Ten perfect fingers, ten perfect toes, two liquid pools of ink black eyes, and one tiny peaked nose. I do the count mentally, checking off the list in my head.
The pregnancy had been long, arduous, and worrisome. Early cramping and later spotting blood sent everyone around me into a panic. My mother had been the first card to fall. Eyebrows knitting, hands wringing, she had sat me down and concern-voiced her fears. Then came my mother-in-law. Her usual chipper facade exchanged for this new haggard, white-haired model.
To quieten them, I had gone to the hospital, fully expecting a condescending pat on the hand, and to be sent home as a trifling issue. Instead, I was met with a parade of furrowed professional brows, and white-coated, clip-boarded tut-tutting.
With only a month till my due date, tests were rushed, endless vials of blood drawn, commands of complete bed rest issued, and admission forms filled in. Dire warnings of foetal damage, of potential death, reverberated through the halls.
The final days of my confinement have been served in the white-walled, bleach-soaked cell of my hospital room. Unable to move further than the doorway to my cell without the nurse-guard escorting me back, I quickly retreated into the soporific hypnotism of daytime television.
Each passing hour has been notched on the walls of my imagination, accumulating gradually till my release date. As the first pangs of contractions begin, I know I will soon be free.
It is a quick process, no laboured labour for me. The pain builds until I know I cannot endure another second without medication. The midwife shrieks her delight at the crowning head of my baby, and I find strength and determination in some deep well I never knew existed within my psyche.
First the head, then one shoulder, and then the next. He comes slipping, slithery and slimy into the world. My son, my beautiful baby boy. He is laid on my chest and I do the mental count. Fingers. Toes. Eyes. Nose.
The day passes in a haze of love, the gut-punching strength of which I have never known before. How is this small, soft bundle of fragile flesh able to hold such command over me?
A new nurse enters to take up her shift. Charts are checked, temperature, blood pressure and heart rate examined. She bends to see the new beating heart that exists outside my body, my tightly swaddled gurgling love.
“Oh!” she exclaims, “what a beautiful chocolate baby you have!” and my heart quakes and cracks a little. Is this the future for my child?