When Sam was born, I was stuck. I don’t mean that I didn’t know what to do and I had to ask someone for help, that sort of thing. No, I mean that I was physically stuck. If the doctors had had their way I would have been hooked up to blood transfusions and been literally rather than metaphorically tied, but me being me, I wasn’t. Instead, I was wobbling around the ward waiting for what seemed like an eternity to go home.
It’s a strange fact that the maternity ward, like every other hospital ward when you are feeling better, is the most boring place on the planet. There is nothing to do. Having expected to be in and out in a flash, I, like many of my similarly confined peers, had not thought to bring any entertainment with me. There were no smart phones, there was no Twitter or Facebook. There wasn’t even a telly. And anyway, if you took yourself off to the rather tatty common room to find one, there would be nothing on, and, if, by some miracle there was something a person might like to see, you could bet your life that the baby would need something, like feeding or washing or changing or something else equally important.
For me, after the drama of birth, the period post-partum was characterised by stillness. For him, for my husband, for the new daddy, it was anything but. He rushed around, fetching all the things that I hadn’t thought I would need (like shampoo and conditioner – as well as being boring, the maternity unit is the Hottest Place Ever and a nightmare for those of us with curly hair, ensuring that we have much bigger hair than we would like), and attempting to prepare the house for our return. And all this needed to be completed in the three days paternity leave he was granted (two of which was taken up by me being in labour).
For us both, the arrival of Baby Sam signalled a revolution in our circumstances. In preparation, we had given up jobs, upped sticks and moved house, started a new life entirely. From being a young, professional, DINKY couple, we catapulted ourselves into traditional roles that, on the one hand, liberated us from having to think about logistics, but on the other, put us in places where it was difficult to understand the experience of the other.
For a while we played the ‘my life is more difficult than your life’ game, especially when baby number two came along. I would long for the freedom of time alone in the car on the way to work, of conversations with adults that weren’t interrupted by screeching or disasters involving poo. He longed for the freedom of choosing what to do when, a release from the clock watching of flexi-time, the indescribable boredom of meetings that dragged on and on and ate into teatime.
By four o’clock, and the start of the most difficult couple of hours of the day (between tea time and bed time) I was longing for his return. By four o’clock, the lowest point of the sleepy pocket, he was longing to come home. Until, that is, he put his back out and was at home for a couple of weeks. Four o’clock wasn’t quite so attractive after that.
Our emotional landscapes were different too. For us both, discovering that our baby had an extra dimension meant that Anxiety entered our lives in a big way. We entered into the adventure of parenthood, as does everyone, in a state of innocent expectation that everything would be easy (apart from broken nights and nappies); something that disappeared the moment we heard the words ‘Down Syndrome’. Was he too hot? Was he too cold? What were those noises? Why had he stopped making those noises? Was he breathing? Sleep eluded us even when the baby was snoring.
But, being in sole charge of the baby, managing to keep him alive, and, even better, seeing that he grew and developed, learned, did wonders for my confidence. After the Fiasco of the Broken Leg, I returned to only extreme levels of concern when we visited playparks with the sort of equipment that encouraged Falling Off, but daddy remained on high alert. Thanks to the distance created by breadwinning, he wasn’t with him enough to calm down for some time. He still gets the jitters; worried that he’ll run off, or get lost, or find himself in the middle of some muddle or another.
I was the one who did the hospital visits, the check ups, hearing and sight tests, the overnight stays. I was the one who was delivered there, and stayed, until someone came to rescue me and take me home. I held all the information in my mind, the growth charts, the consequences of low oxygen levels at night, the development checklists; his height and weight and shoe size. I was the one who sat, enthroned upon the sofa, feeding the baby. He was the one who rushed about, bringing in the bread, backwards and forwardsing, yo-yoing between public individual and private family man, some days never even getting the chance to get out of his tie before I, desperate for a bit of peace and quiet, left him holding the baby while I walked around the block.
When Sam was born, and we found that we were dealing with a bit more than we had bargained for, we acted as one instantly. We knew that it wasn’t us that had to live with a life changing condition, he , our son, did; but thanks to our experiences we knew how to. We knew that it wasn’t so much his genes that guaranteed his life chances, as the solid, loving foundations we could give him. But the knowledge was easily buried under the pressure of day-to-day living.
It was only as we left traditional parenting behind, when I went to work and he took days off so that he could be there when they were sick, or take Sam to see the paediatrician or take a hearing test, when I had to learn to transform myself, every time I returned from my place of work, back into mummy from the moment I stepped through the door, when we walked in each other’s shoes, that we fully understood each other.
Happy Father’s Day.