The first contraction happened twenty-four hours ago, so the shortness of breath, exhaustion, back pains, head spins and panic attacks are to be expected, but I will not complain – I just won’t – because it’s pretty clear to me that Tania’s feeling much worse.
The doctor and midwife tell us our baby is facing up instead of down, and that hishead is butting up against Tania’s pubic bone, which is why she’s been dilated only four centimetres for several hours and this labour is so full-on.
I’m insane with worry because the contractions have been coming every four minutes, for so long that I’ve started talking to them from inside my mind, as if they’re the same sadistic monster returning again and again to take its fill of agony.
Please, not again, I say, as it forces Tania to her knees and elbows. Just leave her alone, for Christ’s sake, I think as she shakes against the agony and screams into the pillows. Right at the zenith of its torment, when it draws forth that ten-second nightmarish moan, my mind screams Jarrst . . . Farrk . . . Orrrrf! And I wait and wait as the monster slowly releases Tania into slumped exhaustion and me to the ticking of the baby monitor’s clock – we have three minutes until the next bout.
I’m doing everything I can to stay a little gameshow host-ish, because being upbeat and supportive and encouraging is about all I’m qualified to do here. This is not the first time during this pregnancy that I’ve felt completely useless, but it’s the first time in my life I wished I was a doctor. If I’d just gone to med school and dedicated my life to study, I could have delivered this baby myself hours ago and driven us all home in a red Porsche. But I am what I am. So I take Tania’s hand and smile as if I’ve just asked a member of the audience to come on down!
The anaesthetist waited for a contraction to pass and then trained, with caution and concern, his magical accoutrements on the small of Tania’s back. After a few words and a hand on Tania’s shoulder, he left us like a common man.
He wore blue pants and a blue shirt, just like the rest of the employees in the hospital, and in another building he may have even passed as an inmate in a low-security prison. But I’ll always remember him as the man who enteredthe room standing atop two pure white draught horses, whose clip-clopping hooves sent the message of hope down the halls and into every room of the birthing ward. He was wearing the purple and gold robes of kingly eminence. The dull, off-white walls around us sparkled with the magnificence of his crown. I rubbed the weariness from the muscular buttocks of his steeds and fed them the finest muesli as he honoured us both by slaying the monster I had only been able to wail at. As he took his leave from our lives I fell to one knee and whispered, ‘My Liege.’
Twenty minutes later Tania and I stare at each other as a full four minutes pass without pain.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘I can’t feel anything. You should go eat.’
Soon after, Tania’s eyelids are opening and closing softly. I kiss her gently on the forehead and venture out into the cold Melbourne night to text our parents.
When I get back twenty minutes later, Tania’s propped up watching the Australian Open. She turns to me, smiles and tells me that Lleyton Hewitt is winning, which is pleasingbut it makes this whole experience even more surreal. When I sit on a chair next to the bed she says, ‘The pain is completely gone but I feel the contractions by getting really nauseous.’
‘Well, it won’t matter if you spew here,’ I say reassuringly. ‘It’s a hospital. They’ll just whisk it away.’ We laugh and she tells me to get some sleep while I have the chance.
She wakes me later with, ‘I think I’m going to be sick’, and I leap through my scatter-brained weariness and instinctively grab the only spewing receptacle I can see – the camel-brown plastic bin by the bed – but because of the awkwardness of her prone position I can’t quite manage to get it into an angle that would catch the projectile of her vomit, and I end up wedging the rim between her cheek and the pillow so that her face is actually inside the bin when a nurse comes in.
‘What are you doing?’ the nurse almost screams.
‘She was feeling really sick,’ I say, ‘like she was going to vomit, but she can’t sit up so – I don’t know – I put this bin on her head.’
Our baby boy appears in the world sporting a cone head bruised from his posterior birth. His skin is purple and covered in guck, but it is his withdrawn, Elmer Fudd-ish chin that steals my attention, and even though I was fully aware that a baby was coming today I am still so surprised– as well as knackered and exhausted and traumatised from my role as a bit player in this harrowing twenty-nine hour labour –that my first stuttering words to the nurse are, ‘Will his chin stay like that forever?’
It occurs to me only a second later that saying something so lame may become my greatest irreparable mistake, because our baby isn’t breathing. As the nurses and doctors take him away to work on him in the corner of the room, and as I fight back the desire to knock them down and take over, I look to Tania.
After lasting an ordeal that would have killed Muhammad Ali, Genghis Khan and at least one John Farnham comeback concert, she’s moving her head slowly from side to side, eyes closed, totally at the mercy of yet another doctor, who is trying to stem her relentless haemorrhaging and I can only watch helplessly and hope – with whatever I have left – that our baby will breathe and that my wife will not bleed out and that my lame first words after our baby’s birth will be something trivial and funny to talk about in the years to come, and not one of the last horrible things she hears me say.
As people often do, I begin to imagine the worst possible tragedy. At least a litre of blood has pooled under Tania’s hospital bed and there are no sounds coming from the tiny operating table in the corner of the room and asense of horror is beginning to steal the strength from my legs and my hands are shaking and I am seriously considering that I may be leaving here alone and re-entering the world as a man who does not have everything he wants and does not consider himself to be the luckiest of the luckiest.
The room begins to cool and harden, the doctors and nurses become nothing but strangers – officials – incapable of offering comfort or condolence, and everything is beginning to blur and fade. But just when I am certain that I am going to lose my baby boy and the love of my life, lose everything, and driven to the near side of hysteria, I hear the first tiny squawk of a new lifeand as I hold my breath to listen more closely the doctor managing Tania’s haemorrhage says nonchalantly, ‘There we go,’ and begins removing her bloodied gloves, and then the squawk becomes a siren and a baby is finally placed upon Tania’s chest. When she opens her eyes and looks directly at me, I experience something I’ve never experienced before – complete, authentic relief.
I feel like I’m only a familiar bed and some ‘me time’ away from a total meltdown, but when the nurse asks me if we have a name yet, I manage to remain stoic just long enough to look her in the eye, smile, and say, ‘His name is Archie.’
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‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ ~ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge
A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.