Emily is sure she’s getting this baby stuff all wrong. Why does everyone look like they’re smashing motherhood when she’s barely made it out of the house? She’s usually covered in sick, eating yet another beige freezer dinner, and relying on wet wipes to clean the baby, herself and the house. And coffee. All the coffee. Surely she can’t be the only new mum totally winging it?
Emily’s about to discover that when you’re starting a family, what you really need are your friends…
Our baby is stuck. The previously calm birthing room is full
of doctors shouting at the midwives.
‘We need to get her to the operating theatre, now!’ one
yells. ‘Why the hell isn’t she there already?’
I strain to see behind me as the pain grips and twists.
‘Nick? NICK? Where are you?’
‘Here,’ Nick says. His hand firmly grabs mine.
‘What’s happening?’ I shrill, my voice not sounding like
‘It’s OK, Emily,’ my midwife reassures me, ‘you’ve been
in second stage labour for some time now. We are going to
help you get your baby out.’ She squeezes my shoulder and
hurries out of the room.
‘Nick, what’s happening? What does she mean?’ I demand
as my entire innards crunch and tighten in the world’s
‘It’s going to be alright,’ Nick says.
‘How do you know?’ I screech at him. The mother of all
contractions takes hold as I’m wheeled down the corridor.
‘Holy fuck!’ I hear myself scream.
The porters push the trolley through the swing doors and
the waiting doctor greets me, ‘Hello, Emily, I’m Doctor Marston.
We’re going to move you into a sitting position and ask
you to keep very still as I insert a spinal drip into your back.
Do you understand?’
‘Yes,’ I respond, as the contraction eases and I get my
‘OK, Emily, you need to keep still. That’s it, remain absolutely
Can he stop asking me to stay still? It’s like asking a boxer
to remain static as his opponent repeatedly punches him in
the face. My body wants to push our baby out.
‘Right, it’s in!’ he says triumphantly, and my midwife appears,
guiding me back into a horizontal position on the bed.
‘You’re so close, Emily, you can do this,’ my midwife
‘I can do this,’ I agree weakly.
‘You’re doing brilliantly.’ Nick wipes my sweaty forehead
with the sleeve of his jumper.
This isn’t how it’s meant to happen. I wanted ‘Here Comes
the Sun’, the Nina Simone version, playing triumphantly as
my child effortlessly slipped into the world. I’d imagined
doing the whole thing drugfree;
that I would get the baby
out on willpower alone. It’s all typed up in the birth plan.
Why isn’t it happening like the birth plan?
‘Get my baby OUT!’ The wave of another kneeshaking
contraction is starting to rumble. I can hear a low, Maorilike
wail, which I assume is coming from one of the other rooms
but as I draw breath, I’m surprised to fi nd it’s me making
‘What are you doing?’ I ask as a doctor straps monitors to
me linked up to big beeping machines. ‘Is there something
wrong with the baby?’ I panic. Where’s Nick? He’s not next
to me anymore.
‘Nothing’s wrong. You’ve been crowning for a while now
and your baby has just become a bit distressed so we need to
monitor the heart rate. Just try to relax,’ the doctor explains.
‘Nick? Nick?’ Where has he gone?
‘I’m here. I’m right here,’ he soothes as I grab for his hand
and pull him close to me. He’s changed. He’s wearing blue
scrubs, George Clooney in ER style, and a net that tames his
uncontrollable curly hair; he looks like he works in a chip
shop. Where did he get the outfit from?
‘They know what they’re doing, Em.’ His voice is calm
but his eyes look wild with fear. My breath is becoming
shallow and panting. People sound like they are talking
underwater and the skin on my face feels like it is about
three sizes too small for my skull. I squeeze Nick’s fingers
together so tightly that his hand starts to twitch.
I close my eyes and try to take in a deep breath but only
feel as if I can fi ll about ten per cent of my lungs.
‘Just breathe, breathe, Emily. Release it slowly like we
practised. Make your lips really tight. Like a cat’s bum, remember?’
Nick’s voice sounds far away and echoey.
I exhale and open my eyes. My vision has altered, the
harsh strip lights have developed a seventies porno soft focus
quality; the doctors busy around me through a frosted
pane of glass. Nick grins at me and I know he is trying to
mask his panic. He’s squatting down so he’s at eye level but
his face is too close to mine. I can feel his warm breath on my
cheek and it smells like Cornish pasties.
‘I love you. I love you so much. You’re doing so brilliantly.
You’re amazing. Keep going, keep going. You’re
nearly there.’ He squeezes my hand and emphasises every
I try to reply but no sound comes out. He tucks a sweaty
clump of hair behind my ear and I momentarily close my
eyes. When I open them, my legs are in stirrups. I hadn’t
even felt them move. These drugs are brilliant. Why hadn’t
I asked for them sooner? Stupid, self-righteous
I start to melt into a drug fuelled
bliss. My head feels like it is full of cotton wool; sentences drift off unfinished. I try
to smile at Nick but only half my face moves, like a kind of
Anne Robinson wink.
‘That’s my girl.’ He leans over and kisses my forehead.
‘We’re nearly there,’ he whispers, ‘we’re so nearly there.
I’m so proud of you.’
I reach out to touch his face but my arm feels like it weighs
a ton so I drop it back down onto the bed.
My midwife has both her hands pressed deep into my
stomach to feel when I am contracting; I can’t feel anything
at all now – thank fuck for drugs. ‘OK, OK, this is it. I can
feel another contraction coming, Emily. I need you to do one
last big push for me, can you do that?’
‘How? I can’t feel anything. How do I push?’ My body is
completely numb from my lower chest downwards.
‘Imagine you’re doing a poo. Push like you think you’re
doing a poo, Emily,’ she orders. ‘NOW! DO IT NOW!’
The world suddenly stands still. I’m looking at the silent,
midwife barking orders at me. Her mouth is
moving but I can’t hear her. I am utterly gripped by fear. I
can’t do this, I can’t do this. I want all this to stop. I can’t
do this. I’m not ready. I scrunch my eyes shut as the tears
spill down my cheeks. Can all this just stop for a moment?
I’m not ready.
Then quick as a fl ash I’m back in the room like I’ve been
given a shot of adrenaline. A glob of spit sprays out the
midwife’s mouth as she screams, ‘I SAID NOW, EMILY!’
I shut my eyes again, but this time, a sheer determination
takes over my whole body. I tense every muscle I can feel and
focus on tensing all those that are numb. I imagine myself sat
on the toilet and then push. And push. And push. And push.
‘And PUSH. Keep going. The head is almost out. Your
baby is almost here. ONE MORE BIG PUSH, EMILY!’
The doctor standing between my legs is nodding frantically
at the midwife. Fuck. This is it. Come on, Emily, you
can do this. Let’s get this baby out.
I gulp in another huge breath, grip Nick’s hand with all
my might and scream a deep, powerful scream from somewhere
right down in my solar plexus.
‘That’s it, Emily, that’s it, keep going. This is the one,
we’re going to get your baby out on this one, KEEP GOING,’
I gasp for another lungful of air and use the last bit of
upper body strength to bend forward, imagining I’m doing
the biggest poo of my life.
Suddenly there’s a sharp tug between my legs followed
by what sounds like someone spilling a pint of water on the
‘Yes! Well done, Emily, your baby is here.’
Our baby is here.
Everything pauses. There is a collective intake of breath
followed by an ear bleedingly
loud wail and the room becomes
a hive of activity again. I flop back on the bed, sweat
dripping in my eyes.
‘Daddy, do you want to come and see what sex it is?’ It
takes me a moment to realise the doctor is talking to Nick.
‘Oh my God, Emily . . .’ His voice cracks. ‘It’s a girl, she’s
‘Can I see her?’ I croak.
The doctor carefully places her on my chest. I’m stunned
by the alien feeling of having the weight of a one breath old
human being on top of me. She has tiny, tiny fingers with
titchy fingernails and a mouth the size of an old five pence,
opening and closing like a goldfish.
We have a daughter. All slippery, a full head of black hair
matted to her purple scalp with blood and discharge.
I look up at Nick, who is taking a picture of us both on his
phone, and say in a voice that comes out so deep it sounds
more like a burp: ‘It’s our baby.’
Later, we look back at that photograph which he immediately
texts to everyone we know, and both comment on how
much I look like a transvestite.
‘Do you have a name?’ a nurse asks.
Nick and I look at each other and without hesitation,
proudly say, ‘Lucy’, in unison. Of the five million names we
toyed with, we always came back to Lucy. We don’t agree
on a lot of things, but thankfully we agreed on this.
There is another tug between my legs. I’ve been so busy
staring at our baby, I hadn’t noticed the doctor was still
ferreting around down there. She looks up at me and says,
‘Would you like to see your placenta?’
I nod before I’ve really had a chance to think it through
and she passes it to the midwife who presents me with what
looks like a massive bloody steak.
‘Are you keeping it?’ she asks.
‘Am I what?’
‘Some people like to keep them, have it dried and made
into capsules, or necklaces.’ She’s still holding the meat tray
of bloody flesh.
‘Err . . . No, no, I’m fi ne thanks.’
‘Yes, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.’ She shrugs, putting
‘Can I hold her?’ Nick whispers.
‘You can do better than that, would you like to cut the
I wish she’d stop calling him ‘Daddy’. It’s totally creeping
Nick looks terrified as the midwife gently takes Lucy
from me and hands him a pair of scissors. He says afterwards how he wished the midwife had done it.
‘It was horrible.’ he explains.’ ‘Like sawing through
really gristly cheap meat, knowing that you might slip and
stab your new born baby.’
Nick picks her up tenderly and holds her in the crook
of his arm. He reminds me of the Athena poster, if the guy
was dressed like he worked in a chippy. A wave of emotion
shudders through me. This is my family now.
Nick passes Lucy back and I wrap a sheet around us both.
A purple, wrinkly hand rests on my chest territorially and I
think, I’m your mum. I’m your mum. I’m your mum.
The room has emptied so it’s just me, Lucy, Nick, the
midwife and one doctor, who looks at me reassuringly as she
settles on the stool between my legs, which are still strung
up in the stirrups.
‘Just relax,’ the doctor says perkily. ‘We had to cut
through several layers of your vaginal wall to get your baby
out, so I’m going to sew it up for you. You won’t feel a thing
for now. I’ll tidy it up as best I can so it’ll be nearly as good
as new.’ I don’t think I ever want to use my vagina again.
She might as well just sew the whole thing up.
‘Would you like some tea and toast?’ the midwife asks in
a kind voice that makes me want to cry. I am suddenly the
hungriest I’ve been in my entire life, having done the whole
labour on two peanut Tracker bars and a Milky Way. Under
normal circumstances, that would be an in between snack
snack. I give my brand new
baby a big sniff on the top of
her sticky head, and gratefully say, ‘Yes please.’
‘I’ll go and put that toast on for you. Just relax, you’ve
done the hard work now.’ She smiles. Those words stick
with me, and later I will think how cruel it is to mislead
someone so much, so early on.
The hard work has only just begun…
Thank you to @orionbooks and @alexxlayt for letting me share this extract with you as part of the blog tour.