'This baby is going to be born here or in the car'

On the road ... Birthplace of the writer's son.
On the road ... Birthplace of the writer's son. 

I had imagined I'd spend the days after the birth of our second child making myself useful. I'd usher family and friends in and out of the hospital, I'd wrangle the bewildered first born.

Instead, on Tuesday afternoon, I was at a carwash on Cleveland Street, Sydney, haggling with a friendly bloke called Sam.

"That's good news," he said, as I explained the situation and he inspected the blood on the passenger seat and headrest.

He charged me $150, a $30 discount for the good news.

Kathleen had woken about 1am a week after our baby was due with what she thought might have been a contraction. An hour later she woke me and then called the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and told them she was having irregular contractions. Not too strong.

As we turn onto Johnston Street in Annandale, I hear a mewling noise and look down to see a bundle of limbs between Kathleen's legs

We were told to prepare. We should leave home when her waters broke or when the contractions became regular. "Take two Panadol and try to get some sleep," she was told.

By 3am the contractions were not regular but they were a little stronger. At some point over the next 40 minutes I remembered some advice we had been given by a midwife months earlier who had heard that Kathleen's first labour was only four hours.

"If they tell you not to come in," she had said, "ignore them".

"This baby is going to be born here or in the car," I muttered as Kathleen pottered about between the cramps. She checked her hospital bag. I made a hot water bottle and feckless reassuring noises. I might even have made tea.


Kathleen's waters broke with a splash by a blue Ikea couch and, in my memory anyway, time starts to get a little plastic.

A minute or two later we are on the verandah with the overnight bag, a towel and a pillow. Kathleen stops at the front step, puts the pillow against a wooden post, sinks her face into it and bellows long and loud and low. The first of the regular contractions.

At the car door she tries to climb in and realises she can't fold her body. I drop the back until it rests against the rear seat where Kathleen kneels, hugging the headrest.

Three minutes later we're heading fast down Robert Street, Balmain, towards Victoria Road. ''It's coming,'' she moans.

I drive fast past a police car waiting at the red light. I remember hoping to be pulled over, hoping someone will take over the wheel and put me in the back seat.

Perhaps they'd even make me get out of the car entirely to explain myself.

I glance into the rear view mirror to see the police car sitting at the lights.

Kathleen's contraction subsides and she stops biting the headrest long enough to say, ''Don't worry about the screaming, I'm not in that much pain, it just feels good to scream.''

I put my left hand across her back to brace her as we slow a little on the way into the red lights and the traffic coming off Anzac Bridge.

"DON'T SLOW DOWN," she screams. The third contraction.

As we turn onto Johnston Street in Annandale, I hear a mewling noise and look down to see a bundle of limbs in slow movement between Kathleen's calves. It flashes black and white as we pass under streetlights.

"Should I stop?"


I couldn't see much at the time but I later learnt this was a considered decision.

Kathleen was holding the baby's head and neck with one hand as she gripped the headrest with the other. She'd already checked that the neck was clear of the cord. No point in stopping.

The baby is good to us. It cries quietly but often enough to let us know he is OK.

I feel the need to contribute and turn up the heater.

We pull into the labour ward entrance at RPA and I feel a little self-conscious running in to tell the desk that my partner has just had a baby in the car. It's one of those lines you don't expect to use, like "This is a stick-up" or "Take him away".

The midwives don't run but they are fast on their feet, one of them carrying a big red canvas bag of equipment. By now Kathleen, still kneeling on the front seat, is completely calm. Blissed-out even.

"Hi," she says as they arrive at the car.

A midwife on her haunches clamps the umbilical cord and offers me the shears. My hand seems surprisingly steady.

Another needs to know what time the boy was born. I look at the clock for the first time since we left home. It is about 15 minutes since Kathleen's waters broke.

Clyde Johnston O'Malley was born at about 3.50 on Monday morning.

"So did the two Panadol help?" asks someone with a sheepish laugh.