Gaynor and I met on Christmas Day 1979. We were married on 8 September 1984 and became parents with the birth of our daughter, Becci, on 23 December 1986.
The birth wasn’t easy. Gaynor had a forty-eight-hour labour, and I stood beside her bed for the whole of that time in an effort to prove that I, as a mere man, had an active and valid role to play in the whole procedure. When you tell people just how long her labour was, they’re usually really sympathetic. Women in particular will almost certainly say how painful that must’ve been. My stock answer is: ‘Absolutely! My feet were killing me.’
The fact is that it was indeed an ordeal for her, a reality brought home to me about thirty-six hours into the whole thing. I still treasure the shared intimacy of that moment of realisation. She’d got out of bed and had stormed over to me. Holding me firmly by the collar, she’d just slammed me heavily against the wall of the birthing suite and, with her face an inch in front of mine, was screaming at me: ‘This is your fault, you f***ing bastard!’ I like to think of myself as a sensitive man, this being why she had to say no more than that. The message had got through to me and I’d taken it on board.
When the full contractions started, I was actually given a useful task. My job was to watch the monitor that was recording activity in the womb. The baby, sensing each approaching contraction, would respond by becoming restless. The hand on the monitor registered this increased movement. As soon as this monitor-reading rose, it was down to me to warn Gaynor that another contraction was about to happen. This helped her to pace herself. It went on for hours. At one point it suddenly struck me that Gaynor was waiting for me, while I was waiting for the monitor, and the monitor was waiting for the baby to move. In other words, via the monitor, our unborn baby was already telling me and Gaynor what to do. At the time, that realisation delighted me. In retrospect, had I known how Becci would turn out – especially as she approached and went through her teens – I’d have recognised it as the ominous warning which it actually was.
In the run-up to the birth itself, Gaynor made increasing use of the gas and air machine which helped her to steady her breathing while simultaneously delivering an anaesthetic to lull the escalating pain. As this pain skyrocketed, she used the gas and air more frequently and for longer periods. For the final few pre-natal hours, during which she was semi-delirious, she was using it for half-an-hour at a time. It was only after the birth that we noticed the sign beside it which read ‘Under no circumstances must this machine be used for more than thirty seconds in any ten minute period.’
When the birth finally came, I was there, silently holding Gaynor’s hand while the midwife and nurses were down at the other end, fiddling around and barking urgent instructions to my sweat-drenched partner. At last, the baby emerged. I say ‘the baby’ because we didn’t know what sex it was going to be. As it was pulled out and I caught my first sight of it, I exclaimed: ‘It’s a boy!’
The nurses paused and looked up at me. The midwife paused and looked up at me. Even poor exhausted Gaynor paused and turned to me before the midwife said: ‘No, sir. It’s a girl. That’s not a penis, it’s the umbilical cord!’
The collected female eyes of the nurses, midwife and Gaynor all radiated their conviction that there was an absolute idiot in their midst. I swear that there was even that same disrespect in the opening eyes of our newborn daughter. I mumbled something about it having been a very long labour, however, that lame excuse did nothing to diminish my abject embarrassment.