My cheeks hurt. And I’m not sure I have a single breath left in my body. It is at this exact point that I ask myself the same question every year; why didn’t I buy a bloody balloon pump?
I still have another twenty to blow up. Mia always wakes up to a room full of balloons on her birthday. I take a deep (painful) breath. And continue.
Then Mark calls. He tells me that I sound out of breath and suspiciously asks if he is interrupting something. I don’t like his tone so I respond with “Yes, I’m squeezing in a quick orgy while Mia is asleep”. He is not amused. “Or I could just be blowing up balloons for tomorrow. Will you be meeting us here or at the circus?”
Apparently he won’t be meeting us at all. I ask him why. He doesn’t respond. That means he doesn’t have a good enough answer. I remind him that we had agreed (when we split up) that her birthday was the one day of the year that she should spend with both her parents.
He mutters something about having “other people’s feelings to consider”. I ask him to elaborate. He says “I have to be able to have a life. I can’t plan everything around Mia”.
I point out that he is free to do as he pleases for (at least) twenty six days of the month. Surely he can plan around her for four days a month? And one day a year for her birthday?
Then it hits me “Does your girlfriend have anything to do with this?” He hesitates before confirming that ‘Jade’ is uncomfortable about him being around me because “we have a history”. He claims to be “in a difficult position”. I tell him it’s fairly simple from where I’m standing; his daughter should take priority over his girlfriends’ insecurities.
He says it’s complicated. I tell him I would never put any boyfriend of mine before my daughter. I call him weak and pathetic. Then I hang up. I am incredulous. How can he do that? What if Jade decides she is "uncomfortable" about him seeing Mia altogether because she is clearly a reminder of our "history"? Will he just abandon her?
It would be catastrophic for Mia if she were to be rejected by her father. That would be unforgivable.
Mark calls back. He suggests we alternate; one year with him, one year with me. I say “Her birthday is the day of her birth. Who gave birth to her again? Oh yes, that was me! I intend to spend every birthday with her. You will always have the option to join us, provided you can locate your spine”.
I had to play the birth card. I bloody well earned that right; the whole experience was so painful. And surreal (with comedy interludes).
I’m lying there, legs spread, trying to give birth. And the receptionist keeps opening the door, relaying messages from my family. At one point she comes in and says "your brother wants to know when you’re going to give birth. And quite frankly, I’m getting curious myself". I tell her to fuck off as the midwife ushers her out of the room.
The pain is indescribable. Apparently at one point I get up and try to leave, “I can’t do this now, I’m going home. I’ll come back tomorrow”.
I’m pushing and pushing. But nothing is happening. The midwife tells me I’m not trying hard enough. I scream obscenities at her.
The door opens again. It’s my mother. She is holding a plate of dolma (stuffed vine leaves) “You’ve been in here for a very long time. You must be hungry”. She starts trying to feed me. The midwife takes the plate away from her. She starts crying and screaming “My poor baby is in pain” before she is forcibly removed.
Then Mia’s heart rate slows; the midwife tells me that she is in distress. And if I don’t get her out in the next five minutes they’ll have to use a vontuse. I’ve seen pictures of vontused babies with squashed heads. And I’m not going to let that happen.
I close my eyes, zone out and several pushes later she is out. I look down and say “Mia”. Then realise that she isn’t making a sound. They press an emergency alarm, cut the cord and rush her out of the room.
Mark looks at me helplessly and I say “Go with Mia”. Please god, no. I did everything I was supposed to do. Please let her be ok. The door swings open and this woman comes in with a camera and says "Oh good, you tore" and starts taking pictures of my (not so) private parts (I had agreed she could do it as part of their research earlier).
I’m numb. It feels like an eternity before the door opens and Mark says “That’s Mia crying, she’s fine”. They bring her back in and hand her to me. She is perfect.
We’re admitted into a ward and Mark is sent home. The nurse tells me that I am only to take her out of the cot to feed her then put her straight back in.
I take Mia out of the cot as soon as the nurse pulls the curtain behind her. I put her against my chest. The only thing that will be familiar to her right now is my heartbeat. All night I can hear babies crying while Mia sleeps peacefully on my chest. I stroke her hair. And I’m totally overwhelmed by love.
So I’ll be damned if I’m not going to spend every anniversary of that day with her until she decides she wants to spend it with someone else.
Mia wakes me up at 5am. She wants to show me that she has grown taller (overnight).
She climbs into my bed for morning snuggles. I explain that her daddy won’t be coming to the circus with us. She asks me why, “He is a silly weak man who puts his penis before his daughter” would be the honest answer. But obviously I can’t say that. So I tell her that he has a fear of clowns. She looks disappointed “But can’t we see him after the circus?” I clearly didn’t think that one through.
I have to make the next excuse fool proof “No sweetheart we can’t. The truth is we both love you so much that neither of us wants to share you on your birthday. So we have decided that you are going to have two birthdays every year. One with me. And one with daddy”.
Her little face lights up “Two birthdays?” I tell her “Yes and do you know how special that makes you? Only you and the queen have two birthdays”. She giggles happily.
It’s going to be a wonderful day. I’ll make sure of that. Then I’ll go and throttle her father.