There are a lot of people who say that the best day of their lives were entire twenty-four hour periods in which something big happened. A wedding is one – I haven’t done that and don’t intend to, though, don’t get me wrong, Teach and I have been together for some thirteen love-soaked years and intend to stay together for thirteen hundred more – and then, of course, there is the birth of a child. The greatest day of my life! people will proclaim. The closed-eyes, grit-teeth of labour, then pushing them out: beautiful, wrinkled little babies with confused, new movements in their limbs and eyes that are searching only for you, the parents whose voices it has heard for all these months in its tiny squashed nest inside a belly.
Am I a bad person for saying that it was not, by any account, the best day of my life?
It was so painful: I have never felt anything like it. Twelve hours of a shuddering, all-consuming wall of pain that took up every part of my body and my thoughts. Usually, I’m an insufferable joker – just ask my coworkers or customers. Usually, I can’t shut up. For that twelve hours I was speechless. If the midwives or Teach asked me questions, I could just nod. Sometimes. The only words I remember saying were around hour eleven, something like, I can’t do this, or maybe it was this will never end. It did, of course, thanks to a pair of silver forceps that I looked at, when the doctor held them up to me apologetically, like they were held up by glowing cherubs to a chorus of heavenly voices. I looked at them and thought: they will get this baby out. And they did.
There she was, on my chest, a little pickled baby with wide-open eyes and the pinkest skin in the world. I thought all along that this was the moment I would cry. I didn’t, though. I was just relieved the pain was over. But then, of course, it’s not over; I wasn’t shrouded in a post-birth glow for the rest of what happens. More pushing to get out that enormous goddamn placenta. Stitches to knit me together again. There’s more, but maybe you’re eating your lunch, so I won’t tell you about all of it. Suffice to say it was another indeterminate time before the painkillers took any effect and I started to feel like maybe one day I could walk again.
It’s scary, that first day. You don’t know what you’re doing, and they sure as hell don’t know what they’re doing. They are warm and small and all yours, and then maybe you have to try and breastfeed but it’s not working, and maybe they don’t sleep (not at all, for three days), and doctors prick their little feet with immunisations and tests are performed. It’s gentle – this is not an accusation at the health system, no sir – but it’s bewildering. It all is. While everyone should have the opportunity to have the birth they want, I don’t think a home birth would have done anything but made me panic as soon as the pain hit. I had wanted to stay home for hours, until close to the end, but when labour actually happened all I wanted was to be somewhere I felt safe. And me, I felt safe in a hospital. They served us well.
But it was not the best day of my life.
I think the best day of my life was last Monday. We went to a community garden in Kew with some friends, and the Rocket held hands with her little pal Will and then she got all muddy making pies in the cubby house. Back home, she napped, and I wrote. I can’t remember what we did in the afternoon, but we probably went to the park and watched the trains together. She says “Toot toot!” when she sees them, and waves them off with an elongated “Byeeeeee!” She has all these words now, like Mummy, Daddy, More, Please, Ta, (and an aggressive MORE PLEASE TA when she desperately wants something), Book, Dog, Bed, Guitar, Birdy, Bag. There are more, but these get us through the day quite well. Later, we picked Teach up from work and drove straight to the pool for a splash around in the final warmth of the day. She was adorable in her cousin’s old pink bathers, and she ran happily straight into the water. She’s so brave, she walks until the water goes over her shoulders and she loves to jump (well, step) off the sides into her dad’s outstretched hands. Then she reaches out for me, and then in my arms she wiggles in glee and I say, “Who’s a wiggly-woo?” and she laughs, so loud and with complete all-encompassing happiness. Her face says that she is in her favourite place with her favourite people and that nothing could be better and just, oh, you know, it really couldn’t.
That was my best day. And while it’s much sappier than I tend to be to say it, the thing I love most is that I know it’s not going to be my best day for long. Because there’s always next week, and while that godawful day of her birth was not the best day of my life, I will always cherish it for bringing me the days that were.