“I’m just going to stitch you up,” said the doctor. “You’ve lost quite a bit of blood.”
She was kneeling on the floor, looking between my legs.
“Okay,” I said. “Thank you.”
It was just before 5 in the morning, Sunday three weeks ago.
My newborn lay on my belly, and looked right into my eyes.
“We’d usually take you to the operating theatre for this, but I think you’re still numb enough from the epidural.”
I held my daughter against my chest. After a brief, reassuring cry, she inched herself upward, searching for my boob.
I looked at my husband, incredulous. His eyes were shiny bright.
For 36 agonizing hours of labour, her head had not moved. But when she finally came – coaxed out by a suction cup and my pure desperation – she seemed fully formed.
Eyes open. A head of dark brown hair. My husband’s face in hers.
She was perfect.
“Do you want to keep the placenta?” a midwife asked.
The bloody mass she was holding up like something you glimpse in the back of a meat delivery truck.
At once tremendous and terrifying.
“No thank you,” I said.
“I’m scared I won’t be able to produce any milk,” I told the nurse hours after delivery.
She pinched my nipple until a tiny bit of yellow goo came out. “You’re fine,” she said.
I wanted to hug her.
Tiny, tiny drops of it fell from me during the night.
The joy and terror of my body sustaining another.
The womb was a timeless swamp. No such thing as night and day.
We get up late in the mornings. Eat breakfast in bed. Our baby girl between us, making us smile.
Everything is fluid
My bedsheets stained with milk. Huge pale yellow patches of it. Big clumps of blood still emerging from me as my organs squeeze back into place. And then the baby spits back up the milk.
There is a concept here called Wochenbett . It sounds old-fashioned to a half-foreign ear. But the idea is that new mothers need weeks in bed to recover. We don’t take it literally. But for the first three weeks, my husband does all the cooking. And nearly all the nappies, too.
The way he talks to her, as he changes her.
I knew he would be a good father. I always did. But he is far better than I could even imagine.
I listen to the stories he tells her. The softness of his voice. The way he looks at her. She could cry all night and his tone wouldn’t change. He has always had the patience of a saint.
She has his face, I think but when her expressions change, I see flashes of myself.
She can look kind of impish sometimes, nonplussed.
And there’s this luxurious stretch she does .. an act of gentle obstinanace.
And then she purses her lips like she’s mimicking someone haughty and posh.
All with her eyes closed.
And then sometimes she looks utterly heartbroken. Like she is watching tragedy unfold.
All of humanity is in her sleeping face.
She makes the most amazing sounds.
Eh? she asks. Eh? Eh?
Usually she is looking for food.
Eh! I reply.
As I unclip my nursing top her breathing gets faster, heavier. The pant of hunger.
We already have many nicknames for her.
Feral squirrel, when she lunges at me and bashes her little head impatiently against my boob.
Milkworm when she emerges sleepy with a red face covered in milk.
Spooky Sally today, when we dressed her in the little ghost costume my sister sent.
I’m so used to looking down at her little face when she feeds that when I look at my husband now, his face seems huge.
The algorithms are changing, too.
How to bathe newborn. How to clean umbilical cord. Newborn diarrhoea.
Yesterday, we looked through a photo gallery of baby poo.
“Was it seedy though?” I asked.
“Hmm. Keep an eye on it then.”
“Have you taken her temperature?”
“37.2. In the normal range.”
Writing this has been stop-start, all evening long.
Our little one has been especially unsettled.
We fed and we walked. We snuggled and we talked.
I insisted on finally doing some cooking.
Pumpkin risotto, for the day that’s in it.
Served seven feeds and three hours later than I’d hoped.
I knew it would be like this.
A few words at best, here and there.
Scraps of life.
As I type, in bed now – my eyes are closing.
As husband and baby sleep.
Outside, a late-night bus drives by.
Parenthood is more poetry than prose.
No coherence. Or conclusion.
Just the hard-won knowledge – imperfectly expressed –
That life is the most beautiful, fragile thing.