Not long after my boy entered the world he turned blue, a grey-blue like a raw shrimp.
I was cradling his tiny form in my arm and marvelling at his small, swollen eyes when his face went stiff and I watched the life drain away from him. Then the nurse swooped in with the look of death on her face and scooped him up, clutching him to her chest, and fled the room.
For a few seconds I gaped at the empty doorway with my arm, limp and aching, stuck in the same pose. Then something registered and I managed to throw off the sheet and heave myself out of bed and after her. Down a cluttered corridor I chased that nurse with my boy in her arms and into a small room glaring with artificial light. There were cots filled with tiny, sleeping bodies attached to tubes with white bands curled around their fragile wrists.
The nurse stood cradling my boy, as I had done, and I could see some pink had crept back into both their faces.
“What’s wrong with him?” I asked.
The nurse was now lowering him into an empty cot. She then turned and faced me, her hands resting on her narrow hips.
“He had what we call a dusky episode,” she said and I noticed some beads of sweat collecting in the notch between her collar bones. “It means he stopped breathing for a moment.”
She must have seen the colour seep from my face because she gently touched my hand. “He’ll be ok, he was just a bit shocked I suspect.” As she said this he let out an ear-splitting cry that could only come from a healthy set of lungs.
“You see,” she said and she flashed me a pretty smile.
I took a seat beside the cot and watched his naked body kick and wriggle and squirm, his skin now mottled pink and red, and all the while he screamed.
“I’ll just keep him in here a little while to monitor him,” said the nurse. “You should get some rest.”
My room felt stark and empty when I returned. I climbed back under the brittle sheets and lay listening to the hustle of the hospital; babies crying, nurses chatting and laughing, the clinking of cups in saucers. After a while, the noises slipped away into calm murmurs and I fell asleep.
When I woke, the nurse was striding back into the room holding my boy, smiling broadly, with my husband close behind her.
“I think he could be hungry,” she said and I pulled myself up and held out my arms.
He was tightly woven inside a white muslin wrap, his crumpled face peeping out and those lovely eyes. I attempted to feed him then, for the first time. There was a bit of a scuffle and I can’t say it wasn’t awkward, but that was okay because we were both learning, him and I.
Afterwards he slept, soft and warm, this tiny bundle spread upon my chest. I couldn’t help feel lucky, until it happened again.
This time the nurse kept him for the night. Paul and I slept restless shifts, shuffling back and forth down a dimmed corridor to his side, terrified that he may have another spell and the nurse might not hear the monitor bleeping in time. A hushed stillness had settled into the ward, broken now and then by distant, muffled cries and soft voices. And while mothers slept with their babies nestled close, mine lay in his cot of isolation, naked.
It happened one more time. I had picked him up to feed him. He was calm and happy, his delicate hand resting on my chest as he fed. Then he started to turn blue again. I panicked and shrieked for the nurse who hurried to my side in seconds and whisked him away from me one more time. She held him upright and patted his back, and I sat and watched, frozen. It can’t have been more than ten seconds when the blood began to fill his cheeks again and we both began to breathe.
I could hear the nurse whisper, “Well done, little man, well done.”
When I went back to our room, my husband was lying still and quiet stealing back lost sleep. I nestled in beside him and felt the tears start. He pulled my broken body tight, and it felt strange that all this time it had been just the two of us and so quickly we could feel the emptiness of the cot beside us.
We had visitors the next day, beaming grandparents with huge bouquets of flowers. They were ushered to the window of that glaring room to catch a peek of the tiny body in the cot. They weren’t allowed to enter – hospital policy. They smiled and said he was beautiful, but I could see the fear at the back of their eyes that they tried to conceal for me.
We spent a week in the hospital with our boy in that room, and each sleep-deprived day slurred into the next, the details now vague and dulled. What I do remember, clear as glass, is the day we placed him in his car seat, harnessed him tight and took him home.
“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