Saturday, July 29, 2006

The path to fatherhood

(now with pics)I didn’t get my wish - they weren’t called Aphex, Thompson or Ragga. But five weeks on from their summer solstice birthday our premature twins were ‘discharged’ from Lewisham hospital on Friday 28 July, our final trip down the lift, this time carrying them in their car seats, the last of many symbolic moments, as if we were needing extra resonance from these strange and beguiling events. Out to the ground floor of the Woman & Children’s Unit, and out in to the blazing light of this wrong hot summer. New mum insisted we supplanted memory with photographic representation anyway, capturing them just before they were fixed to the back seat. Photo 250.

Although there have been many things to savour, none really fits into the ‘best thing that ever happened’-type superlative, no moment could be monetised that way. We were admitted in the early hours of their 30-week embryonic birthday, and spent the next few hours in a constant round of consultation and observation. This meant that we were extremely tired for the ‘business end’, and I could only experience it as half-life, emotion or indeed function occasionally puncturing the drowsy, dream-like proceedings. By this stage, the expectant mother was at last jacked up on gas and air* then, ahead of the c-section, a spinal immobiliser so you can’t feel anything from the abdomen downwards.
[* This episode summed up the pointlessness of all the genning up. We had read book after book about procedure during the various stages of the birth, and had just been to a meeting a day earlier about what to do, but once in the situation we were flummoxed; all the text meant nothing to us and could not be applied to the real situation].

At around 11am son followed daughter in quick succession but, with the dangers of prematurity, we had to mainline realism and couldn’t get carried away: we hadn’t seen them being born; they came out straight in to their ‘ovens’, and now they were sheathed in plastics and wired up to the nines. So for me the moment was a few days later; going down to the level of my little boy, looking him in the eye and feeling some kind of transubstantiation, a passover process. Not only was he becoming me, but I was becoming him. To have this sense of regenerative change, even if it was emotion-as-metaphor driving the sensation, was special. Such things can sustain religions and, yes Jack Davenport, it was priceless; beyond materialism. The memory of it will have more value than a thousand photos. Later, I looked him in the eye again as he was on my wife’s breast and in his half-opened glint I read “she’s mine now, I’m taking over”, so you can’t always trust twisted emotions during this time.

With ups and downs inevitable on the way, there was the sharing of fluctuating fortunes with all the other prem parents in the neonatal unit, those who live just down the road around SE4 and those who come from Kent and further afield. And the jostling with the nurses, doctors, sisters and consultants – why can’t they come home yet? What’s wrong with her today? Why is the tube back down him? There were a lot of just-about-diplomatic exchanges as we tried to adjust to the latest second opinion. I’ll also miss the toing and froing from Lewisham. Cycling through Ladywell Fields, under the rail lines, along side the river, in front of the derelict Catford Greyhound site, up and down the railway flyovers and on past the athletics arena to Lewisham hospital with the mother’s milk, or in the other direction with stuff to wash. This aspect felt really productive and – in not driving the mile or so – positive. We also had the chance to really get to know the area between central Lewisham and the start of Catford, the park behind the tower blocks, St Mary’s Church, the Tamil shop with its cutlet goodies at the back, the Islaamic centre further up, no doubt a hotbed of debate about the destruction of Lebanon at the moment, the nooks and crannies of the hospital. Ah yes, the hospital, this was my first long-term introduction to the strangeways of an institution and was interesting in itself. What I won’t miss is their canteen, truly awful packaged or cooked muck.

We were knackered even before they came home, me because I have spent these 40 days or so going between the office and the hospital, my wife because she has spent hours at a time with them in neonatal, having been up twice each night to ‘express’, not to mention getting everything ready back at the house. But now we’re ready to use the amount of information we’ve accrued and happy that although our path to domestic parenting was not conventional, it has given us some treasured moments already. We have a beautiful boy and a beautiful girl and we can’t ask for more.

Ok Mr Truth, is there a sonic relevance? Well, my littl’uns are likely technoheads already, having spent their formative time in a world of beeping respiratory and cardiac machinery. In dedicating my latest digital waveform to them, I tried to combine bleepage with a lullaby and a floppy rhythm. Enshallah they’ll thank me for this when they’re ready….
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