In which I breathe my baby’s breath.

You know how sometimes you are so overcome with the pull of the baby bond you can almost see it stretching between you? And with the drag and pull of the bond drawing your shoulders down, you lean over their sleeping face and you stare at the dark-sweet fringe of their closed eyelashes and perfect bow of their brow above their eyes and the perfect curve of their nose in profile above the pillow and

you breathe

their breath.
Tonight, only a few days late, I thought I’d follow Pea Soup’s excellent example and write about my first baby’s birthday, eight years on.
I had known, right from the start, that she was really due on the 1st of April. But there was another way of calculating the nine months that landed on 31st March instead, so that was what I publicised and left the rest to fate.
But I knew, in the way that all first time mothers know, she would really be born on the right date.
On the 29th of March, I was lying on the lounge watching TV, the Prof was working over at the dining table, and I realised that the Braxton Hicks I’d been having for weeks were a lot stronger. And, because I didn’t wear a watch, I asked the Prof to note the time.
After half an hour we knew there was a big tightening every four minutes.
I started to get excited.
Five hours later, at 2am, I was still excited.
They were still coming every four minutes.
But they didn’t hurt. Not one little bit.
Much as I tried to sleep, it just wasn’t happening.
The next morning, still tightening every four minutes, I cleaned the bathroom. Not because I felt any overwhelming urge to clean, but because maybe cleaning the bathroom would bring on an overwhelming urge to clean and that would mean: nesting!
Sadly, my aversion to cleaning withstood my desire to give birth, but the four minute tightenings continued.
Except, sometimes now they were three and a half minutes apart!
I power walked the dog (who had only given birth herself three weeks before but was desperate to get away from the pups) around the harness racing track. And around, and around.
That definitely pushed things to the three minute mark. We were definitely getting somewhere now.
The Prof came home from work and we tried the other method. Vigorously. I lost count for a while. But when the world righted itself, we were still somewhat disappointedly sitting at three minutes.
But still, such regularity deserves some attention, no? So I called the hospital and they told me to come in.
We were living 40 minutes from the hospital. On the way there I had extra tightenings every time the Prof hit a bump.
We booked in. The crusty midwife let me know how extremely unlikely it was that I was actually in labour, put us in a room, strapped on a belly monitor, and left us alone for the length of a bible.
When she came back there was a ream or so of printed out, perfectly timed peaks on the chart.
“Oh,” she said, “You really are in labour. But it’s too soon!”
What a credit to the profession she was.
Turns out there was another woman booked into the hospital, with the same first and last names as me, due two months later. Bitch.
While officially in labour now, I was not sufficiently labouring to clog up a delivery bed.
They sent us away, I kid you not, to have a curry.
The curry actually worked, but only while I was eating it. So we went home and I spent another night watching the digital clock numbers tick over and quietly thrilling every time my body locked up on exactly the two minute mark.
Plus, they were just a bit uncomfortable, but not quite breathtaking.
Later the next day my OB met us back at the hospital and, after checking another ream of perfect peaks (these ones closer together) he hit me with pitocin and took a wacking great crochet hook to my innards. I barely felt the water. I was too excited to take most of it in.
It was the 31st of March and my baby was D.U.E.
“Right,” said Glen the OB, “Stay there for half an hour, then get up and walk around for a bit. don’t be surprised if it takes a while. I’ll be back to check on you later.”
My mother arrived.
I never left the bed.
Before the half hour were up I was having 90 second contractions, 60 seconds apart.
Mind-blowing, gut-ripping, lung-sapping contractions. Completely beyond my control.
I found the letter “A” on a plastic WASTE bag at the far side of the room. As long as no one got between me and the A for each 90 second stint, I could just about get through.
This went on for some time.
The Prof’s hand went red, then blue. I didn’t let it go until the epidural arrived eight hours later.
I was checked regularly, and initially was moving along just fine: 3 centimetres, 4 centimetres, 5 centimetres, 5.5 centimetres… 4.5 centimetres – the midwife must have seen my shock. “Don’t worry, it’s not an exact measurement, the last midwife’s fingers were probably smaller than mine…”
Yeah. Right.
Eventually, the OB returned from his family barbecue, red wine visible on his shirt behind the plastic apron.
“How long has it been since you slept?” he asked.
This was Tuesday night and um, actually not since Sunday.
A C-section was scheduled. I saw no need to argue.
The Prof kitted up in blue gowns and primed the camera. Mum was banished. The anaesthetist, already my favourite person post-epidural, returned with the top-up I’d been craving. A new and nicer midwife arrived with a blonde plait so long that it hung from her cap and down below her knees at the back.
There was a screen, and a tug, and Glen said, “Is the camera ready, Dad?”
And they said “You have a little girl!”
And they brought her over to me.
And I cried and I said:
“But she’s beautiful, I didn’t know she’d be beautiful.”
It was Wednesday, 1st April 1998.
And I held her close.
And I breathed
her breath.
republished in plum for Badger,
whose retinas bled when the orange went yellow
on her screen,
and for Kim whose Ogga boy was also due on April 1
and for whom colour – the right colour –
is so wonderfully important.