Conception had not been easy for us. I had fathered two children with my previous wife, but to be on the safe side took some fertility tests. Hurray! Disability seemed not to have harmed my fertility. But there was a role reversal . Somehow Tio kept having miscarriages. But hurray again! Those two tell-tale lines appeared on the pregnancy test, and the St Mary’s fertility unit provided a lot of support.
The time came for our baby to be born. Came and went. Two weeks beyond B-day Tio was admitted to the St Thomas’ maternity unit and given a pill. I was sent away to await developments, keeping in touch by phone. Tio told me that to while away the time, she was pacing around. Actually, she was in labour: but given her history I suppose, she didn’t recognise the obvious. Eventually she fired the starting gun, and I drove over to the hospital, taking my wheelchair: as I was determined to be present at the birth, I couldn’t stand for what would certainly be a protracted process.
Six years after our baby Lewis was born, I watched a scary TV drama series called Bodies, in which an overweight medic sits in on Gyney Unit meetings stuffing herself the while with toffees and never says a word – just makes up the numbers. I recognised the duty midwife who had officiated at Lewis’s birth. At the time she gave us the impression that she had seen it all before – which was undoubtedly true – but the lack of eye contact and her concentration on sitting comfortably in a corner away from the labour-ward bed, filling in a form gave me no confidence or recognition that bringing a new life into the world meant anything more human than checking a bus into the Camberwell Green garage.
In the labour theatre, I positioned myself beside Tio, so that I could hold her hand, grip her thigh, and give encouragement. I was, incidentally, on the same level as the business end of the proceedings though I was not in direct view of that intimate place which had become the birth canal. Later she was to tell me that she wished I had been closer. (Sitting in the wheelchair, I was considerably lower than the raised working surface of the bed). I suppose she meant, I should’ve been in a position to give her a hug and kiss. And I should have been.
But I too had some lateral feelings about that labour theatre. Beside me, Tio’s maternal flank became a strong sea wall, protecting her calm belly harbour, from which the baby would assuredly emerge. Both the baby and I could feel confident despite the rigours of labour. Lewis went aground more than once during an arduous journey along the canal, but emerged, crumpled and crying from the shock of at last accomplishing his first training passage. (The midwife had adroitly avoided having to do any labour herself by calling in a doctor as pilot when the boat got stuck). Mother and baby looked very happy. Me too. I did not feel at all disappointed by my role as a back seat spectator. It was their scene, after all.
I got back home from St Thomas’s at 3.30 am to find the dedicated parking bay outside my house occupied by some oaf who didn’t recognise the right of disabled people to have a nightlife – or even have a baby come to that. I parked the car in the middle of the street and shouted with frustration at having to use my sticks to walk the100 yards from the nearest parking space to my house. Then I calculated that I could do it if I stopped halfway and sat on somebody’s car. But what if it had one of those alarms that woke everybody up in the neighbourhood when it was jogged? It took a long time, sitting there crying. When I dried my eyes, I realised that most of the tears were a release from the emotional turmoil of the last few hours: a homage to my wife and new child. As if in recognition of my plight a nightshift worker ran from a house three doors from mine, jumped into his Renault and left a space.