THE GIFT by Cynthia Smith
Will it ever, ever stop? Has there ever been a time when I was not in agony? Someone is screaming. God, it’s me. “I can’t stand any more – get it out of me!” It should be that deceiving bastard suffering this torture, not me, I think bitterly.
“Come on now love – you know no-one can do this but you! I’ll get the midwife to check you again.”
Eons later the pain finally stops. “Look, love, you’ve got a beautiful boy – well done!” As if I could care what it looks like. I just want to sleep for ever. The nurses chide me to have a shower but I don’t care that I’m drenched in sweat … The noise and bustle of the maternity ward breaks through my temporary oblivion.
“Oh, you’re awake”, beams Nursey. “After a nice hot shower and a bit of brecky, I’ll bring baby to you. You must be dying to see him!”
How I wish I were at home, with no-one to tell me what to do, or presume what I want. I was stupid to get pregnant but I will get the child adopted as soon as possible and pick up the pieces of my life. I suppose I do feel better with clean skin and hair and fresh sheets. The hospital coffee is foul, but having not eaten for so long, even the cold toast is welcome.
Now here’s my nurse wreathed in smiles, coming towards me with a bundle in her arms. I’m surprised she’s not escorted by liveried trumpeters to herald this momentous event: the birth of another unwanted child who would soon be despatched to a family which wanted to look after it, and save its birth mother any further disruption of her life.
“Here he is love. What a handsome little boy. Have you decided what to call him yet?”
Handsome? When I had peered groggily at him yesterday his face had been red and puffy. He was an ugly little thing. “You’re no son of mine”, I had thought dismissively. But this baby is quite different. His smooth skin is perfect, he has a little quiff of dark hair … and his blue eyes are looking straight at me. He is beautiful! “Are you sure you’ve given me the right baby?” The nurse laughs and shows me the name tag on the child’s wrist. He is mine! My son …
When my best friend came to visit and I told her I was going to keep the baby, she was incredulous at my total change of heart.
“Are you really sure? How will you manage?”
“Millions do, many with fewer resources than I have.”
“Perhaps it’s your hormones – you may feel different in a few days. And even if you don’t, it’s bound to be a struggle. It will change your whole life!”
“Yes, I hope so”, I smiled.
I told her I realised it would not be easy – many of the most rewarding things in life are difficult at times. But he was my child. I could not give away my flesh and blood to a stranger and never have any contact or knowledge of what was happening in his life. His biological father was not interested in him and I did not want him to go through life thinking neither of his parents wanted him.
Gradually things began to fall into place. I found a flat which was just about big enough for me and a growing child. My parents lived the other end of the country and I did not visit them as often as I should. They had not known I was pregnant so it was a bit of a shock when I phoned to say they had a grandson. But thankfully they were supportive; in fact quite excited to see us both as soon as possible.
When I contacted my previous job to see if there was a vacancy, my old boss was pleased to hear from me and said they had been unable to fill my position satisfactorily. It was agreed that I would return to work in the New Year, with a salary review. Perhaps best of all, the company had a crèche and as a single mother I qualified for free childcare.
Money would be really tight until I returned to work, so Christmas would be very different this year. I usually spent it at home with Mum and Dad and my younger brother and sister; but the baby had a bit of a cold and I did not want to take him out in the freezing weather. But my lovely Dad said he and Mum would pick me up the day before New Year’s Eve and we would all have a special celebration then.
So for the first Christmas in my life there were no little family traditions; no dressing the tree, no special food and drink, no wrapping of presents. The flat seemed rather empty and bare. “But it’s not long till New Year”, I told myself, pushing away encroaching feelings of loneliness.
As I laid my tiny son in his cot that Christmas Eve, I was struck by the most profound revelation. Christmas presents are mere trinkets. Having one’s own child is the most perfect gift of all.