I am clipping the baby’s fingernails. Until now, I’d managed to leave it to my steadier-handed husband, but at 12 weeks postpartum, I can no longer convince him that a major side effect of C-sections is “sort of unreliable fingers”. So here I am, nervily aiming what feel like planet-sized secateurs at my tiny boy’s rice-paper fingernails that are no bigger than an atom. I feel like a scientist at CERN. I have never held my breath harder.
Obviously, it all goes wrong. For most of the manicure, the baby sleeps peacefully, but on the ninth finger my aim falters and a geyser of blood plumes into the air. It spurts everywhere – the walls, the floor, all over my plain white tee. My son, still asleep, lets out a series of heartbreaking wails and I briefly consider my immediate future of social workers and police tape and neighbours whispering about how I’m the reason my son has one finger a nanometer shorter than the rest.
Then I pull myself together and clumsily apply a Peppa Pig plaster (which is sort of like wrapping a Peperami in a king-sized duvet), order some baby nail files on Amazon, while cuddling my baby to sleep, and get on with my day.
How different this is from when my first son was little and we’d run to A&E – panicky and frantically googling symptoms of concussion – every time he took a nosedive off the sofa (ironically, when my son broke his collarbone, it took us a while to notice). The first time I held him was perhaps the third time I’d held any baby, and from his (rather traumatic birth we were almost paralysed by the responsibility we’d been handed with this tiny, helpless child. Perceived danger was perpetually everywhere.
I briefly consider my immediate future of social workers and police tape and neighbours whispering about how I’m the reason my son has one finger a nanometer shorter than the rest
Second time around, it’s less of a trial by fire – partly because it’s less of a shellshock, partly because, unlike his older brother, the baby enjoys activities like being put down and sleeping for hours at a time, and partly because we already have a toddler. We have a toddler, we were both back at work within two weeks of the birth and so much of our new baby’s time is spent tucked under an armpit like a sack of potatoes while his parents deal with tantrums, invoices or dinner.
When my first son was a baby, I spent hours just marvelling at the wonder of his fat little face. Baths were languorous, bonding events, not a dip in the toddler’s bathwater at bedtime. Baby cries were attended to immediately, not delayed for minutes at a time because we were dealing with an older kid. I keep getting the new baby’s age wrong (six weeks? Thirteen?) and the other day I noticed for the first time that his eyes are turning green.
I am not immune to the stabs of guilt. I don’t want to wake up one day and be surprised that my last baby has grown up and that I missed it. But, I figure, this is the way of things when you have more than one kid. And besides, surely the universe (not that I believe in this sort of thing) would send me a sign if I was neglecting him?
The very next day, I stab my toe on something invisible and sharp in the bathroom and I leave a bloody trail down the stairs, trying to find a plaster. And then I realise it. I cut the third toe on my right foot. My baby’s cut finger is the third on his right hand.
Fine, the universe (not that I believe in this sort of thing), you win. I will slow down and mind my baby.