Apparently, we’ve weeks to go so decide to eat out. Greek in West End, close to the city and on the way to becoming trendy. The venue has an atmosphere created by faux grape vines draped over taverna kitsch, the aroma definitely souvlaki. A pleasant meal with our two boys in tow learning café etiquette. Moussaka with a nice traditional Greek side salad horiatiki featuring the season’s quality plump juicy red tomatoes, succulent green cucumbers, tart red onions, and green-yellow vine ripened bell peppers. No crisp lettuce, nor any other leafy greens or garden vegies found at less Greeky places.
We finish the meal gather up the two boys and head back onto Melbourne Street into the brisk windy cold. Our white Tarago wagon’s not far away thank God and we’re happy to be bundled inside for the drive back home through Yeronga, Sherwood and Graceville. Everyone grumbles and tumbles into a warm bed, it’s been a late night.
Around midnight I’m fast asleep and snoring. Nothing stirs in the stillness save Vivienne who’s feeling more and more uncomfortable by the minute. Arising she heads to the toilet room on the veranda to ease her discomfort. For her it’s an eternity, the pain rising and flooding over her. I slumber on. The pain intensifies coming in dark swelling waves. Vivienne grits her teeth together and rides the swell. Soon though she can bear it no longer.
‘Call the doctor’ she shouts as loud as she can,
‘Call the doctor now!’
Somewhere in my sleep I stir and hear her incessant cry.
I stagger out of the warm darkness of a tropical winter evening. Somewhere in the office area I find the scrawled phone number amongst bills for this and that.
The doctor takes a while to rouse from sleep, longer to become compos mentis. I ramble on chaotically and then his question which I really have no idea how to answer,
‘So how dilated is she?’ he asks.
‘Dilated,’ Hhmm I repaeated, ‘Dilated .. I’ll check’, reckoning this was something I could do.
‘Hang on a tick, I’ll go check’ I repeat automatically.
Back to the next door bedroom I figured the dilation was the width of index, middle and part of ring finger, is that 4 or 5cm., seems the answer doesn’t really matter.
I return to the phone and breathlessly report back, “4 to 5 cm I think”. I think I can see a crown emerging.
There’s a moments silence from the other end, then finally,
“Well I’m not much use to you now,” he says, “I can be there within half an hour. I’m over in Kenmore. Stay calm.”
By now my panic is building. I rush to the top of the front porch stairs glistening in the soft drizzle and call out to Judy next door to the left and Debbie to the right.
Vivienne moans on the soft bed and clearly the intensity of the rolling contractions is increasing as well as in frequency. I’m helpless, useless to know what to do. Reassurance seems woefully inadequate. The thought of Alenka is there in my mind, still born just over a year earlier. Judy and Debbie arrive almost together, finding soft towels in the cupboards and getting boiling hot water ready. Their presence settles me a little. The moans of the birthing pains though grow louder and louder.
Is all in readiness ? I look furtively around but it’s hard to decide what to do. There’s not really much to be done but wait. Wait for the doctor. Wait for nature to takes its course. Wait for the ambulance. I check again and there’s more dilation, more hairy crown showing. Judy urges Vivienne on, more pushing she implores, for though she’s never seen a birth she’s borne two sons and twin girls. It seems so natural. And so minutes tick by. Each minute an eternity to the next. The night has cooled though warm enough. The boys in the bedroom across the hallway slumber on door closed, unconscious to the adult drama unfolding just in the next room. With further urging from Judy, in fact us all, Vivienne lays back into the pillows and bedding piled up for support under her back and thighs.
“Don’t worry the doctor will be here soon” we reassure her, he must be coming soon and it’s not far from Kenmore to Chelmer, especially at this time of the night.
Judy rings the Oxley ambulance, her excitement and fear getting the better of her.
The dispatcher finally gets an address from her and tells her the ambulance is coming. It’s a waiting game.
Of a sudden there’s a primal scream from Vivienne and perfectly presented, head first out comes a child which slides into my waiting hands. Such a tiny baby and so so small, fitting into my cupped palms. The towels are useful for preserving body heat and wiping away mucus and blood. It’s all a blur and in that moment I realise I don’t see a penis. No penis, all so perfect but no penis. Through my brain images of Alenka flash, such a gorgeous little baby girl, still born over year earlier. Her genetic defect, trisomy thirteen granted her a hair lip and multiple other congenital defects. Had she been born her survival would have been measured in days. And so when Vivienne put on weight quickly in this pregnancy, as she had with Alenka, there was a worry that the same was reoccurring. The chance of lightning striking twice are exceeding low. However, in that instance I wondered how I was going to explain a baby though otherwise healthy without a penis.
I lay the squawking wriggling baby up beside Vivienne’s right side, thankful that I knew to expect twins. With a push and a push another perfectly presented head emerges. It’s quieter and as I grasp it safely, I see it’s blue. The happy thoughts of a moment earlier are dispelled, for me there’s clearly something wrong. Doesn’t blue mean dead? I can’t understand how this could happen, how the hell am I going to explain this? The baby is quiet, and I worry. Under her arms I hold her up in front of me. By now I have resolved the lack of penis dilemma. These are girls! The baby is held in its amniotic fluid growing sac. As the sac slips off of her head and she takes he first breath bright pink suffuses her skin as her blood oxygenates, from the tip of the crown of her head to the very tips of her toes. she changes colour all the way down. For those of us privileged to see that first breath of life its never forgotten. All these years later I can still see my daughter’s very first breath taken. We are all crying. For Judy she has just seen her family reproduced in front of her, twin girls to complement two sons. I pass the second girl to Vivienne; it’s a truly emotional time.
“Anyone in?” we hear through the open wooden lattice at the front door as the doctor arrives. Clad in daggy long shorts and wet leather sandals it’s not the image we last saw of him at his rooms. We usher him into the bedroom where he’s greeted with the new born twins.
“Do you have some, twine, scissors and a large Tupperware?” he says, wresting control of the situation from me.
In the early morning these are not the sort of implements that readily come to mind though Judy is able to find the chicken cutting scissors and twine but not a large Tupperware. I go to the plastics cupboard and reach into the back. Here’s the largest square Tupperware I can find.
‘So which one was born first,’ doc says.
“This one”’ I point to the little bundle of life wrapped in bath towels snuggled and warm tight next to Vivienne.
“Ok” he says. “Tie one knot on the umbilical cord near the baby and another near Mum.
I grab Judy’s twine and do as requested.
“Now for the second one,” he says,” Tie two separate ties close to the baby, and the third at Mum’s end. Ok so far so good.
“So do you want to cut the cord? “he asks me. It’s not something for which I’d prepared myself, and the enormity of the moment absorbs me.
“Ok”, I say “where do I cut.”
“On each of the cords cut so that there is one knot left closer to Mum. The babies will then have one knot for the first born and two knots for the second born.”
In that moment I realised why these guys get paid so much, I guess I’d have worked it out sooner or later, but just now my brain is mush.
I hesitate with the scissors. Life has been passing from their Mum to them all these months. With a snip they’ll be on their own.
Checking to be sure I’ve got the right spot, I cut and the girls are their own little separate people. It’s a while later before we find out they are mirror identical, for now they’re just safe and sound.
As the ambulance guys arrive with a stretcher the doc and I are wrestling into the Tupperware what he says is a good sized healthy looking placenta for testing at the hospital.
The ambos realise they can’t get a stretcher round the tight corners of the internals of the house and go back down to the ambulance for a wheelchair.
With the babies wrapped and in Mum’s arms it’s time to get the boys up, if they weren’t already and see who’s crowded into the house. They’re sleepy but wake up quickly when they get to see and cuddle their just born sisters. It’s a moment of pure joy, to see new sisters so soon after arriving. I’m sure it’ll be the start of lifelong bonding. It started right there.
So with the drizzle still in the air, a rubber ring on the seat for Vivienne, the wheelchair wends its way to the front door and slowly down the wooden stairs. There’s a slight jarring as each downward step is taken, the ambo at the rear keeping this to a minimum. On the second bottom step the high pressure of the thin wheel is sufficient to crack through the ageing timber and drop the wheel chair down the last two steps.
Vivienne lets out a scream, the ambo’s faces a picture of embarrassment, the placenta stays safely in her grasp, Judy and I have the new twins in our care until we take off for the hospital.
Boothville is as it’s always been for all our kids born there, welcoming. Though early dawn the staff have a warm bed ready, a shower and a place to relax. It’s like coming home.
When I do get home later in the morning the ladies have turned the mattress, changed the linen and returned our home to its pre drama state.
[thanks to LA skillful editing]