Thursday, April 15, 2021

Love by Edward Breen

 I wasn’t sure I loved you when I first laid eyes on you, not like your mother did. She loved you even though you nearly killed her. My wife—your mother—nearly died. Her womb wouldn’t stop bleeding. We had decided, she and I, that she wouldn’t have prostaglandin in case it harmed you. In case it got into her milk. Her womb wouldn’t contract.

She had been talking about something, I can’t remember what, then she just stopped making sense. Her words became meaningless as her eyes defocused, refocused, defocused. 

Her face looked as if someone was pouring grey into the top of her skull. Filling her with death.

There was pandemonium. The midwife immediately gave her the drugs we had initially refused. And some more. The doctor, cold as frost, massaged her belly and caused her to give birth to five pints of clotted blood, like dead fish sloshing and slipping onto the absorbent hospital pads.

So, no. I did not love you for nearly killing your mother. But I played the part. I smiled and held you to my bare skin. ‘It helps with the bond,’ the student midwife said.

Who was I to question? I hadn’t slept in forty-eight hours. That was nothing: your mother hadn’t slept in that long either. And she had given birth. Then they took you away from us. You swallowed meconium, they said. You were having trouble catching your breath, they said. I went to see the nurses as they rubbed you roughly with towels, trying to get you to breathe.

‘Don’t worry if an NHS towel doesn’t get him breathing nothing will,’ said a nurse.

I just stood there, useless, empty, thinking: what if it doesn’t?

You were pink and shrivelled, limp as an anatomically perfect doll.

Then, they took you to a room with smaller glass rooms inside. In one of these, you slept. Watching over you, a softly-spoken ICU nurse.

‘He’s doing fine,’ she said when I was sent by your mother to visit. ‘Would you like to hold him?’

Would I like to hold him? It was a good question. I felt like I should hold him, you. Was that the same thing as wanting to?

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Okay.’

You were wrapped, swaddled they call it, in a knitted blanked, soft and warm and safe like a caterpillar in an incomplete cocoon. She put you in my arms and I felt it, the warmth of you. The life pulsing through that fragile little body.

After an hour they let you out. Your sentenced served. They wheeled you back in a clear plastic crib. Your mother cried and held you, tried to feed you, failed, cried some more. I could see the love for you in her. I could actually see it like a thing that reflected light connecting you to her. It looked like her tears.

‘I need a shower,’ she told me. ‘I stink.’

I smiled and found a nurse. A wheelchair was brought and I helped your mother into it. 

She was still weak from the blood loss and everything else.

‘Down the corridor to the right,’ the nurse said and left. 

I started to wheel my wife down the corridor.

‘Don’t forget the baby,’ she said.

‘Oh, yes, of course. The baby.’

I took you both down to the showers. Your mother in a wheelchair. You in a wheelie cot. 

She needed help standing up in the shower but she had to manage because I had to look after you.

Not that I was sure what that meant, not really. It was your mother who had to feed you and aside from sleeping I didn’t know what else you did. What required looking after. I felt surplus to requirements. Then you made a grunt, just a little one, and started crying.

‘I think that one’s for you,’ my wife said, hair dripping, wrapped in a towel, barely able to get to the wheelchair. ‘There’s nappies in the room.’

‘Do you have a car seat?’ the nurse asked.

‘Yes, in the car,’ I said, stupidly.

‘We can’t let you leave without it, I’m afraid.’

I just stared at her. I didn’t understand the words she said. I needed sleep. I needed to be home. 

‘Go and get the car seat,’ your mother said. ‘We’ll be alright here.’

I looked at her, holding you in her arms. She was so tired and you were asleep. But what if you woke up. What if she needed me? What if? What if?

‘I’ll stay with her,’ the nurse said, sensing my panic.

The nurse insisted upon carrying you to the door. I walked hand in hand with my wife, just the two of us for the last time.104

‘Okay, you’re free to go,’ the nurse said with a smile. ‘Drive safe, the midwife will phone tomorrow. Congratulations.’

And that was it. You were ours. Just ours with nobody to help. With our families either abroad or dead, there would be no one at home waiting. There was just the two of us. Now three.

When we got home, we lay you on the sofa. Our sofa. The one we picked out together and bought together. The one we sat on every evening together to watch TV or whatever. 

The one we had slept on, made love on, argued on, made up on. And there you were, taking up so little space on the giant thing but still, you were there.

‘What do we do now?’ my wife said, looking down at you.

I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. 

The cat came and sniffed you, this stranger in her house. 

‘I don’t think she’s sure about all this,’ I said.

It was your mother’s turn to shrug and laugh. ‘Well, she’ll have to get used to it. She’ll learn to love him. Don’t worry.’

She put a hand on my hand and squeezed. ‘Let’s get some sleep.’

That night we slept in two-hour chunks, sometimes more than two hours between. You cried and demanded milk, then wouldn’t feed, then nodded off, then cried again. I took you and rocked you to let your mother rest. She fed you and tried to stay awake. I talked nonsense to her to keep her mind active.

In the morning, the midwife called. She had a free slot and would be around in an hour. 

‘It sounds like you had quite a good night,’ she said. 

Your mother and I looked at one another. A good night, she said.

The midwife stayed for a while, measured things, answered questions and suddenly we were alone again.

Over the week’s family came and went. They cooed over you and told us how lucky we were with how well you slept and ate and how healthy you were. You were brought out for meals and walks that you didn’t even register. All you wanted was closeness and milk and peace to sleep.

After the first week came the second and then the third. The first six months were the hardest. Then it got easier, then harder again. You seemed to go in cycles. You would sleep eight hours, then not at all, then twelve. You would acquiesce to being put down for sleep, then we had to come up with ever more elaborate methods of laying you so that you wouldn’t wake. Through vomiting bugs; temperatures; teething; learning to roll over, crawl, stand, walk, run, and talk you cycled between angel and demon. It was hard to love you sometimes, even for your mother.

Suddenly you were a year old. ‘We don’t need a party for a one year old, do we? He won’t even remember.’ You still loved the presents and attention.

Then you were two. We felt guilty and made a last-minute dash and sent some text invitations. You loved it. Being the centre of attention. Eating your weight in crisps and cake.

We went on our first family holiday that year. Just a three day stay in a holiday park up the country. Not too long. You were so young. You loved every minute of it. Dashing around new places and enjoying everything we enjoyed because we were happy and we were there. The next year we went on a slightly longer one and longer again when you were four. 

You spoke about that holiday for months.

Now you’re nearly five; your emotions are firing; your awareness is so vast and fantastic; 

I see in you what I remember in me. Sometimes when we meet a stranger or a relative you haven’t seen for a while; you look at them askance and take a while to warm up. But when you do and you release yourself, love flows so strongly. I realise now that I actually did love you the first time I met you. You were just so new, so weird, so fragile. I took a while to warm up too.

© Edward Breen

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