Step 1: Go to a community festival, preferably in a quiet, picturesque place like the Mattenhof quarter in Bern, the sleepy capital of Switzerland. Watch the children playing around you and realise that being a couple is becoming lonely.
Step 2: Take a trip to a place that kids love. For instance, the Tierpark on the banks of the river Aare. Notice that you are the only adults there without a child. Wish that you had borrowed one for the day so that you wouldn’t sound so silly oohing and aahing at the animals.
Step 3: Have that ‘Is it time for us to think about having kids’ conversation with your husband. Decide that it is time to stop trying to avoid having children. When even this seems too scary, remember that it took your parents three years to conceive. Then think, ‘What the hell. We’ll give it a go.’
Step 4: Almost exactly two hundred and eighty days later return to the kiddy-friendly attraction. You now rock from side to side as you walk past the animal enclosures, because you are carrying an extra 15 kg in weight. You estimate that 5 kg is due to the weight of the baby, amniotic fluid and placenta, but you’re not sure how to account for the other ten. This time, you don’t feel lonely as you pass the mothers with the prams; you just feel scared. Console yourself with the thought that all this movement might persuade the baby to come out.
Step 5: Wake up at 7 am the next day with a tight feeling in your belly. Tell yourself that it is just Braxton Hicks contractions and go back to sleep.
Step 6: Wake up again one hour later. The pain is too strong for you to sleep, but don’t worry. It’s just more of these practice contractions.
Step 7: Get into the bath at 10 am to ease the tight feeling in your stomach. Read the pregnancy book and listen to your husband go through an ‘Are you in labour?’ checklist:
- Have your waters broken? No
- Have you bled? No
- Are you having contractions? No. At least, I don’t think so. Just one big pain that’s getting stronger.
- Conclude that you’re not in labour.
Step 8: Heave yourself out of the bath when the water is cold.
Step 9: At 1 pm, ask your husband to time the interval between the pain being only just bearable, and between it being so strong you can’t think about anything else but breathing out in a long, wavering snarl. Hear him say two minutes. You should be in the hospital and the pain is so bad that you are not even sure you can get dressed.
Step 10: Struggle into your clothes and walk five hundred metres to the Frauenklinik, stopping every few minutes to double over in pain.
Step 11: Tell the midwife that you’re not sure if you’re in labour, and then clench your stomach in agony.
Step 12: Clamber into a large birthing pool and feel the warm water ease the pain.
Step 13: Allow yourself to be helped out of the pool for an examination. Continue breathing. You are on all fours now, but all you care about is the in-breath and the long moan of the out-breath as the pain rises like a wave.
Step 14: Hear your husband encourage you to breath in a different rhythm: in-whoosh-whoosh-out. Punch him hard in the face, because you can’t speak and without your long out-breath, you are lost in a wave of pain.
Step 15: Allow yourself to be helped onto a birthing stool. Hear the reassuring tones of the midwife turn into sharp commands as she urges you to push, ‘Faster. Now. Harder.’
Step 16: Through a haze of exhaustion and pain, notice that six more people in white coats and nurses’ uniforms have gathered beside a glass box. You can’t worry about why they are there, because all your energy is concentrated on straining to push in the right direction. “Not back. Down. Into the pain,” the midwife commands.
Step 17: At 5pm, give that extra hard push the midwife asked for and watch her snatch up a blue-skinned orc. Wonder in a dreamy way what the orc has to do with you.
Step 18: Lie down and watch the white-coated people give the orc oxygen. You are too exhausted to wonder or worry about what they are doing, but are glad to hear the thin, reedy cry of a newborn.
Step 19: Hold out your arms to receive a pink-skinned baby with thick, dark hair. Watch her nose wrinkle as she takes quick, urgent breaths.
Step 20: Misunderstand the doctor’s broken English when he says that she is not quite normal. He means, you realise later, that her breathing is not yet normal, but at that moment you don’t care. As she lies in your arms, still frowning, suckling away the panic and trauma of being born, you wonder what is normal, and you don’t care if she never reaches it. What matters is that she is alive, lying in the warmth of your arms, sharing the miracle of breath.