Finn Mackay is a feminist activist who doesn’t fit into society’s assumed gender codes. Her partner carried and gave birth to their son, now almost 2 years old. In her guest blog Finn explores her experience of motherhood as a lesbian parent – opening part one with a dramatic hospital stay after their son stopped breathing when he was only one week old
Finn’s blog: finnmackay.wordpress.com
It took me over three months to be able to say my son’s name out loud, especially to his face. It felt uncanny and ridiculous. Mid-sentence I would freeze, self-consciously substituting with, “the baby” or, “the new baby”. It was as if acknowledging him in the act of naming would conjure him into being. The truth I was avoiding was that he was already all too real; this was what I could not believe and in many ways still cannot.
A week into the brave new baby world and everything was a blur, I had to remind myself to breathe; it felt like several years had passed already. Then, our baby actually stopped breathing. My partner Rosie saved his life. She gave him CPR on our newly fitted carpets in the house we had just moved into, on the phone to the call-handler waiting for the ambulance, which came within minutes, though it did not seem like that to her.
When I got the call from the hospital I was at work, ironically it was the first time I’d left the house since the birth. I’m ashamed to say the first thought that came into my head was that if this had to happen it was better it happened now when we didn’t yet know our son. That thought made me feel cruel and heartless and wonder what the hell was wrong with me and whether I could ever really be a parent. I walked back and forth several times between the bike racks and my office, unable to decide whether it would be quicker to cycle to the hospital, and eventually asked a colleague to give me a lift.
Running into reception I felt as if I was in a scene from Casualty, and only more so when I tried to enquire about my son and partner and a hushed, hesitant silence fell over the receptionists behind the desk. Everyone in the waiting room was staring at me as I was directed to a small side room – it occurred to me that my son might be dead. I distinctly remember thinking that if this had happened there was no way Rosie and I could stay together. Then, out of the staring stillness I was rushed into an emergency room where frenzied activity was unfolding like a ballet. In the centre of it, like Jesus on the cross, was our tiny, tiny baby boy being lifted up and down like a rag doll, his eyes shut, his arms held out splaying tubes and wires. Rosie was sat on a tall, metal stool that resembled the vintage seating from school science labs and the table she was next to appeared huge, but it may have just been that our son was so small, he looked like a pale fleck on the black rubber surface.
Rosie was distraught and then I was distraught at seeing her and we both clutched at each other. I was suddenly preoccupied with the concern that my muddy, high visibility cycle jacket probably wasn’t the most hygienic thing to be wearing in that context. Meanwhile, there were many doctors around the table, performing their tasks in what seemed like slow motion, giving instructions in calm voices and conversing in words and numbers that I couldn’t understand. Looking back on it now it was like opera; they never bumped into each other, they never rushed, they exuded competence. Our son was helped to breathe – I sat and watched his minute rib cage through his jaundiced skin as his chest heaved in and out.
Later, when he was stabilised in the High Dependency Unit of the Children’s Hospital, the generous specialist nurse looked at us together, and at me, and she said appreciatively: “you can’t take your eyes off him”. The truth was I just didn’t know where else to look. His eyes were closed so it was easier to look at him, and definitely easier than looking at my partner who I wasn’t quite sure I even knew any more.
I am what is called an “othermother”, a same-sex parent to my son who I did not carry. I make up for this by now carrying him everywhere, to the point I have contracted a mysterious ailment known colloquially as ‘mother’s thumb’, or more formally De Quervain’s Tendonitis. After a search online an archived article from The Daily Hate informed me that this condition is now rife because mothers aren’t as strong as they used to be back in the good old days when we had outdoor toilets and had to wash our family’s clothes in a communal scullery. Sedentary roles behind computers now make us unequipped for the physicality of child rearing, lifting and carrying. I started to notice all the mothers at groups wearing little wrist and thumb splints, pressure wraps and bandages. In the end I got one for myself; I’m wearing it now.
Finn Mackay can be reached via her twitter account: @Finn_Mackay
Finn is looking for participants for a reasearch project into Lesbian/Queer Masculinities. To find out more and get involved go to: https://lesbianqueermasculinities.wordpress.com/
Tune in next month for part two of Finn's guest blog.