Ten little fingers, and ten little toes

About 18 months ago, we decided to have another baby. This baby duly made his entrance into the world last August, a week late. I don’t like putting my children’s names online too much, which is rather silly, but let’s just call him Squidgy, since it’s turned into his nickname anyway. I could call him Number 2, but he might get a bit offended. It was a more difficult pregnancy than my first, mainly because I didn’t have the luxury of staying in bed when I didn’t feel like getting up, but perhaps as a result of all that effort entertaining a two year old, the birth was easier than running the Berlin marathon, and only took slightly longer from start to finish. He weighed almost 9 pounds (4 kilos), so I was unashamedly proud of not having any pain relief – I don’t know why it should be something to be proud of, but being so completely connected to the process makes it more of an athletic endeavour, rather than a medical procedure.

He was born at 3.29 pm, so I was hoping to go home for dinner and a glass of wine, absolutely delighted at escaping the dreaded ward. The midwife was checking the baby, and paused slightly. “Dad better come and look at this”, she said. I didn’t really take any notice, still in my own little world of elation. I could see her holding up his right foot. Then I realised, as she was explaining, that his big toe was a somewhat undifferentiated wodge of flesh, because it was fused to the next two toes. I looked in more detail when I fed him, and realised that he is also missing a little toe. The whole foot is only about two thirds the size of the other one. So we spent the whole of the next day in an overheated ward, waiting for a plastic surgeon to come and have a look.

All that focus and worry about a birth that was practically a sneeze, and it turns out I should have been worrying about the baby. When the surgeon arrived he told us it would be fine, no functional impairment likely, and they’d look at operating to split the toes at some unspecified date. Six months later, we finally got the first appointment with the consultant. He looked a bit hungover, and hassled by computer problems. His overall demeanour was that this was all nice and easy, routine appointment, get a date fixed up, next patient. “Let’s have a look then”, he said, all chatty and speaking fast. His face seemed to freeze. He looked away at his computer briefly, turned back, and spoke very slowly.

“What have you been told about the cause of this?”. We’ve been told nothing, and he went on to suggest that we need to get genetic screening tests done. He was back in his professional mode, making it all sound very routine, but as he was talking, he seemed to be staring hard at our baby’s face. He ushered us out quite quickly, with a vague suggestion to “keep an eye on the leg length, I don’t think they’re quite the same length at the moment”. He also suggested that we had a “special child”, and that we would be fine as we seem quite stoical. The only reason I wasn’t in floods of tears was because I didn’t want to upset our toddler. Then we were taken to a rather fancy photo studio to have some medical close ups done, and I looked down at the foot, illuminated in bright light and on a black cloth background, and looked at the wedding ring on my hand, and I wanted more than anything to go back in time; to postpone another baby, enjoy our life with one child, pursue our hobbies, stay at work. I felt as if fate had given me a black eye for reaching too high.

Six weeks later, we are no further forward, no appointment has come through. I have however reached much more of an intellectual accommodation with it. He’s a lovely smiley baby, and while it’s hard not to fear what the future holds for him, I’ve stopped crying every time he giggles with the unfettered joy of an infant that knows nothing of bullies, x-rays, envy of his perfect big brother, all the things that might destroy happiness.

My godmother gave me a lovely book when my oldest was born, called Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Helen Oxenbury. I used to get all emotional reading it to him, where at the end it reads:

But the next baby born was truly divine,

A sweet little child who was mine, all mine

And this little baby, as everyone knows,

Has ten little fingers, ten little toes,

And three little kisses on the tip of its nose.

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