Compacted, pickled and purple, cradled by our doctor whom I’ve come to know by her lip-chewing, head-tilting inspections between each round of pushing, as though contemplating a chess board, as the Grandmaster.
Our boy is trussed up in his cord. The Grandmaster slips her fingers under the cord and slips it over his cone-head. The plan for the cord was to leave it a while before clamping (per the latest evidence) then for me to give it the snip (per cute tradition).
But no, hurry. I’ve come to understand the two moods of labour: one a hallowed conversation between mum, baby, doctors and nature, and the other a gloves-off scrap between the doctors and tragedy. This is a scrap. I know to let go of my wife’s hand and step back as a nurse takes my place.
Grandmaster clamps the cord and snips and passes our boy to a man and woman neonatal duo whom I hadn’t noticed come into our room. They look like the people you call when something goes wrong. They take our boy to an amber-lit crib in the corner and splay him and massage his chest and coo. They suck gunk from his mouth with a turkey baster. His breath is shallow and hard-earned, he cries but briefly, he stretches his arms and legs for the tight hug of the womb and flails… what I’d expected but not where; not on mum’s chest but in the corner where things go wrong. He feels close and far away, like a farewelled love who is sitting in a train carriage that hasn’t left yet. Please don’t go.
A nurse beams at me and I realise that the duo aren’t trading commands like “100 units” or “clear” but are chit-chatting, perhaps about their plans for the weekend or the shortcomings of the new payroll system. I see the Grandmaster is satisfied. It’s fine and was fine, just precaution. The mood is again a hallowed conversation.
I step to my wife’s side. Our boy is carried and placed on her chest. Mum holds him and says hello, maybe with words but I remember now only her eyes and smile. If you want a happy memory, look at someone you love when they are supremely happy.
My practical duties fulfilled, I’m left to wonder. Our boy is both the ultimate culmination and genesis, end and beginning. He’s the answer to What is love? Yes, a miracle, and I understand that the true meaning of miracle is not the suspension of natural order but the existence of it.
A few hours earlier, somewhere down the hall, a life must have ended. A siren and tannoy blared, all of our carers dashed from our room for a crisis more pressing than my wife’s pushing (at last, after 47 hours of preamble) and when our lead nurse returned forty minutes later I shouldn’t have asked but I did. “I hope everyone’s okay.”
“It’s been a long time since… and…” She stopped before her voice broke and I finished her sentence with the image of a mother’s eyes closing, or a baby’s never opening, or worst of all their eyes meeting for the cruelest moment.
I touch our boy’s skin. Warm. Alive. I kiss my wife’s forehead. A miracle.