We sat in the lilac room, with its dainty violet curtains, bemused by the matching flowery apron of the obstetrician. The sun was beginning to set on the outside world, the amber glow turning the room into a bluish hue. Our own microcosm was not yet ready for settling as it prepared to burst forth with new life.
The large station clock on the wall, its arms sweeping silently in never ending arcs, had kept us alert during the day with its hypnotic gaze. At a little after 7.30, we welcomed the arrival of daughter number two, a tiny ginger-topped bundle who entered the world upside down. We shed a gentle tear at the euphoria of birth and then the reality of this scrunched up scrap of humanity shattered our elation.
The little one was born with a massive cephalohaematoma, the size of my husband’s fist, on her head.
The initial shock dissipated and we laughed at our two-headed baby. “Well her grandparents were Taswegian!” our only explanation.
All was quiet on day four when the bright lights of the solitary room jolted me from desperately needed sleep. The obstetrician, his knitted brow and sorrowful eyes, sat on the edge of the bed. He held my hand in his large roughened palm, bleached from years of scrubbing and spoke softly, “Your daughter stopped breathing. Dr Tom has taken her for tests.”
The suffocating hands of silence subsumed my own room of despair. “Not my precious little bundle, as odd as she may be,” became stifled thoughts, which were never expressed as I mumbled my thanks for letting me know.
Sleep was impossible as I lay listening to my own hesitant breathing and sent silent prayers to my husband so far away. I wondered if he, too, had been awakened in the darkened night.
The morning brightened with the appearance of Dr Tom. He sat on the edge of the bed in the identical crumpled spot from the previous evening’s visitor. “Hmm,” said he. “The tests were negative but we don’t know what damage has been done.”
We could only give our heartfelt thanks to the alert nursery staff who managed to turn our newborn from blue to pink.
The little one came home. A well-wrapped rug hid her deformity from the rest of the world, until the haematoma finally shrivelled.
But she struggled in those first few months. Her cries pierced our own souls as we could do little to relieve her pain, our constant trips to Dr Tom our only source of encouragement.
Her development slowed. It was so difficult not to compare with number one. Memories of our eldest child’s rapid changes so easily remembered from the year before.
Then the first smile came, etched in our memories for such an historic moment. She lay on her tummy, doing crawling exercises when she raised a wobbly head, which waggled, as she turned sideways to look at us. The sides of her mouth curled upwards, then opened and a broad beam emanated. Her eyes shimmered conveying her laughter at such an achievement, ours glistening with unshed tears. Her face lit up our world and hers.
She grew, number two. She eventually walked but not talked. Reticent and shy, there was never a word.
Life went on. Our house filled with the boisterous chatterbox of number one and the silent shadow of number two. The family was complete.
On a sunny, summer’s day when nearly two, our speechless sibling stood by the lounge room door in the passageway. The stark white door, with its high wooden knob worn smooth from use, had slammed shut in the morning breeze, proving an immovable barrier to the stack of toys beyond.
Motionless, the toes of her delicate bare feet curled as if to grip the gaudy twig-like stripes on the carpet that stretched down the hallway.
This petite ginger-haired child looked up at me, her enormous blue eyes stared unblinking. Frozen in time, I beheld the cherished daughter of ours, with dainty features, golden highlights in her downy hair and the beatific smile that melted the harshest of hearts.
Slowly her smile turned to an open mouth that twisted and contorted with effort.
“Ope door,” she whispered almost inaudibly.
Immobile, I could only stand and stare. The seconds slithered onwards.
The little one cocked her head sideways, peered up from under a wrinkled brow and repeated her words in a louder tone, “Ope door.”
A miracle. Not one word but two! Well intentioned and very clear.
My heart burst into song and my laughter filled the air.
I picked her up, twirled her around and held her so she could reach the knob herself.
Oh! Clever, clever child.
Together we opened the door to a brighter and better world.
“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown. In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”*
As our children grow and become more independent, we might become a wee bit complacent about their existence, lost in the daily grind and focusing on the world outside the home. But it doesn’t take much to realise how shockingly fragile human life is, and how quickly childhood will be over, though the connections and feelings that bind us will remain for eternity.
* Tony Morrison (American novelist, editor, and professor)