Thursday December 22nd, 2005. When we woke up Erika was complaining of some small contractions. I say "small" because that's how she described them, but as everyone knows, women basically have no realistic concept of pain.
Man (slightly cuts finger): Arrrgggghhhhh. Expletive deleted. Expletive deleted. <5 minute tirade of swear words>
Woman (partially amputates own arm with a rusty fish slice): Ooooh. That stings a bit.
So, anyway, she's suffering some level of pain that would probably lay low an entire troop of battle hardened Marines, but thinks that "It's nothing". As the morning goes on, I keep solicitously enquiring after these contractions, but they are still regarded as nothing much, and certainly nothing to get worried about or to start driving over the mountain to the hospital for. I, on the other hand, am frantically consulting our dog-eared copy of "What To Expect When You're Expecting" every few minutes to work out if there are any visible signs I will be able to pick up on to offer up as conclusive evidence that this is in fact the onset of labour, and hence get her to the hospital.
We make stuffed cabbage for Christmas dinner. I do the heavy work, such as grinding up the pork (this at least makes me feel that I'm contributing in some small way as this kind of thing is an odd activity for a vegetarian to be indulging in). Erika does the mixing, and subsequently the stuffing. It is thus, then, that at 2pm on the day in question a visitor would have witnessed Erika bent double over the kitchen counter, gritting her teeth against the pain, and rolling pickled cabbage leaves around a kind of pork/rice paste. By now the contractions were coming every five minutes (by a curious coincidence, my enquiries after her well being were coming at similar intervals). Eventually at 3pm she agreed (in an effort to shut me up perhaps) to call someone at the hospital. There was no answer, but it seemed that she felt she had done all she needed to at this point.
Eventually I convinced her that we really should probably go, as from what she told mne about the frequency and length of the contractions it was certain to me that the baby's head was out by now. We called our friend Gyözö, who had offered (nay insisted) that he drive us over to the hospital, and he came over to pick us up (he has winter tyres on his car). We finally left the house at 4pm.
The road over was not too bad, a little slippy in places and with a light dusting of snow, but at least it was daylight and there were no real problems. I was glad that I was not at the wheel, though, as I was knotted up inside with tension and I think my fists were clenched in traditional white knuckle style. By this time, Erika was timing her contractions down to about three minutes apart, and I wondered whether we'd have to pull over and deliver the baby somewhere on the Harghita Mountain.
Finally, at 5pm, we made it into Udvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc in Romanian), and drew up at the hospital. We found the midwife on duty and she examined Erika. She came out and said that she'd called the doctor as she thought the baby would be here in ten minutes to one hour. Ten minutes! I was extremely grateful that I hadn't known this ETA while on the road.
An hour later she told us "I think, about an hour". At this point Erika's doctor arrioved and told us, "an hour or two". We went off to buy Erika some slippers (Romanian hospitals don't provide you with any of the stuff, and the ones that Erika had packed, the midwife had looked upon rather disdainfully). By 7pm we (Gyözö and I) were back in the corridor, looking at bits of old sterilisation machines that had been dismantled and left to clutter up the hallways. Time passed. I sat, I wandered aimlessly, I tried to read a book (without success). At about 8.30, at the edge of the two hours that the doctor had suggested as the outer limit of this wait, a nurse came sprinting past us from some other corner of the hospital and into the delivery area. This did nothing for my nerves, since I knew that Erika was the only person in there, and why would a nurse need to be sprinting unless there was something seriously problematic. By now my wandering had turned to pacing and trying to strain my ears to hear anything at all from behing the doors.
But then, 15 minutes later, out walked the same sprinting nurse from earlier carrying in her arms a little bundle of cloth with a baby stuffed in the middle. My baby. Our baby. Who was fine and healthy and perfect. Apparently, behind the doors, everything had gone very smoothly and normally. Paula got taken away to wherever it is that she was taken to, and Erika had to remain in the delivery room for four hours to rest before going up to the ward where she would be reunited with Paula. I started texting people and taking phone calls. So overcome was I that I completely omitted to slip the doctor his envelope when he came out past us and went home. (There is a system of wage supplementation for doctors here, and for delivering a baby the going discrete backhander is 1.5 million Lei. Had the baby had to be delivered by caesarean, it would have been 3million, so I was all ready with various denominations. The midwife gets a mere half million, which seems a bit unfair, but thems the breaks).
Eventually, with no reason to wait around any longer, Gyözö drove me home. Mother and baby are still doing fine and everyobody is happy and healthy. Two pictures below: