Bernard Trafford: Birth of a baby remains a miracle

A Bank Holiday weekend with old friends turned into a time to reminisce about childbirth for Bernard Trafford

Despite all the technology, the birth of a baby remains a miracle.

Our Bank Holiday weekend did go as planned. At least, most of it did, but there was an element of surprise.

We’d arranged to have a house full of three couples, very old friends dating back to when we were all young parents in the 1980s. What we, as hosts, hadn’t counted on was the fact that one couple was awaiting the imminent (earlier than predicated) birth of their first grandchild – in Hong Kong.

The other two were pretty blasé: they now have six grandchildren, so know the ropes. We Traffords aren’t anywhere near that stage, but our expectant friends were fit to burst. Nana-in-waiting was like a cat on hot bricks, even sleeping on the couch so our wi-fi could bring her up-to-the-minute accounts from her son, the father of the eagerly expected baby.

The mother went into labour during Saturday: the baby was actually born in the early hours of Bank Holiday Monday (our time). Two days from the first contractions isn’t an unusual wait, particularly for a first child. For the prospective grandparents it was an eternity.

Smartphones have changed the way we receive news. The young father was present throughout the process in Hong Kong, using his iPhone to keep his parents (and in-laws) informed moment by moment. There’s a seven-hour time-difference, yet messages arrived instantly. Thus we knew from one hour to another the rate of contractions. I suspect the grandmother was receiving more intimate gynaecological statistics which frankly, the rest of us didn’t want to hear.

We old hands naturally compared notes on how childbirth happened back in our day. Two of the three couples had babies during the 1980s, and were probably the first generation where it was taken for granted that the father would attend. The third couple started their family in the mid-1970s, and things were different then. A Scotsman living in Croydon (don’t ask why!), he nearly had to kick the door down in the hospital to be allowed at the birth of his firstborn. The midwife thought it was very suspicious: what on earth had a man to add?

Women reading this column will be nodding wisely: what do men add to the birthing process? We might make ourselves useful with the gas and air, and we offer encouraging noises. Otherwise we feel a bit of a spare part.

But the point is that we share it, the pain and the screaming as well as the indescribable joy and sense of wonder at a new life.

That was what was so special about sharing this grandparental moment with the closest of friends. The new Nana shrieked at 4.15 on Monday morning, waking the whole household.

What could we do but stumble into the kitchen and hear about it? And, thanks to the technology, we saw at the very start of his life a picture of the newborn baby boy, named Max.

That moment took us back to reminiscing once more. The mothers started comparing lengths of their various labours, other episodes and funny stories.

As for us dads, we recalled that moment of incredulity, amazement at the infant appearing as if by magic from inside the womb, a tiny scrap of humanity yet impossibly bigger than we could imagine the mother’s fragile body could ever contain: helpless, dependent, utterly lovable and adorable.

Thanks to the not always welcome intrusion of wi-fi and smartphones, we shared that private moment in a way that would have been impossible for our generation. We weren’t there – but almost felt we were.

We felt deeply privileged to be that close.

Birth is nowadays surrounded by all manner of technology in the form of scans and monitors, the mechanical element of phenomenal medical care.

None of them, I’m glad to say, detract in the least from the sense of wonder and awe, from the small miracle that is the arrival of a new life.

That remains unchanged.


David Whetstone
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