As I’m tucking him into bed he whispers tell me again how much you love me. And so I do. Bigger than the stars, bigger than the moon, bigger than the planets-and he says:
Bigger than the biggest planet.
Not as a question. Just a statement.
And I nod and kiss his forehead and for a second I see us standing by his bed at the hospital.
Lips moving silently in a catch-all prayer to all Gods. Please, please, please, please don’t take our baby.
We need him. Whoever you are he’s ours.
And I know now that all babies are needed. Not just mine. That prayers are only rarely answered and they take babies that are desperately loved all the time. But my lips still move. Silently pleading.
I see us standing over our baby and for a second I can’t breathe.
My baby pulls me back to here where we are with a nuzzle. He likes to play “kiss foreheads” and “kiss noses”. I remember once when he was too delicate for us to touch him, when I was too scared I’d somehow dislodge the tube that was breathing for him.
I remember how I said I’d cuddle every second I got. How I got told that’s a bad sleep association and laughed. How nice it’d be to think you’d always have a cuddle whenever you need it – to shake that feeling of borrowed time.
Sometimes it is the whiff of antiseptic that takes me there, I see myself sobbing in the corner bathroom of the ward, head pressed against the mirror. So many mothers cried before they entered their child’s room.
So many fathers turn up with a smile showing teeth but red, red rings around their eyes.
Wash hands. Deep breath. Head high. Smile. And then: It’s OK mamas here. Mamas here. Daddy’s boy. Daddy’s baby.
I used to feel so isolated from the every day. And sometimes I wonder if that feeling ever goes away.
My husband clenches his jaw when our baby coughs. Still.
That feeling of being on borrowed time all the time. Just waiting for the ground to crack beneath you.
I won’t look at photos from that time. Won’t share them with others. And when you meet someone who has been there too, who knows what it feels like to stand at the basin of a public toilet and have your blood run cold just because the taps remind you of hospital taps, you see past everything and they see you.
And sometimes you don’t say anything and you just hug. Or you both say the same words at the same time. Or maybe pat each other’s hand. And there’s a charge through you – they’ve been on the outside looking in too.
And maybe they’re still there, but you’re not. And with that comes a heavy sodden guilt, you got out and they’re still imprisoned. How do you reconcile that but to tread as gently as you can always.
And then when you don’t – how do you stop yourself from feeling you don’t deserve your place in motherhood?
Sometimes I wish others could see, but I would not wish these eyes on my worst enemy.
Maybe you wouldn’t use the words you do against me – but the stings and barbs of hatred feel nothing like learning how to sleep with your hand on your baby’s chest because you’re afraid it will stop rising.
The anger feels nothing like the anger you feel that your child’s world is sterile room in a noisy ward.
And while they harbour their hate, encourage their grudge, and nurture their fury – yours falls away at the sight of your baby shifting and opening sleep-laden eyes. Your face is the one they need to see in this unfamiliar cold place. A smile you practiced in the mirror through tears is now perfected for them. That Children’s Ward look of tear-stained eyes and pale chapped lips.
The fear others hold on to is real for them, but it’s nothing like the fear that rips you in half as you wait for a doctor to tell you if your child made it.
No I wouldn’t wish that on any soul. Not even those who wish to see more pain.
There’s been pain enough here.
I hope one day your life is as full of love as mine is.
Deep and true.
There is only love here.
Love bigger than the biggest planet.