Bantering with reporters was never in my birth plan.
Preparing for a home birth for my second child, I kind of drank the KoolAid on the subject of natural birth. Drank the organic herbal tea, perhaps. I bought in hard to the idea that birth is what my body was designed to do; that, left undisturbed, I could birth my baby easily and calmly. Truthfully, I do still believe most of that, though I have become sceptical about the presence of any reserves of calm in my personality. Anyhow, birth was going to be about privacy, family, and home this time around, and the local newspaper was decidedly not going to have any role to play in it. Only all of a sudden, at four in the morning, I was out on the main road wearing only my other half’s t-shirt, naked from the waist down and making noises more commonly associated with the abattoir, while the blue lights of an ambulance bathed the terraces and storefronts in a glow both ethereal and somehow festive. And somehow both privacy and family and home were disappearing as the ambulance doors slammed shut.
At the hospital I was decanted from stretcher to bed and strapped to three monitors. Things beeped. Everything was bright and very hot. The AC unit droned. The gas and air they’d given me in the ambulance made everything weirdly funny and slightly unconvincing. I felt like I was appearing in a musical episode of Casualty. And I was method acting. An obstetrics registrar younger than me, radiating workaday calm, came in, snapping on a pair of gloves, and said “What have we here?” Another contraction hit and I screwed everything past bursting, and let go of self-preservation, and pushed out my baby’s head.
It was 4:40am. It was Christmas.
I was high all morning. When the midwives left us, The Bloke and I played quizzes and joked about the tiny tubes of KY Jelly stashed all over the delivery room. When the nurse came round to ask if we were happy to be in the local paper’s annual roundup of Christmas Day babies, we looked at each other and I think glimpsed for a second in each other’s eyes the disappearance of the last trace of that private, crunchy home birth we’d dreamed of. We said of course. We were in a musical episode of Casualty, after all.
Our local paper faces the same pressures that beset all print media these days, and so is prone to the same weaknesses: white-knuckle editing; a fast-and-loose approach to factual accuracy; a tabloid tendency toward stories about immigration, Islam, and the menace posed to civil society by the local rabidly anti-social swans. A week earlier I’d said on Facebook that it had surpassed itself for sheer incomprehensibility with this story about a local furore over the possible non-existence of a lonely old lady. A friend responded with a link to their recent coverage of public nuisance charges concerning a silent lobster vigil. I mention all this by way of suggesting that appearing in this paper’s illustrious pages is not precisely a life’s dream of mine. But the reporter and photographer, who arrived in the delivery room shortly after my parents and toddler, radiated Dickensian charm. This was their Christmas morning, they were traipsing the barely-lit halls of an institution full of women screaming, and yet they were all smiles. They managed the extraordinary feat of getting The Bird to smile for the camera. They even later phoned me to check they’d got the correct spelling for The Bloke’s unusual name. Yes, they appeared to be trying to stir up some kind of vendetta by suggesting we name our Christmas baby “Noel, like Noel Edmonds.” When I said it was unlikely, something feverish glinted in the reporter’s eye. “Not a fan of Edmonds, then? What’s wrong with him?” I managed to avoid saying anything that could be spun into a LOCAL WOMAN IN TV PERSONALITY SLUR SHOCKER angle, though a hapless new dad in the same feature did get quoted saying “I like him, but not enough to name my kid after him.” As far as I’m aware, a Twitter storm has failed to materialize. The “Christmas babies” story appeared on the paper’s website that afternoon, before I left the hospital (and scooped our own birth announcement to our friends). In our photograph, we look like a happy family. The Bloke is still wearing the button-up shirt he’d put on for work on Christmas Eve morning. The Bird is beaming. I look over-jolly and slightly stoned … like I’m in a musical episode of Casualty.
After the reporter and photographer left, my parents took The Bloke and The Bird home to start Christmas morning, leaving the baby and I to wait for our three sets of observations to be completed. Above the air conditioning’s continuing drone, it was quiet. The last traces of the gas and air sizzled slowly off my brain. The final whole-cast number gave way to the Casualty end credits. Alone in the delivery room I watched his sleeping, Mr-Biff-the-Boxer face and remembered the chill that squeezed my insides that early morning in my calm, private bedroom when the midwife told me he was becoming distressed each time I pushed. And I fingered the reporter’s card, and looked at the family photo they’d taken on my phone, and clung to them instead.