Monday, 5 October 2009

Family Ties

Andrew, topless, holding Alex. (C) Nicola Bell.
11th of September, 2009: 18:00

We spent a couple of quiet hours in the labour suite (where you do the whole "push push" bit) after Alex was born.  Just sitting, holding him, talking quietly. Of course, because this is the 21st century we were also fielding texts and Facebook messages of congratulations.  But it was a quiet time regardless.  Certainly compared to the previous 24 hours.  I'd had a good worry about everything, Nicola had been put back together by the medical staff and Alex had had a sleep.  Just as we were about to be moved to the maternity ward (where you stay after the "push push" bit), Nicola's parents arrived.  (Visiting hours were just starting, by an odd co-incidence.)  The staff let them in to say hello and accompany us to the ward.  Nicola and her parents hugged and cried.  I got a manly handshake from Alan and a kiss from Hazel.

(Utterly off topic, it's been interesting to chart Alan's greetings to me over the years.  When I was just his daughter's boyfriend, I got a cheery "Hello".  When we got engaged, I was promoted to a handshake.  Since Alex has been born, it's gone up to a manly handshake, complete with left hand on elbow action.  I dread to think what it would have become if we'd had twins!)

We got Nicola transferred to a wheely bed, Alex to a wheely cot and I put my T-shirt back on, so as not to scare the general public.  Then, in a bizarre cavalcade, we left the labour suite.

I expected to cry when Alex was born and I became a dad (which I did, but not for the reasons I was anticipating).  I wasn't expecting to cry when I saw my own father afterwards.  Yet when I saw him there, standing outside the labour suite, waiting for us to be wheeled through to the ward, I broke down and wept uncontrollably.  Every ounce of fear, stress and fatigue I had accumulated over the last two days suddenly bubbled up.  I could stop being strong.  Stop being reassuring.  Stop being upbeat.  My dad was here.  I was safe.

My unexpected reaction to seeing my dad pretty much sums up what I'm aiming for with being Alex's dad.  No matter what else happens, if in thirty years time he can see me standing there and know, deep down, that he's safe, I'll count my life as a success.

*           *           *

I can't remember a lot about those first visiting hours.  It seems my body had finally given up.  Nicola had a sea of hormones to tide her through.  I had the stale taste of fear in my mouth and limbs as heavy as lead.  The grandparents coo-ed over Alex, who was obligingly cute if somewhat sleepy.  I think I may have managed a couple of sentences, but I doubt they were more than five words long, if that.  John and Grant took pity on me and whisked me off home.  (New dads are not allowed to stay overnight in the hospital.)  On the way home the sky was ablaze over Sutra Hill.  Fabulous reds, oranges and pastel golds framed the massive wind turbines as the sun set over Edinburgh.  A more spectacular sunset I haven't seen in a long, long time.  I cursed my lack of a camera to myself as we drove.

I got home to a dark house and a very friendly cat at around 9pm, over 36 hours after Nic and I left for the hospital.  I was worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep for replaying those horrible moments after Alex's birth.

I was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

*           *           *

And so ended probably the longest day of my life.  Although Alex is shaping up to be the best thing in the world, I can't honestly say that the day he was born was the best day of my life.  Hand on heart, it was far from it.  It was a day of terror and stress, pain and blood.  Enjoyment would have to wait until tomorrow.

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