This story first appeared in the May 2015 issue of Metro. Illustration by Angela Keoghan.
His nickname is Marvin and it’s thanks to him that for the past few weeks, my Thursdays and Saturdays have been filled with talk of vaginas and epidurals, natural birth and the breech position.
We’re expecting our first baby at the end of May — though since he has my genes he will no doubt turn up late and dishevelled and wondering where his sunglasses are. It’s all new to us: we have friends with children, though until now we have been the ones you invite for a boozy dinner after they’ve gone to bed. My experience of babies is almost entirely theoretical, restricted to the vaguest memories of my brother coming home when I was two and a half. And so the weirdest thing about becoming a dad is how it is both abstract and visceral. You know it’s happening, you know it’s all going to change and you welcome that. But because your body doesn’t change, it’s hard to fully comprehend.
Clearly, some education was required. Early on, we signed up to a couple of websites and apps. You enter your due date, and they send you a weekly email. Parenting 101 straight to your iPad! These are really designed for ladies, and so they concern such issues as how to deal with stretch marks and water retention, but the most useful thing is that, each week, it tells you what size your baby is compared to a particular fruit. Early on, he was a pea. Then he was a blueberry, and later an apple; I was a little bit discomfited imagining him as a pineapple.
Naturally, this was a great excuse to give him silly names — Percy, Barry, Alvin — until he became a mango, so we called him Marvin. I’m afraid to say it stuck.
And so it was that we enrolled in an antenatal class in Birkenhead. Twelve couples, two single women, everyone in their 30s, Mazdas in the carpark, chocolate biscuits and tea in the break. We wear name badges with our first names on them. We learn about many things, though the most unique lesson was when we had to inflate a balloon to the size of a breast and practise breastfeeding with a doll. (The men went first.) One evening, we visited the birthing suite at North Shore Hospital and it seemed a strange, harshly lit place to welcome our son into the world.
That’s Thursdays. On Saturdays, we go to HypnoBirthing, which isn’t quite as kooky as it sounds. It came out of the States in the late 1980s, a reaction to the heavily medicalised approach of the previous 50 years, in which women were anaesthetised and drugged and “interventions” were standard. (Even today, a full quarter of births in New Zealand are by caesarean delivery.) It’s based on the idea of natural birthing, and it uses relaxation and breathing techniques to calm the mother; it’s all about conquering fear. What I really like about it, though, is that it relies very heavily on the “birth partner” and a lot of this is about telling Hannah to breathe, which is what I say when she gets stressed and which has the predictable effect of annoying her even further.
The first class was the morning after my brother’s wedding on Waiheke — I acted as celebrant, but that’s another story — and so I turned up brutally hungover but pretending not to be even though I smelled of single malt and the sausage roll I bought from the Matiatia ferry terminal at 7am. In our class there are teachers, digital strategists, yoga instructors, a bus driver and a bloke who watches sport on his iPhone at any opportunity.
It’s a nice class. We don’t do exercises with balloons, there is home baking in the break and a spot of meditation at the end, after which I do the washing-up. We drive home contemplative and relaxed.
Then I went to Melbourne for work. I just wanted to be at home. On the way to the airport, I dropped into Zara on Bourke St to buy him his first pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers to match. Standing there getting to grips with ridiculously little sizes in front of me, it really hit me: these were my son’s first jeans.
Now I just have to tell Hannah to breathe.