet another contraction.
We were awaiting the coming of our third child, so you would think I would have known when it was the time to go. This time around was different though. This was our first labour when contractions had begun during the day. It felt strange to be wide awake, switched on and ready for anything. It was a huge change from the bleary-eyed state of being I was in for the birth of our first two children. With them, one boy and one girl, the labour had been long, but I had heard, and learnt that labour is like lightning, never the same twice. So I asked my wife again.
“Is it time? Is it time to go?”
“Ring the hospital,” she suggested. Even in the clutches of contractions she still had the clear headed wisdom that I loved her so much for. “Tell the maternity ward staff that I’m only five minutes apart!!”
Before I could mention a word the nurse put me through to the ward I needed.
“Just come in and we’ll look you over,” the midwife on the other end of the phone casually suggested when I passed on my news.
My wife and I were blessed to have a good friend of ours staying at our home for just this reason, so that we as a couple could rush off to hospital when ever we needed to. Our other two little ones were still quite young (four and three years old) and so it was a great relief that we didn’t need to worry about who would care for them while we were both away.
We were very lucky with the quality of staff and facilities at our local hospital too. We had three choices for birthing suites. The best suite was a delightfully spacious room, with a couch for partners to stretch out on (giving the illusion to first time dads that labour would be a breeze), a stereo system for playing soothing music and other wonderful features useful during any and all labour that goes totally to the birth plan. If you missed out on this deluxe birthing room you settled for second best (no couch and no space), as the third option was an ambulance ride to the nearest capital city 45 minutes away, staff you did not know and a very unfamiliar environment.
Of all the wonderful staff at our local hospital there was one nurse on the maternity ward that had caused us more stress than we needed as new parents at the arrival of our second child. She had told us our daughter had jaundice, when she did not (later we were told it was probably the afternoon sun causing a shadow on the baby’s skin). We were also told by the same midwife that we were not wrapping our baby properly. We were quite satisfied to discover that after the midwife professionally wrapped our tiny Houdini, our baby casually wriggled her way free.
I groaned inwardly as I spoke to the midwife on the other end of the phone, certain that it was that one member of the maternity staff that we so disliked. At the hospital my suspicions were confirmed. The Doppler machine told the midwife that we were too early and that all of our questions and concerns were wasting her time.
Home again almost as quickly as we had left my wife asked me to call the hospital again. Thankfully a new maternity nurse was on duty.
As my wife and I were helped through the chaos and uncertainty of labour my thoughts could not help but go over the last six years of my life.
Twice in the early years of our marriage had we been blessed with expecting a baby, such an unbelievable feeling of excitement, how would the life of a young couple change with a new born in the mix. Twice though the lives we lead, stress, for whatever reason the babies to be were gone before they had a chance to share the joys and fears of life with us.
Immediately all my emotions focused upon my wife’s mourning, not sure of the why both of these babies had been taken from us, but determined that we would have the family we desired. Then came the dramatic day our son was born.
A bleary eyed run to the hospital in the wee hours, restless fits of sleep, then my wife and I with a midwife fresh from college. Our doctor stepped in just at the last moment, my son had his cord wrapped twice around his neck. Our first labour experience was an emergency caesarian.
Our second labour experience was less frantic and more drawn out. I remembered pain, requesting drugs minutes too late and then more pain, worse pain, lots of pain. This was the miraculous arrival of our little girl, the first girl in my family for three generations. I felt proud that day, but awaiting the arrival of child number three I could not help but wonder what could have been? Would we have our pigeon pair? How would this third addition further change our lives? I had such a mixture of emotions flowing through me, from head to heart to stomach and then back again.
All I knew was that I needed to be strong for my wife and for our baby to be. As my mind focused back to the present I was caught up in the continuing chaos of labour.
At close on midnight I drove home from the hospital, eyes drooping and feeling quite bewildered. I cannot remember driving into the drive way, but somehow I made it. Stumbling into the kitchen I discovered our friend was still keeping vigil.
“We have another girl!” I gushed with pride and the last of my remaining energy. My smile was bigger than our house, and I am certain that my eyes sparkled.
“Congratulations,” said our friend with a soft smile. “Now go to bed, we both need our sleep,” she added as she gave me a congratulatory hug.
I don’t remember anything else from that day, but I am sure I checked on the kids soundly asleep and oblivious to the fact they now had a new sister. The sole thing that I do strongly recall is that when my head was finally allowed to hit pillow my final thought for the day was that our little family was no longer twice blessed.
This day we had become three times lucky.
“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