Purple Rain is playing on the radio, turned up to 11, while I empty the cereal cupboard into a big box that has been used before. But this time it’s different. Today we are leaving the bungalow where our baby was born. Everyone else has gone to the new house to unpack and I’m left alone. Without the music it’s eerily empty and quiet, so I’ve turned up the song I first heard in my final year of school and I’m putting half-filled boxes of Branflakes away while wiping massive tears off my chin.
I take one last walk around the rooms where we first became a family. The bedroom where I rocked on the floor in agony as I felt the baby bearing down and getting ready to burst forth. The living room where I nursed her behind closed curtains, day and night. The weird walk-through room where we blasted out the Decemberists and danced with our tiny bag of bones in some sort of happy, hazy state of exhaustion. The beautiful garden where we celebrated birthdays – his 40th, her 1st.
I stop in the kitchen and I’m sobbing. And that’s when I find it. In a pile of papers my husband has left out for me to sort through (you know, those ever-growing piles of papers that hoarders have filled with old cards and thank you letters and receipts and cinema tickets) there’s a screwed up piece of printer paper with notes scrawled on it. It’s a piece of paper I kept beside me in the first couple of weeks after she was born. In case anything amazing and insightful occurred to me in the smoggy delirium of having new life in my arms. You know, in case the actual meaning of life came to me in that moment in the middle of the night when one episode of The Mighty Boosh has finished and a new one is about to start.
Here’s what it said. Unedited:
Night-time on the ward. My first time in hospital. Staring at my baby in the half-light. Listening to lovely midwife Jas helping the lady with twins. She can’t speak English. Imagine that? My heart’s already in my mouth and I can understand what they’re saying when they squeeze my nipples til they turn blue.
I’m shattered. So shattered. But elated. (Hmmm, original)
When they raised me on the chair and she started stitching me, the gas and air was numbing my skull and I looked down, far, far down (it was probably only a metre) and I saw this little baby in my husband’s arms and I thought ‘what is that? Where did it come from? Is that mine?’ I was so high, and when the supervisor said she was leaving the room because the rookie nurse was doing fine with the stitching, I was sure she was off to hang around with the Goonies. But not in a pervy way. (??) In a way that she just loved riding on a BMX with the lads. And then I drank more gas and air, and more, because I could feel the needle going in. I could feel her twanging the strings like a banjo, checking it was tight enough, but I was sure she was playing Spanish Eyes on my fanny stitches. And then she stopped and asked if I was ok. And I cried. Burst into tears. Because I could feel it all. And then she cried. We both sat there crying. Then laughing at the crying. And then she stuck some more anaesthetic in me with a bigger needle.
The stitches kill and I’m scared to poo in case everything rips open and my insides fall out into the toilet and I have to scoop them out and put them in an Asda bag while Mark drives me to hospital. And the bleach shrinks them on the way.
Day 3: I’m so tired that I thought I saw her on the floor. I thought Mark had fallen asleep with her and she’d rolled off him and died with her face in the carpet. (Said every mum ever)
I’ve just come out of the bedroom for like the first time in a week. And I changed my nightie. I feel like I’ve been reborn.
Day 9: What have we done? I’m sat here sobbing in front of World’s Most Expensive Food pumping milk from my failing tits.
Question: How will I cope with a child?
Day 10: A good breastfeed is like sleepy, slow, hungover sex with someone you’re completely in love with. Failed breastfeeding is like a horrible argument with someone you’re completely in love with.
Day 11: Mark will fall in love with someone else.
Tony Bennett duets on silent as I express milk. The pump is so loud there’s no point in even trying to hear him. But with no sound I can study the rapport he has with each singer. Lovely sparking with Winehouse. (This probably won’t make my next play. Or even my next pub conversation. But here on the blog it can find a little place).
The breast pump sounds like Clive James and Simon Russell Beale and a cool liberal teacher when she sits. (I told you it’s unedited)
Benjamin Button and Cate Blanchett are having sex and I’m sobbing, while pumping milk.
The quiet room at the Children’s Ward, when we walked down the corridor with an undernourished Edi. It keeps coming back to me. The purple walls and the tissues and the leaflets with numbers of people who can help. Please never let me sit in that room.
Is she awake enough?
Is she asleep enough?
Formula? Should I? Is it evil? Does it cause cancer? Is it made of plastic?
I’m so fucking angry with her because she won’t help me with this feeding. Shut up, she can’t help. She’s a baby. Hormonal wave of protection floors me.
She has no idea that I’m going to die one day. I’m so sorry, little baby Edith.
And that’s it. That’s all the wisdom I have from overseeing the first year of a new life.