Gritty, murky flecks dispersed and stuck on gloss, bouncing synthetic hospital light with every curl, as her decorated nails traced the sketchy outline of an alien form. Hunched low and gawking, woman and man stopped in time, transfixed by three black and white prints. A girl again, pouring over a faded photobooth collection of her teenage self and first love, a washed-out window into her past. Except this was a gleaming fresh space to gaze into her future and I wondered what they saw. A pleasant house maybe, with a garden and a swing set in a good area. Grownups. I glanced over at Clifford, eyes in his phone, a bit of hair gone left-field, deep inside the first turmoil days of nicotine withdrawal.
We are old. Definitely physically mature enough, ancient for the global average, higher than the UK average, doddering on the edge of bodily prime, what a lot of people consider “the perfect age” (highly subjective). I anticipated feeling our age, between the other expectant mums and other couples in Lewisham Hospital, but we felt like fledglings, caught up in the higher year group.
We left the adults opposite, as the nurse called us in and I lay on the bed, paper towel tucked into my trouser top, cold clear jelly pooled out across my tummy, like when I used to have ultrasounds as a kid for my kidney. That tiny flushed line on a single pregnancy test, what felt like a decade ago, was the only thing we had to say that this was actually happening. And my body, of course, but I was waiting for the nurse to roll that peculiar camera stick thing around on a black, empty abyss and say “there’s nothing there. Stop wasting NHS time, stupid children.”
I’d met the midwife once, at our preliminary appointment, after I’d self-referred as pregnant online and she’d asked us both a lot of questions, (“are you related?” being the creepiest one). But she never asked, “are you sure?” I thought there must be some kind of test to confirm that I hadn’t just loosened and lost a few of my bolts. I had a dentist appointment the morning we went to Spain and when I told them I was pregnant the man at reception said, “okay, you don’t need to pay,” and I kept thinking, people should really stop just taking my word for it!
But instead of muttering “it’s all in your head” and padding me off with the white coats to another wing, she pressed down and out of the darkness something emerged. A grey blob, rolling in and out of focus. “There they are” she said, adding hurriedly, “there’s only one” to which Clifford and I both exhaled loudly and tactlessly, the weighty winds of our gratitude for the confirmation of the singular.
There was Nugget. Little Nuggs. Legs crossed as if in the lotus position, cotching in the warmest security blanket, no cares, no worries. “They’re camera shy,” the sonographer said, as each time she twisted the cold pole against my skin or asked me to change position, so she could get a better look, Nugget turned over, as if to say ‘do you mind? I’m chilling here.’ It reminded me so clearly of Clifford, snoozing in my warm patch after I’d got up, rolled up in all the blankets like a layered sausage roll with his head poking out, unwilling to be pulled from his dreamworld, rotating away at any advance. ‘Do you mind? I’m dozing here.’
Clifford had recently popped some small chilly seeds inside the soil of our large chilly plant in the kitchen. After giving them generous daily sips of water, he one day exclaimed, at the little green shoots that had sprouted from the earth, “Look! I’ve made life!” To say that our collective minds were blown that we had created human life is a massive understatement. I don’t think this makes us senseless. I think this gives us sense that we recognise, or try to, how deeply astonishing it is to create a being and we don’t expect this to ever become ordinary, even though it may be the most natural thing in the world.
Kiwi-sized Nugget had a fully-formed four chamber heart, beating visibly before us, the sound drumming out a jungle tempo, waves pulsating along the lining of the screen at 157bpm. A jungalist in the making. I couldn’t believe that Nugget had a fully formed heart already. Clifford, who was equally overwhelmed, masked it by asking a lot of questions and impressing myself and the nurse with his random knowledge of human anatomy.
I kept my marbles seized tightly together until I was rubbing off the gel. Then the water started to leak sideways from my eyes, refusing to stop. From this moment, it was no longer a surprise in the least that Nugget exists. Without giving too much detail, Nugget is the product of a one-time “slip up” (no pun intended) and now here, in exactly the right time and place, they are. That’s no accident.
Outside I clutched my own three black and white prints tightly in my fist, held the shaking printed paper out for the woman who would book us in for our twenty-week scan. “Why aren’t more people crying?” I demanded of Clifford. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why everyone wasn’t in floods of tears.
One photo went to my mum and dad (ironically, my mum said Nugget looked like a dog), one to Clifford’s parents and one for us. For a while I carried it around pushed carefully inside a book like the most precious flower press, showing everybody I saw, until I got too fearful of losing it and we stuck it on our fridge. I noted the polite smiles, animated of course but with a squinting into the grey grains, just like I had done, trying to work out what they were seeing.
But this photo is very clear to me. I see my life, a path plotted out before me so obvious and evident, in a way I never wished to see it, always craving the unexpected, the twists, assuming that it would terrify me to see a track with seemingly so little choice and possibility for diversion, so little freedom. When actually it feels like a release and liberating to know that there is one direction forward now, with one clear purpose. There’s a freedom in that. Perhaps even the ultimate freedom from myself.
But I also see new opportunity. My whole life has been about chasing the experience, with an emphasis on living in the moment, following my heart and authenticity. Clifford has lived his life in exactly the same way by taking a different route. This has left us far from wealthy but rich in more important ways. But this never really aligned with what I thought being a parent was about; mainly Responsibility with a capital “R”. (I wrote an entire novel about, essentially, the anxious and frantic necessity to out run the tedious monotony of “growing up” and how incredibly hard it is to truly live another way.)
This is the game changer.
I don’t see a big house with a swing set in a good area. I see Me, Clifford and Nugget, being exactly who we are, living the life we were meant to live, but being no more or less than us. I never saw this vision before. I was always so fearful of having to change, of losing something, losing ourselves, but rather than taking something from us, Nugget is going to add to our journeys in ways that we cannot yet comprehend.
This is what love looks like. This is the next adventure.