We expected him, being the second and, by the looks of his mother, very big, to be early but he was a day and a half late. It had been very hard work for H, our daughter, carrying him in the last few weeks. She went into hospital about noon yesterday and the baby was born at 1:15 in the morning.
I had stayed up at home till 1 at which point I went to bed and immediately fell asleep.
I woke at about 3am and looked at the phone. R had texted about the birth. I stayed awake a little while reading then slept again till almost 8 when C rang. I worked a little in the morning, but chiefly wrote notes here and there for far longer that I thought I could, to the extent that I completely forgot lunch.
So I caught the early afternoon fast bus into Norwich, reading Charles Boyle's The Age of Cardboard and String that I received in the morning post, along the way. I had to keep myself from laughing out loud at times, laughing silently instead. It wasn't gags, it was a wonderful sense of the poignantly, sometimes dangerously ludicrous. I thought there must be a line to draw between Michael Hofmann, CB and Hugo Williams that would define what I loved about English writing, the understatement, the nonsense, the faint desperation and disorientation, the rejection of bombast, the sudden jaggedness of life, and the perfect register of the perfect word, and that this was somehow (given Michael H is German) intrinsically English, though then I thought of two younger Hungarian poets, Andrés Imreh and G. István László, who might have been English in that way, given that description, and that seemed to negate my hunch about Englishness, until I thought about young Tim Cockburn's poems, Appearances in the Bentinck Hotel, also just received in the Salt edition, and of Tim's own love of Larkin and Bennett and how that sat with his equal love for Frank O'Hara, thinking that somehow Tim was very English too, and in this happily confused state I walked the 20 minutes or so to H & R's house.
It was cold but beautifully bright, a fast paced walk, not really thinking much. Going down the last stretch towards their street I passed a young man in shirtsleeves, the way young men are often in shirtsleeves, but wearing a furry cap with ear flaps. It didn't make much sense, I thought, unless he was convinced that all the heat was escaping through either a bald scalp or a still-open fontanelle, and then I thought I recognised a figure moving towards me, and indeed it was him, though I thought he had moved to London. We stopped for a moment because he too was in a hurry somewhere. We grinned, exchanged a few words, then moved off in opposite directions
C ran to open the door for me. R was asleep upstairs and soon Marlie would be up too. We had a cup of tea then got her up. She was immediately smiling, immediately asking for books and fetching them herself. Her passive vocabulary is very wide now and the active is increasing almost daily. C told me she had called for mummy and daddy but when C explained to her that they were in hospital where mummy was going to have her baby Marlie seemed to understand, and stopped asking. Then H rang from hospital asking to speak to R and eventually we got in the car and drove over.
At first you don't see the baby as it is suckling and covered in a blanket. It seems too small to be human, just an extra fold of cloth. H smiles faintly, because she is weak and tired and still in some pain, otherwise perfectly fine and happy. We kiss her and arrange ourselves in the small curtained space. Eventually the baby is released from the breast and appears out of the blanket, his eyes closed against the light, the fists coming up to cover them, then an eye opening, and a roll of the head. His eyes are much like Marlie's were. Big, wide, long lashes. He has patches of still damp dark hair. His legs and arms move automatically. He doesn't yet know what his limbs are, or that they belong to him. We stay for half an hour or so, taking turns to hold him. He tolerates this with good grace and indifference. As long as he is securely held he is fine and does not feel choosy as to who does the holding.
I reflect how different an experience this must be for me as a man. Our agency is quickly done and gone, our attention is all on the mother and whatever business there is in hand outside. Hers is partly dominated by what is within and resides there close on a year, affecting everything. And now here is the product, so new and so complete a body in miniature it seems almost too good, too sudden, a complex mixture of the utterly normal and the phenomenon just beyond understanding.
Outside the cubicle the voices of the mother, baby and visitor in the next cubicle, foreign voices, unplaceable. Their phone ring tone suggests India, Asia, its faintly like the call of a muezzin. Their baby is constantly crying - this one makes a few noises, moves, snuffles a little then claws at the air as babies do. He's fine.
No pictures for now - that will be up to the parents. He spends tonight in hospital, out next afternoon most likely. Then help will be needed.
Time for bed here too. So a new life - not named yet but waiting on a name. Another January birth (that's three now). And the wind has died down.