Work the next day was buzzing with plans for the evening, which were getting more grandiose as the day went on. It had graduated from a pub crawl to a club crawl, incorporating lap dancers and a strip joint. Joe looked as if he couldn’t decide whether to rejoice that he’d been let off the leash or run howling back to his fiancée in fear and trembling. He plumped for the former, which meant it was all very much ‘on’, and so after I made a quick trip home for a shower, a piece of toast (to line my stomach) and a kiss and a cuddle with Lau (to line my heart), I set off for the first venue, a pub which was fortuitously down the road and within walking distance.
There were a couple of guys who were happy to be designated drivers, the foolish bastards, so taxis were not required. I had told Lau I would have my phone on at all times, on vibrate as well, in case it was noisy wherever we were and that if she needed anything that Dec couldn’t provide, she should call me and I’d come back. Maybe a little the worse for beer, possibly singing, but I’d be there.
I felt a little thrill as I walked to the Queen’s Head. I hadn’t let my hair down like this for – well I could count it in years. The last time I’d been on a boys’ night was in the early days of Jules, when I’d felt it was important to assert my individuality. It was all I could do to stop myself rubbing my hands together in anticipation.
I’d had a huge wee, which in hindsight was my waters breaking, then I’d hauled myself upstairs to bed, thinking I had a bit of indigestion, hoping that lying down would stop the babies from jumping around on my digestive tract for a bit. The discomfort had continued, though, until it had suddenly spiked in a cramping pain that rippled across my abdomen and took my breath away. My heart rate increased as my fear rose.
I tried to talk myself out of it, telling myself it could be Braxton-Hicks. I left it too long, trying to convince myself, and eventually had to admit to myself that I was in labour, and that it wasn’t going to be too long before something needed to be done about it. I reached over to the bedside table for my phone, just as another clenching spasm shook me. My fingers made contact with the phone, but sent it flying from the table and onto the floor.
I was starting to panic. I slowly positioned myself so I could swing my feet over the edge of the bed, but although I could see the phone, it was a little way away. My stomach was so large, I wasn’t going to be able to bend over and pick it up, so I tried to hook it towards me with my toes, hoping I would be able to get it close enough. I pulled it towards me, until it was right underneath me, but I couldn’t bend down to reach it.
Eventually, after another huge contraction, I hit on the idea of using my feet to dial, thanking the day I chose to ignore Matt’s advice to use a passcode, but cursing the day I ignored his advice to get a cool phone with voice recognition features. It was a painstaking, clumsy process, and took me ages, but eventually I had my contacts list up and managed to scroll down to Matt’s name. I dialled a couple of wrong numbers, including the Madras curry house and MatesRates builders, before finally pressing Matt’s name successfully with my big toe. His phone rang, for quite a time, and then went infuriatingly to voicemail. He must be somewhere really noisy and unable to hear the ringtone, although he’d promised me he’d have it on vibrate as well so he could feel if I called. I went back to the contacts list, and scrolled slowly up with my toe to ‘Dec and Amy (home)’. I pressed call, and heard the ringing tone start, noting with relief and a small amount of pride in my newly discovered toe-dialling abilities, that I hadn’t called the Devon Ramblers Association.
‘Dec, thank God.’
‘No, the bloody babies are coming. Matt’s out.’
‘Oh shit. Holy fuck. I’ll be right there.’
Somehow the amount of swearing made me more aware of Matt not being there, and brought tears to my eyes. Dec disconnected and I sat on the edge of the bed feeling foolish, emotional and afraid. Then I realised Dec was going to be no use at all, as he didn’t have a key and wouldn’t be able to get in.
Several pubs and the first club of the night later, and at least two sheets to the wind, if not three or maybe four, I checked my phone. I’d been checking it on and off all night, and nothing to worry about had appeared on the screen, but just after eleven o’clock, there was a missed call from Lau. Bugger. She hadn’t left a message, so maybe it wasn’t that urgent, probably just wanted to say goodnight or some such shit. I called her anyway. It took a little while for her to answer, and I couldn’t hear that well over the music in the club. I hoped she wasn’t going to tell me she’d got stuck on the loo and was too embarrassed to call Dec. I mean, I’d told her she could, and I would come home, and I would have, but honestly, I was just starting to enjoy myself. Yeah, she just wanted to say goodnight, that’d be it.
I started to try and pull myself up, thinking that maybe I would have to go on all fours and crawl down the stairs to open the door, when the phone rang. Matt. I placed my toe over ‘Accept Call’ and pressed.
I shouted as loud as I could, so my voice from the bed reached the phone on the floor.
‘The babies are coming. Can you come home?’
It took a few seconds for this to filter through the music and the beer, but when Lau’s words finally made it to the thinking part of my brain, I nearly stopped breathing. In all the scenarios I’d imagined, why oh the fuck why had I not imagined her going into labour? It was only three weeks away. It was twins. How fucking stupid was I?
‘Oh shit. Yeah, fuck, Lau, I’ll be right there. Oh fuck it, I’ve had too much to bloody drink, I won’t be able to drive you.’
I might have chanced it on a pint or two, but I’d lost count. It was more than four. A lot more, especially if you count the shots. I was astounded I was even coherent, considering that was nearly as much as I’d had per month for the last five or six months.
‘Dec’s on his way, but he can’t get in, he hasn’t got a key. I’m not sure I can get down the st – aaah. Ohhh. Shiiit.’
Another disabling spasm shook me.
As Lau gasped and swore, I felt panic gripping me. Oh you stupid, stupid arse, Matt Scott. You make all these safety back-up plans for the Summers kid to be around to help if necessary, then your stupid, stupid-arse need for privacy makes you withhold the one thing the Summers kid will need to get into your house to actually be able to help. Aaaaagh. I had to get home, and fast. I needed to sober up, just needed to be there with Lau. Lau just swore. Lau never swore, it must have really bloody hurt, she must be so scared. All of our carefully formulated birth plans, which relied on me not being too pissed to drive, were out of the window, and I was going to have to wing it, while I was too pissed to think straight.
‘Bollocks, fuck, fuck, OK Lau, don’t panic –’
Yeah, Lau, let me do all the panicking, turns out I’m really good at it.
‘– I’ll get one of the guys to drive me. Mike isn’t drinking. I’ll be, like, minutes. Promise. Fucking, fucking, fucking bollocks. I’ll be there as soon as I can.’
I held the phone to my ear as I looked for Mike. The club was fairly busy, but I finally spotted him sitting near the bar, looking like he was rethinking the advisability of being a designated driver.
From downstairs I heard a knock on the front door. I didn’t know what to do, and it panicked me more.
‘Don’t hang up, Matt, please keep talking to me.’
Lau was close to losing it, I could hear it in her voice, and that was truly scary. Lau never lost it, always had a complete handle on any situation.
‘OK, just hang on a minute Lau …’
I needed to sort out getting home. I approached Mike.
I could hear music and voices, and Matt talking to someone, although I couldn’t hear what he was saying, then he came back on the line.
‘Hey Mike, I’m really sorry to ask, you couldn’t take me home, could you? Lau’s gone into labour.’
Mike perked up, and looked like it might be just the sort of excitement a designated driver deserved for his sacrifice.
‘Oh, right, yeah, course. Do you want to go now?’
No, you goon, let’s leave it a few hours so it’s all over by the time I get home.
‘Yeah, that would be great.’
I had learned over the years that people respond better to bitingly sarcastic responses when you don’t say them out loud.
‘Where are you parked?’
‘Lead on, then. Er, quite fast if you can.’
I broke into a run, looking over my shoulder to check he was keeping up. I had no idea where Mike’s car was, but we needed to hurry. Once Mike started running too, I let him overtake me, then I turned my attention back to Lau.
‘OK, Lau, Mike’s bringing me, we’re on our way, we’re legging … it … to the car park … can’t talk … listen to me … panting for a bit …’
I wanted to be reassuring and gentle, but I couldn’t do that and run to the car too. I let Lau have the benefit of my heavy breathing, just so she’d know I was still there. I thought I heard her say something, but missed it under the sound of my gasping. I was also having to concentrate on not falling over due to being wasted. It wasn’t easy to do all of these things at the same time as trying not to scare Lau more than she already was, but we made it to the car without incident and Mike drove us away.
Matt stopped talking, but true to his word, I could hear him breathing heavily. From downstairs, there was more banging on the front door, then I heard Dec shouting through the letterbox.
‘Lau? Are you OK?’
I shouted back as loudly as I could.
‘I can’t get down the stairs. Matt’s on his way.’
‘Wait for Matt.’
‘OK, not going anywhere.’
From my phone, the heavy breathing had lessened, and I heard Matt’s voice.
‘OK, Lau, we’re in the car, just setting off now. OK?’
The fear in Lau’s voice had ramped up a notch. It was the strangest sensation, to know I’d had so much to drink I should be verging on incapacitation, and yet feel so sobered by the need to help Lau. Some sort of cognitive dissonance, I expect.
‘Yeah, on it, Mike’s only got a bloody Micra, though – sorry, Mike.’
Mike muttered something that could have been ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ or could have been ‘bugger off you loser’. Either way, I ignored him as Lau was talking again.
‘Dec’s here, but he can’t get in.’
Lau sounded totally freaked. She was stuck upstairs, about to give birth all on her own. I wondered briefly if I should call an ambulance, have them break the door down, but we’d be there before long, way before any ambulance would, and I could get in, it would be OK. It had to be OK.
‘Yeah, I know, baby, I’ll be there really, really soon. It’ll be fine.’
I was pulling out all the stops, trying to calm her down. I even called her ‘baby’. I never called her anything but ‘Lau’ or ‘gorgeous’, but it seemed like there may be extenuating circumstances, which were a) I needed to do everything in my power to make Lau feel OK, and b) I was pissed out of my skull, and who knew what was likely to come out of my mouth.
I heard the endearment. He hardly ever used them, and it told me how worried he was about me that he had called me ‘baby’. From downstairs, another shout.
‘How’s it going, Lau? I’ve tried ringing, your phone’s busy.’
‘Talking to Matt.’
‘OK, no worries.’
I was confused. Was she going loopy with pain?
‘I was talking to Dec. Through the letterbox.’
Oh. Well at least he was there and doing his best. Come on, Mike, hurry the fuck up, no don’t stop at the bloody red light – oh for fuck’s sake. Then it filtered through what she’d said. Dec would have been trying to call me and couldn’t because I was talking to Lau.
‘Oh. Lau, if we hang up, I can ring him and talk to him.’
I knew she wasn’t going to like it, but I wanted to talk to him, see if there was any way he could get in before I got there.
I swallowed a lump of panic at the thought of being disconnected from Matt.
‘I’ll call right back, promise, but we’re nearly there, aren’t we Mike?’
‘Yep, not far now.’
Whether this was true or not, I had no idea, not having been paying attention to where we were, and Mike took the sensible option of not further rattling the freaked out, pissed, expectant father by either not knowing our ETA, or suggesting it was going to be a long journey. Sensible move.
Lau was trying, she really was, to be brave, and I loved her for it, but I was terrified, so I can only imagine how much more afraid she was than me.
‘I’ll talk to you in a minute. Don’t go anywhere.’
Hilarious much? Meh, best I could do. Pissed and freaked: affects the humour receptors in the brain. Well known scientific phenomenon.
There was a click and the screen on the phone announced ‘call ended’. Downstairs I heard the faint sound of music, which was Dec’s phone, and his voice. I stopped listening as another contraction swept over me, knocking me backwards onto the bed. I might have screamed, it bloody well hurt enough.
I pressed Dec’s name and he answered quickly.
‘Matt, where the fuck are you?’
‘On my way. Sorry mate. Just wondered if there’s any way you can get in? Are any of the windows open or anything?’
‘Not sure. Let’s have a quick recce.’
I heard the sound of footsteps scrunching on the gravel.
‘Nope, nothing I could squeeze through. The downstairs loo’s open, but it’s too small.’
‘Bet you wish you’d let me have a key, now, don’t you.’
This so was not the time for gloating. I would present him with a thousand golden keys in a civic ceremony performed by the King of Uzbekistan if he could think of a way of getting in before I got there, to make sure Lau was OK. I ignored it as irrelevant for now, it so wasn’t the time for scoring points. I looked around me to get my bearings and make an estimate of how far away we were.
‘Dec, can you tell Lau we’ll only be a few minutes? We’re nearly there, can you stay, help me get her to hospital?’
‘No worries, mate, I’m not going anywhere.’
Dec’s voice came through the letterbox again.
‘Lau, Matt’s a few minutes away, he’ll let me in, we’ll get you downstairs and take you straight to the hospital.’
I heard him shout the information to Lau, presumably through the letter box. I disconnected from Dec and called Lau back, to fulfil my promise of not being away from her for too long. But the phone rang and rang, and then went to voicemail. So I tried again, and again, voicemail every time. And now I was really scared. Not just scared in a general ‘we’re having a baby’ panicky kind of way, but in an ‘oh holy shit why isn’t she answering something terrible’s happened’ kind of way, and it nearly stopped my heart and froze me, but I called Dec.
I couldn’t answer him, my breath had gone. I heard my phone ring from the floor, but couldn’t sit back up to answer it. My feet were now dangling from the edge of the bed, nowhere near the phone, and I couldn’t see the screen in any case.
The phone stopped ringing, and went to voicemail. It started ringing again. Matt was going to be panicking; he didn’t know the phone was unreachable. The ringing stopped and started again several times, as I lay panting on the bed looking at the ceiling, feeling helpless and stupid. There was a pause in the ringing, and I heard Dec’s phone go again, then his voice.
‘Lau? Are you OK? Can you hear me?’
I tried to shout as loudly as I could, but lying on my back wasn’t the ideal position to get much volume on my voice.
‘Dec, Lau’s not answering her phone.’
‘No, she’s not answering me, either.’
Oh fuck, she must have passed out, or … all the ‘or’ situations piled up in my imagination and my head felt like it was about to explode.
‘Can you shout her again?’
I heard him call out to her.
‘Can’t hear anything, mate.’
‘Fuck. We’re almost there.’
‘Lau? Hang in there. Matt’s nearly – oh, this must be –’
I heard Dec shout again as Mike pulled the car up outside the house. I jumped out before he had even come to a complete stop, and ran up the path without thanking him or saying goodbye, or even thinking about him again. I pushed past Dec, grabbed my keys out of my pocket, fumbling them into the lock, my hands shaking, opened the front door and ran up the stairs, shouting Lau’s name, more scared than I had ever been in my life. I don’t make deals with non-existent deities, but I would have traded my soul not to be greeted with any of the grim things I was imagining.
I heard a car engine outside, a door slam, footsteps, a key, I breathed a sigh of relief and a silent ‘thank you’ as I heard Matt running up the stairs.
There was terror in his voice, and I would have answered to reassure him if another contraction hadn’t taken my breath away. Instead of answering, I screamed.
Shit, I have never heard a worse sound in my life. It simultaneously stopped my blood in my veins and propelled me up the last few stairs and into the bedroom.
She was lying on her back on the bed, abdomen thrust upwards. Her eyes were open, she was panting and red-faced; sweat had dampened her hair and trickled down her face. She looked at me. She was alive. There was no blood or other gruesomeness. Oh thank you non-existent deities, thank you, thank you, thank you.
I threw myself on to the bed next to her so I could check her over, everywhere. I couldn’t speak, all I could do was whimper and look at Lau; all thoughts had fled as I tried to calm myself down and think straight. Lau spoke first.
Matt burst into the room and launched himself onto the bed next to me. I could smell the beer on him, but he didn’t seem drunk. He checked me over, as I got my breath back. Dec had followed him up and was standing in the doorway. Eventually I could speak.
‘I’m OK. Help me up.’
‘You didn’t answer your phone.’
I sounded like I was complaining, although I was trying for explaining, why I’d been so scared, why I was still shaking from the pounding heartbeats that wouldn’t stop.
‘It’s on the floor. Help me up.’
Still trying to explain. I felt like I needed to tell her. I’d thought I was going to find her in a pool of blood, unconscious or … worse. Couldn’t name the worse that I’d thought she might be. Finding her merely pissed off, while a great relief, was taking a bit of getting my head round.
‘I was having a contraction. It bloody, fucking hurt. Help me up.’
‘Matt, I think you need to help her up …’
Dec was standing in the doorway, and now too many people were talking. I needed to take it in; maybe the beer was meddling with my thinking, maybe the fear was interfering with my lucidity. Lau was alive. She was OK. The adrenaline tsunami receded, but only slightly.
A look of relief was filtering into Matt’s expression as he realised I wasn’t dead. He didn’t seem to be realising much else, though.
‘Shit, Lau, when you didn’t answer, I thought … and then Dec couldn’t hear you any more … and I thought … I was terrified …’
‘Matt, if you don’t fucking well help me up I’m going to have these fucking babies right fucking here on the fucking designer duvet cover.’
God, swearing felt good. I should do it more often, I could really see the appeal. Matt just gaped at me, though, and made no move to do anything at all.
I stared at her with my mouth open in surprise. I’d been trying to explain, and Lau had just sworn at me. She’d said ‘fuck’ four times in one sentence. She never said ‘fuck’. I’d only been trying to explain.
Suddenly, Dec was behind Lau, kneeling behind her and pushing her up by her shoulders.
‘Grab her arms, Matt.’
At last, someone was listening to me. Matt continued to look at me as if I’d grown two heads, but pulled on my arms as Dec pushed me from behind. Between them, they pushed and tugged me into a sitting position.
I continued to stare at Lau, this woman I hardly seemed to know, who had said ‘fuck’ four times in one sentence and who I seemed to be in the shit with somehow, but I did as instructed by Dec and pulled Lau by the arms as Dec pushed from behind. Between us, we pushed and tugged her into a sitting position. As I stepped backwards, there was a loud crack from under my feet. I looked down and saw Lau’s phone, the screen shattered.
Now she had a reason to be pissed off.
He bent down and picked up my phone, which now sported a shattered screen. It was the least of my worries, but it seemed like the last straw for Matt, who had a stricken look on his face.
I picked it up and showed Lau, expecting a bollocking, but she hardly seemed to notice.
‘Lau, I’m so sorry, I didn’t see it, fuck, I’m such a –’
I thought the bollocking was on its way as Lau drew in a breath, but what came out was another inhuman scream. I backed away, taken aback by the intensity of it. Was this normal? Were people supposed to make noises like that when they weren’t being cut in half with a chainsaw?
‘Matt, we need to get going, these are really close together.’
Declan Summers, baby delivering expert, was going all ‘I know this shit’ on me, and I was surprised to find it was helping. He was staying calm, and thinking rationally.
‘Lau, can you stand, or is it an ambulance job?’
‘I can stand, if you help me.’
So Dec took charge, the only one of us who wasn’t either a) suffering from a temporary stress-and-alcohol-related depletion of functioning brain cells or b) about to give birth.
‘OK, then, Matt, you go one side, I’ll go the other, we’ll go as quickly as we can, let us know if you need to stop, to, you know, have a baby, or something.’
He laughed nervously, and took up his position by Lau’s right side. I stood on her left, and we took her arms and helped her to stand, as I hurriedly put the broken phone on the bedside table. Maybe now she’d let me buy her a new one like I’d been trying to do for ages. Maybe that would make her less pissed off with me. Maybe she’d be less pissed off with me if I, oh I don’t know, focus on the matter in hand, Matt. We walked together to the top of the stairs, but we weren’t all going to fit side by side on the way down. I looked at Dec, the newly appointed CEO of Common Sense Incorporated, to tell me what to do.
‘Here, Matt, let me. You go in front, walk down backwards, take her hands.’
I did as I was told, grateful for not having to think.
‘If you see anything that looks like a baby, catch it.’
I quickly glanced down, as if I expected to see a tiny person about to tumble to the floor, then looked back at Dec to see him grinning – the bastard was taking advantage of my inebriation and panic. I shot him an evil look, but he just laughed as he put his arm round Lau’s waist, and clamped her to his side
We made it half way down the stairs before the next contraction hit. As the pain convulsed through Lau, she nearly fell on top of me, and I saw why Dec had positioned us as he had; I’d never have held onto Lau, but his strong arms held her up. All I could do was squeeze Lau’s hands and offer her mental strength as she tried to breathe her way through it.
I almost couldn’t bear the worry and fear in Matt’s eyes, I already had enough for all of us, but we made it down the stairs together and out to the car before the next contraction nearly knocked me off my feet.
Again, Dec held Lau up, and once it had passed, he helped her into my car. Then he held his hand out to me. I wondered, briefly if he wanted to shake hands, and couldn’t work it out. I just looked at him, waiting for him to tell me what he wanted.
Of all the things that made it through the jumbled panic, it was this:
‘You’re not insured.’
In my defence, I loved my car, and Dec wasn’t the most careful of drivers. I know, not much of a defence.
‘Yeah, right, that matters. You’ve had how many pints? We’re really going to argue about this now? I’m not going to crash your bloody car, but you’re not going to bloody drive it. Keys, please.’
In the face of more firm decisiveness, I gave in and handed Dec the keys, getting into the back seat as Dec got into the driver’s seat. I leaned over and put my hand on Lau’s shoulder as she breathed heavily. She turned towards me and gave me a weak smile.
‘You’ll be OK Lau, just a quick trip now, angel.’
She was my angel, although I’d never called her that before. Just seemed like the right time to start with the pet names. Lau held my hand on her shoulder and laid her head against it as Dec started the car and reversed off the drive.
I held the hand on my shoulder and laid my head against it. Matt gripped my shoulder throughout the journey, although whether it was to reassure me, or as a reaction to Dec’s crunching gear changes and jerky braking, I wasn’t sure.
I may have gripped a little tighter every time Dec mangled the gears, which I’m sure he did more than was strictly necessary. We’d timed the route to the hospital, and at this time of night, it should only take twelve minutes. It felt more like twelve hours. Lau had more contractions on the way, and I could see her trying hard not to scream, so she didn’t make Dec crash the car, but failing spectacularly every time. Oh, not that Dec crashed the car, but shit, she was loud. Dec gritted his teeth and manfully didn’t drive into any lamp posts. In a lull, I called the maternity unit to let them know we were on our way.
‘They didn’t sound too bothered.’
‘They don’t do panic, mate, you’ll have to be there bloody hours before anyone looks even slightly interested.’
Dec’s laid back attitude, his aura of calm, his knowledge and experience, produced that same slightly disorienting sensation of flipping about, and him being the older of us, that I often encountered. It definitely helped having someone there who wasn’t wrapped in panic, was offering useful advice, and knew what he was talking about, built on having experienced this before. However, Lau was still in the middle of having our babies, and I wasn’t going to relax now until they had arrived safely, and all heads, fingers and toes were present and correct.
It was only twelve minutes to the hospital, we’d timed it; it was a weekday night, so there wasn’t much traffic around, and we made it in good time.
It felt like several decades passed before we finally arrived at the hospital. Dec stopped the car in the ambulance bay while I jumped out to find a wheelchair. Lau started to say she could walk, but as she patently couldn’t, or at least not without help from a crane, she shut up about it pretty quickly when I flung her a ‘don’t give me that shit’ look, modelled on the same one she usually tossed my way when I was being a particularly stubborn bastard.
I waited with Dec, panting, worrying, contracting. He looked at me and patted my hand.
‘We made it. Fucking hell, I thought we were going to be DIYing it for a minute there, Lau.’
‘Thanks, Dec. You’ve been brilliant.’
‘No worries. You’ll let us know, you know, what happens, won’t you?’
I ran into the building, which seemed devoid of all life and all wheelchairs. Aren’t there usually piles of the bloody things cluttering up corners and getting in the way, but when you need one, can you find one? Can you find anyone to ask? Can you fuck. I dashed about in a manner similar to decapitated poultry, until I spotted someone who looked vaguely medical. I ran up to him.
‘Need a wheelchair.’
I was gasping for breath, sweaty, red-faced and smelt like a brewery, but to his credit, he stopped and looked at me. I don’t know who he was, could have been a porter, or a brain surgeon. Whatever, he had the answer I needed.
‘Just down the corridor, there’s an alcove on the left … see it?’
I looked. ‘No.’
‘It’s got a curtain in front of it.’
I ran off in the direction of the curtain, chucking a ‘cheers’ over my shoulder as I did so. What a bloody stupid place to put wheelchairs, where no one can see them. They were much better when they got in everyone’s way, all piled up; at least you could bloody well see where they were.
I opened the wheelchair up and ran, pushing it, back to the car, where Dec had opened the door and helped Lau to swing her legs out. I reached the car door just as another contraction hit. There was screaming, and we waited for it to subside, because by now there had been so much bloody screaming that it was just a mild inconvenience rather than a reason to rush about like a maniac, then Dec and I helped Lau out of the car, while having a discussion about what to do with said car.
Much as I didn’t really want Dec driving it on his own, if he didn’t take it back, he was going to have to call a taxi. So I reluctantly let him take it home, and we agreed to be in touch tomorrow about it. Shit, tomorrow, when I was going to be a bloody father. Shit.
Lau must have remembered the overnight bag we’d stashed in the boot, only the other day, laughing at ourselves at how ridiculously over-prepared we were being. She held the bag on her lap as I started to push the wheelchair along the corridor; it seemed like an anchor of sense and organisation in the middle of this chaos.
I was suddenly overcome with guilt about not being there when Lau needed me, about being the sole cause of all the panic. If only I hadn’t been such a selfish dick, I’d have been there, we would have been here by now, it would all have happened much more sedately. I stopped the chair and knelt down beside Lau, pushing her sweaty hair back from her forehead, looking into her beautiful eyes.
‘Sorry I was out, Lau. Shit, I was so fucking scared.’
‘Me too.’ She took my hand. ‘Thanks for coming back.’
Oh I so didn’t deserve thanks.
‘I should think so too, you made me miss the stripper.’
‘I’ll strip for you later, if you like, to make up for it.’
I smiled at her.
‘Fuck yeah, Lau, can’t wait. You daft bat. Whoa, this is it, isn’t it.’
‘Yeah, flower, this is it. No going back. Tomorrow, or maybe later today, we’ll be parents.’
‘Holy shit. Sorry, just need to get a few swears out of my system before they come.’
‘Well maybe you’d – oh fucking ow!’
And I wasn’t the only one getting swears out of my system. Lau squeezed my hand so hard I seriously thought she might break a bone, but there was no way I was letting go, as another contraction gripped her. I stroked her hair and kissed her as she breathed through the pain, then we needed to get cracking and find the front desk, to get booked in.
All the bad words coming out of Lau’s mouth were making me feel a bit strange.
‘I can’t get used to you saying ‘fuck’, Lau. I mean, obviously, do what you need to, I’m sure ih’s bloody agony, but it’s just weird.’
‘Get used to it, it feels like there’s plenty more where that came from before the night is over. I suspect I’ll direct some of them at you.’
Plenty of people, Dec included, had warned me that the mildest-mannered women turned into potty-mouthed harridans in the face of the pain of labour and birth.
‘OK. Noted. But for the record, you said ih four times in one sentence back at home. I will be charging it to your account, and using it in my defence for years to come.’
We reached the desk, where I got shirty with the nurse there on account of all the bloody forms we had to fill in. I was trying to keep a lid on it, but I just wanted to scream ‘my wife’s having contractions, like, thirty seconds apart, don’t ask me my fucking religion, I’d believe in green flying teddy bears who live in caves at the bottom of the ocean now if it would make you help Lau‘. But I restrained myself, having learned in my time that in certain situations – one of them being when faced with a nurse who holds the metaphorical key to the figurative door behind which your babies lie – going off on one tends to delay things rather than speed them up.
We reached the desk, where there was the obligatory paperwork to complete, but as another contraction swept over me, and Matt explained how quickly they had been coming, I was whisked down to a delivery room, where I was examined almost immediately and declared nine centimetres dilated. It was always hard to be precise, but it wasn’t going to take much longer, from what I could tell.
Eventually, Lau had another contraction, the nurse started taking us seriously, and she was quickly whisked off to a delivery room, with me in tow and taking fifth or sixth place in the pecking order behind Lau, a couple of doctors, a midwife and some nurses. Actually, I put Lau top of that list, but I think at least the doctors were ahead of her.
The long and short of it seemed to be that they were a bit worried about Lau’s history of high blood pressure, and were thinking about a caesarian, but the babies seemed to be well positioned for a natural birth and they were going to go with that.
I had decided, well before I was in the grip of the excruciating pain that came with giving birth, that unless it was medically necessary, I wasn’t going to have any medication, no epidural, I wanted to experience everything. In light of the excruciating pain, I was rapidly rethinking this, but had left it too late. They gave me gas and air, which helped, and left us alone for a while.
I sat beside her, holding her hand, sweating, worrying, listening to her scream and swear more often than I ever want to again. I talked nonsense, told her I loved her, put my hand on her swollen belly and told the Philpottses I loved them, stroked her hair, fetched ice and wiped her forehead, feeling like none of it was doing any good, and feeling helpless.
I could see Matt felt really guilty for leaving me alone so he could go out, and then having had too much to drink to help me himself. I tried to reassure him, in-between yelling obscenities at him.
‘Don’t beat yourself up, flower, we’re here, it’s all OK.’
‘Why did I have to go out? I should have known.’
‘How could you know? I didn’t have a clue. I thought I had indigestion.’
‘Ha ha, really? You’re supposed to be a bloody nurse.’
‘See? You couldn’t have – oh holy mother of fuck! What have you fucking done to me you bastard?’
The contractions were coming in increasingly more rapid waves, now. After another examination, Lau was told to push. They were still keeping an eye on Lau’s blood pressure, ready to whisk her off to theatre if some arbitrary number was reached, but suddenly, a huge push, and an enormous scream from Lau, ending in, ‘aaaaaaah fuck, oh fuck, oh you fucking, arsing aaaaiiiiiieeeeaaah’ seemed to be getting things seriously moving along.
In the end, Philpotts One made his own mind up. The contractions seemed to join together in a huge assault on my abdomen, overtaking me in one gigantic urge to push down, push out. Matt held my hand and breathed with me; I have no recollection of what I shouted, but it was probably fairly profane. I had never felt pain like it. I had let Beth and Amy fool me with their ‘oh it doesn’t hurt that much’. It actually felt like two people were fighting to rip their way out of my insides. I’d had bad period pains, and everyone – everyone – told me it wouldn’t be much worse. This was worse. MUCH WORSE.
Three more large shouts later, and the nurse announced that head and shoulders were visible. She asked Matt if he wanted to watch, but he shook his head.
We had decided, in the spirit of ‘only do what we can both do’, that as Lau wouldn’t have the same viewing angle, we’d both stay upstairs, as it were. I was feeling decidedly weird, everything seemed to be catching up with me, I was sweating, going hot and cold, and totally freaking out, worried to death that something terrible was going to happen at the last minute and I would be helpless to do anything to prevent it.
It was the right decision; he already looked pale and clammy, and I wasn’t sure how well he was coping, although he was supporting me incredibly well.
Two more huge pushes, a surge of emotion that took me by surprise, and I felt the first baby slip out of me. He was picked up, the cord was cut, he cried, which made me want to hold him forever, they cleaned him up, wrapped him up and gave him to me, as I looked at him through my tears. Oh yeah, he was a boy. Our son. Blimey.
And then suddenly, there he was. My son. He just seemed to slip out, and he was … there. He cried, which made Lau whimper and reach for him, they wiped some of the baby goop off him, wrapped him in a blanket and gave him to Lau, who had tears rolling down her face as she looked at him.
God, he was – I’m supposed to say beautiful, right? To be honest, he was covered in baby crap and was all red and wrinkled, so aesthetically, not the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed, but he was my son, God, he was my son, and for that he was the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed.
‘Fuuucking hell, Lau. Here he is. Oh, damn, I mean, fliiipping heck.’
I was genuinely annoyed with myself for swearing, but Lau didn’t seem to notice. She probably felt like such an old hand now, that she was going to let all sorts of language pass unremarked upon.
He looked genuinely annoyed with himself for swearing. I’d hardly noticed, the air in my immediate vicinity having been bright blue for some time. The nurse coughed apologetically, then spoke.
‘Sorry, Laura, but we need to get going on the next one, love.’
Oh, yes, I was going to have to do this all over again. I suddenly felt exhausted. I wanted to curl up with this tiny bundle and just love him, but now I had to go through all that pain and sweating and shouting once more.
Just for a second, Lau looked like she didn’t think she could do it all again. She was exhausted, but I saw her look at our boy and remember that we still needed our girl.
‘Do you want Dad to hold him, or do you want us to pop him in the incubator for a bit?’
It sounded a bit like they could put him on defrost, and he’d be just fine. No way was he going in some plastic box when he could be in my arms. Lau looked at me, and I couldn’t read what was going on inside her – some kind of battle. Maybe she didn’t want to let go of him.
I looked at Matt. I really wanted Matt to hold my hand, but I didn’t want the baby to be put in a plastic box when he had his dad to cuddle him.
‘Can you hold him, Matt?’
He nodded, tearing up again, and took him from me as I got ready to scream again, feeling the wave of cramping start from within me, as my daughter got ready to be born.
This was the single most important moment of my life so far. I was going to hold my son. I took him from Lau as she revved up the fuckometer and got ready for round two, although I hardly noticed what Lau was up to for several minutes as I gazed down at this new tiny person who was made of bits of me and bits of Lau, all stuck together in the shape of a tiny bundle of perfection.
The next one took about another fifteen minutes to arrive, and then there we were, a baby each in our arms. A son and a daughter. It felt huge, impossibly enormous, that these tiny beings were ours, our children.
We grinned at each other like loonies, until the girl started crying, and set her brother off, and although we hadn’t finally decided on names, making them stop crying seemed more important right now, so Lau fed them, both at the same time, and again I felt a tiny twinge of jealousy, as I would never know what it felt like to feed your child from your own body, but seeing Lau do it was awesome, and I just felt such love, for these three people, the most important people I would ever have in my life.
We hadn’t decided on names, we’d talked about it, but come to the conclusion that until we met them, we wouldn’t know who they were, and so they were just ‘he’ and ‘she’ for now. This was unsatisfactory, and felt wrong, and we needed to choose names as soon as possible, but when she started crying, it seemed like making her feel better was more important than giving her a name, and then her brother cried too, and the nurse suggested I try giving them a feed, and as they both suckled, held in my arms, I felt such an overwhelming surge of love for them that, at that moment, and for all the remaining moments of my life, I would have walked through fire, climbed a mountain, braved a torrent, fought an army, laid down my life for them. I had never known love like it. I would protect these tiny lives with my own and beyond. I looked at Matt, and saw that he felt it too.
Lau looked down at them as if she wanted to imprint their faces directly into her eyes, as if she wasn’t going to see them every day of her life for the foreseeable. At that moment, there was nothing on this earth I wouldn’t have done to make them all feel safe and loved; I’d protect them with my life, and give them whatever they needed. I looked at Lau, and knew that she felt it too, and we have never stopped feeling that way about these two remarkable tiny people.
Not long afterwards, Lau was wheeled into a private room. It was, I think, the same room where I’d met Charlie for the first time, and it seemed appropriate that the place where it had all started was the place where, after a madcap couple of years, it had kind of finished. Here I was, having fulfilled my desire, the thing that had stopped me in my tracks, that I thought at one stage I would never have. A family. Me, Lau, and our children. The four of us.
We cuddled one each, Lau lying in bed, dozing, me just grinning like a crazy person. I couldn’t take my eyes off any of them; the babies were tiny and perfect, and once they’d been fed, they slept, breathing quickly and softly, moving a bit, snuffling. Everything they did was fascinating to me, and I said ‘I can’t believe it’ quite a lot.
It was true, I couldn’t believe it, that these two perfect beings were mine, that it was down to Lau and me to protect them forever, that the universe had given them to us – yeah, I know, my non-belief status was taking a bit of a battering. It just all seemed so … meant to be. No getting away from it. I wasn’t going to examine that in any way, just let it all kind of mooch around in my head until I had the time or the inclination to consider it.
In the meantime, there were a couple of babies who we couldn’t just keep on calling ‘him’ and ‘her’, and Lau and I started giving it some serious consideration.