Tiny. Astonishingly, impossibly tiny. That is the first thought I have when the nurse hands me the pink-blanketed bundle. I know that premature babies can be a lot smaller than this, but this…. Tiny, perfect hands tipped with the faintest specks of fingernails. Eyes fringed faintly with lashes. How is this real?
“You don’t have any eyebrows yet, “ I tell her, “but when you do get them, we’re going to have to talk about eyebrow maintenance. No shaving them off and drawing them back on.”
She’s a doll. A doll that can move and yawn and pull faces reminiscent of a grouchy old man reading newspaper stories about #FeesMustFall. I try to imagine her the size of a normal newborn, able to suckle. Laughing and playing. Rolling her eyes at bad jokes. Grown up. Squeezing my hand and telling me it’s going to be ok at my deathbed (it’s very Hollywood and elegantly staged. I’m surrounded by everyone I love and it’s perfect.)
All of it telescopes back to this moment where finally I have her in my arms for the very first time. I daren’t touch her skin, not just yet. She is kept in a GE Giraffe branded incubator, surrounded by monitoring devices that flash like the deck of the Starship Enterprise. There are pings and bings and beeps. This is the soundtrack to her life. Talk to her, Best Beloved says, so I do.
I tell her about all the places we’ll go and the bedtime stories I’ll read. How her dad will teach her to code, and probably be the disciplinarian. I’ll start her on the piano until she’s too advanced and needs a proper teacher. We’ll negotiate the issue of bribery around practicing. How she will meet her sisters and her cousins and the animals and how, a year from now, we’ll have a birthday party for her at which we’ll try and control the sugar. Maybe I’ll commission a flourless cake.
It’s hard going. The tears keep welling up and pouring down my nose, not a good situation in a highly infection controlled environment. Best Beloved holds a tissue for me and I blow, though he doesn’t squeeze hard enough for me to get the necessary pressure going. “I’ve never done this for an adult before,” he says.
We sit there together. She sleeps in my arms. I talk about how I’m looking forward to being vomited on and how I’m even ok with projectile poo, because that means she’s big enough to come home.
“For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine anything like you,” I tell her, choking up again. “Now I can’t imagine the world without you in it.”
Cheesy, yes. But suddenly, desperately true.