August 7, 2020

Beating

Beating

In early 2004 part of my weekly routine was a drive to Leith in Edinburgh. Each Monday morning I’d battle my way through the rush hour traffic to get to the offices of Viacom Outdoor. I’d spent the last four-years working hard to get my Computing degree. When I failed to secure the job I hoped for, I was offered a job I really didn’t want. I’d gone to University to escape an advertising sales job. To change paths. Now, it seemed that all paths lead to this. In 1999 I’d ended an unsuccessful and unhappy spell selling newspaper advertising for The Sunday Times. Now I was selling adverts on buses. If I sound ungrateful, I was not. It was this or more visits to the Job Centre in Dundee.

While I resented how things turned out, the saving grace were the humans I met. My frustration of battling my way through traffic was tempered by knowing who I’d meet when I arrived. One of those people was an ever smiling ray of sunshine who always brightened my mood. When I shared the news that Gill and I were expecting our first child, she told me that her sister was also pregnant. It turned out that Gill and her sister were due around the same time. It created a bond between us. Every Monday we’d exchange updates. The anticipation building with each conversation. I told Gill about the conversations when I got home.

One morning, after a particularly slow commute I arrived at the office a few minutes late. I burst in full of apologies and waited for the good natured digs that would follow. The mood in the room was different. It was dark. I could tell that one of the girls had been crying. Then I was told that my unlikely pregnancy partner had shared the devastating news that her sister had lost the baby. I was devastated for her and her sister. Up until that moment I’d never considered that we might lose our baby. From that moment on, that was all I could think about. I became paranoid. I asked Gill constantly how the ‘bump’ was. I looked for reassurance that it was still kicking away. I became anxious.

I never told Gill about the miscarriage. I feared that the mere mention of it would transfer my anxiety from me to her. I reasoned, why should we both feel this way? The deeper, more irrational fear was that by mentioning it I might manifest it. I could cast a curse that couldn’t be lifted and it would all be my fault. As we got nearer our due date I still had a deep fear. Family and friends were building the excitement but I tempered it. Excitement and fear battled relentlessly. Fear won. It was only when labour started that I allowed myself time to believe we’d be OK. Due to Gill’s slight size and frame there was a concern that her wishes to have a natural delivery wouldn’t be possible. It was a long labour and Gill was getting tired. At one stage, they wanted to monitor the baby more closely.

That, in itself meant that fear once again became the dominant emotion. An internal monitor was called for. An electrode attached to a wire was placed directly on the scalp of our baby. I starred at the monitor. I even asked the nurse at what stage I should start to worry. She reassured me without answering. I asked again, trying not to sound as desperate as I felt. I watched the fluctuations with the same intensity of a Wall Street Trader. Then it dropped a bit. Then some more. Then it stopped. I did my best pretence of a casual walk to the door, before finally bursting out the room and calling for a midwife. She walked calmly in, no panic, no drama and no sense of urgency. The monitor had simply detached itself from the baby’s scalp. It happened all the time. Apparently. My relief was immediate. I’d reflect sometime after that knowing that this was a common occurrence would have been information I could have used earlier.

My attentions though were on what was about to happen. After a very long labour Gill gave birth to a healthy baby boy. I cried uncontrollably as soon as I heard his first cry. I’d later down play the intensity of the emotion as being ‘typical of me’. But really it was all fuelled by the fear of never meeting him. When Gill was ushered away to get a shower, I was left with Matthew.

He was placed on me as I was sitting. I held him tightly, but lightly in the same position for at least half-an-hour. I didn’t dare move position for fear of dropping him. Gill successfully carried Matthew for over 9 month, me unceremoniously dropping him after a few minutes would be hard to live down. My arms burned. I was in a lot of pain. When Gill returned she looked incredible. I decided now wasn’t the time to tell her of my really sore arms. We sat together, the three of us. Gill exhausted. Me finally excited. And Matthew, sound asleep.

Matthew aged 17 months on the day he met his brother Lewis.