To rewind to the beginning of the ridiculousness, I have to take you to August 2012, when my daughter, our first baby, was born. In fact I have to take you back even further, to before I ever was postpartum; to the days in that first pregnancy when I liked to follow up the news that we were expecting with the blithe disclaimer that “I’ve no idea what I’ve let myself in for.” That statement was correct, but the magical thinking behind it – that if only I confessed my “known unknowns”, dressed myself in a cloak of sufficiently chipper irony, the coming leap of faith into the mysterious world of parenthood couldn’t turn out to be *that* dramatic – was not. I had an easy pregnancy and a nigh-on textbook birth, and then the wheels fell off the wagon pretty much right away. Almost literally, inasmuch as my first bout of postpartum ridiculousness concerned the drive home from hospital.
I’d picked up from somewhere the idea that before discharge from the maternity hospital you had to prove to the staff there that you could fit the baby correctly into her car seat. I’m no longer sure where I got this idea, but I don’t think it was totally spurious. Lots of people seem awed by diktats about what the maternity ward will and will not allow, from cloth nappies to walking around by yourself. The second time around, I was much more of the opinion that giving birth doesn’t turn you into a prisoner of the NHS (that would be silly: everyone knows it in fact turns you into a prisoner of your own kids), but first time out I was pretty deferential. People talk sometimes about the terror of realising that your new baby is actually all yours even though you don’t really know what to do with them. For me, I was less scared about knowing what to do (after all, I didn’t know what I’d let myself in for!) but much more preoccupied with what was allowed. In my head, there were presumably baby police quietly monitoring your every move with the baby. Putting them to sleep on their stomachs, for example, is not allowed, so there had to be some kind of enforcement agency for that, and who knew what other rules that must be obvious to people with babies but were still opaque to me. So I was shocked when it turned out that the midwives were actually quite busy delivering the rest of the thirty or so babies born in our local hospital every day, and didn’t actually require us to line up with the baby in her Maxi Cosi for a sort of military-style muster before releasing her into our dubiously qualified care. We got her into the seat as best we could, carried her out to the car park, and started driving home.
There were a few issues. The car, a 13-year-old Honda Civic, was new to us: it was my mum’s, our own set of wheels at the time being an even older two-seater MG-F roadster that we still hadn’t got round to trading in. (Because: denial.) Though it beat out the MG for number of seats (five!) it had only the same number of doors (two plus boot), meaning we had to crane over the back of the driver’s side to install the seat. The Civic also pre-dated the technological marvel that is isofix, meaning the car seat had to be secured in place by contorting the rear seatbelt into knots that would have given Christian Grey something to think about. The car seat was new to us too, and though significantly more user-friendly than the car itself it still projected to us the air of mystery that all baby clobber emits to the uninitiated. Lastly, of course the baby was new to us as well. And if you think a seatbelt or a car seat can be inscrutable, just wait til you’re staring down a tiny and infinitely complex little package of hours-old life that both depends on you utterly and seems completely self-contained in its own cosmic mystery. So, ridiculously, I sat in the back with the baby while The Bloke drove, squinting anxiously in his rear-view mirror, at about fifteen miles an hour.
It didn’t take long for me to start to worry. Was the baby’s head supposed to be at that angle, down on her little chest like that? Was the head support supposed to have a gap in it? Was the seatbelt supposed to be sort of over her head? Oh God, was she breathing? (Yes.) My paranoia mounted until, in a leafy suburb about two miles from our flat, it reached a critical point and I told The Bloke to stop the car.
He parked. We got out and inspected the car seat together. We adjusted it, as best we could given the car’s door deficit and our own screaming incompetence. We watched the tiny and unyielding sleeping face for a minute or two. We listened to the other cars zipping by, great crunching metal missiles propelled by people probably just as capable of massive idiocy as we were. And I declared that I would walk the rest of the way home carrying her. I scooped her up and set off.
The Bloke’s cooler head prevailed pretty quickly. He pointed out that I’d given birth four hours previously, and lost a little over a half-litre of blood with it. He pointed out that 21 hours of labour wasn’t necessarily the best warmup routine for a walk on a sweltering August afternoon. He pointed out the baby’s 98th-centile head circumference, and I reflected on the associated unstitched second-degree tear which was, it was true, making walking a less than pleasant activity. But what really got me and the baby back into the car? Deep down, I wasn’t sure that walking the streets with a newborn just cradled in your arms was actually allowed.