Since birth requires an overnight stay, and our daughter arrived at 9.20am, we had a minimum of 36 hours in hospital, getting to know her and giving staff the chance to do all the tests they do to make sure your child is a fully operational baby.
We also spent five days in the hospital with my son, there are several workplaces we’ve spent less time in than Homerton hospital. We were there so long that time we ended up signing retirement cards for some of the nurses, and were probably only a few hours away from having Amazon packages delivered to the ward. It’s weird being in somebody’s workplace in any context, let alone dressing, undressing, and brushing your teeth there. Sleepless nights spent pacing and cuddling already have a surreal tinge, and more so when only a thin curtain separates you from the daily labours of an entire workforce, with all the soft footsteps and beeping and shift changes those entail.
You’re also in a strange state of communion with a dozen other couples and their newborns, each believing your own curtain to be a magic noise-cancelling device, and each oblivious to the fact your every bicker and fart is audible to the whole group. This nearness was mostly pleasant; an odd auditory community bound by tiredness, parental love, and an urgent, passionate need to keep their curtains closed at all times so that no one could see the absolute mess we’d made of our cubicles. And sometimes it felt too intimate by half, as we heard the soft, quiet potentiality of bad news two curtains down – muffled petitions in sing-song sadness, delivered by people more tired than any of us, uttering dreadful words like, ‘Should we be worried?’
Mostly, it was a masterclass in watching healthcare workers at their godlike best. Nurses and midwives walking around with babies on their shoulders, like stockbrokers nonchalantly cradling phones in the crook of their necks in 80s movies. It’s calming to spend eight minutes attempting the perfect, safe-arm posture necessary to pick up your cooing infant, only to see a midwife pick one up, single-handed, as if it’s an avocado she’s checking for ripeness. I’m not even that calm at my job, which this week is sitting on my arse and describing their job.
The rest of our stay is a blur. Little sleep, many cuddles, the rediscovery of all the miraculous fluids that flow in and out of a newborn child. Bad sandwiches, worse magazines, the deep, para-social exhilaration of hearing the couple two curtains down getting better news. Our daughter’s tests were exhausted by the following lunchtime, and she was judged safe to leave after her hearing test was conducted. This was done by fitting her with an earphone and playing a sequence of noises down her auditory canal, which had the added, pleasing effect of looking like the attending nurse was playing her a mixtape she just had to hear before she left.
And then we were ejected, blinking, into the world, and in 20 minutes she was in her big brother’s delighted arms. ‘MY LITTLE SISTER,’ he cried, repeatedly, having clearly been well drilled by his grandparents in our absence. Soon there was shouting and laughing and crying in place of the beeping hush we’d become used to. We sat and blinked as exhaustion took hold. Where’s a decent magic curtain when you need one?
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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