Day 2, 08.00
I rise early and, aware that visiting time for parents is only an hour away, I roll from the sofa to scurry once more up and down the corridor that links the four rooms of the flat. The forgotten bath water is let out, two temporarily forgotten cats are fed, and spare sets of baby clothes and mother’s clothes are tossed into a bag before I take a call from Ellie. Primed to jot down additions to the list of items required for another day or so on the ward, I scramble for a pen. But no need. Ellie isn’t after a toothbrush or a bunch of grapes, she’s not asking for her Kindle or her iPod. She needs to see James, and she’s calling to let me know he’ll be dropping by the ward to visit her first thing, and so don’t bother coming in for a little while yet. James is Ellie’s new partner. Oh, and yes there are a few other things I could bring along. My spare hand finds a pencil and I add to the list.
Breakfast, then, is unexpectedly leisurely of pace and my mind takes the opportunity to nip off for a wander. I’m dismayed and uncomfortable, in fact entirely affronted. Another man, another man, is with my ex-partner, at her hospital bedside, as I root around for the Marmite. That’s ok, it’s alright. We have, after all, been separated for some six months. He’s not news. And yet… another man, another man, is being introduced to my son as I sit here pouring a second mug of tea. My son, my parents’ grandson, nephew to my brother and sisters, cousin to my nephews and nieces, is becoming acquainted with, presumably being held by somebody I have never met, barely twenty-four hours into his life. Is that alright? My wandering mind finds no answer.
I had no intention of meeting the significant other, an other as significant to me as to her, albeit in a very different way, until after the birth of my child. There will be no soap opera scene, no “who do you think you are?”, no face to face meeting in the corridors of the maternity ward, no fear of that. His is a shadow long since cast over the pregnancy and the anticipation of my first child, and for now I determine to place his presence to one side. So, parking the primal outrage that’s swelling inside, I focus instead on the mundane, the essentials – the washing up, the nappies and the baby-grows. And not on bludgeoning James.
Seated once more on the top deck, my son grows larger in my thoughts as I approach, and arriving at reception, he once again commands my thoughts. From the front desk I pick up and pocket my pass in its plastic holder and head back into the transitional care unit. It’s clear from the notice on the door that it’s parents-only until the afternoon and only then it dawns. James has visited his partner and my son during parent-only hours and has used my security pass to do so. How else could he possibly have got in? Ashamed to be dwelling on the detail yards from our newborn, it turns over in my mind nonetheless – the significant other has stepped into my shoes. As far as the early morning reception staff were concerned he was me. He was the father.
In Ellie’s own room I’m re-united with our unnamed son and, assured of his relative health, I struggle briefly with myself, but it’s futile. Despite my shame, and wary of risking an unseemly argument, I point out that James should not have been here, that technically he should have waited until family visiting hours. Even as I say this I realise that that is exactly what he is now – family. What I mean, of course, is that he has no right to be here whatsoever, barely a day after my son’s birth. He can wait. There is no argument, and it soon becomes clear that both Ellie and James were entirely unaware of ward regulations, and that James had appropriated my pass (and, albeit briefly, my identity) entirely innocently and purely on account of a receptionist’s false assumption. Paranoia, then, on my behalf. But really, who can blame me? No more is said on the matter, nor will it ever be.
The issue dealt with, we return to the business of the day, and I wonder just how important my concerns are in the scheme of things. That this is a milestone in my life need hardly be said. The birth of my first, and the age of 42 now potentially only child. And for precisely that reason would it surely not be best to ease my mind and let go, to help myself by erasing it from my thoughts? But I can’t hit delete. The knife twists precisely because this is a milestone. Days like no other, and possibly never to be repeated, yet they’ve been intruded upon, violated. Briefly, and not for the first (or last) time, I wish him dead. Then I let it go. It is not my day, after all, nor hers or even ours. And certainly not his. This is my son’s time.
He’s born to a new Britain, an Olympian nation now officially at ease with itself, if only while the late summer and the afterglow of the Games lingers. Just as the country at large is comfortable at last in its skin of many colours, expressing a new, guilt-free and joyful brand of patriotism, so too I feel a shifting of the landscape within me. I can only hope it’s a change that’s not fleeting, but it appears that a lifetime of emotional constipation may be easing, even to the degree that James’ intrusion can be forgiven, and possibly even understood. A gift, perhaps, not from Team GB but from a remarkable son. A son who may have a deal to teach.