I try to stay well away from attempts at profundity; I have learned it just does not suit me. On those rare occasions that I say something that I consider profound, it comes out sounding like a cross between a fortune cookie motto and a third rate Yoda. But having spent the last three months in the company of my new baby, a thought has been brewing. I appreciate that it is not for the author of a statement to judge it’s intellectual credentials, but given all my other thoughts for twelve weeks have been along the lines of: ‘ooh, that’s a yellow poo’ and ‘does that pee stain on my top really notice?’, cerebral excellence is all relative.
So here it is, my thought. It concerns the relationship between mother and baby. As an individual, I am me (don’t panic, that was not it) – my physical self with clear boundaries. It is instinctive what is me and what is not me – what is other. A touch from another is clearly other; it registers as external. I remember the outrageous thrill of touching tongues with friends in the playground (please don’t tell me it was just me. Although perhaps I do need to clarify – this was not a regular occurrence, like playing tag or horses. It happened once. Okay, maybe twice.). Anyway, the whole tongue thing. It was part thrilling, part strange and part disgusting, experiencing the other – a transgression of my boundaries – so intimately. Someone else’s touch on your skin registers as not you. The smell of another’s skin is different – after all, I can’t detect the smell of my own skin, as it is me and I am so used to me that I am incapable of consciously sensing me. Or as my dad would delicately put it: ‘Smell it? I’m sitting in it.’
But with a baby, who is definitely other, being outside of me and a separate being, there appears to be no boundary. It is the strangest of experiences, by dint of the fact that I am so intimate with this other person and there is no strangeness at all. B’s skin against mine does not feel like someone else is touching me, it just feels like me. If someone (even someone I know and like enough to get within twelve inches of them) sneezed at point blank range in my face, I would recoil in horror, moments before slapping them hard about the face. But when B does it, I don’t bat an eyelid. Okay, I may blink excessively, but that is more about the fact that there is a shower of snot atoms raining down on my eyes.
I smell B’s hair and it is a smell so utterly familiar it can only be mine, and yet it is not. He is sick on my hand and as it dribbles slowly under my watch strap I have no compunction to hose myself down in a chemical spill tent. I have had other people’s babies vomit on me, and whilst I may have retained a veneer of calm, inside I was screaming ‘get this disgusting shit off of me right now’ as I returned said baby to its owner with a rugby-style toss before scraping my skin clean with a potato peeler.
It is like there has been some kind of osmosis between me and B; we are boundary-less. Now, I do realise that he came from within me, which may explain this whole baby osmosis thing. I also think the mummy gene is at work here too. You know the mummy gene – the one that switches on when you give birth and fucks with your eyesight so you think that your baby is truly, the most gorgeous baby ever born (even though he looks like a genetic breeding experiment involving a turtle and a frog). It’s the gene that allows you to accidentally taste your baby’s sick without the subsequent need to cut your own tongue out due to an overwhelming sense of utter disgust. I actually did taste B’s sick one day, and I remember thinking ‘actually, it’s not that bad’ which just goes to show, there is some weird shit going on here. It is what is responsible for finding a lumpy smear of yellow poo under your fingernail and not gagging. That mummy gene takes your disgust threshold and pushes it so far, it drops off the edge of the sodding horizon.
There is also perhaps the very practical reason which is that B spends a huge amount of time in close proximity to me. On my boob, on my lap, cradled in my arms, held on my shoulder… he is touching me a large proportion of the day. And more of the night than I would really care for, given the choice. I am so used to having him with me, that waiting for the kettle to boil the other day, I found myself gently swaying from side to side in a comforting, calming motion, and I wasn’t even bloody holding him at the time.
There should be a name for this baby osmosis-thing. Perhaps in the spirit of tabloid celebrity reporting, where writing two separate celebrity names takes up far too much of the headline which could otherwise be filled with reader-pleasers such as ‘phoar’ and ‘cellulite’, it should be a hybrid word. Or a hybord. How about instead of Mummy and Baby, it is Maby? Nah, too equivocal. What about Bummy? Oh. Perhaps not.
So here is that thought again: how can my baby be other and yet I experience him as me? I was pondering this again the other day as I lifted him out of his Mose’s basket, thinking about the lack of a boundary between him and me. There seems to be nothing about him that is other. Then I noticed he had a large globule of pus-coloured gloop seeping out of his left eye. Before I could do anything about it, his head swayed and bumped into my face. Somehow, that globule of gunk ended up on my bottom lip but I only realised this once I had inadvertently licked my lips and eaten it. And there, as I tried to not let my tongue touch my teeth and my throat momentarily constricted with an instinctive abhorrence, I found it, the limit to our boundrylessness. It comes in the shape of eye pus.