Dear Fuchsia – Part IIIb: Dear Alexander
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.
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— — —
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.