I’ll never forget the first time I saw my son.
I was in an operating theatre, holding my wife’s hand in a death grip.
She was staring at me, her eyes wide in fear. We were both listening for a sound, any kind of sound. We could have been listening for a minute, it could have been five minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
I peered round the blue curtain where the doctor and midwife were working on him. I could see the top of his head through the transparent plastic tub holding him in place as they slapped his feet and performed what looked like CPR on his chest.
Wow, he’s hairy.
I looked back at my wife and tried to smile. “He’s going to be OK.” This wasn’t based on any kind of fact, but I needed to tell her something.
I looked up at the interpreter, also wearing scrubs. She was trying to hide her nervousness, as was the anaesthetist who kept looking over the curtain and whispering things I couldn’t follow.
See, normally I’m pretty good at lipreading. I was born profoundly deaf, and I get by in most areas of life by speaking and lipreading. But my wife and I had had about two hours of sleep in two days. We needed an interpreter to tell us everything that was happening by this point.
After her waters breaking four days before, followed by nearly 24 hours of very painful labour, my poor exhausted wife had been told she needed an emergency caesarean.
I didn’t want to see what they were doing on the other side of the blue curtain they erected on her chest. Instead I held her hand tightly and whispered everything the doctors were saying – via the interpreter – directly to her.
You’re going to feel some pulling now. You’re going to feel like they’re doing the dishes in your tummy. Now they’re going to take the baby out…
We’d seen this moment a dozen times in films, in documentaries, in One Born Every Minute. We expected them to bring the baby round to us, covered in red blood and white vernix, screaming his lungs out. Instead, silence. Worried looks. Waiting.
Finally, the interpreter smiled and signed to me.
He was. I could hear it. It was the best sound in the world, even through hearing aids.
I smiled at my wife, squeezing her hand tighter. “He’s crying. Can you hear it?”
She shook her head, blinking back tears. She couldn’t. Her nerves had made her tinnitus go haywire.
“They’re bringing him over now. Are you ready?”
The smiling midwife carried him over to us, all cleaned up and awake, blinking and wriggling. I saw his face properly for the first time.
He didn’t look like I’d expected him to look, after all the 4D scans and pictures, all the perusing of photographs of Cathy and I as babies.
He looked like a slightly confused, scared and bedraggled stranger who’d undergone the childbirth equivalent of being trapped in a potholing accident and rescued by giant earthmoving equipment.
Cathy hugged him quickly then gave him back to me, her body beginning to tremble with shock. I was whisked from the room with the baby as they fussed around her.
Days later, talking to the midwife, we discovered what our son’s APGAR score had been.
His APGAR score was 3 out of 10.
He’s now seven days old as I write. It’s 2.39 in the morning, and I’m watching him sleep in the moses basket next to our bed. He’s clenching and unclenching his fists, his body wriggling as he dreams his seven-day-old-boy dreams.
He’s had much more sleep than my wife and I, but we don’t mind. These last few days have been filled with love, happiness, and long stretches of staring at him in wonderment, feeling his tiny hand clamp round our finger, his body digesting milk, his lungs taking in air and expelling it – doing all those things our own bodies have been doing for the last 30 years.
He’s not a stranger to us any more. His name is Barnaby Maximilian. We call him Miracle Max, Barney the Bear, the Prince that was Promised, our firstborn son. From a certain angle, we can see my face in his. From another, he could be Cathy’s spitting image. He’s the best of both of us.
I’ve become a different person. A real husband at last. Cathy’s amazed at the change. We’ve been together for over ten years, but in the last seven days I’ve felt like a Saturn V Rocket discarding its empty, useless first stage shell, all boosters firing as I escape the Earth’s orbit towards the moon.
Cathy’s become even more beautiful. She’s a yummy mummy and I’m the luckiest man in the world to have her. All three of us are a family now, like robots in a Japanese Anime assembling to form one giant super robot. We’re stronger than ever together.
All I think about is the baby. Whether I’m sterilising milk bottles, washing his clothes, changing his nappy, bringing Cathy a cup of tea, or telling anyone who’ll listen how amazing and perfect and beautiful and brilliant my son is, there’s a constant mantra going through my mind.
Barnaby Barnaby Barnaby Barnaby…
Still, we’re only seven days in – we’ve got some challenges ahead. He’s passed the hearing screening test (basic and advanced) with flying colours. But he might – like his Great Grandfather Joseph, his granny Maggie, his mother Cathy or his Auntie Sophie – become deaf later in life.
We’ll deal with that if and when it happens. First, we need to work out how best to alert ourselves to his crying so that we can sleep at night. How to share the feeding and sleeping. How to prepare him for the career we’ve chosen for him (international jewel thief). How to be the best parents to him that we can possibly be.
I can’t wait.
As well as being a new Dad, William Mager is an award-winning director for film and TV, who made his first film aged 14 when he “set fire to a model Audi Quattro and was subsequently banned from the school film club for excessive pyromania.” He’s made short films, dramas and mini-series, and has worked on a number of television programmes for the BBC. Find out all about his work at his personal website – and if you’re on Twitter, follow him here.