2

Max Benjamin Randall

autumn

Now and again, almost certainly when unexpected, we get what we want. Somewhat ambitiously, Tuesday was nominated and Tuesday it became. We had two restful nights’ sleep and were ready. Your mother woke around four and at five thirty, I blinked into life and briefly contemplated running down to the gym. Kerry announced simply, “I’ve been contracting for about an hour,” and so began the day.

Alex also had an excellent night and dropping him at child care I thought, the next time we see him, he’ll have a brother. The well wishes from Sarah and Sharon amplify my excitement but also my anxiety. How would our day unfold?

Back home on this fetching autumnal morning, presenting a calm exterior is, as always, a challenge. We begin timing the intervals between contractions. I soon abandon the stopwatch on my phone and resort to my trusty watch. The mid-morning television bleats and this makes me extra eager to get to the hospital. Now the contractions inexplicably- to me at least- began to extend and, seemingly in preparation for the vast effort presently required, your mother dozes.

After waking, we again ring the hospital and finally begin the drive to Flinders Medical Centre. If Hugh Grant and Meg Ryan were unavailable and, instead, we were starring in a rom-com, our ride to the maternity ward would feature zany near accidents with dim-witted garbage trucks, impossibly witty and loud front seat exchanges and our car, belatedly swerving to miss two fat guys in overalls carrying a large sheet of glass across the road.

We arrive at the hospital and leave behind the bright, rushing world. At the Birthing and Assessment Centre we are ushered into Room 2.

The midwife is Sam and she has a fascinating hybrid accent, resulting from being born in Bristol and residing in London, Cornwell, Manchester and various parts of America. Your mother’s contractions intensify and occur more often, dulled by the gas. An excellent epidural accompanied Alex but his labour was still painful beyond masculine conception. However, that you were coming via natural childbirth, I’m assured, makes any previous discomfort akin to trimming one’s fingernails. I shudder to think.

A second midwife, Nikki, comes to help. As labour progresses I vigorously rub your mother’s back and mop her hot brow with a cold flannel. I also try to interpret the glances, nods and assorted looks exchanged by the midwives. Either I can’t read their secret language or nothing untoward is being communicated. Brittany, a midwifery student, also attends and during the now ferocious contractions, we all bellow encouragement as a tuneless choir. I hope I do not sound like Lleyton Hewitt.

Throughout your mother is amazing. Her maternal determination and physical courage are boundless. This final stage of labour pushes past an hour and a half. It is now three thirty. I wonder briefly about Alex. I imagine him at child care playing, sweetly playing, oblivious to how close his brother is. Between contractions I peer through the blinds and see above the grey car park a sky of attractive blue, reminding me of the world beyond our room, spinning dumbly.

And on your mother labours. The ECG machine to which you both are connected maintains its noiseless vigil and I glance at the screen to check your heart rate. Despite its brisk fluttering, it is within a safe range. This comforts me but spectating is difficult. The clock on the wall is either racing urgently or alternately, freezing, motionless and mocking us.

The midwives speak of you progressing beyond the point of no return, the most significant landmark to be overcome. We are at this difficult place for a long time, too long. The fierce pushing continues and with each set of contractions, the awe in which I hold your mother grows. However, a black storm looms on our horizon and, a midwife gives dreadful voice to my fear. “You’ve been pushing really hard for a while now. I’m worried that you might start to fatigue so I’m going to ask the registrar to come in and have a look.” I am anxious that this might mean another Caesarean and the complications of a six week recovery. It would be cruel to have laboured so well, so successfully, for this to now happen.

The doctor comes in and I happily notice she’s wearing crocs. How can it be two years since I observed this at the birth of Alex? There’s something deeply reassuring about these crocs. The comfort they offer the medical staff on their long shifts must be tremendous. I like that this takes priority over any formality of professional appearance and can’t imagine that it would be tolerated in England. The doctor speaks to us and her manner is as relaxed as her footwear. She doesn’t seem alarmed. This helps significantly.

During the next contraction I’m invited to come and see your head, which I’m told has a mat of dark hair. I’m scared to look but do and suddenly, you become real and almost here. Despite everything, there has been an abstract unreality to my afternoon, an uncrossable divide. This nine month voyage is nearly over. We’re about to meet you.

Contrary to my fear, the ominous arrival of the doctor somehow assists us. With a colossal push it finally happens. After hours of externally invisible progress you arrive in a rush, like a slippery bobsledder, like a fast motion sunrise. Everything blurs together in a barely distinguishable flurry. Hysterical laughter, your first yelps, our tears. I cut your umbilical cord as you and mummy hug. It is a swift five hour labour. It is a slow five hour labour. It is just after 4pm.

Everything about you is tearfully perfect. You seem older than a new born, so wonderfully and patiently has your mother grown you. Your limbs and torso are proportioned exquisitely and you are impossibly handsome. What most impresses me is how alert you are. Your stunning eyes look thoughtfully all about the maternity room and seem alive to the possibilities. Yes. This is the way I’d like for you to live your life. Alive to the possibilities. Your arrival is wholly invigorating, a blessing and now, our world is enhanced.

Kerry-ann is then taken to theatre for stitching and the horribly termed manual removal. This allows us some time together. You’re weighed and I’m surprised by your official size. 9 pound 6. Only on Friday the obstetrician, Dr McKendrick, examined you both. I had been told that I’d like her. I do. Following a two hour wait, we walk down the corridor to her consulting room and her first words to your mother are, “How are you girlie?” Her view is that you’d be about 8 pound 12 and whilst her prediction isn’t wildly inaccurate, it shows how inexact much of this is.

How feeble our humanly attempts at controlling this are. How inadequate at comprehending this dazzling intricacy, this metaphysical mystery. Ultimately, we’re like the toddler with a kite on a windy beach. At any moment the string could be tugged away, from our tiny hand, by a pitiless gust.

Then your mother returns and you sleep. After all, you have had an immense day. We elatedly text and ring family and friends. I take some photos. Again, time dashes. Then it’s late and I have to go home.

Tuesdays are probably the least celebrated day of the week but this one, because of you, is extraordinary. Part jokingly, part optimistically, we’d planned for you to arrive today, just prior to Easter and dared to describe the itinerary for how we’d like your birth to transpire. Like the remarkable boy you are, you listened to us and agreed. Your name, indeed, does mean the greatest.

So, welcome to our world Max Benjamin Randall. On behalf of your astonishing mummy, gorgeous brother Alex and I, welcome to the world.

easter

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2

Alex Thomas Randall

crocs

Our situation meant that we heard you before we saw you. It mattered not for we cried instantly and deeply at your little lungs screaming your arrival. In the crowded theatre, it was only your mother and you and I and our universe was complete. As the medical staff rushed you over to a table I looked at you and you were perfect- strong, handsome and magical. Whilst only being mildly aware of it before, at that moment I knew what had been missing from our lives.

When your mother told me she would be induced at lunchtime on that Friday I was transformed- excited, nervous and with an already fizzing brain. Dropped off at the hospital by Poppy and Nanny, we both laughed at the gruff sign hanging above an empty floor space in casualty, “Under no circumstances remove this chair.”  I remember vaguely the last time I was here, when my football career ended after clashing heads at Jet Park about a decade ago.

The plan was for the induction to commence at 7pm but it was nearly 4am when your mother’s waters were broken and then the contractions which would bring you to us began their rhythmic and undeniable movement. As your mother worked selflessly and focussed her love on you, my feelings for her expanded to dimensions I had not previously imagined.

The sun rose brightly on the gum trees outside our window and we continued. There’s a strange, almost surreal pause in your labour after breakfast and I go for a quiet walk; the early light is soft and clear and the day is crisp. Back in our room, the monitor told us of your heart’s urgency and as it accelerated, black thoughts lurked at the periphery of my mind.

Lunchtime approached on that Saturday and a playful wind rushed about the foothills and gullies surrounding the hospital. Your mother remained unshakeably determined and we anticipated the final stage of your labour. As she toiled and toiled, my helplessness and admiration for her were vast. I applied a cool flannel to her exhausted face and silently wished for your speedy delivery. Looking back, I can see that Leonie the midwife tried to divert us from the problem she alone could see developing by talking. How she talked! We could only listen and instantly forget everything about her family and its broad and gnarled tree. You seemed so close and we became hotly anxious.

Suddenly our room was crowded with unfamiliar but furrowed faces. What had seemed a natural progression was, it seemed, being wrenched from us. We were to go to the operating theatre and if a last examination suggested that you were unlikely to emerge, then a Caesarean section would occur. The rush of doctors and midwives is menacing and the irresistibility of their anonymous hurrying scares me.

Your mother’s bed is wheeled away urgently. I’m ordered into scrubs and then sitting like a child on the corridor floor, fumble desperately to put on my blue shoe covers. I can’t remember the last time I was in a medical theatre but I do recall Humphrey B. Bear on a fire truck along the road below, waving, I hoped, up at me. In our operating room I notice the bulky electronic monitors, a sombre black and white clock and procedural posters on the walls and windows. A gentle bonhomie murmurs about the dozen staff and this reassures me.

A nurse teases the anaesthesiologist about being too short to adjust the elastic cord tied to the top of the monitor- the same cord which is presumably holding your mother’s tummy for the Caesarean. The primitiveness of which strikes me but these, I remind myself, are expert professionals who perform these tasks often. A few wear Crocs- gaudy plastic shoes- some Kermit green- and I think that this would probably not occur in an English hospital and, again, am happy for Australia’s isolated informality.

I’m sat down on a chair by your mother’s head. A nurse clears the tangle of electrical cords and cable which feed your progress to the screens behind us. “You’ll be surprised how many dads hit the floor,” she quips. Hoping I’m not one, I resolve to be strong. Still more delays. Some of the staff sit and chat quietly. The epidural is no longer functioning because the protracted ordeal has loosened it and we’re informed that a general anaesthetic is likely. How cruel, I think, that your mother has laboured so long and hard- it’s closing in on a whole day now- to be denied the miracle of your arrival.

It’s a relief when the spinal tap becomes effective and surgery begins. I know that it is almost time for us to meet you. A nurse helpfully told me to take in our camera and that she will let me know when to be ready. Another asks if I’d like to cut your cord. I’m panicked and worry that competing tasks could mean that none are achieved and the moment will not be captured. In this state of agitation, I have a rare moment of clarity and decide what my role should be.

Lisa, the midwifery student, agrees to take the camera and I’m relieved. Our situation meant that we heard you before we saw you. It mattered not for we cried instantly and deeply at your little lungs screaming your arrival. In the crowded theatre, it was only your mother and you and I and our universe was complete. It’s important to me that I symbolically usher you into our family. A nurse hands me some scissors and suggests that umbilical cords are like fresh calamari! I heed her advice and am firm in my action.

Gazing at you, I feel as if I’ve known you forever. It’s astonishing. You are long and lively and new, so amazingly new. You’ve inherited your features from both of us but importantly, you are yourself. I’m thankful that your mother is awake for this and that the blind conspiracies of the last day have dissolved and allowed her this moment of devotion and awe. My senses tingle and collide in previously unknowable ways. We stare and beam at each other and love you.

Dearest Alex, you are here.

kite