He proposed a few weeks later. I knew he would, but I’m glad to say I didn’t actually predict the date. We’d been on a couple of very romantic dates or dinners at home, and each time I thought, this is it. But no, he was setting me up. I was caught off guard one evening after work when he’d call a dinner in town, just for the fun of it, and afterward popped the question. It was great, I didn’t want any fancy theatrics or overblown stagecraft. I was so into him, I wanted it small and intimate and just the two of us.
He cried when I said yes, the soppy Italian hunk, but, tapeless, I made it up to him (and me) later that night at home, and we called in sick the next morning.
About a week after I was off my food, throwing up, tired and at times dizzy. I went to my GP who took a urine test and announced, in Biblical tones, ‘You are with child.’
I’m surprised I didn’t bruise my head on the ceiling when I jumped, I was so happy. I rang Ricardo straight away and he screamed with delight, in a manly scream sort of way. He told me he loved me and this was the high point in his life etc etc and I felt loved and important and the centre of the vortex of heaven.
We held a civil ceremony with just a few of our closest friends and family present, the aim being to have a larger party in a year’s time when the whole new baby thing might have calmed down a bit. Ricardo’s mother showered us with foods and gifts and advice and love. We didn’t have to cook for months.
I was an embarrassingly typical nesting mother – pram, cot, cradle and clothes shopping, nursery preparing, preschool checking etc etc. When Ricardo wasn’t cooing over me or making me dry toast with wilted spinach and tea (yeah, I know, right? Who was inside me, Popeye?), he spent his time repairing the apartment, searching for larger places to live, looking at fridges and cars and larger TV’s – all the things the man needs to care for his future family.
We submitted ourselves to the birthing classes, four weeks of sessions with a bunch of other wide eyed hopefuls. None of whom had to contend with the major concern in the birthing room: tape on or off?
We studied birthing videos until we were blind with the gore of it. I thought, If it’s so hard coming out, what are my chances of my whole torso splitting apart? That’d be weird, lying with two halves on the bed, a new born mewling in between. Perhaps I should tape up my whole stomach. That’d be weirder, turning up to give birth wrapped in duct tape from boobs to belly.
We decided on no tape. Nothing in what we’d seen said the risk was high. There was loads of slow pacing and squatting and screaming and groaning (which frankly scared the willies out of me) but no sudden jerks or wild gestures that might send a limb shooting off in the wrong direction.
So, prepared as no one ever is for a birth, we entered the birthing room with bags of useless materials – CD player, extra clothes, thermos of coffee, laptop, a hip flask of whiskey and five containers of Mama’s best pasta – and settled in for the incoming storm.
My god, it’s horrid, but somehow extremely empowering. I was groaning and squatting, the midwife had a stop watch out timing contractions while Ricardo was pacing the room like a wounded bull, occasionally offering me a drink or a bath or a towel or, the last thing I wanted, a kiss. I told him to shut up and give me his hand so I could crush it with the force of a thousand contractions, and my waters broke across the starched sheets.
There’s that unceremonious moment when the midwife flings three fingers up your vag and announces how widespread you are, as if the little tucker inside is levering you open with a crowbar to get at the treasure on the outside. Then the midwife declares, ‘Seven centimetres, almost there.’ At least with a pap smear you get a warm up period, talking to the doctor about the weather and how awkward all this can be. Not in birth though. Now the mother is a just a host, no matter how much care the staff and crushed hand husband say they care. I sucked on the gas, the ball rattling like a lizard in a drainpipe (I have no idea why that image came to me at that time, but it did).
More fingers. ‘Nine centimetres.’ More groans, arched back, the thunderous jolts wracking my body. I thought I’d shatter with the force of it, and envisaged Ricardo apologetically sweeping me up with a dust pan and brush in front of the hospital staff, then working late into the night piecing me back together.
At ten centimetres the midwife called time. I was a sweaty mess on the sheets, desperate for some rest when she said, ‘Now we push. Push down as each contraction rises, use it, breathe in, suck on the gas and push! You’ve just got to get the head out, and then the rest follows easily.’
Luckily, Ricardo had taped up, as I clawed his shoulders and pushed. And pushed and growled and pushed more and sucked on the gas, and crammed my innards down to the floor, forcing the little parasite to exit me.
Things got a bit stuck. The obstetrician was called, a wonderful woman called Dr Patsy Lunge. She had the good grace not to ask me how I was, but took one look between my shaking thighs and said, ‘Time to get baby out.’ She requested forceps from the staff who hovered about the midwife and a couple of nurses.
I felt the cold metal amidst the heat and strain of everything else. Patsy was bent over, concentrating. ‘Come on, baby,’ she was saying, and then she screamed. The nurses followed with guttural howl, one fainted and the midwife raced genuflecting from the room.
Patsy stood stoney faced in the middle of the room holding up the forceps, between which was squeezed the tiny head of our little baby.
Ricardo, bless him, sprang into action and ever so gently took the head from the doctor while I pushed the shoulders thorough. Ricardo caught the body and, with piercingly beautiful delicacy reattached the head to the torso. Then his wide grin appeared and he declared, ‘It’s a girl!’
And then she cried.
A wave of bliss swamped through me. He laid our daughter on my breasts and I hugged her as tightly as softness would allow. I told her hello, I said welcome, I kissed her, I offered her some breast, I cried. Ricardo was in floods of tears the sweet man, and I reached up to his hand which was resting on my shoulder. The moment sparkled. The pain was like a past storm, distant and eclipsed by the light that emanated from the tiny creature cradled in my arms.
Ricardo kissed me lightly on my scalp, then whispered, “Hello my little Collapser.’
Never was I so grateful for Ricardo’s gentleness than at that time, never was I more in love with him or more besotted with the child we had joined to the world.
I have no memory of what happened the rest of that day. The cutting of the cord, the recovery of the nurses, the mental state of Patsy and her midwifery team. I heard sometime later that they were reminded we were Collapsers, so this kind of thing can happen, and were given counselling too, as despite it being on the records, it can be an enormous shock to a regular Rigid to see a body part fly off when you tug it.
But all that was behind me. What was important now was I had a family; a husband, me and an exquisitely enchanting baby daughter. I had finally got it together.
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Photo by Hessam Nebavi via Unsplash