Waddling in from the stifling Katanning heat, Imogen felt a welcome sense of relief as the automatic doors sealed behind her.
Flopping her disproportionately large body onto the waiting room couch she basked in the hospital’s air-conditioning. It was reassuring to know that when she next walked through those glass panes, it would be with a much lighter load within her, and a little one in her arms. Sighing, she slipped off her sandals and wiggled her long-suffering toes. If only everyone could feel as calm as she did this day.
“Imo honey, honey, please don’t take this the wrong way…wrong way” Mrs Buttsworth’s grating voice was amplified by the echo on the phone line the evening before, “but have you lost your mind? …lost your mind? I know that most babies are born naturally and without problems, but how do you know yours will fit into that statistic. There’s no point telling me not to worry….”
Calmly placing the receiver onto the window ledge, Imogen had poured herself another cup of tea. As she sipped, she watched the evening’s silver eye sparrows busily flit through the grevillea. They had, of late, become accustomed to receiving onslaughts of hysterical ranting from her mother, and hadn’t failed her yet.
“Imogen...Imogen? I hope your listening to me?” Time to return.
Sighing, the accused had justified for the hundredth time, why she chose the remote maternity wing for the location of the birth. Being the middle of harvest, her husband Mark couldn’t make it to the city, and she wanted him by her side. Dr Everwill had reassured her that the baby seemed positioned correctly, and of average size, and so supported the decision. He was proud to point out that the town had recently acquired an anaesthetist who could administer epidurals, although he only worked days. If a caesarean section was required, she would be flown to the nearest hospital at Narrogin, only half an hour away. There was really nothing to worry about.
Besides, Imogen had her mind set on a natural birth, and was mentally prepared to breathe and work with the pain, as the books instructed. Prior to arriving at the hospital, she had applied her make up and smiled approvingly into the mirror. It was unfortunate that the labour had not yet come on, but an induction was only a minor hiccup. She felt in control and looked forward to the most exciting day of her life.
Fifteen hours later, Mark’s hands lost circulation in the iron grasp of his wife’s sweating palms. Rocking naked on all fours, Imogen screamed in agony as the baby’s large head failed to dislodge, despite hours of pushing. To Imogen the hospital room, Mark’s distress, even the safety of her child seemed surreal. She knew only pain.
Beep, beep beep…. Faster, always faster. The baby’s heartbeat reached an alarming pace, and the nurses on the monitor repeated that foetal distress was increasing. As the staff eyed each other worryingly, and with still no sign of a head, Mark tried desperately to hold it together. Finally, coherence appeared amidst the shrieks of pain
“Goodbye, Mark. I’m dying now, this is it.”
Head reeling, the six-foot-four man of steel finally broke, and his eyes gushed with tears as he shook the doctor by the shoulders.
“Please, for Christ’s sake, do something man!” Although nothing had been said, Mark understood that the flight to Narrogin was now out of the question. There was simply no time. Making the sign of the cross, Dr Everwill mopped his brow as he unwillingly agreed to perform the operation.
The only element missing in this precarious solution was an epidural, which judging from the nurses rolling eyes, meant little hope. They knew Ben, and more importantly, where he could be found on a Friday night.
With trembling hands, Everwill dialled the number of man who spent his life profiting out of other people’s pain. Dr Umbed was now launching into his twelfth tinnie, and he could be heard expertly cracking it open against his bald head among the cheers at the local pubs. Everwill’s pleading tone was desperate, as he explained the seriousness of the current situation, but Mark knew the answer from the frozen stare that appeared on his face as he replaced the receiver.
Violently snatching the phone, Mark pressed redial, and insisted on talking to the man himself. Never having felt so desperate, the farmer was surprised at the calm tone of his own voice when he finally got through.
“Look, Ben, I don’t know how much that next beer means to you but I hope its worth the death of my first born child, and its mother. It’s my decision and I know you’re pissed, but my family needs you now…”
Much to the nurses’ amazement, Mark’s expression changed.
“Thank you, you’re a real decent bloke.” His voice choked with tears.
Bringing the tiny blue-eyed baby boy in for his first feed, the nurses were surprised to notice Imogen’s phone. Placed face down, on a nearby commode chair, it was obvious whoever was calling had not yet disconnected. On the contrary, they seemed to have quite a lot to say.
“It’s Mum,” she smiled. “We’ve just told her the name.”
As the baby hungrily nursed, Mark watched the burnt orange sunset melt into red through the flowing jacaranda trees.
Fortunately, it seemed the child could not have been less unaware of the events preceding his entry into his parent’s world. Belly full, snuggled against his mother’s soft nightgown, he yawned his contentment. Mark marvelled as the silky smooth, miniature hand wrapped tightly around his one calloused finger. Tears, this time of joy, spilled over the baby’s downy hair as the large man cradled his son.
“Happy Birthday, Henry. Happy Birthday.”
“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