30th May 2003
I went into labour around three on a Friday morning. (Sadly, a couple of days after Benjamin went back to school: I have regretted ever since his missing our family celebrations.)
By the time you’ve done the gig a few times you have some idea how it goes, so I didn’t call the midwife until 4.30. By which time the baby had a view that it was about time to be born.
I had no idea how much had changed since Ben’s birth. The criminally insane midwife I spoke to said she was too busy delivering other people’s babies and wouldn’t come out just because a mother of four fancied having a fifth. The contractions, she said, had to last a minimum number of minutes, with a maximum number of minutes in between. She suggested I timed them and rang back when I qualified.
In a way it’s lucky she wasn’t in the house. Because I would have killed her.
Try it sometime. Get a friend with a large saw to cut off one of your legs, time how long it takes him, then how long it is before he’s finished his Kit-Kat break and cuts off the other one. Then call the doctor.
By the time my screams could be heard all the way down our street and up the next and round all the houses and had reached the windows of the labour ward in the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital a couple of miles away where the midwife was far too busy delivering other people’s babies – by the time even Shaun was awake – she said oh all right then since you keep going on about it. She didn’t exactly hurry. It took her forty five minutes, at five in the morning. By car.
The relevance to our story being that all Alexander’s life, both before and after this, I have resolutely maintained and still do that his Asperger’s syndrome is a privilege. It is not a disability. (I only concede to the label to procure his rights.) Alex is simply on another planet, just as good as this one. (Though I agree, it is a little more… sideways on.)
Alex’s birth, however, was different from the others’. The midwife told me to push too soon. When she realised her mistake, she halted proceedings and we went back to the beginning, with the result that Alex emerged a bit on the late side, by a couple of hours or so. A trend he has stuck to consistently since.
I had often wondered whether this was connected to his AS. (That genius of autism, Prof Simon Baron-Cohen, has since suggested that it may not have been the delay which caused Alex, so much as Alex causing the delay, which is far more amusing and likely. She was a very experienced and excellent midwife.)
If I’d really believed, as I’ve always claimed, that Aspergic is just as valid as neurotypical, I wouldn’t mind having another Aspergic child, would I?
I obviously did mind, because I absolutely refused to have that baby without the midwife there to tell me when to push.
With the result that the moment she and her back-up walked through the door and gave me permission, that baby was out faster than I could say, “Give me the effing gas-and-air you effing stupid cow now-now-now-NOW what is the matter with you?!”
My terror of disability being also evidenced by my immediate, obsessive and repetitive, “Has it got Down’s syndrome?” every second and a half as the midwives attempted to deliver the after-birth.
“What do you mean?” one of them eventually managed to get a word in edgeways.
“HAS IT GOT DOWN’S SYNDROME?” I shouted to these utter imbeciles.
“You have a beautiful baby girl,” they assured me. “And no, not as far as we can see.”
I sank back on the bed in overwhelming relief. “Just the club foot, then?” This was the one thing we knew for sure.
“What club foot?”
They were seriously challenged, those two. Two scans had showed definite club foot.
“We see no club foot.”
(Just a salutary little reminder here. Babies can be aborted, up to term, for club foot in the UK. I don’t suppose you’re told afterwards, are you, if the diagnosis turns out to have been a little over-pessimistic? They’re hardly going to put the baby back after they’ve had a proper look.)
“Tea,” our son-from-another-planet announced.
Only then I could I tell everybody what I had known for several minutes, the moment I saw her rosebud mouth: the new member of our family was called Rosie.
It was just as well I didn’t have the emotional hurdle of disability to contend with. After the best tea I’ve ever drunk from Alex, and the best pecan-and-maple pastry from Serena, I had to spend the next few hours washing all the sheets Rosie and I had rendered laundry-worthy between us, before the risk of Bink showing up from hunkering-out at our next-door neighbour’s and realising that birth is not always a very OCD-respectful event.
My hunch proved correct.
At Bink’s therapy session at the Priory last Friday, she said she needed us all to stop putting pressure on her to go into hospital. She’d had a very gruelling time recently and needed a break, to do nothing for a while.
(It is a bit of mystery to Shaun and me how anyone can need quite so many breaks from doing absolutely FA, but perhaps we’re not very imaginative.)
“What are you feeling?” the therapist asked me.
“I want to ask Bink,” I said, “if she remembers another time when she said exactly that.”
After a few wrong guesses, she cited after-graduation: while all her contemporaries were starting glittering new jobs, she decided to take a holiday… which has so far lasted five and a half years. Asking whether that decision had gone well would have been like asking a suicide bomber whether his vest exploding had been a good idea.
“If I were Bink’s Screwtape,” I explained to the therapist, “wanting to wreck her chances of getting well, I’d persuade her it was in her interests to keep postponing.”
“I asked how you feel,” she reminded me.
“I feel,” I said, “protective of Bink.”
“And very angry with Screwtape.”