Remember my wife telling me she’s pregnant back in November, 2017? The more or less inevitable conclusion of that physiologic process was due one summer day of 2018. While we were getting ready for the new arrival, my sick mind was putting on a bit of a freak show. But that was only to be expected. I didn’t let it affect me or the rest of the family too much. It worked like a charm. Nearly all the way until the time was up, that is.
As the due date passed with nothing happening, my wife was growing a little annoyed. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to the process of bringing our kid to the world, but she couldn’t wait to be done with it all the same (which is rather understandable, impossible as it is for me to imagine her exact mindset at that particular time; I mean, who would truly enjoy lugging such a bodily and mental load around forever?).
My wife’s restlessness led to some behaviour that made my anxiety spike a notch or two above the normal levels at that time. One day she was supposed to give me a lift to a party, but instead of dropping me there for a few hours and going to rest at my parent’s place nearby, she decided to hang around for quite some time, dragging the good twenty kilos of our son up and down the steep slope of a garden where the party was happening. She said having him on her back actually makes the scramble easier since it balances out the bump in the front. She was also quite frank about her hopes that the physical strain would induce the labour at last.
Her efforts were in vain concerning the labour, but she did induce quite a lot of inward panic in me. I was picturing our baby daughter flopping into weeds and getting trampled by the crowds of increasingly wasted people. The fact that two vets and one internal medicine human doctor were among those people and jokingly offered their assistance wasn’t all that reassuring to me. Then again, I had learned to trust my wife’s instincts long ago, so I managed to relax a little as the party progressed.
When the hot afternoon turned into a balmy evening, I was getting a bit too relaxed so my wife packed me up into the car and off we went without any need of setting up an improvised field surgery.
To my wife’s mild dismay, she woke up the next day without any signs of coming labour. Shortly after lunch, however, she started to feel mild contractions. It looked like the outdoor exercise of yesterday did help after all. When I suggested to perhaps visit a professional who would help us to assess the situation, she presently dismissed it, saying it’s too early to freak out about it. So we went to a bowling parlour with her family instead.
By the second game I could tell the contractions were getting heavier. It’s a rare sight to behold my wife sending the ball to the gutter. But despite her minor handicap she still played well enough to beat everyone in her lane. Only when our booking was over and all drinks drunk, she agreed that maybe we should go check things out in the hospital soon.
But first we had to stop by at her family’s place and wait for my parents to bring our son from a trip. She insisted on telling him in person we’re about to go welcome his sister among us. She had a nice warm bath while waiting, and few minutes after they’d come we were ready to go. Easy does it, apparently.
My wife has a knack for picking quiet times for delivering our children into the world. With our son, there was no one else when we came. This time there was another lady, but the nurse said that they’re just “finishing her up” and that a doctor will be with us very soon. In the meantime, my wife went to get some admission tests done and I waited before the thick smoky glass door of the ward.
It’s on the top floor of the hospital and the view is great any side you pick. I stood by a window that overlooks the former Jewish quarter of my wife’s quaint little hometown. I watched the lengthening shadows flooding the crooked streets. Minutes were measured by sharp clicks of the wall-mounted clock that must have been hanging there since the communist times. The distant resinous scent of the forest on the other side of the town was wafting in through the open window. Everything was so quiet and peaceful.
What a day, I thought. No way anything wrong could happen on such a lovely Sunday evening.
Then the door of the ward creaked open and a woman covered in blood head to toe dashed out, snapping at someone on her mobile. We need another surgeon, she said, lowering her voice after she noticed me staring at her with a dozen questions on my quivering lips. And where’s the head obstetrician? she said into the nervous buzz on the other side. Home? she said. Ring him right now. He’d better be here for this, quick-like.
And that was it. Before I could ask anything, she was gone in the staff elevator, the door of the ward slamming locked behind her.
The next five minutes easily beat most of the full-on panic attacks I’d experienced by then. Gone was the pleasantly expectant mood. The forest looming above the town was full of rusty dead trees I’d never noticed before. The romantic shadows in the streets turned into bleak masses of roiling blackness, brimming with gassed ghosts of all the people who never returned to those crumbling houses. My heart was sending shotgun bursts of lava to my extremities and my breath was getting trapped in the sticky tubes of my tense throat.
I was sure my wife and unborn child were dying beyond those frosted glass doors and there was nothing I could do.
I sat down and tried to calm down, but none of the dozen relaxation techniques I know really worked. When someone stooped over me and said I can come in and join my wife in the birthing room, I didn’t really get them. What? I wondered. How come they’re smiling when such terrible things are happening? Could anyone have an even sicker sense of humour than me? Must be a pathologist or some such type, I thought.
Only gradually I realised that the commotion I witnessed was about the other woman who came in before us. Apparently something went wrong while they were finishing her up as they called it (I met her later on, by the way; she was a little pale but both her and the kid were okay).
While I was changing into the hospital johnny, I briefly considered freaking out again. This time it would have been sort of meta-panicking. I was getting anxious about me being so anxious before for no obvious reason while my sole purpose at that very moment was to be there, calm and helpful for the sake of my wife and our kid. Luckily I soon concluded panicking that way would already be too stupid even for me, and went to join my wife in the room at last.
From then on, it was the routine we surprisingly quickly remembered from few years back when our son got born. One of the few notable differences was nicely summed up by the amazing midwife who was helping us: Does it hurt? she asked my wife when the water broke and the contractions got quite palpably torturous. Yeeeah, my wife ground through her teeth. Does it hurt a lot? the seemingly sadistic medical professional asked, grinning. Yeeeeeeeeeah, my wife went. But that’s great! the woman beamed as if immense pain was the greatest gift of nature to humanity. What?! we both said with my wife. Why, the midwife said, that means it will be fast!
She was right. In about ninety minutes our daughter was with us, no complications whatsoever other than me writing her name all over her body instead of just on her thigh like I was supposed to. And as disastrous as it initially threatened to be, the whole experience pushed me a little closer towards sanity again (on top of a rather curious flood of thoughts and emotions that I may or may not cover elsewhere at some stage; for now, I’ll only tease you by saying it had a lot to do with life and love, and also the head of Rutger Hauer coming through the wall in the final Blade Runner confrontation scene).
The feature image is a reproduction of the painting My Birth by Frida Kahlo. It originally comes from the WikiArt web and falls under the fair use copyright policy (with the copyright owned by the Frida Kahlo estate representatives).