Midnight! There had been a storm that afternoon. The hail was still piled 40cm deep against our north wall. The road between here and Walgett was under water. Out west water lingers for weeks. Godooga, not far from Lightning Ridge is a small settlement made up mainly of Aboriginals and a few miners plus a hospital and a doctor.
This baby wasn’t due for another month but it had decided now was the time. My labour pains started at three minutes apart. We headed to ‘town’. Like many people at ‘the Ridge’ we lived on our claim. We reached the public phone at the edge of town and called the Bush Nurse. Seems funny now but I had seen her the day before and joked that the baby was on its way. We met at the Bush Nurse station.
“Why didn’t you come in sooner?” she asked.
“I came as soon as I had any sign.” I said.
“Well the head is in the birth canal, it isn’t waiting.”
She phoned the doctor who insisted we try to get to the hospital. We started out with me, the Bush Nurse and another nurse we picked up on the way, in the ‘ambulance’. It was 12.50.
I’ll pause here and mention the ambulance was a station wagon. There was a petition going round to get the Bush Nurse a four-wheel drive but we were hurtling trough the night in a Holden. My husband followed behind. The far west is known for its kangaroos and as Murphy’s law rules, out hopped a Big Red right in front of the ambulance. With great skill, the nurse swerved and missed it, slipping off the gravel road and landing in the table-drain beside the road. The hospital was still some 45 ks away.
By this time I was in heavy labour and the nurses had me panting and trying not to push. The ambulance was hopelessly bogged in the black mud. My husband had stopped, and folding the back seat of our station wagon down, helped me, between contractions, with a lot of puffing and panting, to transfer to our car.
The road was dotted with big puddles and as well, there were pigs, kangaroos, foxes, cattle and other animals to avoid. I was squeezing the nurse’s hands and trying anything to stop pushing. Suddenly we came to a patch of tar-sealed road. It was in front of the local mayor’s house, who had the road sealed because his wife hated the red dust getting on her clean washing. It was 1.55am.
In a reflex action I tried to get my hand down to where the baby would soon be and the Bush Nurse said, “Better pull over, she has begun to grunt.” I was unaware of this ‘grunting’, whatever it was. Apparently it is a sign that the baby is coming with or without any pushing.
I was so lucky that this nurse was a qualified midwife as well as a great ‘all rounder’. The car came to a halt as the nurse said to me, “Just relax now and let things happen naturally.”
I gave a big sigh and said, ”I’d kill for a glass of water.” To which both nurses laughed. Within five minutes, under faint torchlight, the baby came with a pop and a wiggle and a little sigh. Oh! that felt so good. All that pressure was gone.
The nurse reached for the delivery kit housed in a small Globite school case. There was a bunny rug! - that’s all – nothing else. The two nurses looked at each other. “Who used this last?” (A rather irrelevant question.) There was nothing to tie or cut the cord with. “OK Dad get going as fast as you can – safely.” It was 2.00am. I had an old-fashioned elastic belt, used to hold sanitary pads, to tie round the cord.
We drove into the hospital gates with the horn blasting. Staff came rushing out with a trolley, expecting to find me in labour. They started whispering and someone rushed back to get something to cut the cord. I had no more contractions and the placenta was still firmly in place. They took the baby in and I started to try to get out of the car.
“No, don’t move!” our nurse yelled at me. “You’re in danger of serious bleeding. Stay still, we will get you out.”
When the doctor arrived about 15 minutes later, I was in a semi-sitting position and feeling fine.
“What?” he said. “It’s a girl” replied the nurse.
He gave me a couple of injections and with a bit of prodding and pushing, in a few minutes held the placenta high in a triumphant gesture. He gave it a spin checking it was intact.
“Okay, you rest now.” he said to me. He went out and pointing to the bush nurses and my husband, in turn said. “it’s your fault, and it’s your fault and it’s your fault. She could have died.”
Just two hours from ‘go to whoa!’ came a baby girl, in the middle of the night in the bush.
“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