I wrote this a few nights ago, after Tom’s actual fifth birthday…
Five years ago tonight, I lay numbed in hospital, listening to the couple in the opposite bed whispering and snogging. They pressed the buzzer and a nurse came running. The father asked if the mother was allowed some more gas and air, to help her relax (even though her baby must have been born hours earlier.) The nurse explained that gas and air is only allowed during labour, before reminding the father that he would have to leave soon.
I think I was jealous of that couple and their bizarre, ill-fated plans for a bedside laughing gas party. I didn’t know what to think, stuck behind the jazzy aztec curtain, Tom asleep next to me in his plastic cot. Twenty five hours of chaos and company, which had been preceded by eight months of fear, but an awful lot going on. Something big had just happened, something amazing. Luckily I was too drugged to take it all in, but I was vaguely aware that just like the rest of it, the magical aftermath is meant for sharing.
It comes back on the same evening each year, after everyone has gone and all the fuss is over and Tom is in bed and I am sitting here on my own. I want to be able to curl up on the sofa and talk about how fast it’s gone with someone who’s been around since day one.
Tonight, my friend Anna called and asked what I was up to.
“Feeling weird,” I said, looking around at the Dalek and the footy kit, the wrapping paper and other birthday debris.
This morning, she drove to the supermarket and came back in less than ten minutes with a badge and a rosette for Tom, after we realised that he didn’t have a birthday badge.
“Auntie Anna is a superhero,” Tom said.
And she came round again tonight, even though she was on her way home when she rang me “for a quick chat.” We cracked open the wine.
“Remember that first night out after he was born?” Anna said.
I do. Dancing to The Strokes in an empty club on a Thursday night, having to sit down every ten minutes because my too-small jeans were digging into my Caesarean scar. It was a shit night by usual standards but was monumental to me.
I remember it all. I also remember her saying “Fucking hell! Are you having a baby or a hippo?” when I was pretty far gone.
Most clearly of all, I remember Anna walking on to the ward the Saturday after Tom was born and maintaining eye contact and a straight face while a midwife literally milked me. She gave me a bag full of presents, it was like Christmas morning (apart from the stranger holding a spoon under my nipple and squeezing.) There was loads in there (the bag, not my breast – that was the problem): Stretch mark cream (which never did work,) a peace lily (which only died last year) and the Arctic Monkeys album. I used to sing Mardy Bum to Tom when he cried.
Now he’s all grown up and it did go fast, just like everyone said it would.
And I remember Anna saying “It’s not the end of the world you know,” when I cried in corner of a pub at the start of all this.
And she was right.