The Best of Times: Whoosh] And my life completely changed: Tom Conti talks to Danny Danziger

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Indy Lifestyle Online
WE HAD planned to be married for five or six years before we had a child, so we could get to know each other. And by that time we'd settled into a very happy, amicable relationship and, if I'm honest, I didn't want a child. It's not that I didn't like them, or didn't get on with them, but I didn't have any paternal feelings, really.

Anyway, conception was achieved, and it was decided I would be present at the birth. We went to a class, and the consultant showed us gruesome photographs of new-born babies covered in gunge. 'Some of you, when you get home, may think you don't love the baby, but this is quite common. Don't worry about it, love will come.' And I thought, this is me, he's definitely talking about me.

About 10 days before the due date, Kara and I were going for a walk on Hampstead Heath. Kara suddenly cried out, 'Oh, I think my waters have broken.' And indeed, a puddle had formed on the grass where we were standing. We called the hospital, and they said, 'You'd better come in.'

I went off to do the show - I was in a play with Paul Schofield - and when I came back there were still no contractions, so they said, 'We'll leave her for a while, and if there's still nothing, we'll decide what to do tomorrow.'

I slept in the hospital that night, and they woke me in the small hours of the morning, 'We're going to induce,' they said. So they rigged up a drip, and a little while after that the first contractions hit.

It was extraordinary to watch someone dealing with severe pain - more severe than any of us men will hopefully ever know. She looked like a rabbit caught in the headlamps of a car, the expression on her face was glazed, but you could see many things going on underneath: dealing with the pain, hoping it would be over, perhaps wrestling with sanity in those moments.

And watching someone I love going through all that, well, it actually made me cry, not for the fact that she was in pain, but for the courage she showed.

The contractions became less intense, and then they started to peter out, and after another 10 minutes nothing happened. I noticed the drip was not delivering anything, so I went over to the nurse and said, 'I don't think this drip is working.' The nurse came and looked, and said, 'No, it's fine.' Another 20 minutes or so passed, and I could see there was still no liquid getting through. So I said, 'You have to believe me, this drip is not working.'

She could see I was going to be trouble, and she would have to do something about it, if nothing else to get shot of me. The doctor came over, and suddenly there was a flurry of activity, an injection was given to start up the contractions again, and they did start, with tremendous ferocity.

And then it was announced that the baby had gone 'flat', which means that the oxygen supply wasn't good. And it was decided at that moment that forceps would be introduced.

The doctor said to me, 'I'm afraid we'll have to ask you to leave.'

I said, 'I'm not squeamish, I can't leave at this moment]'

But he was firm. 'If you did faint, you would be very much in the way.'

Obviously I didn't want to do anything that would divert attention from Kara, so I left, and sweated outside in the corridor - it was a very hot August - in a state of some fear, walking up and down, not knowing where to put myself. And then a nurse came out and said, 'You've had a little girl.'

I went in, and Kara looked like she'd been made up to do a 'having the baby' scene: sweaty, completely washed out. She was also knocked out by the pethidine they were giving her to help the pain a bit, so she was groggy, slightly drunk looking, which was in itself rather strange, because my wife doesn't drink, she's teetotal.

And then I was shown this baby. She had sort of gone out of my mind.

It was like somewhere, in some other part of the universe, somebody had thrown a switch that went to 'Love'. Whoosh] . . . and my life completely changed. It was as if a huge ray went between myself and this little thing. And what the doctor had said, about finding you may not love your child at first, didn't exist for a millisecond. And that creature became the centre of my universe, and has stayed in that position ever since.

Immediately after the birth, Kara said, 'Don't ever let me go through that again.' But when I went back to the hospital after the evening performance, she was saying, 'I think with the next one, what I'll do is . . .' the memory of the pain had gone in a matter of a few hours. But, as it happened, we didn't have another.

Tom Conti is appearing at the Globe Theatre in Noel Coward's 'Present Laughter'.

Danny Danziger's column starts again in the autumn.

(Photograph omitted)

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