February the fifteenth is a very special day for me. It is the day I gave birth to my first child. It is also the day my husband left me. As he was present at the birth I can only assume the two events weren't entirely unre- lated.
I knew I should have followed my instincts.
I subscribed to the classical or, you might say, the traditional role fathers play in the birth of their children. Which goes as follows.
Lock them in a corridor outside the delivery room. Allow them admit- tance at no time. Give them forty cigarettes and a lighter. Instruct them to pace to the end of the corridor. When they reach this happy position, in- struct them to turn around and return to whence they came.
Repeat as necessary.
Conversation should be curtailed. They are allowed to exchange a few words with any other prospective father pacing alongside them.
"My first," (wry smile).
"Congrats...my third," (rueful smile).
"Well done," (forced smile--is he trying to imply that he's more virile).
Feelings do tend to run high around this time.
Or they are allowed to fling themselves on any doctor who emerges ex- hausted from the delivery room, covered in blood up to his elbows, and gasp "Any news, Doctor???" To which the doctor might reply "Oh God no, man!--she's only three
centimeters dilated." And your man will nod knowingly, while understand- ing nothing other than the fact that there is still a fair bit of pacing to go.
He is also allowed to let a spasm of anguish pass over his face when he hears the agonies of his loved one within. And when it's all over and mother and child have been cleaned up and mother is in a clean nightgown and is lying back against the lacy pillows looking exhausted but joyful and the perfect infant is suckling at her breast, then, and only then, should the father be permitted to enter.
But no, I gave in to peer pressure and agreed to be all new age about it. I was very doubtful, I can tell you. I mean, I wouldn't want any of my close friends or relatives at the removal of...say...my appendix. Humiliating! You'd be at such a disadvantage. All these people looking at you, at places of yourself you'd never even seen before, not even with a mirror. I didn't know what my large intestine looked like. And by the same token I didn't know what my cervix looked like. And nor did I want to. But half the staff of St Michael's Hospital did.
I felt at a great disadvantage. That I wasn't doing myself justice.
To put it simply, I was not looking my best. As I say, a humiliating kind of a business.
I'd seen enough macho inarticulate truck drivers on the TV, a tear in their eye, a catch in their voice, struggling to tell you about how being present at the birth of their child was the most pro...prof...pr...pr...deep! thing that ever happened to them. And I'd heard stories about beer-slugging jock rugby players who invited the entire team over to watch the video of their wives giving birth.
But then again, you'd wonder about their motives.
Anyway, James and I got all emotional about it and decided he should be there.
So that's the story of how he was there at the birth. The story of why and how he left me is a bit longer.
I'm sorry, you must think I'm very rude. We've hardly even been intro- duced and here I am telling you all about the awful things that have happened to me.
Let me just give you the briefest outline of myself and I'll save details like, for example, my first day at school until later, if we have the time.
Let's see, what should I tell you? Well, my name is Claire and I'm twenty- nine and, as I mentioned, I've just had my first child two days ago (a little girl, seven pounds, four ounces, totally beautiful) and my husband (did I mention his name is James?) told me about twenty-four hours ago that he has been having an affair for the past six months, with--and get this--not even his secretary or someone glamorous from work, but with a married woman who lives in the apartment two floors below us. I mean, how sub- urban can you get! And not only is he having an affair but he wants a di- vorce.
I'm sorry if I'm being unnecessarily flippant about this. I'm all over the place. In a moment I'll be crying again. I'm still in shock, I suppose. Her name is Denise and I know her quite well.
Not quite as well as James does, obviously.
The awful thing is she always seemed to be really nice.
She's thirty-five (don't ask me how I know this, I just do; and at the risk of sounding very sour grapes and losing your sympathy, she does look thirty-five) and she has two children and a nice husband (quite apart from my one, that is). And
apparently she's moved out of her apartment and he's moved out of his (or ours, should I say) and they've both moved into a new one in a secret location.
Can you believe it? How dramatic can you get? I know her husband is Italian, but I really don't think he's likely to kill the pair of them. He's a waiter, not a Mafia stooge, so what's he going to do? Black pepper them to death? Compliment them into a coma? Run them over with the dessert trolley?
But again, I seem flippant.
And it's all such a disaster. I don't even know what to call my little girl. James and I had discussed some names--or, in retrospect, I had discussed them and he had pretended to listen--but we hadn't decided on anything definite. And I seem to have lost the ability to make decisions on my own. Pathetic, I know, but that's marriage for you. Bang goes your sense of per- sonal autonomy!
I wasn't always like this. Once I was strong-willed and independent. But that all seems like a long, long time ago.
I've been with James for five years, and we've been married for three years. And, my God, but I love that man.
Although we had a less than auspicious start, the magic took hold of us very quickly. We both agree that we fell in love about fifteen minutes after we met and we stayed that way.
Or at least I did.
For a long time I never thought I'd meet a man who wanted to marry me.
Well, perhaps I should qualify that.
I never thought I'd meet a nice man who wanted to marry me. Plenty of lunatics, undoubtedly. But a nice man, a bit older than me, with a decent job, good-looking, funny, kind. You know--one who didn't look at me askance when I mentioned The Partridge Family, not one who apologized for not being able to get me a birthday present because his estranged wife had taken all his salary under a court maintenance order, not one who made me feel old-fashioned and inhibited because I got angry when he said that he'd screwed his ex-girlfriend the night after he screwed me ("My God, you convent girls are so uptight"), not one who made me feel inad- equate because I