Lying under the lights of the spaceship, everything is numb. You can turn left and see your “not too sure what to do so I may as well smile” boyfriend. You can turn right and see the 2 nurses. Bless them.
But no. Shit. They are nodding that nod of encouragement and offering you the baby. Offering you the scary thing you realise you haven’t really thought through. Offering you the thing that you have not been able to give birth to, (and you actually feel deprived about this) and the thing that you didn’t feel, see, hear or feel or feel or feeeeel coming out of you.
You smile back politely and look away. And that’s when they speak. “Would you like to hold your baby?” Er, no. Even numbed up, you realise this is probably socially unacceptable so you force your brain into some top grade lying – “oh .. woozy .. wouldn’t want to drop it, ha ha”.
They nod. But it’s one of those nods that you know won’t give up.
At the earliest opportunity, the boyfriend disappears to make the celebratory phone calls. You lie there pathetically, not wanting him to go – who will form the barrier between you and the baby if he’s not in the room?
Panicked, you see the smiley nodding nurse moving in for the kill – here is a baby, your baby. I smile blankly. Wouldn’t want to drop the baby ha ha. The nodding stops and her bullshit-o-meter spikes – “just let the baby lie on you” she commands. You make some sort of noise, but it’s no good. You’re trapped. And there’s some sort of baby on you.
In the movies and the rom-coms and the TV shows, this is where the glowing, sweaty, apple-cheeked momma leaks a few photogenic tears and starts a life of endless cooing about her baby. This is where she shakes her head in awe and wonder, gazes lovingly into the eyes of her soulmate and feels the world CLICK into a jigsaw of perfection. She will feel blessed, joyful, brimming with love and declare it the most momentous moment of her life.
She is not me.
I lie there. Numb. Numb in oh so many ways. Numb from the epidural which I am frantically trying to convince myself is not wearing off because then I would have to admit reality is intruding. Numb to how I should be feeling. Numb to myself. Numb and immune and apart from what is expected of me.
I look down, assuming a glance at my baby will change me into the perfect mother. But nothing. Numb. How is this baby me ? How did it get here? What am I supposed to do – now, today, tomorrow, the rest of my life ? Why don’t I want to hold this thing ? Why can I not even touch it ?
17 years down the line, it is hard to contrast how I feel now with the stark horror of those first few hours. I love my daughter more than I love myself, more than life, more than crisps, more than my eBay pleasures, yet that first day (hell, let’s be truthful, the first year? two years?) I did not know how to love her. I lay there, waiting for love to spring and wash over me like a mommy shower, longing to bathe and drown in its waters but ... nothing. Numb.
Bad as this is, and numb as this is, you remember a vague sliver of yourself. Oh yes, control freak. A lifetime of being out of control with this baby thing. Shit.
So you’re lying there quietly, ignoring the blob thing sleeping on your chest, when the husband sweeps back in. You have never been so happy to see him and immediately urge him to get this baby off you. Smug nurse strikes back – let’s see if baby’s hungry.
Breast-feeding. Oh fuck.
Everything about pregnancy has told you that your body is no longer your own. You have lost your special hang-ups and shynesses and no longer care who sees it or what it does. Hell, if you can survive the piles and the magic bullet, you can survive anything.
So you let the nurse tug your gown away and look at you expectantly until she realises if there’s any feeding to be done, she’s going to have to do all the legwork herself. You force the non-numb bits of you into the bed, steeling yourself for what this leeching experience is going to steal out of you, and vaguely, only vaguely because by now you are drowning in numbness and don’t really care, you notice the husband frown at you, wondering why the earth mother he ordered has forgotten to take your place.
Part of you, a small part, a part clinging to life rather than the vortex of the fast approaching depression, thinks this could be the moment. That as soon as the baby starts suckling, it will unleash some miraculous motherness in you and a white glow will spread through your body transforming you from nothingness into motherness. You take a deep breath – here goes.
Breast feeding is the weirdest thing. Some women love it. Frankly I didn’t get it, and thankfully, neither did Beth. Unlike all the baby animals you see in zoo programmes, real babies don’t automatically search for the nipple, or know what to do with it, or guzzle with parched thirst. They kind of roam around like blind eels, put the thing in their mouth and ignore it, and just ... lie there. To break the monotony, they cry that they’re hungry. Like the men they spring from, they cry over the problem rather than grasping the solution.
So you lie there. Numb but no longer numb enough, as some sucking starts and you realise with a weird distaste that it’s a baby not a man causing that tugging sensation. You persevere, waiting for the gush of motherness, warmth, love, selflessness that still does not come. The baby, eventually, in a half-arsed way so reminiscent of her father, starts to drink and the nurse all but breaks into a gospel Hallalujah.
You, well you’re not so impressed or awed or anything. One look at the nurse bitch tells you she can’t wait to try this breast-feeding malarkey again.
Relieved that the nurse is satisfied enough to snuggle the baby down for a nap, you shrink into the bed and fake tiredness. Willingly they wheel you back to the ward. You close your eyes hoping to shut out the world, but annoyingly, like a thorn, it’s still there.
You let the boyfriend go and do boyfriend things. You will the sleep down on you, and pray with a fervour that has eluded you for years that you’ll wake up back in your old world.