“Go make us a cuppa, will you?”
Fiona pretended she didn’t hear her boyfriend, but inside she seethed. It was funny when he asked the first couple of times, but the further she passed her due date and the bigger she grew, the more that harmless little joke grated on her.
She wasn’t happy with being so utterly useless. She’d have bloody loved to go and make him a cup of tea, and perhaps even reach up to the top cupboard to retrieve the biscuit tin for him, but she was incapable. She felt like a beached whale.
It wasn’t just that her bump made her waddle and limited her range of movement, but that it also caused her excruciating pain in her back, hips and pelvis. It pushed at her lungs and made her feel like she was gasping for air every time she got to her feet, and it squished up her stomach and caused unbearable acid reflux with every morsel of food she ate.
And then there was her bladder. Her bladder seemed to be the size of a postage stamp, which meant she was up and down to the loo every half hour without fail. It was workout enough getting off her arse and up the stairs and sat down on the toilet before she wet herself, never mind making cups of sodding tea.
“Go on, Fi, make us a cuppa?” Darren had that daft smile on his face that he always used when he was trying to make her laugh. But nothing would have her giggling today. Even if she’d have been in the mood to giggle she’d be too afraid to, lest it made her wee herself or set the baby off kicking.
Oh, he liked to kick, alright. He kicked like his life depended on. Anyone would think he was thrashing around trying to escape, but despite Fiona describing to him his destined exit route in great detail, he didn’t seem to be making a move towards it any time soon.
He was 10 days overdue. 10 excruciating days. Fiona was beginning to wonder if he was going to camp out inside her forever. The worst part was that as much as she wanted him out, by Christmas eve she wanted him to stay there for a few more days. She was desperate not to have a Christmas day baby. She didn’t want her son’s birthday to be overshadowed every year by the festivities. It was bad enough that he was due on the 14th December which meant birthday and Christmas expense all in the same month, but at least it wasn’t Christmas day. She’d spent each day after the 14th begging him to make an appearance soon, and now it was Christmas eve and she was hoping he’d stay cocooned inside her for 48 more hours.
“The joke’s old, Darren.”
“I know, I’m just trying to cheer you up a bit.”
“Nothing will cheer me up. A glass of wine and a mince pie might take the edge off, but it won’t cheer me up.”
“Do you want me to – ”
“I can’t bloody drink, can I?” she snapped.
Darren gulped. “I know, was just offering. I mean, one won’t hurt, will it?”
Fiona sighed. She’d had a glass of vino here and there throughout the pregnancy and she knew one wouldn’t hurt now. But she knew it would only make the need to pee more frequent, and she was convinced that one small glass would give her a taste for the stuff and she’d end up smoking the baby out with extortionately high blood alcohol levels. She didn’t want the little guy to be born with a hangover.
“S’alright, don’t want one. I’ll make us a cuppa.”
“No, let me do it love.”
“No!” she snapped again, for no real reason. “I should be trying to move about more often, shouldn’t I? Might help to get things moving.”
She shuffled her bum towards the edge of the sofa and began rocking back and forth as best she could. She was trying to get enough momentum up to stand, but her attempts were cut short when Darren hopped up, grabbed her arms and yanked her to her feet.
“I can manage,” she said, even though she couldn’t.
She shuffled towards the kitchen, rubbing at her back as she went though it did little to numb the aches and pains. Darren followed her, and his hovering irritated her. She leaned against the kitchen counter to take a short breather, and Darren busied himself by filling the kettle and sticking it on to boil.
He retrieved two clean mugs from the draining board when Fiona barked at him again.
“I. Can. Manage.”
Darren placed the mugs on the side and backed away from them. He instinctively moved to the fridge to grab the milk, then thought better of it. He watched her as she shuffled to the mugs, reached over her bump for the box of teabags, and tossed one in each cup. Then she shuffled to the fridge and opened the door. She was looking for something – anything – to shove in her mouth and distract her from her misery, ignoring the fact that it would cause more misery later which the indigestion started. She spied a large hunk of Wensleydale at the back and reached for it. She grabbed the milk with her other hand and nudged the door closed again with her bump.
She unwrapped the wedge of cheese and took a bite. Darren tried to hide his distaste, but he failed.
“Stop watching me like I’m some kind of freak.” Cheese crumbs flew from her lips as she spoke.
“It’s just that I thought we were saving that to have with the Christmas cake.”
“If I want to eat Wensleydale I’m going to fucking eat Wensleydale. And I’m not going to bother with a plate and a knife because I’m just going to eat the whole thing anyway and you can piss off away from me if you don’t like it. Go and watch the telly and let me make the stupid tea.”
Darren nodded and slinked back to the living room. Fiona took another bite of Wensleydale then placed the wedge on the counter as she poured boiling water in the mugs. Then she felt a twinge which took her breath away, and spilled hot water over the edge of one of the mugs. She slammed the kettle onto the counter and rubbed at her bump.
The pain had disappeared almost as soon as it was gone, and she felt fine, other than her aching back and hips and the uncomfortable sensation of being as big as a house.
She picked up the Wensleydale and held it to her lips, but another twinge of pain – more intense this time – wracked her and she dropped the cheese on the floor. She leaned on the counter and took a deep breath, then she felt something pop and gush.
She groaned. It would be now, wouldn’t it? Just when she was about to have a cuppa. She noticed a growing puddle on the floor beneath her, and noted that it was creeping perilously close the cheese. She could cope with a bit of floor dust on her Wensleydale, but not bodily fluids. And there was no chance she could bend down far enough to pick it up.
Darren dashed to her, his face terrified. Was she in labour, or was she mad at him about something?
Darren retrieved it, and as he bent down he saw the pool on the floor.
“It has happened. Baby has happened. I think he’s coming.”
“Shit! Fi, I can’t drive you, I had three beers this evening.”
Darren looked sheepish. “I went to the pub with my Dad when I went to see him. I didn’t think baby would come tonight?”
“I’m 10 days overdue, it could have happened at any point.”
“I know, but I just had this feeling it would be Christmas day.”
“Well you were wrong. What a surprise. Fuck’s sake, Darren. Call an ambulance, then!”
Darren ran down the hallway for the phone.
“No, wait, come and help me sit down first.”
He ran back and wrapped an arm around her waist to support her, and the pair shuffled down the corridor and into the living room. He lowered her to the sofa and she slumped down just as another contraction took hold.
It was a big one this time, and Fiona let out a deep groan which terrified both her and Darren.
“Shit, what do I do?”
“Call the ambulance!”
“But you’re in pain.”
“Exactly! Go do it.”
Darren bounced from foot to foot, then dashed for the phone which lay on a table by the front door. He was back by Fiona’s side in seconds and relieved to see that nothing horrifying had happened during his absence.
“Stop flapping, Darren, you’re making me nervous.”
“Sorry, I am nervous,” he muttered as he dialled 999 and held the phone to his ear with quivering hands. “Ambulance, please. My wife’s in labour. Her waters have broken. Huh? Fi, how long between your contractions?”
“I don’t know, I haven’t been using a stopwatch, have I?”
“Like – a minute or two? Urrgh, there’s another.”
“Um, the last two were maybe 30 seconds apart?”
“They’re getting faster really quickly, tell her.”
“They’re getting faster really quickly. Yep. Yep.” He pulled the phone away from his mouth and whispered, “Ambulance on the way, no more than 10 minutes.”
Fiona’s shoulders slumped with relief.
“Okay. Will do. Yep, thanks a lot. Bye.” Darren hung up and tossed the phone onto the sofa.
“You hung up?”
“But what if I give birth right here?”
“The ambulance is coming.”
“Yeah but things seem to be happening really fast and… urgh.”
Darren dropped to his knees and took hold of Fiona’s hand. She clutched it with a vice-like grip and caused Darren’s face to contort in pain just like her own.
“… what if it comes before they’re here?”
“Don’t let it – just hold it?”
“Hold it, Darren? You think I can just hold a baby in?”
“I need to get down on the floor.”
“No, you’re better off where you are, Fi, you’ll be comfier.”
“I need to be on the floor!” She shuffled her bum to the edge of her seat and slowly slid down and on the floor. “Help me get my leggings off.”
“Fi, I really don’t think it’s a good idea to be stripping off, you should wait until – ”
“I can’t, Darren. I can’t explain it, but I need to be…” Another contraction stopped her short, and this time Darren opted to rub her back so that she couldn’t turn the bones in his hand to dust.
When the pain passed, Darren did as he was told and gently slid her leggings down and over her feet.
“The carpet –”
“Fuck the carpet! Get my knickers off now or so help me it will be the last time I let you remove my underwear.”
Darren followed orders, and as another contraction took hold he rubbed her legs in what he hoped was a soothing manner, thinking better than to comment on how much pricklier they were than usual.
The doorbell rang and Darren looked up to see blue flashing light emerging through the crack in the curtains.
“Ambulance, thank fuck,” said Darren, and he clambered up to answer it. Fiona listened to the familiar creak of the front door, and then she heard singing.
“God rest ye merry gentlemen, let nothing you dismay.”
It was the Lockes from next door. Fiona rolled her eyes. Every Christmas eve they turned up crooning and pressured them into giving them spare change for their charity collection.
“Sorry, guys, we’re just in the middle of something.” That was Darren. Too polite for his own good.
“Well, actually, Fi’s just in labour. We’re waiting on the ambulance.”
More murmurs. Fiona hoped to God and his merry gentlemen that he didn’t let the Lockes in.
“I don’t know if we need help, I hope not but things seem to be moving quickly and –”
“No!” Fiona screamed, just as another contraction coursed through her. “Get. In. Here!”
“Sorry, gotta go, thanks, will do, sorry, thanks, bye, Merry Christmas!”
Darren slammed the door and returned to Fiona’s side.
“Lockes carolling, and those students across the road have got blue lights flashing from their living room. Ambulance should be here any second though,”
Fiona shook her head. “I need to push. I just – I can feel it. I need to, Darren. He’s coming.”
Darren wanted nothing less than to deliver his son in his living room without a trained medical professional in sight. But Fiona seemed adamant. Mother’s intuition, I suppose. “Okay, love,” he said with what he hoped was an air of confidence.
He grabbed a blanket from the sofa, folded it methodically and positioned it beneath Fiona’s bum. Then he crouched before her and braced himself to see something he’d been dreading for weeks.
Fiona took a deep breath and bore down, letting out a guttural moan.
“Go on, love, that’s perfect.” He had no idea if it was, but that seemed to be the kind of thing people said on One Born Every Minute.
She pushed again, suddenly feeling a burst of energy rip through her at the thought of finally getting the damned thing out of her.
“Oh my God, I think I can see the head.”
Fiona began to sob at that. It was really happening. They were about to meet their son. She sucked in another lungful of air and pushed as if her life depended on it.
“You’re doing amazing, Fi. You’re doing so good – keep going. I’m so proud of you.”
Darren gripped his wife’s knees and felt tears spring to his eyes. He could see his son’s crown, and despite being covered in a thin layer of slimy gunk, it looked beautiful.
Fiona pushed again, and now Darren could see the entirety of the back of his head.
“Go on, you’re almost there Fi!”
Darren put his hands underneath the throw and got ready to catch. He felt as though his rugby training had finally come in handy. Fiona pushed once more and Darren wrapped his hands around the tiny human. That’s when fear suddenly took hold again. He was so small that it didn’t seem natural. And then he began to scream, and Darren wondered how on earth something so minute could create such an excruciating sound.
“We did it,” Fiona said weakly.
Darren shuffled towards his girlfriend and carefully lay the baby boy upon her chest. His wailing gradually ceased, and Fiona’s began. Darren pulled a couple of cushions from the sofa and positioned them behind her head so that she could lay back. Together they gazed at the squishy, wrinkly thing that was half him, half her, and their whole worlds stood still.
It was a perfect moment; one that would be in their hearts and minds for the rest of their lives. One which they’d tell their son about when he was old enough to understand, and then tell his kids about when they were old enough too.
“What are we going to call him?” Fiona whispered, as she watched her son grasp hold of one of Darren’s fingers.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Jesus.”
Fiona stared at her boyfriend. There was not a hint of jest on his face.
“Fuck off, Darren.”
Read more in the Night Before Christmas short story series.