Her fuzzy little head nuzzled closer to the warmth of my breast, intense eyes locked into mine. The doctor took her chubby arm and tapped the thread of veins in the nook. I gripped her wriggly body. Rosie’s lip curled higher than usual exposing the gap in her gum, yelping as though she knew what was to come.
The doctor jabbed, “Sharp scrape”. He was too matter-of-fact for my liking. I felt my throat burn. Tears welled but I held them back. As a nurse myself I knew the routine.
“Its okay my little pops, Mummy will be right here when you wake,” I hummed and kissed her soft downy forehead. Rosie’s blue eyes rolled upwards until I could only see the whites. Her tiny body flopped. A cheery nurse stepped forward and tried to wrench her from my arms.
“Oh,” she said leaning into my face, “Good Job Mum, leave her with us, we’ll take excellent care of Baby, don’t worry.”
I loosened my grip allowing her to scoop Rosie from my arms and into the folds of her scratchy green scrubs. Paddy’s hand was upon my arm and he led me from the operating theatre. I looked back and saw Rosie, so tiny in the huge cot.
“She will be fixed next time you see her, perfect,” the nurse smiled. “You won’t recognise her.”
I froze. “ No, stop the operation,” I shouted, “I’ve changed my mind, I don’t want perfect.”
Paddy spun me though the swing doors, “Come on, you don’t mean that.” His eyes flashed, “It’s not an option,”
“I don’t want a different baby, I want her back just how she is,” I sobbed.
Paddy put his arm around me and used the bulk of his body to guide me into the lift. “She’ll come back just how she was meant to be, that’s all,” he said.
With the ping of the lift I rested my head on his chest. Six months had gone by. Six months since I’d nearly given birth to Rosie in a lift just like this; panting, shouting and swearing. There hadn’t been enough room in that lift to take our whole entourage. So the midwife asked Paddy to follow with the gas and air cylinder.
“Take that from me, buddy and I’ll rip off your arm,” I screamed when he tried to pry the gas mask from my lips.
Paddy took a sharp step back; he’d already sustained injuries from the last fourteen hours of labour. He wasn’t about to take any chances. The midwife raised her eyebrow at Paddy and between them they managed to squeeze the gas bottle in. Paddy took the stairs.
Eventually Rosie arrived amongst chaos in the busy delivery suite. The midwife flipped her straight onto my chest as she surged from the birth canal. “Wow she’s a big healthy girl and she has a fine set of lungs,” she said, smiling at the sound of the loud nasal scream.
I looked down at my baby. At ten pounds she was indeed a big girl, with a mass of black hair and beautiful, knowing eyes but something was wrong. I squinted at her face. It was flat. Her lip and nose were loose and not attached to her face. As she screamed a large hole gaped open exposing curled gums and nasal cavity. From my nursing experience I immediately knew what was wrong. My heart sank.
“She has a cleft lip.” I said, matter-of-fact. The midwife glared and tore my baby from my arms, to take a closer look.
“You’re right,” she said, “I need to get her checked by the doctor,” she ran from the room with my daughter in her arms.
I looked at Paddy red eyed and unshaven. He towered above me, his shoulders shuddered and tears pumped from his eyes. I reached out my hand, “I’m sorry,” I said, “I wanted it all to be so perfect.”
Six months later we sat in the hospital canteen with two cups of cold tea. Paddy constantly checked his watch and I chewed my chewed lips.
After five hours we returned to the recovery room, Rosie was sleeping, her arms in splints. ‘To stop her pulling out the stitches,’ the nurse explained. Tubes and catheters wound around her like a web.
“Come closer and take a look,” the scrub nurse waved her arm in a circular motion. We crept towards the cot and crouched down to see her face.
She was beautiful. Her face was no longer flat, her nose twitched and she had a rose bud pout. No bruising, no swelling, just neat stitches dotted above her lip. The surgeon had finished off what nature had begun. She was now a beautiful baby girl but this was not my girl. My Rosie was gone. I gasped and glanced at Paddy, my lips started to quiver. His dewy eyes smiled and he nodded back to the cot. I followed his gaze. Knowing eyes were now open, searching wildly, until they rested upon mine. Our eyes connected, they locked and it felt like electricity. I nuzzled closer to feel the warmth of my Rosie’s cheek.
“Mummy’s here my little Pops, just like I promised,” and I kissed her soft, downy forehead.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem