I remember the grainy start of a day, the light rotating on the clouds from the bottom-lit night orange to the dirty pink tops and faces, arranged behind the city silhouette somewhere near the origin of Parramatta road: the most primeval of Australian ways, the first of our journeys. Leaving for the hospital at 6:30am. Arriving 10minutes early. The sense of social impropriety strangely powerful, considering.
I remember the fear in Emma’s voice in the room in the Birth Centre. We’re left alone. We have the justification to do anything, but we don’t know what to do. She has a shower. I go to park the car.
I remember the predawn footpaths of Camperdown, the razor topped wall of the Chinese Embassy facing off a childcare centre. Sand spilled across the path from the sandpit. Terrace houses with their arms about each others shoulders, leaning together in sleep. The scarifying gray light.
I remember the deep bath, the french midwife named Emilie ran it but left. It began to overflow. I contemplated flooding the hospital. It sort of felt right. A different midwife came: Heather? Helen? Older, serious. I remember sitting alongside that bath in the dark. The intensely loud ticking of a clock. Dark. Facing me across the bath is Heather/Helen. We don’t make conversation. We sit and occasionally look at each other. Strangers in the most intimate space. Between us is a woman sunk utterly into herself, almost childlike. The pain has drawn down every curtain on her senses. And in a sense she is not there. I am there, the clock reminds me.
Contraction. One Minute. Here we go. You’re going to make it. Breath on my arm, grip my hand. I’ve got you. For one minute she is a fury, an elemental, she rises with the pain, she matches it, she owns it, she drives it before her, she brings the child forward. And then she’s gone again. And I’m sitting alone with strangers in the dark lone waiting clock place.
I remember the hurried ride from the Birth Centre to the Delivery Ward. The baby’s heart rate dropping during contractions. “It’s time to get him out dear.” “You’ve done so well, you just need some help”.
Suddenly there’s a crowded room, bright lights, multiple conversations. A female Asian doctor is at the centre, an Aussie asian, like the kids I work with. Speaking soothingly, explaining. But she’s not the boss, another doctor is hovering at the back somewhere, but she is the silent authority watching. A British anaesthetist. Another midwife, British too. Lots of others, I don’t know what they’re doing. Everyone’s talking at once: soothing, encouraging, explaining, instructing. I exchange a look with Helen/Heather over the row of heads. She’s been shunted to the back of the room. Now we share something: the knowledge that chatter isn’t going to reach into what is happening here.
They decide to suck him out. A Ventouse delivery (I just looked that up… I’ve been calling it a Von Toose. Imagining a crazy German doctor with a plumber’s plunger). The suction cap is attached to the top of his head.
And then he is born.
I remember the weird mushroom cloud on the top of his head from the suction. I thought that mushroom was his head, but then more head kept coming. This child had lived in an imaginary space, only millimetres away from my fingers, pushing back occasionally, but still only potentiality, fiction, of infinite dimensions, impossibly large or small. An unborn child has no dimensions, and then suddenly he does. He is much larger and much smaller than imagined.
I remember realising at that moment that no one else would ever remember this. The doctors don’t remember it, any more than I remember the faces of those I shared a train carriage with this afternoon. Ghostly shadows only hours later, gone irretrievably tomorrow. His coming was background, not event, to their memories. Emma doesn’t remember it, she was it, she couldn’t observe. Nathaniel (he was only named about 10 hrs later, already there are anachronisms) won’t remember, he may imagine it, try to reconstruct it from the stories we tell him. But his birth will be as much imaginary for him as his antenatal existence was for me.
Words matter to me as they didn’t before. When my words fail so, in a small way, does the memory of this beginning.
And as a result… and I’m struggling to express this… I matter to me more than I did before. I am his witness, his story-teller. We have already begun to weave each other out of words (all of us, friends). But I will speak him this beginning.
Is this the progress of life: to know oneself as another… and then Another’s… and another’s father?
He snores unconsciously on my lap while I write to him.