Lo’s small hands cups the baby’s head with great tenderness, guiding the baby expertly down the birth passage. When the head finally emerges, Lo sighs his satisfaction. “Slowly now, slowly. No pushing, please, just relax. That big uterine muscle will do the rest now. Gently, Fanny, gently. Breathe deeply, slowly…it’s going well down here. Don’t rush…take your time…” His voice was calm, authoritative, encouraging. Vetfaan wipes the beads of sweat from Fanny’s brow, smiling at her. “So far, so good…”
His remark gets interrupted by a lusty howl.
There’s something magical about that first breath, that initial switch from being immersed in fluid for nine months…and then, within the space of a single second, the baby has to discard the life-support system it depended on for so long to become a self-sufficient entity. The heart rearranges the blood flow to flood the lungs with oxygen-hungry blood; the little air sacks of the lung – collapsed until now – instantly inflate to accept the first breath of air. And then the biggest miracle: oxygen diffuses into the blood, changing from blue to red, and the cheeks flush with the colour of life. More oxygen! the brain shouts as it commands the breathing centre to send the nerve impulses to the little muscles between the ribs. And then, then, the rushing air to and from the lungs generate the most beautiful sound a mother can ever hear…
“Here’s your son, your first-born.” Lo has wrapped the baby in a towel after wiping away most of the waxy material that covered the little body. “He’s absolutely perfect.” Like it happens with every baby he’s ever caught, Lo feels the tug of emotion that causes him to sniff loudly.
Vetfaan accepts the little bundle, not trusting himself to speak. The tiny hands move about aimlessly, the small feet kick this way and that. His son! His little boy. Eyes brimming with tears, he holds the infant for Fanny to see.
It’s impossible to describe the look in Fanny’s eyes. Pride. Joy. Relief. Love. If ever there was a definition of beauty, it is that look a mother has when she sees her infant for the first time. The victory of achievement; the primal urge of motherhood fulfilled; the line of generations reaching in to the future…all these, and so much, much more gets caught up in that look. It’s special. It’s indescribable. It’s true beauty.
“Thank you,” she breathes, not addressing those around her bed.
“Now for number two…” The icy hand of fear clamps itself around Lo’s heart. The next baby is still in its original breech position: any delay now would increase the chances of the umbilical chord sneaking out first, which would clamp off the baby’s blood supply even before he could draw his first breath. The head could get stuck. Joints might get dislocated…
“We’ll just wait for the uterus to recover, then the contractions will resume. And then, dear Fanny, you’ll have to push with all your might. We have to get him out as fast as we can.”
“Er…Lo?” It’s Gertruida, standing in the doorway.
He looks up in surprise. “Yes?”
“The baby is still a breech presentation, isn’t he?” Lo nods, a puzzled frown crinkling his brow. “I brought music. And headphones. Would you mind terribly much if I tried that?”
“Why on earth? Do you think it’ll help Fanny?”
“No, Lo. It’ll help the baby – or at least, I hope so. You see, Fanny has taken to listening to Brahms during the pregnancy – to calm the babies, understand? The small ones are used to the melodies, the sound. Now I read somewhere one can use music to turn a baby. It’ll do no harm…?”
Lo watches in amazement as she places the one headphone just above Fanny’s pubic bones. Then, turning the volume up loud, she sits back.
“We’re calling him, Fanny; he must follow the music now.”
The uterus is still in a refractory stage, the muscle absorbing glucose and nutrients before the next set of contractions must propel the second baby into a new world. Gertruida, ever curious, lays a hand on Fanny’s tummy while she smiles up at the new mother’s worried face.
“You know, Lo told me his Gramps had many faults, but he taught him about faith and hope and never giving up. Now the four of us must take this wisdom to heart.” Her eyes travel over Lo, Vetfaan and Fanny, finally resting on the first baby. “I beg your pardon…the five of us must do that.”
She gets weak smiles from everybody.
Lo wrings his tiny hands, coughs, and tells them he’s got something to say. “When I was small, I once criticised my Gramps because he was always telling me we have to trust God. I argued with him, saying that we can’t always just leave all responsibility with God – we have to be pro-active. After all, the Lord helps those that help themselves. It took me a long time to realise the old man wasn’t wrong. Nothing happens without His say-so. So today, here, I have to apologise to Gramps. And now, God, please, we’ve done what we could. It’s Your responsibility now…”
In the Bible, God tells Job that men can only compare with God if they could make stars. Or measure the universe. Or create seas. Big things, God told him, require big power. Job surely left that conversation much chastened and humbled. But God could equally have asked Job about small things, like creating a dew drop on a petal, or to make the sound of a mountain stream, or to count the feathers of a dove.
As big and wonderful as the universe may be, there are thousands of little miracles surrounding us every day; little wonders proclaiming the awesome abilities of our Creator. So, while Lo spoke about faith and Gertruida played Brahms to the little one, another little miracle happened – only this time it was recognised and greeted with shouts of joy…
“He’s turning! He’s turning!” Gertruida stares in stark disbelief at the swollen belly, as she feels the movement of the baby under her hand. “I can’t believe it…” And yes, that’s true. For once Gertruida tried something she wasn’t sure of…and took a leap of faith. It worked! “Oh, I can,” Lo sighs happily. And then, with his calm voice and gentle little hands, he guides the baby to freedom.
“John and Peter.” Fanny doesn’t mind the fatigue and the pain – her babies are safe. She had prayed about them and placed her trust in the Lord, believing everything will work out. Now she’ll name them in His honour.
“What about haemophilia?” Vetfaan has to know.
“Listen, have you seen those babies? You’ve been here all along and you’ve seen a rather rough birth. Do you see any – any – bruising? Any sign of bleeding? Anything funny? There is no question, Daddy, your kids are well.”
Lo leaves three days later. Like James Barry, he doesn’t want the be reimbursed for his services. The happiness in that farmhouse is more than ample reward. He does, however, stop at Boggel’s Place for a rather large rum – with one block of ice. Boggel opened his Place especially early for the midman. On the house.
When Lo leaves without greeting, Boggel smiles quietly. What a wonderfully mysterious man, he whispers, as he starts brewing coffee. The townsfolk will trickle in soon, wanting to know what has happened to Lo. He will tell them how the quiet little man sat drinking the rum, wiped his lips, and nodded.
“Did you know my initials are LJB? Just like that president. Only, mine stands for Lorenzo James Barry. Le Roux was added by my mother…”
“More than a coincidence,” Boggel remarked. “Family?”
“Even if I told you, you wouldn’t believe it.” Lo said it with a sad smile as he got up to leave. “At least it’s not those pioneering days any more. Things are so much more sophisticated now…”
“Where did he go?” Vetfaan asks when he drops in for a well-deserved pint at eleven.
Boggel shrugs. “He didn’t say.”
“Well, did he leave an address? Or did you get his registration number? Anything?”
“Vetfaan,” Boggel is suddenly serious, “he walked out of here just like he came in – quietly. I think he went back.” He pauses while he pours another round. “To 1826…”