I don’t think I wanted to children. My blogs never talk about it as something I really thought about needing or wanting. Indeed, I was always anxious that this lack of desire for children (or a child) would mean that if one were to come about that I would not love it, that I would not have the kind of parental instincts, emotions and so on that my parents had (or seemed to have), that my sister had, that people all around the world obviously had. I knew I could perform the role well, after all, the great lesson of my 30’s was that everything was a performance of an imagined self rather than the expression of some authentic inner-me. So, I could perform a role in the workplace, and suddenly I had a viable career. Gazing into the abyss of authenticity had lead me as many steps backwards as I had taken forward. As H grew inside her mother, as pictures of her were printed out of machines, as I felt her kicks and bumps, I expected billions of years of evolution would kick in and I’d start to feel an emotional attachment. But I didn’t. Even as F pushed through birth I felt nothing special. I think I was a good partner, I did what I think were all the right things, but inside there was no kind of monumental emotional transformation. The script told me that I should be high-fiving the lads, smoking a cigar, calling everyone to let them know, tears of joy, happiest day of my life, and so on. I felt a kind of anxious guilt when H was first passed to F. F said to her new daughter “My perfect baby” with tears of relief and joy. I just saw a baby. Was this how it was going to be. That I had been right all along. Somehow I figured that once I saw the baby then the proper, scripted emotions would come. They didn’t. Not yet. The first two weeks were hard. F was kept in hospital and, well, those that know already know the gory details, but it was a tough time for her. I spent many nights out in the hospital halls with the baby, no idea what I was doing, every second a glut of anxiety urging me not to call the nurse, call the nurse, don’t call the nurse.
Over the next couple of months things started to change. It was a slow, slow, slow burn. I can’t quite place what it was that started triggering things for me, but a few specific things stand out.
Firstly, while H was and has always been a very good sleeper, and a dream baby in that regard (but not exclusively in that regard!), she did fairly often require some help to get to sleep at night. This lead to us trying many methods but ultimately the winner was music and dancing. The music F listened to while pregnant, and that we had shared as a couple on road trips and fun nights together, seemed to be the same music that would put H to sleep. If she was crying inconsolably, then putting this music on would make her stop, almost immediately, and almost every time. But it wasn’t just the music that would put her to sleep. It was holding her in my arms and dancing. Dancing in the sense of a very exaggerated rocking, like I was doing lunges around the room. It was coming into summer, so the evenings were getting hot. I’d have a baby in my arms, listening to Austra, PJ Harvey, My Disco and others, in my underwear, dancing around the living room. It was close time with the baby, and I could feel her being comforted. Comforted by me. Her anxiety, however she experienced it, disappeared, and I disappeared it. I felt a kind of responsibility, beyond providing food and so on, but a much more human responsibility. The world was large, for her it is unimaginably large, and here it was, all coming at her, all at once. And somehow I was the one to keep the worst of it at bay, for now, for as long as I can.
Second, not only was there a new biological life, with its own magical consciousness, but I was getting a new life. A new life with new routines, new certainties and new surprises. Especially when we began going out into the world, or when our physical home felt suddenly like a “home” in the metaphysical sense. I wasn’t working for the few couple of months, having plenty of leave available, so was also enjoying this absence from the workplace. This new life brought F and I closer, we had a new angle to things, solved problems, frustrations, successes. The experience of having a child wasn’t just about the baby, it was about a fundamental shift in how I would have to relate to the world, no matter how much we tried to mitigate this. Routines have always been a way I connect to things, even when things are in motion, like on a road trip, it is the routines that connect me to the road. The morning survey of maps and routes, the evening hunt for a motel, the pack and unpack from the car, and so on. Finding new patterns isn’t just a matter of making things routine, in the sense of banal, mundane, predictable, but embedding yourself in a place (or space). Finding a new way home in an unfamiliar place, becoming a regular at a local, setting up new spaces to share with others. So while F and I were building new routines, the amount of time I was spending with H also meant new routines, not only for her (feeding, sleeping) but for me (waking, strapping on the carrier, visits to parks, familiar faces at cafes etc).
Third, and the most surprising (but not surprising) was (and is) a growing melancholy that grew (grows) in time through pregnancy and through birth and beyond. The melancholy is two-fold. Of generalised death (the confrontation of my own anxiety towards it and of the unimaginable but inevitable death of H) and the specificity of death. That is, the ghost of my sister and her son. At first this centred on my sister and the missing relationship. I was missing sharing this experience with her, sharing stories with her, learning from her, leaning on her, being her baby brother all grown up. There are moments in life that stick with you for no reason, and you never really know why it is that moment over another, but there it is, stuck in the syrup of your brain. I remember my sister one time, when I was a teenager, exclaiming with surprise after she found out I was now old enough to have to shave (or grow a bum-fluff beard). “I can’t believe my baby brother shaves!”. Of course I do. I’m growing up. And now, here I was, grown up. Baby on my hip. And where was she to tell me how she couldn’t believe her baby brother had a baby? No where. And as my sense of H grew, and my parental bonds sharpened, and H appeared in my dreams for the first time, I suddenly felt an abject terror. Every pretence of distance unravelled and the terror of death, not my own, but of H’s cascaded out of me through time and was set ahead in every moment of my life until death. And with that, with clarity that I never could have appreciated, I felt my parents broken hearts and their sense of catastrophe. We lost J, my nephew, at about the same age H is now. I have specific memories of him, in life and in death. As with my sister there are particular moments through which memory fills the void of an entire person. For J, it was the sound of him saying “Keys”. He loved keys. It was also him peeing on me. H now loves keys, loves saying the word, and has peed on me a few times. When I look at her sometimes I see him, and new moments come back from the long time past. In her still and sleeping face I sometimes see his, when he was gone, laying there in that room with his mother where we said goodbye.