my birthday morning and I am woken up by my midwife singing in her heavy Dutch accent and bearing a tray with tea, dutch chocolate toast and tiny wrapped presents. Way off the prescribed curriculum I'm sure, but a perfect addition, nonetheless, to a plethora of birthday-breakfast-in-bed memories from the last 23 years. to be honest, I feel as though I have landed unexpectedly in an surreal idyllic retreat - the large beautiful house perched on a tall green hill with snow-capped mountains, waving toi tois and woolly sheep bounding around the horizon. The agenda of the past week can be sumarized as: sleep, palpating pregnant bellies, and consuming vast quantities of hollandaise sauce. even the drive up was only traumatizing for the 8km through the steep, winding gorge in an absolute downpour of rain (thanks New Zealand for that opportunity. . . ). But as the realization that I was alive sunk in at the other end, the breathing/swallowing/muscle-relaxing eventually kicked in and I merrily zipped the next two hours East in the lovely Gertrude (on loan). still no babies born, although the first one is due today (and seven more in the next three weeks!) and I am quietly sending it reminders that being earthside on this particular day is a wonderful thing. . . yesterday, the midwife urged me towards an enormously swollen belly and I placed my hands gently-deep into its tense, quivering bulge, cradling the round hardness of the head, the firm curve of the back and the soft knobs of feet and knees that glided beneath the layers of flesh and fluid. I found the right place for the doppler and for the first time, I brought to open air the steady, determined flick of a heartbeat. Little beats, that for a moment, seemed to overwhelm everything else in the whole wide world.