On our overcrowded planet, a new baby is born every three or four days. This happens at the end of pregnancy, which takes nine months – it used to be six, but it takes longer now, what with women having to juggle careers and what not. Despite this, watching a little baby grow in a lady’s stomach is fascinating, although experiences of pregnancy differ from person to person. It had almost no effect on me, for example, whereas my current girlfriend craved full English breakfasts on demand throughout, fifteen years of vegetarianism going out of the window at a work function when she found herself falling upon spare ribs ‘like a tyrannosaurus rex’. I developed a craving for not having to cook sausages and bacon and eggs all the time but stuck to my task without complaint, and the dog developed a craving for an endless supply of uneaten bacon rind and pork fat leftovers. Thus, we shared the burden of pregnancy equally.
Around month seven, we attended ante natal classes to prepare for parenthood. In case you are unfamiliar, these involve sitting in an unheated primary school classroom, eating own-brand biscuits from Asda and, in my case, losing quiz points for incorrectly listing the symptoms of small pox, a disease that has not occurred anywhere in the world for forty years. There was a film about neural development in infants which was interesting, and some stuff about nappies. At the time, I was reading 900 Days, Harrison Salisbury’s account of the siege of Leningrad, in which Hitler attempted to starve a modern industrial city to death. Even amid disease, emaciation and horror beyond description, babies were still being born, the result of people enjoying a last bit of slap and tickle among the ruins before succumbing to bombardment or starvation. The babies, hidden from cannibal gangs who roamed the city scoffing the weak, survived on a diet of frozen horse blood and snow, and while I’m sure they weren’t the chubbiest of cherubs, it shows how robust newborns are. None of this was covered in our ante natal classes.
By now, an increasing number of medical staff were jabbing, prodding and peering up my current girlfriend, who had swelled to over three hundred times her normal size. This was all on private healthcare, as my old market traders’ insurance unexpectedly covered pregnancy and childbirth. It is odd, yes – Runton is deeply Masonic and I sometimes wonder if I may have become a Freemason at some point, but am so discrete that I haven’t told myself. For the record, private maternity care means quieter waiting rooms, nurses with no visible tattoos, and everyone being 20% more attractive. Our consultant was Dr Steckels, not to be confused with Dr Snuggles who, according to a children’s cartoon from the 1980s was ‘friend of the animal world’. The pregnancy was complicated because our child is mixed race, what with my current girlfriend being middle class. Well, I assume the middle class are a different race, anyway. They live in socially cleansed areas and have their own Olympics with sports that no one’s ever heard of, most recently held in Pyeongchang. That said, I was pleased that Team Great Britain bought home gold in Talking About Glastonbury and General Hysteria. I imagine the vegan avocado oriented celebratory buffet was pretty weak though, because a) they hate themselves and b) they can’t digest anything, unlike normal, stronger, people. I sought to redress the balance when writing to my son before he was born by explaining that Brexit and food allergies were invented by the middle class so that they could feel discriminated against, that artisan baking is for wankers, and that if in later life he should feel attracted to people of the opposite sex, I would still accept him even though his mother would be heartbroken at having a heterosexual child. Later, I managed to avoid a middle class birth certificate on his behalf. These are like normal birth certificates, except that no gender is recorded until the child has given permission for an assumption to be made on the subject. We also met our midwife, a special type of lady doctor trained in women’s things. Midwives are especially important once the contraptions start, signalling that the baby is on the way. Our midwife took everyone’s mind off things by talking about dogs so much that I suspected she was actually a vet, and that instead of the one child we were expecting we would be moved to the airing cupboard and produce a litter of six.
I’m pleased to report that my current girlfriend set about the task of heaving a new child into the world in a stoic, British manner, managing to fall asleep during the latter stages of labour. I busied myself fielding enquiries via my phone. More than a few of these were from ‘Anton’, who punctuated frequent demands to know ‘Where the new soldier at?’ with advice that I should ‘get up’ a nurse by claiming to have a ‘sprained bell-end’, and other sundries with which I will not trouble you. Amid talk of popping the baby out through the sun roof*, we trooped off to an operating theatre. Apparently, there had been fourteen hours of labour by then. I find this hard to believe, and estimate it to have been about twenty minutes. In any case, with the contraptions in an advanced state, it was time get the show on the road. I had worn a shirt and tie so that my son and I’s introduction would be suitably formal, but was obliged to swap them for a medical gown and a sticker with ‘Dad’ written on it to identify who I was. I changed this to ‘Anaesthetist’ but had to change it back to ‘Dad’ again when a real anaesthetist arrived, and off to meet our son we went.
As it turned out, no surgery was required except deft forceps work by our midwife, whose reassuringly forthright approach meant that ‘Stop buggering about’ were the first words our son heard although, as has since been pointed out, if he takes after his father he’ll certainly be hearing them again. A final rush and push – and that’s it. That’s childbirth. You stand for the national anthem, and then a tiny, squawking, horror story gnome version of yourself is thrust towards you, covered in someone else and very, very unhappy. If there was magic in the air I didn’t notice, but I do remember a feeling of calm, despite all the furious screaming. It was as if everything that had ever happened, or would ever happen, and history and creation, and the planets and the stars and the universes, and all things known and unknowable, were looking down and agreeing that the tribulations of the ages had been worthwhile for this precise moment to occur. It was a nice feeling. I also noted with amusement two junior staff members openly flirting with each other on the other side of the room – a magnificent effort under the circumstances. As if foreseeing his father’s future barbering exploits, our son was born with a head of hair so full it merged with his eyebrows, which were strong and expressive, a hallmark of the mighty houses of Whitehead and Sinclair making up my contribution to his dna. There was also his mother’s professed slight resemblance to a female version of Paul McCartney in 1963. He could only have belonged to us.
As the small angry man was handed to me, however, I was more concerned with not fainting. I had once overheard my uncle, in my grandparents’ front room with the Chinese tapestries under which six generations of my family have eaten chips and smoked fags, and which now hang in my hallway, say that one of his mates had fainted when handed his new baby. The idea has haunted me ever since. I didn’t faint, and instead cut the umbilical cord, which was grey and had the consistency of raw bacon fat. I tried to do it in one go, but missed the last little bit, so it had to be a two-snip job. It was a fittingly imperfect introduction to an imperfect world, and while I avoided fainting, I saw my grandfather, to whom my uncle had been relaying the story thirty years previously, in the tiny damp upturned face yelling at me as if all this was my fault. I handed him to my current girlfriend, whereupon all the people in the operating theatre gave me a round of applause, and went outside to announce the news. People kept holding doors open for me because I was still wearing my operating theatre stuff and they thought I was a surgeon. It was four o’clock on a mid-December morning and freezing as I stood in the bus stop outside the hospital and rang my old dear. Unable to sleep with anticipation, she had been watching Patrick Swayze ‘in a film with a ghost, and then he died deliberately’. While happy beyond expression, she also had concerns, chief among them being that her new grandson was wearing a hat. I assured her that he was. For a larf I told her that a baby boy born at Christmas is known as a bauble which, being carried away with events, she almost believed.
Upon my return to ground zero, bearing gifts from a vending machine that only sold Lion bars and wet wipes, the theatre staff were asking about names. Most of our ideas had been for girls. A daughter was to have been called Ivy Beatrice Smith until I noticed that the initials also stood for irritable bowel syndrome. We were stuck for boys’ names, so he ended up being called Nid. Actually, now I come to think of it, no he didn’t. ‘Nid’ is a nickname coined by his small cousin Albert who, bursting with excitement at their first meeting, charged across our front room yelling ‘Nidney Nidney Nidney Nidney’, and it has stuck ever since. Incidentally, this may happen in reverse quite soon, as I’m afraid Albert’s parents are still unable to control themselves, and another cousin for Nid is on the way. Anyway. There was a great deal of toast and napping before we left the hospital. Within eight minutes of arriving home, myself, my current girlfriend, Nid, and the dog were all sound asleep fully clothed in a heap on the bed, in direct contravention of at least seven of the rules laid out in our ante natal leaflet. And with that, a new life was underway.
*Delivery by Caesarean Section
This week’s rummage through the baby photos has produced:
Main: Sleeping Nid.
Top inset: Self and Nid, six minutes old at the time. We are both wearing brightly coloured hats because it was his birthday.
Upper middle inset: Nid and Archibald al-Fantastique. Archie has gone to sleep with his nose under Nid, which adult dogs do in the wild with puppies in case they wander off.
Lower middle inset: Charging around his nan’s living room floor.
Lower inset: Brandishing a rabbit doll made by my favourite twins, the Symmetrical Ladies of Greenwich Market. NB only I call them this. They trade as the Little Loomers.