I eventually relented and, with great ceremony, put my sleeping little angel to bed in his pram. Swaddled up cozily, lying on his side, blanket tucked behind him so he wouldn’t roll onto his stomach or back and die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I made a note of which side I’d put him down on, so that I could alternate sides to avoid the grossly misshapen flat head scenario. All as per spec. I was expecting him to wake up for a feed about three hours or so later, dreading the decision of whether or not to wake him, if he didn’t stir of his own accord.
But three hours was a lifetime away. Right now, my concern was whether or not he was breathing. I checked and rechecked about a dozen times in the next couple of hours. I should have tried to sleep then, while I had the chance, but I was too wound up, almost hyperactive. I couldn’t imagine how anybody could sleep at a time like this. To sleep would be to waste valuable baby-gazing time. I didn’t want to let him out of my sight for a second, in case he stopped breathing, but mostly in case he disappeared while I was sleeping. In case some evil, reverse version of the baby-bringing stork dropped by to take him back where he really belonged. Metaphorically speaking, obviously. I knew perfectly well that storks didn’t really bring babies. I was there, remember? I knew how he got out (and how he got in, not to put too fine a point on it).
But damn, was I ignorant. I want to laugh like a braying ass now, when I think of that silly girl who would give up precious, magical, beautiful sleep. That was the last time in my life I can remember feeling like that. From that night on, to this day, I’d give my left kidney for just twenty minutes of uninterrupted sleep. Jeez, I’d take ten minutes and throw in a chunk of my liver for free as well. Let me have a pillow and I swear you could take my corneas and I wouldn’t even notice.
That night was endless. The Night of the Living Dead. He didn’t wake up when he should have and I agonised for ages over whether to wake him or not. Eventually, I decided I had to – what if he starved to death in the night? Tried to wake him; he wasn’t pleased. He wouldn’t take the bottle. He didn’t cry or make a fuss, he just refused to drink. Tried everything – warm milk, room temperature milk, different teats. Nothing. He just became increasingly annoyed. And I became increasingly panicked. My mother tried (maybe he feels you’re getting tense? Grrrr). I tried again. He was having none of it. Gave up on the bottle and tried a medicine dropper, then a teaspoon. Drip, drool, wipe, grizzle. One millilitre at a time. Do you know how much a millilitre actually is? It’s a vast, absurd volume of liquid. Do you know how long it takes to get one measly 50ml feed down the throat of an angry newborn? It takes a very long time, let me tell you. About two hours and four cups of coffee, to be precise.
The procedure was repeated twice during the night, and once again in the early morning. Poor child. I should have left him to sleep. Trust me to try and do things by the book – the really ancient, out-of-date Old-Wiveish book, too. The nurses at the hospital had told me 50ml every three hours and, by God, there’d be no deviating from instructions.
It’s all about Routine, you see. You gotta establish a routine, or else you’re screwed. Or so they’d have us believe. If anybody had told me then that babies know when they’re hungry and will not let themselves starve – I would have laughed in their faces. I know this now – I have a deliciously healthy, demand-fed second child to prove it. But this knowledge was still years away. I struggled through the night, my mother sitting up with me, both of us taking turns with the dropper, me crying, pleading with him to please just swallow a little. It was awful. Would it always be like this? I felt sick at the thought.
It did get better. As soon as my mother and I returned from a teat-buying spree. We were convinced he didn’t like the ones we had and would drink better if only we could find the perfect nipple-replacement. And we did. That afternoon Steven gulped his feeds down like a baby starved. We were excited, but felt guilty, too, at how stupid we’d been, using those cheap-shit teats and depriving him of nourishment.
At last he was taking milk – I wasn’t a dismal failure of a mother, he wouldn’t die, I wouldn’t go to jail for child neglect. Oh happy day.
Just a pity we didn’t pay more attention to the small print on the teat packaging. The tiny print that read, “Cereal Teat”. It was only a few days later that we discovered the giant, x-shaped holes the size of ten-cent pieces in these teats, designed to feed runny cereal through a bottle (who the hell would do that?). Steven wasn’t guzzling down his milk because he was starving hungry – he was just trying not to drown!
The first weeks passed in a blur of sleep deprivation, Steri-Nappi and marathon sessions of gooey-eyed baby-gazing. I wasn’t one of those mothers who’d put baby down in his bouncy chair and get on with fabulous yummy-mummy things like pedicures and lunch with the girls, as in, “the baby is going to fit into my lifestyle… Bloody ha ha, by the way. That’s just something Marie Claire invented to make us dowdy mothers feel bad about ourselves and thus prompt us to buy more magazines that would tell us which lipstick would solve all our problems.