Alexander is 1 today. A year ago, this was happening:
This is my baby son, Alexander.
Here he is in a Spider-Man top, meeting Loken, the family cat:
Here he is, unbearably happy at 6 in the fucking morning, which is when we he wakes for the early feed:
Here he is in an unacceptably light-hearted version of his father’s normal attire:
Here he is in a sleeping bag that looks kinda like a dress:
Alexander is, fortunately, surrounded by grandparents, uncles, aunts, great-aunts, great-uncles, various cousins that come in at oblique bloodline-based angles, and (until very recently) a great-grandmother. And this is just on Katie’s side of the family. My side lives back in England, Poland, Canada, and wherever else the Dembski and Bowden clans exodussed themselves over time for kicks.
So on a day to day basis, there’s a lot of familial backup. The flip side of that coin means that everyone has an opinion. Katie and I are discovering that threshold discovered by every parent ever since the dawn of time, where your bumbling, stumbling efforts as a first-time parent are at least marginally watched by the very generation that raised you two or three decades before. For some people, that won’t go smoothly, but we’re pretty lucky on that score. Katie’s vast family network (Irish, remember, so we’re talking billions of the fuckers…) are supportive but not stifling. They’re eager, helpful, involved – but not, to use the parlance of the times, all up in our shit.
They are, however, all theists. Christian to the core. At least, all of them older than 30 are, which is to be expected in the Western World. You’d especially expect it in countries like Ireland and America were Christianity isn’t just “Something your grandma does on Sundays”, which is what it’s mostly become in England.
This isn’t an attack on religion, or religious beliefs, or the members of mine and Katie’s family that think Jesus is rad, and God is awesome. I give theists the same regard I give atheists, which is to say I devote exactly 0.0001% of my attention span to them and their views, and have no interest in taking either side in the spurious war over who fucks whom, what bits they do it with, and when they’re allowed to do it. I don’t care. I have my own thoughts on religious mythology, and that’s mostly based on how cool I find it. Whether I’m actually faithful or not is irrelevant, because this isn’t about me. This is about Alex.
No matter what I believe, or what his family believes, I’m pretty much of the mind that a baby / toddler / little kid is no more a member of Faith X than they are a stuntman, an astronaut, or a progressive grindcore post-industrial lead guitarist. Doug Stanhope makes the obvious point that if you “beat that shit into them while their heads are still soft”, then they’ll grow up believing it as the truth. Obviously, anyone can rethink things later in life, but the point is a good one.
I get that a lot of theists consider their religious views to be The Right One. That it benefits their lives, and is objectively the truth, so therefore why wait until someone’s 16 or 18 to start teaching it to them? The thing is – and here’s the kicker – that’s absolutely anathema to me. Not because people believe. I’m fine with people believing. But I get easily disgusted at the thought of anyone believing with such fervour that they tell a child their way is The One True Way. It reeks of some ardent, invincible arrogance that has always terrified me, and I’ll never understand why it doesn’t terrify everyone.
Of course, you get a bajillion theists who’ll say their path of faith is just one way of connecting with the same higher power every religious person connects with. Like I said, this isn’t some vast assault on anyone who believes in a god, or gods, or magic. I’m not anti-religion. I’m not even anti-organised-religion. I could be the most religious person in the world, and it’s no one’s business as far as I’m concerned. For those of you reading this now and assuming that, from my tone, I’m an abject atheist or a closet Christian, you’re wrong. My thoughts don’t mean shit, and that’s the whole point. The most you’ll see me weigh in on is the absolute necessity of the separation between church and state, which actually ties in quite neatly to my whole fears for raising my son. When you see the American far-right (who scarcely resemble the Republicans of a mere few decades ago) mentioning the Bible in politics, or dragging their beliefs into the policies for running a nation, you’ve got a sickness seeping into the system. Freedom of religion has to mean other people can believe other things, and not fall under the aegis of your faith’s laws. Society has laws based on humanistic morality. Religious laws had their chance, but we’re past that now. To suggest anything else is more than arrogant, it’s a disgusting breach of civil rights.
Katie and I half-joked about making The List, so Alexander’s tribal elders would know our views on just how we wanted him raised. That implies a rigidity and definitiveness that doesn’t actually exist; it’d really just be a Post-It saying:
- “Don’t feed him solids when he’s too young.”
- “Don’t tell him your god is the real one.”
- “Don’t tell him he’ll go to Hell if he doesn’t believe what you believe.”
I was briefly tempted to just use this:
It makes a logical point (about your god just being one of thousands, all ridiculous to someone, etc.) but it’s not really a reflection of what I think. It is, however, sort of funny.
We agreed that we’ll explain a bit about the nature of belief, and tell him about all of the world’s major religions – as well as any of the smaller ones I can Google or Wikipedia when the time comes. I know quite a chunk about most of the Big Faiths’ histories and mythologies, as it happens, as I researched them loads for various RPG projects and novels. I’m a fan of all religious backstories, and I’m always on the hunt for more info.
Where Alex is concerned, it mostly comes down to showing him that people across the world believe different things, and yes, a lot of it comes down to having it hammered into their heads while their heads are still soft. The people around him are uniformly Christian because of their location, their upbringing, and their close-knit culture. That doesn’t mean it’s true, it’s just the way the coins have come up in this particular place. Buddhists tend to believe X, and their faith came from Y. Muslims tend to believe A, and their faith started at Point B. Christians branch out along E, F and G, and the local branch is largely H.
And so on.
But it goes both ways. I’m not licking my lips and rocking back and forth with predatory delight, clutching my copy of God is a Cunt, by Richard Dawkins. I’m not salivating my way through heathen un-prayers, until the blessed, blessed night I can finally read anti-Christian memes to him as bedtime stories. That’s not how this works. If it was, do you honestly think I’d have spent so long discussing all this, and fifty times as long thinking about it?
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Atheist parents raise atheist kids who eventually become theists, and theist parents raise theist kids who eventually become atheists. I guess it’s irrelevant, when push comes to shove.
I think the key is to present people’s views respectfully, but equally, and in enough detail to give them context. Admittedly, the atheist view will come with a certain degree of logical counterargument and evidence against the theist view. Critical thinking and reason supports one side, let’s not deceive ourselves otherwise. But while the theist view lacks evidence, it thrives on community and people’s natural desire to belong, to be involved, and to flock together. People believe for reasons, and those reasons themselves are interesting. I also know from personal experience that as practically the only guy in this tiny village that doesn’t go to church, it feels a little weird and isolated. No one wants to feel that way, especially when you’re a kid. You want to fit in. You work hard to make sure you do. You tow the party line. I’m only fine with it because I’m an antisocial nightmare of a human being, that often hopes his own closest friends will be in last-minute (non-fatal) car accidents, preventing them from coming over. I like being alone, which – incidentally – is not a great trait in a dad, and something I’m working on.
I think the Elder’s Guide to Alexander will look a little like this:
- We don’t care if he’s a theist or an atheist. We have no emotional investment in his final decision, either way. If he’s religious, we’ll gladly support him. If he’s not, we’ll support him there, too.
- Respect the fact that it’s a final decision, not something he needs to worry about while growing up, unless he chooses to.
- In terms of education, we’ll explain both theism and atheism to him, as best we can. Trust us to teach every religion (and the absence of religion) equally. If you’re worried we’ll make Christianity look bad, you’re doing us a disservice. If you’re worried we have an agenda to make our son atheist, you’re doing us a disservice.
- We’ll never be angry if you take him to church. It’s a big part of the community here (and they have a cool band). If he wants to go to church, feel free to take him. If he doesn’t want to go, we know you’d never force him.
- Don’t tell him your god is the right god, or that a theist view is objectively true. On the same note, don’t ever tell him he’s going to Hell if he does/doesn’t do X, or he’ll get to Heaven if he does / doesn’t do Y.
So those are my scattered, half-clutched thoughts on the whole thorny, stormy deal.
I’m a dad now. I have analysis paralysis. I worry.
I just want to do a good job. I’d settle for him being marginally less useless and fucked-up than me, and I’m aiming towards that goal however I can.
May Lono have mercy on us all.
Surprisingly, I’ve been asked a lot recently if I have any advice on fatherhood. Like, because I’m such a veteran or something.
The answer is no. I have none. What I do have is one of the great truths of my first 2-3 months being a dad, and it’s not ‘advice’; it’s just something my friend John French told me to do when I was mailing him in frustrated tears. But I’ve started sharing it, as it’s solid gold.
Yeah, no, this looks like great fun to clean up. This is totally what I wanted to be doing at half-five in the morning.
…you kinda look like…
Alexander is two weeks old. While our sleeping patterns seem irrevocably fucked (and I’m often so tired I forget my own name) things are starting to settle down.
I’ve started working again, which means the blog will go back to more work-based stuff and the usual ranting.
For now, to answer the plaintive cries of friends and family, here are some of eight million photos from Alexander’s first 2 weeks outside his tummy pod. Doctors and midwives alike are sick to Christ of my questions, now. “How long will his eyes stay blue?” “When do baby spots go away?” “Are you sure he’s not ginger?”
The first photo of me and Alexander.
(Taken by Katie who, it must be said, makes my phone camera work a lot better than I do.)
Obviously, you were never going to be called Fuchsia. As I’ve said, Katie would never let me get away with it. You were supposed to be Annah. Or, rather, Savannah Lily Dembski-Bowden. I was going to change Dear Fuchsia to Dear Annah.
“It’s a boy.”
I’ve now dedicated two novels to you, under the wrong fucking name. Thanks, man. No, don’t worry, that’s not massively inconvenient. Not at all.
Admittedly, it doesn’t really annoy me, as it makes for a cute story for me to tell now – and a cool one for you to tell in the grim darkness of the far future. Even so, the dedications to Void Stalker and The Emperor’s Gift now make no sense, and I have to use yet another dedication to make all of this stuff fall into order. You owe me for this, kid. Feel free to pay me back by not pissing all over me in the months to come. I’d appreciate that.
So. “It’s a boy.”
Those are the first words I said when you were born. I was the first one to say it, and I said it several times.
Picture the scene: a small delivery room; three midwives; Katie in birthing stirrups; Katie’s mum standing at the bedside, and me standing next to her, closer to Katie’s head. I was very much at the Top End. I saw practically nothing (just as planned…) until you came popping out of there like a slimy goblin squeezed from a… whatever goblins get squeezed out from. The look of relief on Katie’s face was such undiluted, complete, raw relief – such pure, wide-eyed emotion – that I almost laughed. Humanity stripped bare. It was amazing.
She was looking up at me with almost no understanding, just this plaintive, bunny-in-the-headlights look. “It’s a boy,” I said, again and again and again. She clicked on the fourth or fifth time. “Really? Really?” I was laughing and crying and nodding and could barely see a fucking thing through my blurring vision, but trust me, I was sure. I’d checked it out with lightning speed – mostly because I’ve been secretly expecting it for months. I didn’t know, of course. I still thought you’d be a girl – you trolled us good. But I’d been half-expecting it, nevertheless.
When one of my Facebook statuses had been “Please be a girl, please be a girl, please be a girl,” my friend Chuck Wendig had replied within seconds, saying “Enjoy your son.” I’ve thought about those words many, many times during your time in the Tummy Pod, and secretly felt they had something threateningly prophetic about them. “You better not be a boy,” I’ve said, six or seven million times since then, pointing at Katie’s bump.
Another time, when she was out buying baby clothes, she bought something for a boy in amongst all the girl stuff. “Don’t do that,” I said. “You’ll jinx her.”
And then there was the last scan, which should have been confirming your gender (before, say, I did anything crazy like dedicate a novel or two to you). Instead, the midwife doing it was creepily cagey about it. When we called you “She” after the scan, the midwife asked “Have you already bought lots of pink things?”
I narrowed my eyes. I sort of looked like… Hang on, I’ll go make a template.
There we go. That’s what I looked like, and that’s what I said. “It is a girl, right?”
“I’m sorry.” She seemed in a rush, all of a sudden. “I didn’t check.”
I waited. I waited for her to go back to scanning, or to elaborate, or to do anything at related to confirming your gender. She did none of those things. I found out later, from various sources, that it’s Erne Hospital policy usually not to tell.
“They told us at the second scan that she was a girl,” I prodded.
“They did? They don’t usually tell people.” She started talking about other midwifery stuff that I wasn’t really taking in.
I narrowed my eyes further. They were so narrow at that point, I couldn’t really see anything. I think I said “Hmmm.” Inside my head, I was thinking “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…”
There’ve been plenty of moments like this. Just little silly guesses and moments of imaginary symbolism. Even today, when one of the midwives asked for clothes to get ready for when you were born, Katie’s mum and I handed her the first things that came to hand from The Bag of Baby Things. I watched her lay it out – all of it in gender neutral whites and greens.
“Hmmmmm,” I thought. Gypsy-style alterations of fate crossed my mind. “I bet that’s a sign.” Rarely have any thoughts in my life been that clear, that cold.
But then, no, surely not. It’s a girl. That’s what we were told. Yes. A girl. No such thing as signs. Ha, ha. Hilarious.
“It’s a boy,” I said to Katie, while you were being wiped down. Her eyes lit up when it finally hit home. “Really?”
Several of my friends wanted girls but had boys, or wanted boys but had girls, and every single one of them always says the same thing. “Once you see the baby, you just don’t care.”
I’ve answered them all with the same refrain: “For you, maybe. But I have to have a girl. It’ll be a girl, or it’s going on eBay.”
I usually hate being wrong. This time, as I saw this slimy, terrifying creature that cried enough to make the midwives and doctor smile (before you fell into wide-eyed silence) I’d never been so happy to have spent so long being absolutely fucking incorrect.
I feel like an idiot for thinking it mattered. At least it makes for a good story.
Still, you can imagine how glad we are that you have a gender neutral nursery in soft earth tones. We do, however, have to go clothes shopping. Unless you really, really like pink.
— — —
— — —
Alexander Timothy Dembski-Bowden. Born Tuesday 21st February 2012, at 4:30pm. You’re named for Katie’s grandfather and my father, with a convenient side order of Alexander the Great (I read so much history and historical fiction about Macedon; you have no idea), and the fact Alexander is one of mine and Katie’s absolute favourite male names.
Back when we had doubts about your gender, we actually picked a boy’s name in a matter of seconds, and never changed our minds on it – which, incidentally, was another sign I worried about. A girl’s name took ages, and was in flux until 6-7 months. But the boy’s name? Had that nailed in seconds.
But back to the day itself, while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I’m writing this between 4am and 6am on Wednesday now, making you just over 12 hours old. I was so tired when I left the hospital at 8:15pm that I was out cold the second my head hit the pillow at home. While I only slept for three hours, it was the most insane, surreal, healing sleep. At one point, my phone woke me up. It was Jessica calling (I think she’s in New York right now), and in addition to being my ex, she’s also one of the kindest, sweetest, most considerate people I’ve ever met. I was desperate to talk to her today; she was one of the people I made sure I was going to touch base with.
Instead, as I lifted my head to check who was calling, I was asleep again before I could answer it. I woke up two hours later with my phone still in my hand, and a voicemail from her after I’d missed the call.
I’d never felt so tired. My friend John had warned me about the big sleep that comes after it’s all gone down, but it’s one of those many moments in all this that you can’t get a handle on just from having a friend tell you about it. I didn’t sleep for three whole days when I was finishing Blood Reaver. Three days without sleep, and I was starting to hallucinate at the edges of my vision. That had nothing on how tired I was this time. Admittedly, I’d not slept for two days with everything going on, but even so, it made Blood Reaver’s final stretch feel like a cakewalk.
The first person I wanted to call was my brother Adam. I had the fiercest need to call him, but I knew Mum was waiting to hear first, so I called her. By the time I was done talking, I was in truly ruinous tears and had been outside the delivery ward almost half an hour, so I was desperate to get back in. The other person I’d wanted to call was Barney – and, again, I didn’t do it. Straight back in. No waiting.
One of the more bizarre things about today – and bear with me, as this is difficult to explain – is that I was still me while it was happening. I was still me, thinking the kind of things I always think, with the same observations, insecurities and emotions. As a similar example, when I was a kid, I used to think “When I’m grown up, I’ll enjoy eating vegetables,” and “When I’m an adult, I’ll enjoy going to work.” But those things don’t just magically change because you find yourself in those situations. You’re still you. It’s hard to make vegetables just suddenly taste great if your tongue finds them repellent. If you have a job you hate (or even one you enjoy, but with a long commute, etc.) you don’t suddenly feel unabashed joy at the thought of leaving a warm bed. You imagine a disassociation, but in reality, you’re just there, and you’re just you.
In all my imaginings of the delivery room (which were very Hollywood-based, and therefore I now know are absolute fucking nonsense), I thought I’d be nervous. Attentive, but nervous. When it came to it, I was still me, carelessly saying the most inane shit with an “…is it just me?” expression etched across my face. About a minute and a half after you were born, when Katie was being cleaned up and the long process of fussing over you was really beginning, I said: “Hm, he’s… he’s kinda looking a little ginger, here. That’s not good.”
A couple of minutes later, when the midwives had joined in the fussing, I tried a bolder truth. “Well, I’ll be the first to say it. We’re all thinking it. He kinda looks like Gollum. I’m just saying.”
You really did, too. Seriously, you made some proper I Hate Frodo faces. Ask me to do an impersonation sometime.
Once everything was cleaned up, as I was getting something I don’t remember from Katie’s bags, I passed the medical trolley with the afterbirth in a plastic tray. This gelatinous spread of Lovecraftian foulness made me stop and stare. “No one look in this tray,” I said to both the midwives, to Katie, and to Katie’s mum. “Dear God, no one look in this tray. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe.”
Maybe this isn’t entirely fair.
I mean, you’re beautiful. You’re perfect. I cried just from staring at you, even hours after you were born. Sure, you’re “Baby Ugly” in the way all babies are a bit ugly when you pull weird faces and mangle your face against boobs, but you’re also beautiful. One of the first things I noticed about you – besides the fact you, y’know, have balls – is that you’ve got little fingernails already. Little fingernails, and tiny fingers. Always reaching, in aimless, unaware baby movements. Heartbreaking, and I have no idea why. All I know is that it’s a good thing.
Katie did well. That sounds like faint praise, but it’s not. Her mum was with us the entire time, as were three midwives (and the occasional doctor), and the scenario went from Potentially Problematic to Ludicrously Smooth Sailing in a very, very short space of time. I’m aware that mums and midwives will always say a new mother did well, but there was genuine pleasure and surprise from all corners today. It could’ve gone a lot wronger given the meconium-in-the-fluid issue, and it was expected to be a lot more difficult, because Katie wasn’t progressing with any real speed for quite a while. I won’t go into any of the juicy details. Suffice to say that in early afternoon, it looked like a lot of work and patience, and an induction at about 5pm. We were waiting for a doctor until then. It wasn’t looking bad, but it also wasn’t looking natural or smooth.
By 3:30pm, Katie was fully dilated out of the blue, and you were in a sudden hurry to get things done. Katie had progressed so fast she was past the point of being able to take painkillers, so she did the whole thing on gas and air. The really active parts of labour didn’t last long, and Katie’s pushing sort of sent you firing out like a cannonball. That’s not an exaggeration. There was a genuine moment of being airborne, into the midwife’s waiting hands.
Irish girls, man. Built to breed. Make a note of that.
Once you were in Katie’s arms, she went through another transformation. She instantly (no, really, we’re literally talking a matter of minutes) started talking about about having another baby, because you were so perfect. (See? Irish.) Panic started to set in. “One’s enough, honey.” I patted her head. I patted your head. I may have been crying again. “One’s enough.”
You may be in the hospital for a day or two longer than usual, for some low-maintenance monitoring. Again, that’s because you were gross and decided to shit in your gestational pod. Everything looks fine so far, though. Thankfully, once you were wiped down, you didn’t smell like Pure Evil. You didn’t taste like it, either. I know that because I kissed your tiny, tiny fingertips.
And cried a bit, on your head.
Sorry about that.
— — —
— — —
When it came time to get Katie back to the maternity ward, from the delivery room, I pushed you in your little plastic hospital tub-cradle-thing. You were three hours old, and heading down into your first ever sleep in the outside world. The photos I took of you were a few minutes before we moved you.
You’re not crying there, you’re yawning. I can only speak for how you acted from 4:30 to 8:15, but you cried for less than a minute in total, equally divided between “Holy shit, I’ve just been born,” and “Ow, fuck, I’ve just been given a Vitamin K injection”.
So I wheeled you through, like pushing a little shopping trolley.
It was almost funny. People kept congratulating me as I pushed you through; I was thanking them all, and I’d never felt prouder. Proud of what? I didn’t even do anything. I didn’t care. I was crying again, silently cry-grinning. Every tiny bump in the floor, as it changed from one kind of tile to another, was a tectonic event when the wheels went over them. You barely noticed, beyond a little hand-flex or a shake of the head. Katie kept looking back, checking on us. She smiled and smiled and smiled. I’d only seen a light in her eyes like that once before, and that was when the midwife put you in her arms.
You don’t speak English yet, but while Katie was getting cleaned up in her bath and we were alone for 20 minutes, I told you three things. Three things, three lessons, that I want you to remember even when I’m no longer around to remind you.
Three things. I manage to do the first two, myself. I’m working on the third.
The first is a quote from Futurama. “When push comes to shove, you’ve got to do what you love, even if it’s not a good idea.” I live my life by that, and always had, even before I heard it put so clearly into words. It’s not wise, but it’s fun.
The second thing is wiser. “Always punch above your weight.” It’s how you get places. It’s how you get better, stronger, smarter. Don’t let it be a pressure to succeed. Just always make sure you try. Take chances. Always, always punch above your weight. With women. With work. With everything.
The third thing is from a novel by one of my favourite authors, David Gemmell. It’s the Iron Code of Druss the Legend, and something I’m sure fantasy fan parents have been sharing since the 80s.
“Never violate a woman, nor harm a child. Do not lie, cheat or steal. These things are for lesser men. Protect the weak against the evil strong. And never allow thoughts of gain to lead you into the pursuit of evil.”
Some of that may seem like it doesn’t apply to real life. Trust me, it does. My biological father (you’re not named for him, don’t sweat it) was an alcoholic who beat my mum. There’s the first part of the code for you. The rest is morality, about living the way you should rather than the way that’s easiest. I’m still working on it. I’ve made some strides in some ways, and stumbled in others. I’ve been snide, bitter, and tried to ruin other people through tactical whining and various pressures. I’m better than I’ve ever been, though. I’m a work in progress. The code’s a good ethos to live by.
Rather than end this on something I’ve already told you, I’ll tell you something new.
Always trust your mother, and your Uncle Robert. Katie is the most intuitive, strongest person I’ve ever met in my life. My friend Rob is the smartest and most perceptive. I admire the two of them more than anyone else in the world. If you ever find yourself needing advice and I’m too busy talking you into bad ideas because it sounds fun, then listen to their voices. Never listen to Uncle Barney, especially if he offers you advice about women.
Born at 4:30pm today. Katie’s doing great, and so is he.
Huge blog post to follow when I’ve caught up on two days of missed sleep.
Thank you, and goodnight.
Also, a baby yawn:
The temptation to caption the last one “FOR THE HORDE!” was immense, but I didn’t want to be That Guy.
As I write these words to you, it’s 1:34am on Tuesday 21st of February. Depending on which due date you prefer to believe, you’re either due yesterday, in 6 days, or in a week and a half.
I’m listening to ‘The Humbling River’ by Puscifer – which, incidentally, is fucking awesome.
Right now, I look like this:
…only less blurry in real life.
Katie (your mum; calling her that is still very weird to me) just texted me saying she was trying to sleep, but not doing too well with it. The last time I saw her was just before 1am, and she was in behind these very doors:
I just went downstairs to get some stuff ready, before I inevitably forget to do it later. Katie wanted me to bring 5 things to the hospital tomorrow – five things in addition to the three bags of Whatever that I’m already toting around.
It’s now 1:59.
I’ve remembered 4 of them: The book she was reading; The camcorder (which was a wedding present, by the way, and came with us on our honeymoon); some (more?) socks (for some reason?); and her phone charger. Whatever the fifth element in this continuum was supposed to be, I suspect it’s banished from my mind forevermore. I could text Katie and ask, but I don’t want to risk waking her up.
‘Shake It Out’, by Florence and the Machine just came on my random playlist. That’s a cool song.
Last night, literally minutes after I’d arranged to go see Bruce Springsteen in Dublin with Katie (and our friends who’re almost definitely going to be Uncle Rob and Auntie Erika to you), Katie informed me that her pee was a funny dark colour. This was rare. Dare I say it, this was exciting. I thought, for the first time in 9 months, this pregnancy was going to do something interesting. Frankly, it’s been pretty tedious past the major milestones, so you owed us some jazz hands.
Like all adults in this exciting age of reason and rhyme, we Googled symptoms. As with all Google diagnoses, it turned out to be something between Nothing At All and Total Womb Destruction – the latter of which, now that I type it out, is sort of a rad band name.
Panic wasn’t exactly setting in. As I said, you’ve been such a boring pregnancy event-wise that if I’m being completely honest with you, I’ve often forgot you existed, and stopped marvelling at the process months ago. For a long-ass time, you’ve been nothing more than a parasite that makes my beloved new bride into a swollen, waddling Sigh Factory. Weekly checkups always showed a very strong heart. You’ve been extremely active in the tummy (I call it the Fuchsia Pod) to the point where every single midwife making a note of it has become boring, too. Yes, it’s hard to find the heartbeat because she always moves so much. Yes, we’re aware she’s an active baby. Yes, we’re aware the heartbeat’s very strong once you find it. These are the things I endure for you. It’s like a shitty repeat loop of the most banal small talk. One of the most active babies you’ve seen? Wow. Woo. Yay. All that means to me is that when she’s born, she probably won’t sleep much. That’s not good. Sleep is awesome. If you don’t think that, Fuchsia, I’m not even sure you’re the blood of my blood.
So even now, when something unusual happened, I have to admit I thought it was probably going to turn out to be nothing.
“But she never does anything interesting,” I said. “It’s a boring pregnancy. We know that already.” There may have been a hint of whining in my tone, there. I won’t deny it.
We tried calling the maternity ward, six times, without getting an answer. I wanted to make a crack about the NHS being shit, but that would be the kind of thing a Tory would do. Instead, I blamed the lack of an answer on the Tories, which made me feel much better and infinitely more indignant about the whole situation.
When we eventually got through, Katie explained the situation. They said we should come in, just in case, as it might be any number of things.
We reached the hospital just before 8pm. There were several more incidents with staff that made me think things like: “Hey, shut your mouth for three seconds so my wife can explain what’s happening,” and: “You, madam, are a cunt.” But overall, it went pretty smoothly. Enter 800 tests, stage right, most of which involved me holding things to Katie’s stomach to find your heartbeat. The phrases “The baby’s fine” and “See, that’s a happy baby” joined the rest of the pregnancy’s tedious phrases that – because of their overall niceness – I can’t bring myself to say were exactly unwelcome, but were still a bit, y’know, vague and boring.
Katie’s water had broken, but it was one of the slower, subtler ones rather than a brilliant piss-yourself-downpour, which she’d been dreading and I was totally looking forward to finding hilarious, like an insensitive jackass. And the reason her pee was a funny colour was because it wasn’t just pee. It was, in fact, mostly amniotic fluid.
In what may be the most grotesque thing ever to be amusingly common in pregnancy, you’d triggered one of the signs of foetal distress by, uh, making meconium in the amniotic fluid. While I appreciate that means I don’t need to clean it up (seriously, the horror stories of that stuff have been my Number 1 Terror), and while I know it’s not exactly rare, it does tick a few danger boxes. I’ll be 100% honest: Katie wasn’t scared, she was disgusted. Being told by the nurse that it happens a lot didn’t help her get over it. I wasn’t scared, either. I thought it was gross and high-larious. “Good, strong heart,” they kept saying. “She’s a happy baby.” And all I could think was “Why is she happy? There might still be some poo on her skin. I wouldn’t be happy if I was her. Goddamn, babies are gross.”
So Katie’s staying tonight for observation. After about 5 hours, they kicked me out and told me to phone at 9am tomorrow morning to see if there was (in their words) “anything happening”. Nice. Nice and blase’. Not even “Come back in visiting hours.” It’s “Call first, about mid-morning, or whatever.”
This probably sounds scarier than it is. To explain it better, I’ve just spent those 6 hours listening to your heartbeat and movements, and – perhaps more reassuringly – listening to nurses bang on about how good your heart sounds and how your movements are fine. Katie’s being induced, with proceedings aiming to kick off tomorrow morning. If everything goes wrong at the last minute, she goes in for a C-section. Right now, with her water broken, she’s in the teeny-tiny contractions (and less tiny cramps) of early labour. I was fine to crash in a chair by her bedside, but no dice.
So now I’m here, home, at almost 3am and listening to ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’ by P!ink on my playlist melting into ‘Twilight of the Thunder God’ by Amon Amarth. I can’t sleep. I should probably try. The nurses kept telling me to. Katie kept telling me to. I can tell it’s not going to happen.
So. Thanks for finally doing something interesting. Something not exactly unique, but gross enough to be notable. We’ll call that phenomenon “grotable”.
See you tomorrow.
Here’s a picture of me, the other night, as Katie and I finished Fuchsia’s nursery, and finally put away all the clothes and toys our families and friends have been awesome enough to send us.
The reason I look confused isn’t because I’m scared and lost and holding up clothing for a future person who only exists right now in Katie’s tummy.
The reason I look confused is because that bear behind me is actually alive, and none of us know how that’s possible.
It goes through my bins at night, and occasionally eats my Frosties. Here we see it going through Fuchsia’s stuff, perhaps looking for a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which is objectively the best book ever.
And here’s the little fucker five minutes later, looking decidedly Blair Witchy:
So anyway, that’s what’s going on in my life right now.
How are you?