The meal had come to a halt. The festive table had uncurled its last party blower and snapped its last cracker. Chocolate mints lay smeared across the surface, trailing uneaten from their tartan-beribboned basket. A pudding bowl held up part of the tablecloth on which someone had spilled red wine and then white "to take the stain of the red out". The atmosphere was rich with aromas of rum butter, brandy sauce, orange liqueur, sherry trifle and wine. Even the cat looked tipsy.

Beside the ruins of the feast, surrounded by empty wine bottles and dropped chipolatas the cat wouldn’t touch, baby Jamie was asleep in his padded car seat. The alcohol-laden air appeared to have affected him as well. He was deeply asleep, his lips moving slightly in a sucking motion. He’d lost the dark hair he was born with and his soft head was anointed with a fine fluffy down.

I sat back in my chair, swinging the front legs slightly as I had never been allowed to do as a child. I was feeling less like a mummy-machine than usual, and more like the self-contained balanced woman I had a hazy memory of. I watched Jamie as he slept. He looked the embodiment of a baby cherub. Growing wings would be a formality.

In my first days in hospital with him, I had felt as if I were in heaven.   I had lived in a haze: probably induced by the pethidine. My experience was largely physical; for once in my intellectual life I did not want to think. Instinct passed the time.

I spent long moments that seemed like aeons gazing into the eyes of that small baby, raking him with my gaze, examining every microscopic path of skin, fluffy baby hair, getting to know this creature which was me, had come from me, still was me. When he fed he suckled from my whole being and we were one. Once he was asleep in his cot I too curled up on my side, my knees tucked into my chest, where I could see him clearly in his transparent-walled cot. We were one, so that I could not tell where I ended and he began, which was mother and which baby. Perhaps I was the baby, curled up in bliss.

It was later that he appeared to become a changeling. The day we brought him home from hospital — was it only eight weeks ago? — Leo had walked the floor with him at one a.m. swearing that it was "time this baby learned to sleep."

At two months Jamie was still waking three or four times a night, and it was me who walked the floor with him when he needed it, the novelty having soon worn off for his day-jobbed dad.

Still, Christmas had come as a blessing. Not only was Leo on holiday for a few precious days, but Jamie had grandparents, aunts and uncles to coo over him, dote on his every new smile and relieve me of 25-hour care. I still had the nights to cope with, but at least I  could hand him over for an hour or so while I napped during the day. Unfortunately I always woke up as soon as he cried -- wherever he was. No-one else could quieten him, soothe his distress, the way I, his mother, could. No-one could feed him except me; he’d categorically refused to take a bottle even when it contained my own milk. Still, it was early days, and he was our first child. No doubt there were techniques I hadn't discovered yet. I'd have to ask around. What a blessing the mother and baby groups were!

Jamie was certainly thriving. At each feed, once I’d settled him down, he’d suck away for hours. Now that was true bliss, when the baby was contentedly feeding and I had nothing to do but relax and enjoy his company. He was putting weight on, like a baby elephant rather than a boy. He fed and fed, every hour sometimes, and then he’d go right off it for a while. I put that down to something I'd eaten, but I was never sure what.

Everyone else was watching the Queen’s speech in the lounge. For once I didn’t mind being the one watching the baby. He was so sweet I could eat him, smother him in butter and honey and cram him back inside me where it would all be so simple again.

The Queen’s speech had now finished, and there were sounds of people moving about in the other rooms of my mother-in-law’s big house. The doorbell rang, voices greeted and the visitors coursed through the house, great plump people shedding big coats, rolling over me and coming to rest around the baby seat.

"Isn’t he sweet?"

"A little angel! Congratulations!"

"Look at that hair!"

"Can I pick him up?"

I started to say: "But he’s asleep." Already, however, the commotion had dragged him back from milk and teddy dreamland. He looked from strange face to strange face and seemed to consider for a while whether it was worth getting upset.

Then his eyes went droopy, his face screwed up and he began to wail. It took about 10 seconds before back-patting and rocking by the visitor failed and:

"He’s hungry, I expect. Let’s give you back to your Mummy, dear!"

I accepted the writhing bundle wordlessly and left for the upper regions of the house and privacy. Guiltily I hoped that the glass of wine I’d had with Christmas dinner would have worked its way through my system by now and would swiftly put the baby back to his interrupted sleep. Then I could chat to the visitors, like a real adult.

curly rule

Helen Whitehead

Part of this work was submitted as the Dissertation for the
MA in Writing

Nottingham Trent University

To move on, follow the theme


Last amended on 27th July 1998 / copyright H. M. Whitehead