It happened 60 years ago, but to me it remains agonisingly present.
Merran, my wife, was about to give birth to our first child. In those days one did not get advance notice of the gender of a baby. A formidable, broad shouldered midwife hovered – more tank than woman.
I said, somewhat hesitantly, that I hoped to be present at the birth. She nodded with a grim determination, as if she meant to say “That’ll show him. Sex isn’t just f..f…f…fun”. It wasnt quite what I imagined she meant to say.
She handed me a tube with something like a funnel at the end. “Nitrous oxide” she said. “If she’s in a lot of pain, you can give her a little of this gas. But not too much. Not too much.”
I nodded. I was confident she would be brave. This was, after all, the girl who had traipsed over great stretches of Africa, refusing escorts.
I was wrong. Very wrong. She soon cried out with a loud wail of pain. I have her that gas, and then more … probably more than I should have, but I could not bear to see her suffering.
The birth seemed to take time. The tank-midwife reappeared. Suddenly she faced me, as if shielding my wife from a male intrusion: “You’ll have to leave now!”
I wanted to protest. Hadn’t I been told I could attend? But ths tank=midwife was not the type with whom one argued. She took me firmly by the shoulder and expelled me from the room.
I was sitting miserably on a bench in the passage.What was going on? A still birth? Or was my wife dying?
A moment later a doctor arrived.He went into the labour room. This must be serious. I was in agony.
After what seemed like an age, tank-woman emerged. I was surprised: she smiled! I had not thought she knew how to. “It’s a boy!”
“And my wife?”
“She’s fine. You can go and see her … and your baby.!
The infant could not yet open his eyes. Nor could I. I was crying too much.
Merran, however, was cradling the baby – dry-eyed.She said “You are a softie aren’t you?”