It is 1am and the midwife has wrapped the baby loosely in the blanket.
“Do you want to hold the baby?”
I nod, unable to speak. I pull the blanket down a little and feel the child’s soft flesh against mine. Paper delicate but alive; a new soul is linked forever to mine. I hold and hold, the soft hair frames a perfect face with huge brown eyes that stare, not blinking. Mine I think. But the child is its own, I know that.
The midwife interrupts gently, “Don’t you want to know what it is?”
I stare at her blankly. It’s a baby, what does she mean?
“Boy or girl?”
Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. The midwife looks down, and I open the blanket to look further. A girl. She whimpers.
Then a problem.
My placenta has not expelled itself. It has snapped and popped back in. They call the consultant. They take the baby and prepare me for theatre.
I am wheeled into the operating room. The anesthetist comes over and holds my hand. “Don’t worry,” he says, “I’ll look after you.” He’s the only one I know in the room. The others are new doctors, only called for emergencies. The room is crowded; they have woken up the junior doctors for whom this event will be a useful teaching exercise.
I vow then, make a pact with whoever is in charge, if I survive this I will be a better person, a better mother than I might have been. I see clearly my past, and I see clearly my futures. In that moment I shed an old skin as they scrape and expel inside me. A new being emerges from that theatre, an older, sadder elated woman who has faced leaving and now has someone for whom she must stay. She has understood herself in that cold sterile place where life has come and life almost went.
The baby has stayed silent in her father’s arms. They have changed her into the too-big clothes I chose in a previous life, the sleeves folded back to reveal her tiny hands. She has waited so patiently, my daughter, and when I put her to my breast she sucks with the vigour of the thirsty. Each suck is a pull of pain and relief.
I revere my body: in all its flab and flaps it gives sustenance to another I surrender to what will be, trying less to control than be controlled by what is, and should be. I embrace all my futures now; her future; my future, our futures entwined. I want to survive, for myself, for her and the other children I want to have.
She continues to suck clumsily, and I help her to reattach until she is sleepy and her sucking slows, and then she is still. I look and look at her, drinking in her beauty, holding that feeling of flesh against flesh forever.