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I can hold you anytime I like.
"You can hold that little baby anytime you like." That's what the nurse tells me. She's not one of the hard-cop, soft-cop midwives I had before, just this Irish nurse with a tired face. She says it because she sees I'm upset.
Nine months, close as my own breath, now suddenly you're public property. I can't see you, just their backs in hospital gowns. They're sucking out your lungs with a tube as if you're a piece of plumbing.
"We'll take you onto the ward in a minute, then you can hold her anytime you like. You'll be sick of her by the time you get her home," says the nurse in a soothing voice.
They're still concentrating on you, like mechanics round an engine. The brutal sucking sounds make me want to snatch you back, but they have to do it. It's so you can breathe.
Oh God, oh God, suppose you couldn't breathe? And inside I'm praying, Be OK, baby. Please please be OK.
And you are, you are OK, because they lift me onto this trolley and cover me with a thin white blanket, and I get to hold you again. You're in a little nightie now and not so bloody, but your fuzzy hair is still black, deep jet black like a blackbird's feathers.
It's the first time we've met, yet suddenly we're rattling along corridors together, down ramps, in and out of lifts.
It feels dangerous, it feels out of control. Ceilings and light fittings fly over my head. Alarming sights jump out. Someone vomiting into a dish. Closed curtains with moaning going on behind. Over one woman's bed, a plastic bag of blood drains down through a tube.
The nurse sees me looking. She says, "You're lucky."
She can't have read my notes. I don't tell her I'm not lucky. I look at you instead. You're yawning just like a real person, looking into my eyes with a wondering expression, as if I am exactly the way you thought I'd be.
I touch each tiny curled finger with its perfect transparent fingernail. I stroke your black black hair.
"That'll rub off," laughs the nurse. "She'll be bald as an egg in a couple of weeks."
I'm not listening. I've had a startling thought. "It's my birthday!" I say. "I just remembered." I can't believe I almost forgot my own birthday.
The nurse sighs. "Being a mother will do that to you. Another few months and you'll forget your own name."
I'm still holding your finger. I want us to go on traveling down corridors like this forever, never arriving and always always together like this.
They've fastened a plastic bracelet around your wrist. A label inside says baby bird.
My baby bird, I think. My present from me to me.
Your eyelids glisten as if they've been smeared with Vaseline. I kiss them. You're my baby bird. My birthday present. My unforgettable sixteenth-birthday present.
I open my eyes. The mad clattering of the trolley, the careering sensation stops dead. It's one year later and I'm in a motorway cafe. It's completely bland and impersonal, which is why I chose it. No one to notice a girl sitting too long over her empty cup.
I keep my eyes on my watch. The gold hand flicks flicks around the dial. Around me, people come and go, wiping tables, setting down trays.
I jump. Someone must be taking photographs. But it's just a knife catching the sun. Next time I look at my watch it's 4:30 p.m. You're born! You're out there in the world with your beautiful blackbird hair; somewhere with pink balloons and a cake with one candle and teddy bears. You're born and I can hold you anytime I like.
All I have to do is close my eyes.
From the Hardcover edition.