11 November 2012


Although I speak from the privileged position of the male head of a married couple, it does seem to me that when child number 3 comes along, mother and father are beginning to take things in their stride.

This is, in part, at least, simply a matter of arithmetic.  From zero to one is a devastating increase - infinite, if you are thinking of the ratio.  From one to two is still one hundred per cent. increase.  But the third child is only fifty per cent. more than you had before.  By this strict numerical reasoning, each subsequent birth should pass as less and less an event - and I suppose, up to a point, anyway, this is true.

The fact is, however, that there are a number of other reasons why at a certain point it becomes significantly easier to deal with the new child when you have several:
  • You are not so frightened.  You have been through this before - in our case, when Eddie arrived, twice before.  The scope of the unknown is drastically limited.  You have survived two; a third should be, in some ways, much like the others.
  • You are more experienced.  Baby will not die if left to cry for a while.  He will probably go to sleep.  You have begun to reflect on the fact that, if the human race has continued by this strange means for these many thousand years, your own situation is not unmanageable.
  • You are more realistic.  The perfect child is no longer a goal that you genuinely believe you will achieve by your efforts - and, on the other hand, this or that problem will often take care of itself.
And, perhaps most important:
  • You have more help.  Those first two - particularly the older one - actually has an interest in the newcomer.  Your five-year-old is not, alas, going to change nappies, feed, or bathe number three - but he will play with him, warn you when there appear to be problems, and generally give you a little more time to tend to the house (though, not until the older one is much older, sleep).
When we first arrived in Yap - and, still, when Helen was born, I think - the hospital was a World War II poured-concrete structure, which seems to have been built by the Japanese administration, as much to withstand American bombing as to take care of the sick.  In particular, the room where childbirth took place was long and narrow - wide enough for the table that the mother lay on, with bare space on either side for a doctor and a nurse - and room at the end for a stand-up fan that blew outwards through the door.  Since there were no windows in the room or other openings to the outside, the fan was arguably only of psychological benefit.

Eddie was born 14 March, 1980 - some six or so months after that home furlough - in the new hospital.

The new hospital was, in fact, extremely well thought-out for Yap.  Because air-conditioning was not feasible, its buildings were built in what in Yap they called 'Samoan-house' style - very high, unceiled, roof, to allow the warm air to rise (and vented); very broad eves, to keep the sun off.  It was provided with its own stand-by generator system (to deal with the frequent power outages), and its own very large water storage tank.  Eddie was born here.

All of Susan's labours have been pretty long, and this one was.  Dr Paul, the Palauan doctor who attended her, was patient with his patient.  I was there most of the time.  Dr Paul and I shared betel nut breaks from time to time.  Eventually, in his own time, Eddie was born.  Helen, it will be remembered, had been born in Palau, in case a Caesarean was needed.  It was not, and so neither was it with Eddie.

We now had three children - and our oldest, Johnny, was now nearly five.  What were we to do about educating him?

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