2nd February, 8.00am
The delivery suite is so busy we were lucky to get a room. It’s basic, with an old bed and no en suite bathroom – at least we’ve got one and the Second Coming will have no illusions about our austere times. There have been a few traumas in addition to the human traffic jam, which has drawn in several of the embattled midwives. It means Debbie has had to abandon the maternity assessment centre and will now stay with us for the duration to deliver our baby. Understandably, she seems impatient to get on with it and return to her duties. The Duchess, however, wants time to freeze and is no longer keen to have a baby.
2nd February, 8.30am
The Duchess is definitely exercising patient choice. In the time it’s taken to set her up, she’s increased her demand from an epidural to a spinal block, which is what she had before they extracted the Boy Wonder with forceps. If they don’t give her something potent soon, she’ll be demanding a lifetime’s supply of Cosmopolitans and a villa in Tuscany. I tell her they can’t afford luxury narcotics these days but one sharp glance indicates I should stay out of it. Debbie pretends to ignore her but the Duchess is clearly in a lot of pain and I fear this is going to get nasty.
2nd February, 9.30am
I run out of the hospital to move the car before it’s clamped. If we’re giving birth today, the last thing I need is having to deal with bureaucrats and handing over precious cash better spent on baby clothes and beers now I’ll be able to have a drink or three. I haven’t done much exercise lately – pathetically hiding behind the excuse I’m on call and need to stay close to home as much as possible – and I’ve just lost a night’s sleep but I reckon I’ve clipped a few seconds off the St James’s Panicked Dad Rush by the time I return to the ward. After navigating the Fort Knox security yet again – you only buzzed me out 10 minutes ago, surely I don’t need to describe my family tree again? – I head to the room expecting to find clever people in blue gowns injecting paradise into the Duchess’ prize rump. Instead, there’s a cherubic lad from Aberdeen who is apparently training to be a doctor. Scott has been on the ward for a week as part of his rotation but no one has consented to him witnessing a natural birth. Despite the pain, the Duchess has taken pity on him and allowed him to witness our crowning glory. It’s a thoughtful gesture – how’s he ever going to learn, she says to me by way of explanation – and I’m proud of her even more.
2nd February, 11.00am
Time is moving very slowly now but not nearly as much as the lost anaesthetists who have been ‘coming here next’ for an eternity. The Duchess has abandoned her quiet, dignified stoicism for acerbic, potty-mouthed jibes only interrupted – but then exacerbated – by the intense contractions. I’d hate to think what she’d be like without Scott in the room. We’ve discovered that it’s his birthday – just like the Second Coming. I’ve pummelled the poor lad with question after question, just to break the silence and while away the minutes. I know everything about his medical training and he’s delivered a few incredible stats, like: don’t believe the TV hype, only 2% of chest resuscitations bring the person back to life. An amazing fact, although perhaps not quite the optimistic cheer-leading we need right now. Still, the Duchess is quite taken with our resident tyro and has decided that if we have a boy one of the middle names must be Scott. We’ll see but I’m more convinced than ever it’s a girl.
2nd February, 12.30pm
The anaesthetists have plunged top-grade gear into the Duchess and she’s suddenly very tranquil. She closes her eyes and drifts in and out of the room, only occasionally catching my puerile jokes and indiscreet comments (after all of this time, I’ve exhausted my repertoire and I’m now draining the sump). Debbie wants the Second Coming to ‘move down’ a little, so she’s given the Duchess an hour to rest and then it’ll be the Big Push. When the anaesthetists breezed in a little while ago, they didn’t blink when the Duchess screamed for a spinal block and Debbie didn’t reprise her strident resistance. When the elixir starting flowing through her veins, the Duchess noticed that it wasn’t quite as pervasive and numbing as her previous experience but the anaesthetists assured her that it affects people in different ways at different times. I’m suspicious: on the one hand, the modern clinician has to bow to the patient’s demands but I wonder if they’re just pulling a fast one and it’s an epidural? Did Debbie give them a nod and a wink outside and this is a pragmatic ruse? It doesn’t really matter: the Duchess is becalmed and this afternoon I’m going to meet the Second Coming.
2nd February, 1.30pm
And we’re away… Debbie is doing all the talking, which is just as well because Scott and I are typical useless male mutes… Debbie says: ‘Come on, you’re doing really well, one more push and then you can have a rest, keep going, keep going’… Like a million men before me, I’m holding my partner’s hand tightly, although unusually I’m the one in danger of crushing her bones… The Duchess is now riding each contraction with four big pushes… Scott is sheepishly popping down the business end every so often but I’m not sure there’s anything to see yet… Debbie can feel the head and says there’s a good amount of hair… But the baby is in the wrong position: she’s looking up, when she should be to the side so her shoulders can slip out… I’m even more worried now but Debbie seems relaxed amid the injunctions to the Duchess to push longer, harder, stronger… The Duchess is doing really well: controlled, determined and increasingly adept at manipulating her internal muscles to push this baby out… The Second Coming keeps sliding back a little after each contraction, as if she’s trying to climb up a wet slide… Debbie is smiling and Scott is moving back and forth more quickly… The Duchess looks knackered and energised at the same time, it’s hard to explain… Fuck me, I can see the head, the Second Coming is, er, coming… Debbie is gently moving the head round and twisting the body into the proper exit position… The Duchess is screaming with pain and discomfort as the baby sits in the canal, the launch shute… I tell the Duchess how much I love her and compel her to just give it a few more pushes… Debbie has this amazing look of satisfaction on her face and then I watch over the Duchess’ leg as a pink head emerges followed by a white body… Tears stream down my face… The Second Coming is here and it’s a girl.
2nd February, 2.10pm
Debbie rubs our daughter, wraps her in a towel and passes her to me. She’s not making much noise and a frothy blood is seeping from her little, round mouth. I decide this is normal and kiss her on her bloody forehead again and again and again. I’m not very good at comparing babies with other humans but I can see in an instant that she’s the absolute double of her big brother and I tell the Duchess, more tears streaming down my face. Scott looks elated and is repeatedly congratulating me. Debbie is quietly repairing the Duchess, who is rightly proud that this time she pushed out her baby on her own – she gave birth and then some. A Mother Superior figure comes into the room to check we’re all okay. However, Debbie looks in my direction and asks her boss if she agrees the baby is a ‘bit blue’. Mother Superior does agree and the baby is taken off me. I’m a fairly laid-back, sometimes complacent character but I’m right there next to them, demanding answers as they give my daughter oxygen and rub her vigorously to coax her into life. I can’t look at the Duchess. Thoughts and scenarios flood through my mind and the tears flow more quickly. Debbie looks nervous and then the baby cries, screams, roars. Debbie and Mother Superior click back into warm, cheery mode and go about their business. I take the baby over to the Duchess and we quietly rejoice. She looks like a Little Buddha: less the crumpled face, more the serene way she breathes and pouts as she ever so slowly wakes up in this strange, new world. I sit down with her, my legs suddenly like jelly. I love completely the little miracle in my arms and I resolve to do everything I can to give her the best, most nourishing life. I smile at the Duchess, look again at my daughter and picture my son at home. I’m a very lucky man.