Normally when I write a blog I tweet links to it, post links on Facebook, generally point people in its direction.
But not this one. This is a secret blog, published at midnight, with no publicity and no entry in the index of posts.
It has just become 1 May 2016, at this time 16 years ago I was drunk and hiding. Well, not so much hiding as keeping out of the way, because my next-door neighbour was being sick in my kitchen sink and I really didn’t want to have to deal with that. In about 5½ hours a doctor is going to make the decision that my wife, who’s been in hospital for almost all of the last month, can no longer manage to keep both herself and the baby she’s carrying alive and that an emergency caesarian section is needed. Somebody will be tasked with phoning me, which will wake not only me but also my parents, my in-laws and my brother – all of whom are visiting for the bank holiday weekend. We’re all very hungover.
At just after 8am, around 4 minutes after the first incision, my first child, my daughter will arrive, purple and screaming, 6 weeks premature, and weighing 3lb 11½oz. Today is her 16th birthday.
The time that my wife spent in hospital reading up on the condition that had put her there, preeclampsia, woke something in her. She’d given already given up on her plan of being a teacher and had dotted around clerical jobs with no real direction. She decided to become a midwife. This was not a light decision; she had the wrong A-levels, degree level midwifery courses are notoriously hard to get on to and, if you do, they are intellectually, emotionally and physically demanding. A huge amount of the course is spent working without pay, entrusted with the lives of the women and their babies under your care and also the career of your supervisory midwife, under whose registration you practice.
My wife, who was a hotel receptionist when we first met, who had dotted around temping jobs, took two A-levels in a year and passed them both, secured her place and went on to get a 1st Class Honours degree in midwifery. I’ve never told her how unspeakably proud I am of her. God, I hope she knows.
In case you don’t know midwives make a difference. Where there are midwives outcomes for women and babies are empirically and demonstrably better. In the starkest possible terms, where there are midwives fewer people die.
Because of this a lot of what my wife does is handing healthy babies to healthy parents – I sometimes wonder how many hundreds of people there are in the world had my wife’s hands as the first to ever touch them – but she also explains complications to people, she keeps terrified women who don’t speak our language and are in the worse pain of their life together, she makes (and bears legal responsibility for) huge decisions made in situations of intense pressure, she skips tea-breaks, lunch-breaks, toilet-breaks as a matter of routine to provide care…and sometimes, when all there is to do is wait for a new life to become a tiny corpse, she sits and cuddles a dying baby as it breathes its last and then she goes and makes clay imprints of its tiny, sometimes translucent, hands and feet as a memento for the grieving parents, then she has to give herself a shake and go and see her next patient.
And she does it all for for less money than I get for being pretty good with spreadsheets.
That tiny baby, my daughter, born 16 years ago tonight is now an amazing young lady. She’s strong, and confident, and clever, and talented and beautiful…and all the other things that a dad should say about his daughter on her 16th, and I wonder if she understands that the one difficulty she’s ever caused us – being born – started that ball rolling on an her mother’s career. Does she know that career means that she has hundreds of brothers and sisters who are also her mother’s children?
Under the noise of the junior doctor’s strike it’s little noted or cared that midwives are also coming under pressure and face seeing their role drastically reduced. There’s going to be a fight to keep them, which is a fight for nothing less than the lives of women and children. That will needs to be a big noisy fights.
But not tonight.
Because it’s midnight.
And this is a secret blog, and a secret love letter to 2 amazing women.