In The Sticks: The day the baby came

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WE GOT the call at 7am last Wednesday. Kirsten was in labour at last. We'd been on standby for weeks, ready to take the boys, so that every time I was away from home I'd tell her to cross her legs for a day until I got back (I'm such a helpful friend). She had been under the influence of that curious nesting instinct that gets most women in the last weeks of their pregnancy. Gals normally too undomesticated to boil an egg, even after Delia's explanation, start baking things for the freezer and bleaching the sink. I'll never forget my ex-mother-in-law's face as she watched me tidying her son's sock drawer the week Buster was born. Kirsten had been pregnant for so long that she'd run out of things to clean, repaint or cook. Even her chickens had been bathed. She'd got to the "just get this damn thing out!" stage.

When it comes to birth, and most other things, Kirsten is superwoman. She had her first two babies at home without so much as an aspirin. But eight years on she wasn't feeling so brave, especially as this time she was more than half-an-hour's drive from a foetal heart monitor or emergency caesarean. So the plan was to get as far as possible at home then make a dash to the maternity unit, "I take ages to have babies, anyway," she said rolling her eyes.

But when it came to it, that's not how things worked out. Kirsten's husband Greg tried unsuccessfully to sound calm when he rang.

"How soon can you get here. It's happening quite fast?" "Twenty minutes?" "Ten?" "Fifteen?" "OK."

When I got there he was standing out in the lane, with Jo and Freddie jumping from foot to foot. I bundled them into the car, and grey-faced Greg disappeared inside.

"Mummy's labelling," said Freddie proudly.

"I just hope it's not going to be a space alien," said Jo.

Back home, Buster and Bunny offered stress relief through computer games and Doug and I made extra packed lunches for school. Dog and No, impressed by the air of tension, sat side by side against the Aga and singed their fur in silence.

Meanwhile drama was breaking out with Kirsten, Greg and the soon-to-be- baby. The going into hospital option was out; there were no beds available. But a home delivery needs two midwives, and the second was in Greece. Luckily Greg, having been Grumpy in the village panto, has contacts. He called the smallest dwarf - on hols, but at home - and she took off her pointy cap and leather jerkin and came back to the day job as midwife.

This, however, created further drama because of a parking problem. The hamlet where they live has a single through road; the inhabitants have been living at the bottom of a muddy lane for rather too long and having to manoeuvre past parked cars is more than their frail nerves can stand. They scream and shout abuse and leave snotty notices on windscreens. With two midwives in attendance, there were two cars parked outside Greg and Kirsten's, when a professional Grumpy came past with his truck. He battered on the door, then came in to find Kirsten 10cm dilated, and screaming enough to audition for Nightmare on Elm Street, The midwives threw their keys at him, exhorting him to move the cars himself.

Ten minutes later Jo and Freddie's new brother was born - 8lb 2oz, and no alien. Greg rang the village school to let them know all was well. All 50 kids stopped work and sang "Happy Birthday" to someone with no name yet, and no age.

That evening we all went round with flowers and champagne. Buster took a quick look at the babe, "Oh, lovely," he said politely. He's clearly of the same opinion as Jo, who said last week, "It won't be funny, and you can't play with it. A puppy's much better." He joined the other boys downstairs doing things far more interesting, like playing with Lego. Doug, Bunny and I sat on Kirsten's bed with Greg and toasted the baby. Bunny was enthralled; it looks as if she's got the maternal instinct in spades, poor kid, just like me. Greg and Kirsten had miraculously lost 20 years off their ages. Pink and fresh as 20-year-olds they looked, with their newest child, named Squiggle until someone thinks of something better. It was a holy moment. I held Squiggle in my arms and rubbed my nose over his velvet head to smell that new baby smell. And I was so glad that for someone it had all worked out just fine.