‘Just so you know’, I texted Timothy on Sunday afternoon, ‘I am definitely baking a cake in swimming hotpants right now. I am a vision.’
Sunday was a good day. But not an especially good day to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. It was hot, and bright, and busy. After three hours of church and an afternoon of preparing for a workshop activity that evening, even wearing a skirt had become too much to contemplate. I switched to the swimming hotpants, did my printing and preparing and mixing of cake like a heffalump in turquoise lycra, and felt pretty good about it, since you ask.
Our activity went well, mostly because I remembered to change out of the hotpants before we left, and we arrived home late and tired and happy. We were in bed before 10.30pm, and unconscious not long after that.
‘This is my first properly empty week before D-day’, I remember thinking before I dropped off. ‘Shall I nest? Maybe I’ll make some frozen meals’.
Well, I can only conclude that nesting is so entirely out of character that the universe stepped in to avoid such silliness. At midnight I was awake again, with stomach ache. I didn’t think anything of it. We’d never settled on a proper nickname for this baby-to-be (Tim had tried TJ II, with not much success), but I didn’t call him the Bowel-Treader for nothing. I went to the loo, came back, and had almost dropped off again when the pain came back. And then back again. And then back again after that. After half an hour, I got a magazine, retired to the bathroom and started timing the spaces between them. They were fairly regular, but not clockwork, and I didn’t want to wake Timothy – who had, frankly, a rat’s behind of a week ahead of him at work – if all I had was boomerang diarrhoea.
At 2am they were still there, and I hadn’t managed to take in much about the situation in Egypt (in hindsight, I should probably have chosen a different magazine). So I went back into the bedroom and woke Tim.
‘Soooo’, I started, feeling ridiculous, ‘I think I may be having contractions’.
‘Contractions. I’m having them’.
There was a pause, while his rat’s behind of a week ran fairly obviously over his face.
‘Are you sure?’
I stopped. Suddenly I was horribly sure. ‘Yep. I’ll call the hospital’. And then I added, while the phone rang, ‘I’m frightened’.
Because I was. Your body and mind are helpfully in cahoots, after giving birth, and all I remembered from Henry were a few vivid flashes. The rest of it was coming back to me now, in pieces. In most of the pieces I was making a lot of noise.
The midwife at the other end of the phone was lovely. We were told to wait until the contractions were stronger and more regular, and in the meantime keep moving, get the bags ready, have a soothing bath. I got in the bath, as directed. We tried to have a discussion about where to send Henry, but I was finding it hard to talk. I breathed in time on my hands and knees, and made a valiant effort to be interested in the location of Henry’s vests. I didn’t really cotton on that things weren’t going to plan, however, until fifteen minutes later, when I started wanting to push.
‘PUSH?’ yelled the functioning part of my brain, as soon as I’d verbalised that bit in my head. ‘Push what? PUSH WHAT? GET OUT OF THE BATH, YOU IDIOT’.
I did. I crawled into the bedroom to the edge of the bed, got a nightdress on over my head – stupid fiddly tags – and told Tim to call the hospital again. I remember thinking how blessedly calm he sounded. I am alright, I thought. I am wearing half a nightdress and kneeling on half a towel with my head underneath a flipping baby crib, but Tim is here, and I am alright.
‘She says that if you’re feeling pressure, we need to come in now. If you want to push, I need to call 999 for an ambulance’.
My waters broke. He called 999. Somehow he remembered to take the stairgate off the top of the stairs. Neither of us remembered that I was still crammed half underneath a baby crib, over a cream carpet. And then there were voices behind me, and one of them – heaven bless that woman from eternity to eternity – was offering me gas and air.
‘Can I push?’ I sobbed, ‘I need to. Please, can I?’
‘My love’, came The Voice, ‘if you need to, push as much as you want’.
So I did. Ten minutes after the voices arrived, out he came. And he cried, and I cried, and managed to back out from the corner to sit and hold him. A cheerful bearded face came into view for the first time.
‘Hello there’, it said. ‘Well done. You know, Gareth is a wonderful name for boys, these days’.
At first I am too numbed to feel anything but relief: blissful and dizzying. We arrive home less than a day after it all started, and it feels like a bizarre dream, except that now there’s another baby. The early hours of the morning find me alone with this tiny person, fascinated with his face and feet and hands. He is entirely his own self. And I feel a wave of fierce, unstoppable tenderness. Oh, I know this, I know it: it is how I feel about my first, adored boy, but this time it’s for my second.
Come in, I tell it, gently. Come on in.