We’ve been luckier than anyone has any right to be. Lucky is a strange word to apply to a family who lose a child. Watching Ben uncurl – unfurl – is like having the clouds stripped from the earth and seeing all the beauty and imperfections of the world laid bare with nothing to cover it or hide behind. Parenthood is wonderful and parenthood is hard, brutally, breath-takingly hard; it tumbles over me like a white water river that sweeps me along in a maelstrom of achievement and failure and grim battling to hold on. Bringing home a baby never felt like an exhilarating and adrenalin filled dice with death before. Death is not someone that you should take into a delivery room with an open mind, holding him by the hand and accepting his presence. Death should not be on your mind at birth, parents should not grit their teeth, white faced and clutching each other, while they wait for a cry.
I thought I had parenthood all sewn up. I thought I knew about babies, how to feed them, grow them, nurture them and comfort them. I thought I knew about making them well, being all they needed, all they wanted, getting it right and being on top of their needs, rights, wants and desires.
My boys have given me second sight. My boys have taught me I know nothing, that I was smug and ignorant and nothing close to as clever and competent as I thought I was.
One boy I could do nothing for. One boy is demanding every ounce of cunning and attention and humility. Asking for help, admitting I don’t really know. Being weak and feeble and needing reassurance and turning up at the children’s ward to be patted and smiled at by loving young doctors who see paranoid and panic-stricken and are kind enough to understand why. I feel like a naive and new mum, first time round instead of sixth.
Ben is in his second week, his second month even, at all of ten days old. The little scrunched up body that still thought it was a baby bump is going – already. He will not be that small again.
His feet and hands no longer bend inwards to accommodate the confines of my womb. He is in his second body, adapting and changing to his second world. Watching, it seems more of a miracle than it has ever been. Hell, breathing is a miracle. Being ten days old and not on oxygen, drugged and signalling goodbye with tired eyes and a last time used voice, that is a miracle.
Milk is not yet second nature to him, but he does know how. It’s hard to remember, but hard to forget that just a second ago I was bending over a cot of a boy for whom all chances were gone, who never worked out even the rudiments of nursing. Dropping milk, 5 mls at a time into Ben’s mouth, it’s inconceivable that 22 months ago we had gone from a baby existing on a drip, to celebrating a 3ml feed, to watching a boy who could not even swallow fade away to nothing.
I still cannot believe it happened.
I still can’t believe that for this second little boy of ours we can relax and enjoy sleeping and that sleep is nothing to be afraid of. I can’t quite believe that there is nothing to cry about.
That doesn’t stop me raining on him. My little boy. My little boys. This second chance comes with the price of making that gap so clear, so well drawn, so illustrated by a space.
But never will coming second be such an exulted place. He’s a princeling, this boy. Our spare to the heir. Adored with a passion from every angle. He is being loved and adored and cuddled and coddled from every sister and parent. We might feel like we don’t know what we are doing, but we’ve never been more happy to learn.
Written for the writing workshop at Sleep is for the Weak.