If you ask me what the proudest moment of my life is, I’d say the birth of my first child. But inside, I’d be thinking about the time Michael Jackson waved at me during his 1995 HIStory Tour.
Does that make me a total arsehole? Possibly. Hell, probably. But I stand by it. Because, mass media has so expertly groomed us to associate childbirth with words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘miraculous’, that you feel bad using phrases that actually describe it.
Like, ‘a bit fucking gross tbh’.
A few years back, I was shooting an ad that involved a father holding his newborn child. I was pretty young and very childless at the time, so I just assumed the kid they brought in was, in fact, a newborn. He was pink and glowing and completely adorable.
I realise now that actual newborns are none of those things. They’re not pink. They don’t glow with a healthy flush. And they’re definitely not adorable.
For example, the birth of my son was a nightmarish assault on all of my senses.
For starters, he came out the sunroof in an emergency C-Section. I was parked up behind a little curtain, by my wife’s head. It was tense and filled with the horribly over-cheerful, over-compensating conversation of the shit-scared. But after a bit, it was time. He was ready to come out. With a reverential whisper, someone told me to stand up and look over the curtain
lest I miss this miracle of nature.
I stood up, wide-eyed, ready to witness something akin to a birthing scene in a Jennifer Aniston movie. Instead, I saw them pulling a bluish-grey blob out of my wife’s guts (yep, saw actual guts. Wasn’t cool). The next thing I noticed was the film of cheesy goop he was covered in. My lovely, soft-focus commercial certainly didn’t feature that shit.
This was Attenborough-esque, without the soothing sounds of Attenborough to calm me down.
The third thing I noticed was that he was completely silent. Not a peep. Not a breath. And no one was saying anything about it. They took him over to a little prep station, out of sight. And the silence continued. And continued. You try and stay calm, but inside, your heart is being crushed by ice-cold fingers, because you just know that silence is going on too long. You know something’s wrong.
Then, finally, he cried, and the nurses smiled and acted like that two-ton silence was totally normal. And even though it totally was, and that silence had, in fact, really only lasted a few seconds, I couldn’t help but feel a full-blown rage towards them for making us endure a moment of such utter powerlessness.
But this childbirth story doesn’t end there. Fuck no. We’ve only covered two of the senses. Strap in.
Next, they called me over to the prep station to cut the umbilical cord. Call me crazy, but I haven’t spent a lot of time visualising an umbilical cord. I guess I’d unconsciously romanticised it a bit. I imagined it to be sorta like the
soft, slimy, shit tube you pull out of prawns when you’re shelling them. In reality, the umbilical cord is not unlike the texture of an elderly woman’s finger dipped in lube (that’s a story for another time).
It’s gristly. It’s tough. It bleeds. It takes several cuts to get through. So, with squeamish zest, I got busy hacking off Agnes from lawn bowls’ pinky. And then the ‘miracle of childbirth’ continued.
They told me to give him a kiss for the camera. I paused. Just between us, I didn’t really want to get that cheesy shit all over my lips, but I’m almost certain being the dad that turns down kissing his first-born gets you some kind of award in hell. So I puckered up and planted one on his bruised, cheesy, weirdly rough little face. Sure, I was quickly falling head over heels in love with him… but not fast enough to disregard the fact that he smelled weird – like chemicals and poo and something musty, which is fair enough, I guess. I reckon anyone would smell like chemicals and poo and something musty if they were locked in a broom closet for nine months.
And so, with all but my sense of taste assaulted, I held him aloft to take a proper look at my unexpectedly gross firstborn.
We’d made it through. It wasn’t pleasant, but we’d done it.
And then he pissed.
A jet of hot defiance straight to the face.
And so, to anyone that saw that commercial of mine all those years ago, I apologise for selling you a hot steaming lie when it comes to childbirth and newborns. They’re not cute and cuddly and warm like my ad made out.
In those opening moments of life, they’re weird and scary and kind of gross.
But if it helps, karma tastes a lot like baby piss.