by Hilary Jocelyn
It was April Fools’ Day, and apart from adding a few drops of green food dye to the milk carton, turning it from white to spinach colour, when it splashed out onto our morning cereal, nothing particularly out of the ordinary had happened. Of course, the Low Down ran a piece that made me smile and cringe both at the same time, and maybe there was a laugh or two on the morning radio, as I drove into work that day, but other than that it really looked as if it was going to be a normal kind of Thursday morning.
I worked on the sixth floor of an old building, in a tiny office tucked away in splendid isolation at the very end of a long corridor. Lying on the floors below were various mysterious clinics, a physiotherapy practice, a dentist’s office and several other establishments that lurked deep in its dimly lit passages.
After an hour or two of work, I decided to nip downstairs to the gleamingly greasy canteen, to grab myself a fresh cup of tea, as a mid-Thursday morning treat to myself. To add to the pleasure, and to extend my few moments of leisure, I returned the long way, via the several flights of steep stairs, with my hot beverage wobbling in my hands as I climbed.
As I neared the top, I passed a couple who appeared to be having a bit of an argument, judging by their urgent tones and intense body language. Instead of gawping and watching this unfold, I politely looked the other way as we intersected on the steps, but nonetheless couldn’t help noticing, that the woman was indeed quite gloriously pregnant as she huffed and puffed her way upwards.
I got back to work, and enthused by my tea infusion, jumped onto my to-do list, and began to tackle my endless priority tasks. I lost track of time as I became engrossed in my activities, and so was startled to hear a yell, followed by loud and urgent banging on my door. I opened it to see the man I had spied on the stairs, gasping with stress and turmoil.
“She needed to go to the toilet “, he moaned, pointing to the door opposite that belonged to a tiny closet-sized washroom “She’s locked the door. And now I think the baby’s coming.”
As he spoke, we heard a long moan coming from behind the bathroom door. The poor helpless fellow wrung his hands. He appeared to be in a state of acute distress. “We’ve just been to an appointment at the hospital next door, and as she’s way past her due date, they gave her something to help to bring on the baby” he explained, almost sobbing. “They told us to stay in the building, but she wanted to go for a walk.”
Another long excruciating wail emerged from behind the locked door. Now I knew why. I looked around for help, but there was no one. I gulped shakily. His well-founded anxiety was definitely contagious. “Try and see if she can manage to open the door”, I told him gently, pretending that I was peaceful and collected, “I’ll call for an ambulance.”
I wish I was one of those folks who can remain chill in the face of imminent calamity. But no, my brain was so scrambled that I could hardly think straight. I ran back into my office and called 911, or was it 991, or 999? They said that they would be there soon and told me to try to keep the mother calm, not to mention the panicking father. I hung up, after almost forgetting to tell them where exactly we were located, but in the end did manage to relay these vital pieces of the geographical puzzle to the kind and reassuring voice at the end of the phone. “Oh, and we’re on the 6th floor. Please hurry!” I pleaded as we disconnected abruptly.
Seconds later when I rejoined the drama, across the hallway, the door to the washroom was open and dad was pacing up and down the corridor, with his head in his hands. The-very-shortly to-be mother was sitting on the toilet, crying and howling, and swearing like a trooper. “Fuck, Fuck, Fuck” she cried, in an ever-increasing crescendo, with her young face distorted by pain and fear. I thought back to my own childbearing experiences, and remembered the loving kindness of those who had helped me to deliver my three lusty lunged babies, back in the day. And I felt my own panic subside a notch.
I approached her and crouched down beside her as she sat on her birthing throne. I asked her if she wanted to get down on all fours, or move her position, but she shook her head decisively. There wasn’t much room, and the floor was covered with grungy grimy old tiles that I wouldn’t want to touch, let alone give birth on. I told her my name, and I reached out for her quaking hand. Faking an aura of competent reassurance, I thought of the calming breath of the yoga and meditation practices I have attempted over the years, and decided to model this to her, as she writhed and wailed.
Slowly in. One, Two Three, Four. Slowly out. One, Two, Three, Four.
Unbelievably, she joined in, and we sat there in the luxury of the shabby, and slightly pee-smelling toilet, breathing together in unison. Her partner came in and took her other hand and joined in with the breathing. “Yeah,” he said, “ I forgot, but we learned this in the prenatal classes we went to a few weeks ago”.
The peace lasted a few sacred minutes and then mama began to flail. She let out a blood-curdling scream that was more suited to Halloween than April Fools’ Day and then cried out. “It’s coming!” She began to cry inconsolably in her terror. Now it was Papa bear’s turn to swear dramatically, cursing among other things, the non-arrival of the ambulance. Indeed, it must have been at least ten minutes since I had called, and so far, there was no sign of any imminent action on that front. I took off my sweater and rolled up my sleeves, stroking her arm gently, and talking evenly to her, in an attempt to be way more reassuring than I felt. Inside, I was exploding with volcanic anxiety, and shaking through to my core, but I hid it well, and assumed an air of positive competence.
We helped her to skoosh forward a bit on the toilet until she was perched on the brink of the seat with her legs opened wide, and momentarily she was silent, as if she was collecting all her inner resources, and preparing for the oncoming hurricane. Then her grip on my arm became vice-like, and her nails dug deep into my unprotected flesh. I realized that she was pushing with all her might, as she quivered and groaned, leaning forward. She screamed again, and in the small confines of the toilet, I could almost feel the walls tremble as she arched back, exhausted by her gigantic effort. Suddenly I saw a movement between her legs, and something dark flashed into my view.
“It’s coming,” I whispered to her, trying so hard to keep my voice steady, as the emotion of the moment transformed in a heartbeat from fear, into intense incredulous joy, while I witnessed a new being beginning to come forth into the world.
“I can see the top of the head. Give it another go!”
As I spoke, I heard a kerfuffle behind me, and a man’s booming voice burst into our magical trio. The ambulance crew had finally arrived, just in time for the Grande Finale of the birth, or should I perhaps say, the Baby’s Opening Scene. I let go of her hand, and almost reluctantly, resigned my role as a birth coach, handing over the reins to those who really did know, more or less, what they were doing.
I moved carefully from being cheek to cheek with the toilet seat, into the hallway, where only a few moments and one more momentous push later, a slippery beautiful baby exploded into the bathroom. As I watched rooted to the spot, tears fell silently down my cheeks. They told the story of relief that all was well, of the honour and amazing privilege I had just experienced, and of the mental energy I had just spent, as I witnessed the beginning of this new life.
Later that day, on my way home from work, I dropped by the maternity ward in the hospital next door. I was eagerly greeted by the proud parents, who introduced me to their wee lad, who seemed to be none the worse after his near brush with sewage. I asked them if their bundle of joy had been given a name.
“We decided to call him John” said the father, with love sparkles in his eyes, and a happy grin on his tired face. “We thought it would suit him – given where he was born. And it is April Fools’ Day.”
I laughed and giggled all the way home, where tea with green milk was waiting for me.