We’ve just been transferred from the Level 1 birthing suite up to our room on Level 5 of The Mercy Hospital For Women and I’m standing over the clear mobile crib staring, unblinking, at our new son.
‘You’re officially six hours old, Rick Astley,’ I tell him.
‘You really have stop calling him that now,’ Reservoir Mum says, as she repositions her sore and traumatized body on the hospital bed. ‘That was just his Wednesdays From The Womb name. That’s over. If we don’t start calling him by his real name Rick might stick forever.’
‘From The Womb is almost over,’ I say. ‘I’ve got one more left… the birth post. I’ll try and have it ready for Monday.’
‘That’s ironic,’ RM says, ‘Posting it on a Monday for the first time when he actually was born on a Wednesday.’
‘That is ironic,’ I say. ‘But you’re right. It’s time to reveal his true identity.’
Maki is wearing a white singlet, a soft yellow jumpsuit and a small royal blue beanie. I know this because I’m staring at him as we speak, but also because I dressed him myself, knocking back offers of assistance from the well meaning midwives downstairs. After I’d finished threading his uncooperative stiff and squirmy limbs through the openings and endings of the clothing, I wrapped him in a light blue blanket. I then placed him in his cot and covered him with another blue blanket to add a sense of weight and security.
Now as I stand here, after a total of two hours sleep in 48 hours, having come to the end of another labor/birth rollercoaster ride with Reservoir Mum, hitting the highs and lows of fear and hope and panic and joy – again as the odd one out among a group of incredibly useful people – it’s as if the outside world has taken a step back to offer us a breather. The silence allows me to hear a hushed ringing in my ears; the echo of the craziness we just left behind.
‘RM, you were really wailing in there,’ I say.
‘Yeah,’ she says, ‘there was a baby was coming out of my vagina.’
‘Could have had something to do with it,’ I say, as the midwife on shift pulls back the curtains and introduces herself, asking, ‘And how many kids do you have?’
‘We have four boys now,’ I say.
‘Four boys!’ she parrots, ‘Busy Mum…’
‘Busy Dad,’ Reservoir Mum smiles. ‘RD stays home with the boys… I get to go to work and take a break.’
The midwife does a thorough chart-checker and says goodbye. As she pulls the curtains across, the rattle of the curtain-rings causes Maki to jerk ever so slightly. He settles a second later and when he open his mouth in a silent yawn I feel as if I’m suddenly filled with rocket fuel. ‘I really don’t want to write the final post you know,’ I say, ‘I won’t be able to describe how this feels.’
‘Just write in your usual way,’ Reservoir Mum says, ‘from your perspective… are you going to describe the labor and birth?’
‘No,’ I say. ‘I’ve done that before. And I don’t want to make it super crazy, or really emotional, or try for mega-funny again… I’ve done reflective and melancholy, and self-riotous. I’ve written about the practicalities and the frustrations… the fears. I don’t really feel the need to write about this at all to tell you the truth. It’s going to be hard.’
‘You should sit down,’ Reservoir Mum says. ‘It’s been tough for you as well.’
I have a hand clasping either side of the cot. My arms feel as if they stretch on forever and Maki seems a mile away. I feel delirium approaching. ‘This is something that can only really be felt. Even my own thinking on it falls short. I want to call it joy… or sadness… but it’s much more than that… I just love him so much. I feel I might fall over because of the smothering weight of it but then I find it forcing me to grit my teeth and stand up and I feel stronger than ever before. I’m warrior-ready for this kid, RM. I want everyone to know that I’m twice as large as I look and many times more powerful, now that he’s here. I can protect him from danger. The dangerous should be aware of that and steer clear… ’
‘He’s going to be fine, you psycho,’ RM says.
‘I also want people to know that despite being conditioned to hold back tears, I desperately wanted to cry for you down there… for what you’ve gone through to bring our kids to us. They’re exactly what I want – each one of them – and you’re amazing… and my favorite person. I’d die for you. I’ve stood beside you uselessly for four pregnancies and I’ve thought that every time.’
‘You’re weren’t useless. You were amazing,’ Reservoir Mum whispers. ‘I’m so sorry I pulled your arse cheeks apart and lifted you off the ground during that last contraction…’
Without taking my eyes off Maki I say, ‘My arse cheeks are yours to tear apart, silly. But I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve flashed a brown-eye at a midwife… without using my own hands.’
When Reservoir Mum laughs and cringes in pain I say, ‘Right now I feel deliriously confident but I know the doubts will come. The frustrations and second-guessing… there are people out there, RM, who don’t agree with the way we do things.’
‘We don’t care about them,’ she says.
‘True,’ I say as I place a hand on Maki’s body. ‘Plus, I do things well…’
‘You do things very well,’ she says.
I feel the flex in my forearms again and say, ‘Can you remind me of that… when I need reminding?’
‘I will,’ she says.
Somewhere down the hallway in another room there’s a baby howling. And even though Maki has barely made a sound I remember the sound well. It’s high-pitched and strong, shaped over a hundred thousand years to fill the souls of the parents with a desperate need to respond. Right now it only makes me smile.
‘I feel bad though,’ I say, remembering the final post. ‘I promised the From The Womb regulars that I’d learn the Napolean Dynamite dance and YouTube it, but I only got several moves in… and even though I was awesome at it… I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten it all by now.’
Reservoir Mum shrugs. ‘Just give them something even more awesome. Maybe something more relevant.’
‘To make up for my inability to follow through I’d have to give them something historic, something consequential, something immense…’
Reservoir Mum frowns and then says, ‘You could give them Maki’s first bath?’
I can only smile at this suggestion. ‘Genius. The challenge of bathing a newborn is the stuff of legends. It’s as rewarding as it is difficult. The strained uncontrolled limbs, the mucousy hair, the unsightly remains of the umbilical cord, the wail in the lungs… the fresh terror and thrill of it. A new life in your hands… that would be momentous,’ I say. ‘Some would even call it hardcore…’