baby

HOLLY WAINWRIGHT: A strange man in a leather jacket watched me give birth.

There was a strange man in a leather jacket at the back of the room when I gave birth to my second child. 

I think about it a lot. 

I mean, it's fine, I guess. Dignity and privacy are strangers to you by the time you find yourself mostly naked in front of strangers, pushing out a human. 

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But every now and then, when I picture the day my little boy turned up, I see the view from my bed: My knees, up, a little mucky baby on my chest, midwives on either side, a doctor-y person. 

And this guy, towards the back of the room, in a black leather jacket and dark hair, with his arms crossed. Just staring. 

It's funny how distance from birth changes your view of it. My kids are officially "big" now - eleven and eight - and those desperately emotional, frightening, butterfly-exciting days of baby-baking and birthing are really far behind me. 

But I pick them out of my memories every so often, and hold them in my hands, to remember how it felt, making people. 

It's hard to talk about birth without drawing fire. 

Each one is so different, but with the same key elements - mother, child, mess - and the stakes are so ridiculously high, it's impossible for every individual lived experience not to not to be tainted by comparison, fear, resentment, judgement. 

As long as everyone makes it out of there okay, we say, that's all that matters. 

And of course, in the big picture, that's absolutely true. And yet, birth experiences matter a great deal, research tells us, when it comes to how things unfold in those first days, weeks, months of a child's life. 

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My two births, now far in that rosy rear-view, have been superseded by more than a decade of actual parenting - which is much more about arguing over screen time and smelling other people's farts - but even so, they were pretty "standard". 

My first child came early and at speed. 

We got to the hospital at about 3.30am and she was in my arms by 5.30. Don't be too angry, there had been a lot a labouring at home before that. The pain was otherworldly. And yes, I did poo. People poo when they're pushing, non-parents. It's a thing. 

There were three of us in that hospital room when my daughter arrived and made it four - Me, my partner Brent, and our midwife, Heidi. 

It was the most exciting moment of my life to date. The best thing to have happened in the early hours of the morning since my dancing days in the 90s and certainly one of the scenes I will replay and replay in my final hours on earth. 

Me, and my beautiful boy, hours after he arrived, to quite the audience. 

My second child came late and had to be induced. 

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I can't describe the agony of going from zero - wandering the corridors trying to "get things moving" - to 100 - earth-splitting pain, out-of-body strangeness, complete wildness in every sense of the word - in such a short time, against your body's will.

Let's just say it really, really hurts. 

In her novel 'SW19', writer Zadie Smith describes birth as like "meeting yourself at the end of a dark alley" and I absolutely relate to that. 

And the only other quote I concur with on this topic is the midwife's classic - "the good thing about every contraction is that it's another one closer to the end". 

Anyway, I am not complaining, my babies were healthy and I was well-looked after. I didn't have to live through NICU. I didn't have to see the worried faces and anxious whispered huddles of the concerned health-care professionals that accompany "complications". No. 

My fiercest recollection of the moment that my baby boy arrived is me landing back in my body after being on some scarlet, pain-soaked other plane. 

And as everything came back into focus - "It's a boy!", my partner's ashen face, my baby on me, all pinkish-purple and squirmy - I looked up and saw the man. 

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There weren't only three of us in the room for this birth. There were two midwives and an on-duty obstetrician. Possibly a junior, too. 

It kind of felt like a spectator event, but I had only just noticed. And there he was.

"Who's that?" I manged to hiss to Brent. Who looked up for a second but didn't register. 

The moment of a new life is like that... overwhelming, frantic, love-bombed. 

"Don't know," he said, and bent to smell his little boy's slippery head. In my memories, leather-jacket man smiled and looked encouraging, and left.

Quickly, things moved on. Brent went to take our baby out while the doctor came with the needle and thread. 

I remember that conversation vividly, too. We chatted about his son's asthma as he stitched me back together. 

Clearly one of the skills needed for that gig is an excellent line in distracting small talk. I forgot the man for a while. I got on with mothering. 

Me and my boy, just hours after he arrived to quite the audience. Image: Supplied.

Strange things happen at big moments. And it really, I'll say again, doesn't matter. But who was he? 

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I have a vague recollection of at some point saying or signing that I was okay with trainees attending if it was helpful. 

Perhaps, most likely, that was who he was. 

A rushed training obstetrician or midwife who forgot their scrubs. But what if he wasn't? I like to imagine he was possibly a father who'd stumbled into the wrong room and didn't realise I wasn't what he was meant to be watching until I looked up. 

Or, maybe he's a birth enthusiast. You know, like a bird-watcher, or a train-spotter. Maybe he spends his Sunday mornings slipping from room to room at whatever maternity ward seems chaotic enough to cover him. 

Or maybe, he was a ghost. Never really there at all. A biker-jacketed spectre who walks the corridors, topping up his cosmic energy by witnessing life's beginnings. 

Whatever. 

I think about it a lot.

Feature Image: Supplied.


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