What Does it All Mean – III

Crossing a Bridge

It is late in the third year of medical school that we watch a screening of a live birth. Until this point in my life, film was always smaller than life, an image, a series of images, fictive or documentary, but extracted, never fully real or fully human, let alone monumental. But this was a video of the eruption of life. I might have been witnessing the Big Bang so enormous was this, the advent of a human.

I remember feeling electrified, thrilled, struck and struck again by a cascade of philosophic thoughts, intense joy, a sense of being a guiltless voyeur upon the utterly intimate that was utterly universal. I was witness, by invitation, to creation. I remember too, my naive amazement that a woman would allow a camera (that shockingly lacked any sense of modesty) to show her fully naked self in this way. I looked around with a wild surmise. But my friends, more worldly, more mature? – showed no shock.

It is only a year or so later that I will deliver a baby. Between the videotape and that event, my father decides I’m ready to go to Labour Ward with him. This entails walking out the back door of our house, past the rhubarb growing in the back garden, to the side gate that opens onto the lane. Dad would hasten across the lane with me at his heels. Through a second gate and we are in the grounds of the Oakleigh Community Hospital. Here Dad frequently invites me along, to watch as he performs surgery, administers General Anaesthetics, treats heart attack and pneumonia and fracture. Dad’s patients welcome me: Dad is their idol, his son would be a godling. Today my presence will demand inordinate trust on the part of a woman of her doctor. What I will share is a series of events, of unmediated sensory experiences – the rich colour of placenta and the same colour in a woman’s face, the odour of amniotic liquor, the sounds and lack of sound, of wordless breathtaking, grunting, pushing, the sight of a calm and immensely calming doctor, his movements graceful as ballet, his stillness, his attention, his kindness and his firmness – and the huge feelings of a new mother, the joy reflected on the faces of nurses, and my own sensations, intense and too many, crammed into climactic moments, and I unable yet to unpack them and describe them calmly. For now I know only awe and thankfulness.

Perhaps a year later, I stand at the side of a young woman through hours that become a full day, during which she approaches a bridge in her life. Today I’ll cross a bridge of my own. Surrounded by calming midwives, veterans in this arena, I watch as the woman pushes. The woman pushes hard, pushes long, gasps, pushes again. Her face reddens deeply, now a beetroot, now a plum. I peer hard: is that hair? Is that scalp we’re seeing? I move into place to catch a baby.

The Delivery Room encloses the birthing mother, a couple of midwives and a nervous medical student. This room, this world comprises all animal humanity as a life spills free into air. Our air, cold upon wet skin, evokes a gasp, a cry. The cry tells a young woman she has crossed the bridge. The student gropes, grabs a slippery cord, which yet dances and writhes. He applies a clamp which slips and falls to the floor. The baby cries, the mother cries; I suppose I’m tearless, but I know I have crossed too. This is one meaning that I catch instantly.

Six weeks later I travel, as directed, to a Victorian terrace house situated next to a rail crossing in Brunswick. In the house a new mother and her young husband live with their baby. The idea of the visit is for a student to learn the consequence of those climactic events six weeks earlier; that consequence is the fact of parenthood. The mother welcomes me, the stranger who crossed with her, the intimate male who usurped the father. That father welcomes me, thanks me! It occurs to none of us three that he should have been there in my stead. A bond exists, forged in the sweat and blood and urine and shit of birth giving, in the gasping and the heaving of giving birth, in the shock and the cry of being born, in the spreading flood of love for a human child.

I never visit the family again. I would not recognise the mother today. Yet every time I drive past the terrace – which happens to stand on my preferred route to the airport – whenever I pass, I remember, through all the decades that follow. I remember that day, I feel that bond.

The birth leaves me changed. I feel called.

For the first thirty years of my working life I deliver babies. It never stales. Nothing else in a life in Medicine will rock me with that astonished joy as I witness the advent of a human. When suburban GP Obstetrics eventually dies, a part of my own life is extinguished.

A Lime

The doctor showed them the spine, the limbs, the minute digits. The heart in its cage, beating, beating, beating. Kidneys, liver, lungs, all manner of organs, organised and working against their day.
The watchers watched and listened and wondered. Their unborn, unknowing it was watched, moved, metabolised and grew. This watching, this lovecharged voyeurism through a window that opened only half a century ago. They saw their unborn, alone, confined, silent, breathing bathwater, drinking sewage, content withal. The watchers felt awe and hope. The man leaned over and held the woman and came away sticky with gel.
 
The doctor said, it’s the size of a lime. The man and the woman closed their palms against a mental lime. They saw with their hands how big, how small was their unborn. The woman giggled with delight.
 
They told me and I thought of the days I delivered babies – that age before ultrasound, when mother, father and doctor looked on the baby and the baby looked on them in equal discovery. Ultrasound alters human relation. Now fathering starts thirty –four weeks before the father is born into fatherhood.
 
I thought too of Judith Wright and her secret love and her poem:
Woman To Man
The eyeless labourer in the night,

the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,

builds for its resurrection day—

silent and swift and deep from sight

foresees the unimagined light.
This is no child with a child’s face;

this has no name to name it by;

yet you and I have known it well.

This is our hunter and our chase,

the third who lay in our embrace.
This is the strength that your arm knows,

the arc of flesh that is my breast,

the precise crystals of our eyes.

This is the blood’s wild tree that grows

the intricate and folded rose.
This is the maker and the made;

this is the question and reply;

the blind head butting at the dark,

the blaze of light along the blade.

Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
 

Sperms

My recent mail swims with sperms. I send you these items to keep you informed.

Dr Paul Jarrett writes from Arizona:

I don’t know why spermatogenesis, the production of sperm, must take place at a temperature about 2 degrees below body temperature, but it does.

In order to insure propagation of the species – and this includes many other mammals – some means had to be employed so that a cooler environment than that within the peritoneal cavity, (where ovaries are completely comfortable), could be maintained.  The solution is to initiate the testicle at body temperature, an early necessity during organogenesis, and later in pregnancy move it outside where temperatures will be more easily regulated.  

Nerves provide temperature sensing while the cremaster muscles provide raising and lowering of the testes and further feed-back. Responding nerves provide for perspiration glands to produce sweat for evaporation and further cooling.  There are also mechanisms in place to minimize injury which I will not describe at this time.

Moving the testicle outside took a bit of doing.  During development of the embryo, (sometimes later-“Undescended Testicle) the testicle migrates out of the retroperitonal space through the Inguinal Canal to the Scrotum.  The process of peritoneum which forms the lining of the inguinal canal during this passage is pinched off at the Internal Ring if all goes well.  If not, a potential Inguinal Hernia exists with a pre-formed sac waiting for peritoneal contents to also migrate downward into the Inguinal Canal or Scrotal Sac.  This is known as an “Indirect Hernia”.  It happens with sufficient regularity to provide tuition for a Surgeon’s kids. I have repaired these from a few days old to well into old age.  They can occur in animals but are more common in bipeds. Continue reading