Dearest Raphaela Ragini Pillay,
Today, April 29, is the date that you were due to arrive in the world. It would probably not have been your birthday – your father wanted you to arrive on April 27 (because it’s a public holiday, and he likes significant dates to fall on public holidays) – and Dr O’Hanlon would probably have insisted on performing the c-section around 10 days before now. Also, there’s the awkward fact that my ex-husband would have shared a birthday with you, and that’s not the kind of coincidence anyone would feel entirely comfortable with.
Anyhow, that’s all academic, because, of course, life listens to our carefully detailed plans and laughs out loud. The record reflects that you were brought, crying in fury, into the cold bright light of a delivery room a little more than two months ago, on February 26. You were placed very briefly on my chest before being whisked off to an incubator and hooked up to probes.
You’re still a little too small for newborn clothes.
In the beginning, you were fed through a nasal tube. You looked like a sea creature, arms and legs waving like tentacles. Your colour was as changeable as a squid. Your father and I calibrated our moods for the day according to how much weight you had gained.
In the early days, I was terrified that you might die, and I didn’t know how I would cope with weeks and weeks of NICU.
When you were inside me, and I could feel the fluttering of your first kicks, I couldn’t wait to get to know you. In two months of looking at you (and you looking back at me), I have watched you develop an entire a repertoire of faces. There is alabaster angel when you are sleeping and calm; angry tomato (self explanatory); also grumpy old man, Stephen Hawking and – this is the one I love the most – naughty elf. Watching your face change from one to the other is fascinating and when it happens, time slips past unnoticed.
(I wonder whether the first hints of character I see in your face will emerge in the fullness of time, or whether I’m just projecting. But you do seem to be a funny girl. You’re already good at making your father laugh.)
Your sister Aura calls you squishy pink thing. Mia sings to you and sketches you while you’re being bathed and dressed (cue the angry tomato). Your grandmother Diana, who had seen you every Sunday in NICU, was pleasantly surprised when she visited you at home, and said that you are beautiful. You have Facebook friends who love seeing updates about you. You don’t know about them yet, but I am sure that one day they will tell you all about what you were like when you were little.
You sleep with one hand resting on your cheek, as though considering the state of the world. (Perhaps you are.) The tiniest sound you make is enough to stir me from the deepest sleep. I listen to your musical chuckles and marvel at the power you have to move me. I try not to think too much of the responsibility, because it is huge and marvellous and also, frankly, terrifying. Instead, I gaze at you and tether myself to the present moment, which matters more than any moment before or after.
You are my magnetic north, a soft and urgent tug at my centre wherever I go. We have had two months to get to know one another, two months more than I imagined. I’m looking forward to our adventure together in the world, my dearest Ra-Ra.
I love you so very much. A very happy unbirthday to you.