The first time I visited my grandmother after having my third child, Noah, she asked me what his birth date was to make sure she had written it down correctly in her little book. When I told her she said, ‘And it will always stay that day now, won’t it?’ Which might seem like the sort of question that gets you shipped off to the dementia ward but in fact I understood exactly what she meant because I felt that way myself.
Noah was due some time in April. He broke his waters in January. He kicked a hole in it. You didn’t know that could happen, did you? Me neither. But it can and he did. He was born in February, but nobody really believed he was real until he turned up at home for public viewing in March. Upshot being, nobody really knew when his birthday was because usually the waters breaking, the birthing bit, the coming home and the due date all happen within a few days of each other and establish a place in your memory. Noah sort of trickled into existence bit by bit.
Apart from nobody ever being able to quite work out when his birthday is there was also a very real feeling shared by me, my grandmother and possibly others that it wasn’t his proper birthday because that, for six months, had been expected in April. Being born that early is clearly a mistake which at some point soon will be rectified and we’ll get back on track with the April thing. It took quite a while of nobody turning up and announcing his real, permanent birthday for me to get used to the idea that the mistake, the wrong date that meant that I had a tiny, fragile high-needs baby as the result of a traumatic, scary, unexpected end to the pregnancy was truly how it was going to stay.
When you give birth to a baby that you were desperately hoping to stay pregnant with for a few more weeks or months, it is not a celebration. The best that can be said about it is that at least you can get on with dealing with whatever you have to deal with rather than counting every minute and imagining the worst case scenario. We knew ahead of time that Noah was unlikely to be full-term so we did have the chance to get used to the idea and acquire a bit of knowledge; we also had plenty of time to worry. For 27 weeks it had been a text-book pregnancy and in the blink of an eye it changed to a complicated one, taking our security with it. It was clear from that point that Noah might decide to be born at any time and a live baby was not guaranteed. For me, still holding him inside, it was an enormous burden of responsibility. We were both closely monitored but there were many hours over many nights when he didn’t move, wouldn’t so much as flicker no matter how much I wriggled and poked and begged, and I eventually fell asleep wishing with all my heart that I’d gone to the hospital earlier and had his heartbeat checked because clearly he had given up and if only I’d noticed in time.
Noah is six years old today. He is perfectly healthy and has never looked back from the less-than-ideal circumstances of his birth. His brother and sister, three and five at the time and consumed with trying to work out ways of making their own birthdays come around more quickly, were very impressed that this wee scrap of a brother had managed it with no effort at all. So it worked out okay in the end. But for me the lead-up and the big day itself is also the anniversary of a lot of trauma and fear. While Noah’s busy counting down until the most exciting day of his year I’m trying to keep the memories of the fear of losing him altogether at bay. An Angry Birds cake and a new whoopee cushion, although classy items in their own right, do not take that away. It’s the high point in Noah’s year and it’s a low point in mine, but he doesn’t need to know that. He knows that he got to sleep on a cool Star Wars blue-light bed and that he drank his food through his nose, but he doesn’t understand how precious he really truly is.