He should never have looked. And he hadn’t intended to look. His plan had been to stay away from that bloody warzone as much as possible. As they’d agreed. Just to stand on the margins, where he was needed, the peaceful side at the head of the bed. The place where, together with his wife, he would have to put into practice the special breathing techniques that they’d learned beforehand, only accentuating the powerlessness of his presence in the delivery room; he, the instigator, responsible for the heavily pregnant belly that was about to explode at any second. The approaching moment that should be considered one of the happiest of his life.
That moment of happiness had not yet arrived. The fighting was still in full swing. Not for him. For her, of course. She, lying on the bed beside him, legs spread, groaning in pain every time the contractions came. She, allowing strangers’ hands to touch the most intimate places of her body, the intimate places of her body that had forever taken on another meaning. She, going beyond herself and, laid bare, giving everything she had within her.
His only purpose in the delivery room at zero hour consisted of holding her hand and, with words of encouragement, puffing and groaning along with her, getting her through the increasingly powerful labour pains.
It hadn’t taken much once they’d decided to make a child. In general, it doesn’t take much to make a child. Pandemic or no pandemic. You don’t even have to love each other. For the first time in their lives, they were in lockdown. Maybe they loved each other too much in those first few weeks they were forced to stay at home. Besides Netflix, there wasn’t much else to do in that small flat up on the second floor.
The excitement of sex in the daytime. Of sex outside the bedroom. Of sex with your clothes still on. The fiddling with zips and buttons, the fumbling with reluctant bra hooks. Of sex in awkward positions. Of sex standing up. Against the living-room wall, or on the dining table. Of sex that gave you raw knees and elbows. Of sex that left you with deliciously aching muscles the next day. Of sex that emanated animal craving.
And all of it secretively, as if what they were doing wasn’t really allowed. As if coming in the middle of the day was not the done thing. It felt like they were having an affair with each other, as they lay there at some random hour in the afternoon, half undressed and sweaty behind the sofa, panting away as they recovered from yet another impromptu bout of sex. The slight shame that overcame them, which they immediately laughed off, wondering if they’d made too much of a racket for the neighbours. It reminded him of back when they’d only just met, when she still lived with her parents. She was eighteen, he was two years older. The way they used to do it secretly, silently, in her little bedroom upstairs, in her bed, which was too small and creaked uncontrollably, hoping her mum and dad downstairs wouldn’t notice the gentle cadence and the quiet groaning.
Yes, that first time in lockdown seemed just like their honeymoon. The peace and quiet to take a good look into each other’s eyes and suddenly see clearly what they meant to each other. A shared optimism about the future. Space for a child had actually developed. At that very moment of stasis. For them, a couple who had never wanted children in all the years before. Maybe they were finally growing up.
No, it hadn’t taken much once the decision had been made and his wife had stopped taking her birth control. No special diet was involved, or extra vitamins. For the first time, they were making love with a mission. For a higher purpose. They made love the way they thought adults made love, simply in bed and looking each other deep in the eyes.
‘Nine centimetres dilated!’ the midwife shouted at them through the raised knees of his labouring wife. ‘We’re nearly there! Keep breathing! Like we learned in the childbirth classes! Sir, can you keep an eye on that? Or none of it’s going to help!’
The midwife saw it as her duty to loudly announce every detail of the birth, with authority and approval in her voice. She already suspected that he was trying to keep well away from the epic drama that was unfolding at the other end of the bed. Of course he wasn’t the first father-to-be with some reservations that she’d ever faced during delivery.
‘Yes, I can already feel the head coming! Yes, I can feel it! It’s definitely a big head! Oh, don’t worry about that, it’s all part of the process… We’ll wipe it up later! I’m going to grab the episiotomy scissors, just in case! We might have to make an incision!’
No, he should never have stepped over the demarcation line that he’d set for himself. The imaginary red line running right across the delivery bed, precisely over the bulge of his wife’s very pregnant belly, which until that point had blocked his view of the raw scene beyond it, in what he considered to be the midwife’s designated territory.
‘Sir, could you hold this? Sir, you’ll have to come and stand here! It’s happening now!’
Perhaps it was her authoritarian voice that penetrated him so mercilessly. He’d always been sensitive to authority. Particularly female authority, and especially when it involved matters he had no control over. And before he knew it, he had let go of his wife’s hand, so that he could obey the midwife’s command.
He had never been intending to look. To see the miracle of nature unfolding before his eyes. Raw and unpolished. Bloody and wet. First the head, far too big… and then the shoulders, centimetre by centimetre. His wife, with one very last effort, bringing new life into the world – and taking his breath away. The cold realisation that he would never be able to make love to her again, without picturing that sobering image. That superlative image of life. Of that one instant that pulled him into adulthood, once and for all. The moment he became a father. In retrospect, one of the happiest moments of his life.