Authors: Kathy Lette
About the Book
Madeline Wolfe is a mischievous, mutinous, high-rise (the shortest she’d ever been was ‘tall for her age’) Aussie redhead, who can open beer bottles with her teeth and is on first name terms with every bartender in Bangkok. She’s a woman in control of her life, and no man is ever going to tell her what to do.
So how come she’s ended up twelve thousand miles from home, in rainy London, with no friends, her visa about to expire, with no place to live – oh, yes, and pregnant?
She fell in love with Alexander Drake, that’s how. But she soon realizes that Alex goes through the tunnel of love holding his own hand. He also has more secrets than MI5. Alex may not be the man she thought he was, but can she persuade him to be the man she needs him to be – preferably before the baby arrives?
For Julius, without whom this book would not have been possible
And with thanks to the inventor of the epidural.
Part One: First Stage
MY FEMALE FRIENDS
had told me that giving birth was like shitting a watermelon. They lied. It’s like excreting a block of flats – complete with patios, awnings, clothes-lines, television aerials, satellite dishes, backyard barbecues, kidney-shaped swimming pools, gazebos and double garage extensions with the cars parked outside.
Another contraction shudders through me.
‘Any pain?’ enquires the nurse, spatula-ing me off the ceiling. ‘OK, no varicose veins, no vaginal bleeding.’ She looms over me, ticking boxes on her clipboard. ‘No loss of water or other abnormalities. Good. Now, let’s see … shave?’
I feel I’m being interviewed for a job I don’t want. A flock of storks bearing bundles of smiling babies in their beaks migrates across the wallpaper, mocking the
drama being played out below. ‘No.’ My stomach heaves up before me, a flesh balloon, stencilled in veins. I am a waterbed being trampolined from inside.
‘What the bloody hell’s that got to do with—’
significant Other. He hadn’t turned up. The mingy, stingy bastard. I hate him to hell and back.
The nurse unhooks the monitor. ‘Don’t worry. Some men just don’t want to be here.’
don’t want to be here!’
‘She’s not married.’ Yolanda is hovering by the examination table wearing the over-eager expression of a dinner-party hostess. I keep thinking she’s going to offer hors d’oeuvres. ‘It’s such a shame. Oh, not that it bothers the likes of
, but let’s face it, he’s going to grow up as a swear word.’
, you bloody—!’ Pain coils around my abdomen. I stare boggle-eyed at the midriff button on the nurse’s uniform, waiting for the spasm to pass. Breathe, two, three, four.
‘She attended my antenatal class, you see.’ Yolanda continually readjusts the big, red-framed spectacles on her nose. ‘All alone. And, well,
one had to take her under their wing.’
If only I hadn’t run into her in the hospital foyer. It’s bad enough she’s here, without bunging on this bloody martyr act. ‘Bugger off!’ There is absolutely
about Yolanda Grimes I like. Yo-Yo is the sort of woman who wakes up cheerful and goes steadily
all day. Not only does she bake her own bread and recycle her newspapers, but the well-intentioned egg whites we all accumulate in the fridge and never use? She actually
makes into meringues
. ‘Alex will be here any tick of the—’
‘Uh-huh.’ Yolanda pats my hand and shares a conspiratorial glance with the clipboard-welding nurse opposite. ‘So, the ah, pregnancy was ah … unplanned?’ interrogates Ms Clipboard. ‘Sorry, love,’ she adds in answer to my lethal look. ‘It’s a regulation question.’
‘Unplanned?’ Yolanda’s mouth is in gear before I can draw breath. ‘Oh, yes, she came to England because of this …
,’ she says the word as though it’s an incurable disease, ‘and then fell pregnant.’
‘I didn’t “fall” pregnant! I was bloody well pushed.’ Oh, when we first met how he’d gone on and on about his love of kids. How often he’d told me how much he hated those fathers who had the children brought in on a tray at cocktail hour and then removed when dinner was served. He said when teenagers were charged with petty crimes, it was their fathers who should be sentenced to spend their evenings at home. We even discussed the sort of dolls we’d buy and whether or not they’d be anatomically correct.
I flop to the floor, a giant jelly fish. Feel anatomically
correct. When it comes to the female reproductive
, we’re talking serious design fault. I mean, how can something so
, come out of something so
. Well, small-
. I’m twenty-nine, so my lovers are well into double digits. In some grotesque parody of a belly dancer, my luminous white stomach undulates up and down. Pain zigzags through my body. ‘Jesus Christ, I can’t do it!’ If only I’d smoked and stunted its growth.
‘Come, come,’ Yolanda chides with relish. ‘Somewhere on the planet a child is being born every ten seconds. It can’t be
I feel glad I’ve refused the enema. Crapping on Yolanda Grimes will be the most satisfying revenge.
As we waddle down the hospital corridor, stopping every few steps or so for me to lean on the wall, to pant, to try to breathe the way she’s taught me, I catch sight of us in the spherical mirror at the hinge of the hospital aisles. We make a curious pair, me, six foot, with cropped red hair, rose tattoo and glistening nose ring. Yolanda, short, plump, pantihosed. She looks like one of those punching dolls that are so weighted down that they bounce right back when you hit them. ‘Bugger off!’ I yell at her again.
‘Come along,’ she bounces back. ‘The birthing room is just around the corner.’
‘What do you mean
? The way I’m feeling it might as well be in frigging Africa!’
‘In my experience, Western women make far too much of the pain of childbirth. Rise above it!’
A case of stiff upper labia. ‘Just shove off and leave me alone!’ But as another contraction racks me, I find myself leaning into her for support.
It’s an inner city London hospital – the sort that would have to be cleaned before it could be condemned. With the shabby paintwork and the grimy linoleum, it’s like slipping into a Bucharest tourist brochure. Pushing through the rubber doors into the labour ward, the noise of moaning and muttering women is like an orchestra rehearsing for a piece of Romanian modern music.
‘Busy night in Babyland,’ Yolanda chirps.
It crosses my mind that she’s actually enjoying this. I want to get her off the ward, preferably off the edge of the world and into another galaxy, but I’m bent double. I reverberate, like a tuning fork. Dimly, I register that there are noises coming from me. Loud and terrible
Nightmare on Elm Street
screams. If you ever had any doubt about the gender of God, believe me, he’s a bloke.
I saw the labour room on the hospital tour. It has the pine-panelled walls of a tacky Swedish sauna. But I don’t notice it now. I’m falling forward into what looks like a large brown cow turd. It strikes me that Alex, a student in the sixties, would be amused to know they’d finally found a use for the bean-bag.
The nurse puts down her clipboard. To cover up my sumo-wrestler proportions, she gives me a hospital gown the size of a face cloth. She levers me up on to
birthing bed. ‘The baby’s head is not yet engaged.’ I look at her sharply. I wonder, in my paranoia, if she’s using that word because I’m unmarried. Hospital pamphlets list the essentials to pack for your labour; husbands are as
as hand towels. ‘But bubby usually turns around before the birth, so don’t worry.’ She wraps a rubber tourniquet around my arm. ‘I’ll be back every half-hour or so to take your blood pressure.’ I can tell her now it will be high. I’ve given myself diabetes from my sugar-coated version of Motherhood. I thought I’d be one of those mothers who puréed tofu and did creative things with play-dough. But it wasn’t like that. It hurt. ‘Oh God, God, I don’t want to do it.’
‘Come, come,’ Yolanda encourages, in that prodding, metallic voice of hers. ‘Peasants do it out in the field. They just squat down and pop! Out it comes, and then it’s back to work, pronto.’
‘Pop’ – now there’s an optimistic word. Alex calls birth a hard day’s work at the orifice. I’m aware of the midwife smearing my abdomen with a cold unction and applying suction pads. The air is suddenly filled with the tattoo of the baby’s heartbeat. I’m overcome. Not with joy. But panic. What have I done? How can I bring up a child here, in a society which hates children? In a country which keeps its dogs at home and sends its kids off to high-class kennels called Eton and Harrow? I don’t want a daughter who is well behaved – who heels when called. And how will I
her? There goes any chance of a career. I’ll give up
daughter, just as
mother gave up
. And so it goes. God. I’m little more than a pre-programmed lab rat. A bloody hamster.
Some students press their pimpled faces up against the glass of the viewing window. I can see them, their eyes alert but neutral. Like the eyes of the drug dealers I’ve seen in Soho. Yolanda lowers a triangular rubber mask over my nose and chin. With her hand on my stomach, she forecasts the contraction. ‘Now, breathe in, two, three.’ The machine gives a serpent hiss.
Hyperventilating, I knock the mask away. If I could talk, I’d say that giving gas to a woman having contractions is a little like giving an aspirin to someone having her leg amputated. That sets me off. I’m giggling hysterically. This is what happens when divers get the bends – they laugh as they drown.
A midwife bustles into the room. She takes my blood pressure. She listens to the foetal heart. ‘I’ll be along soon,’ she says. ‘Is there anything I can get you?’
Yes. A return ticket to Sydney. A waistline. A husband. ‘I’m … going … to need … drugs.’
‘No, no, dear. You’re doing fine.’ Yolanda swarms over me, proprietorially. ‘She’s a regular little Earth Mother,’ she assures the midwife. ‘We’ll muddle through.’
‘I want drugs!’ Why are people so keen on the No-Drugs-And-Squat-Earth-Mother routine? Do people
to the dentist and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to have a tooth out. Let’s do it
.’ I think of natural birth the way I think of a natural appendectomy. Mother Nature is a bad midwife. What I want is an
natural birth. But I can’t even start this sentence. I’m being sucked into a cocoon of pain. A tunnel where time is telescoped. Where seconds are lifetimes along. And hours infinitesimal.
I am rolling my pelvis round and round. Outside I can see the walls of the old hospital, scowling with gargoyles. The grey sky is like me, bulging, burstable. ‘Ice. I need ice.’
Muzak tinkles out of the hospital intercom. I don’t know what’s worse, the pain of labour or giving birth to the strains of Burt Bacharach. ‘Is she … nearly … out yet?’