After my wife gave birth to our son, I began to see her differently. Not in a bad way. Some of the dads-to-be in our NCT class liked to joke about how hard childbirth was for the father, about how the blood and guts might put you off ever laying a finger on her again. Some of the mums-to-be joked about that, too. But for me it was the opposite.
The birth was a shock for sure. I’d thought we were ready, with our birth plan and our yoga breathing and all the tools of modern medicine on hand, but it took me by surprise, the violence and the suffering, and how close they both came to not making it. So many hours of sweat and sick and screaming, but above all so much work. While I rubbed her back and offered her sips of water, she was working the way you’d work in a battle, a shipwreck, an earthquake: work where you give all you have because life is in the balance. She had a strength I’d never guessed at.
In the aftermath the three of us lay half-awake in the maternity suite at four o’clock in the morning, tender, dreaming, traumatised. It was a good trauma, much to be desired, because it had fused us together in a new closeness, no longer two but three in one. In those hours of labour we were broken and remade so that love had a new shape that we would now begin to learn.
The days and nights that followed were more lonely than I’d expected. Mother and child had their own rhythm of wake and feed and sleep. They were a planet in themselves and I could only wait in their orbit. Those evenings I often found myself sitting alone at the kitchen table while the two of them slept in our bed. Nothing was more important than their sleep, safe sleep, as if sleep itself were a living thing, simple and sacred, that had lodged itself in our house and begun to grow. Sitting at the table, listening to the silence, I began to feel that something was growing inside me. Something was about to be revealed, something was ready to begin. That was a happy time. And then one night, painlessly, cleanly, it was born.
Rain hissed beyond the bedroom window. The nightlight made a landscape of the covers, disordered where mother and child lay asleep in the bed. His breathing was nested inside hers. As I watched them a story revealed itself. I heard it as a voice in my ear. The first gods were the Earth and the Sky, said the voice. Sky came down to couple with Earth, and she bore him a son: but Sky was afraid that his offspring would take his place, and so he forced the child back into the body of his mother, imprisoning him deep beneath the ground. This caused terrible pain to Mother Earth, and so she made a plan. She took a flint and fashioned a sickle which she gave to her son. With it, the son castrated his father. He flung the severed parts into the ocean, and where they fell, life sprung up, all the creatures of the Earth boiling into existence. I watched the woman sleeping, curled around her child, and and I knew that the story was true. She was the source of all life. She was the world, the Earth, and her name was Gaia.
Now I know this might sound a little delusional. I knew it at the time, as I stood at the bedroom door and watched over the landscape of their sleeping forms. Once we’d argued over something similar. It had been years ago, not long after we met, when we were discovering that this was it, that we belonged to one another and were together for life. There was a night when it all came to a point: it was summer, it was her birthday, we’d been out, our eyes were bright with wine, the city was a constellation of lights and it was all spinning around us, and I told her that to me she was more than a woman: she was a goddess, she was the world, she was everything. I thought this was the most romantic thing I’d ever come up with, but all of a sudden she was angry. She told me that talking that way was nothing to do with her and everything to do with blind male egotism. It’s so patriarchal, she said, making me a character in your personal myth. I apologised, but I never really understood what I’d said wrong.
Only now, watching my Mother Earth as she slept with our tiny father-mutilating hero asleep in the curve of her body, was I beginning to understand. I saw why she had been so angry. How could Gaia not be angry with the male who imagines himself as the husband of an entire world? It has never once occurred to him that the Earth is not his to possess. He looks at our mother-planet in her boundless beauty, her endless giving, and he wants to control and exploit her. He wants to be her master. Is it any wonder that Gaia will teach her child that the father must be shown the error of his ways?
I longed to lie down beside them, but there was no place for me in the bed. Quietly, taking care to close the door behind me, I walked out of the house.
The rain was growing heavier, the sky pouring itself into the earth. No one else was out in it. I hung my coat on a fence-post. I left my shoes and socks on a wall. Soon I felt soil under my feet. Branches touched my shoulders, leaves kissed my face and the roar of the rain was a river. I walked into the darkness, a sorry exile; but then I began to laugh. How could I walk away from her when she was the globe beneath my feet? The rain churned the ground, dissolving the difference between earth and sky, and I knew that her generosity had no bounds, because I had been forgiven. There was a place for me after all. She was here, my world, my Earth, my mother, my wife. I lay down on her breast and slept.
Originally performed by Greg Lockett in Episode Four of The Unseen Hour.