On New Year’s Day, I found myself in casualty with decidedly iffy blood pressure. While she hooked me up to an ECG, the nurse tried to distract me with some light conversation.
‘So, do you know if you’re having a little boy or a little girl?’ (Can I say here and now: we don’t need to use the word ‘little’, people. Babies tend to come out rather small).
‘We find out next week.’
‘Oh really? I didn’t find out with mine. I wanted a nice surprise. All the midwives say that you push harder if you don’t know the sex!’
I find it hard to imagine being overtaken with such ennui that I couldn’t be bothered to see through labour, just because I knew whether the baby had a penis or a vagina – and believe me, I am generally susceptible to ennui. But more than that, both of us felt that the information was out there, and so we ought to know it to. We hated the idea that the sonographer might know the sex of our baby while we didn’t. We also thought that it might be more efficient to only agonise over one list of names, rather than two.
As it happened, finding out we were having a boy has meant a great deal more to us than that. Initially, we were both struck by the feeling that it got us no closer to understanding this mysterious person who is about to change our lives so radically: it told us nothing about his personality, his tastes or his feelings.
But within days, he had acquired a womb name, which seemed to spring from nowhere. One moment, we were going though all the names in our respective families, and laughing at monstrous possibilities of names like Albrecht, which abound in H’s Swiss relatives. The next, we were saying, ‘Oh, Albrecht’s on the move,’ or, ‘What colour shall we paint Albrecht’s room?’
This had caused a few raised eyebrows amongst friends and family, and we’ve got used to explaining that we’ve settled on Albrecht for now because it’s the one name we’re absolutely certain we won’t choose when he’s born. Yet we’re both quietly getting rather cosy with those stacked Germanic consonants. It’s got a ridiculous grandeur to it that’s rather sweet. Herbert is now openly wondering if it wouldn’t at least make a good middle name.
I was pretty certain that we wouldn’t adopt a nickname for the baby before he was born. To be honest, we just couldn’t think of anything (unlike our friends, all of whom seemed to come up with something witty and apt, like The Bun, The Tadpole, The Bean and The Squidge). I tried to make The Homunculus stick for a while, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Too ambitious, as ever.
And yet ‘Albrecht’ has done a lot more for us than just making conversations easier. Somehow, with a name, he’s become a person, too. In the time since that 20-week scan, so many of my early fears have fallen away. I no longer agonise over whether my life will be destroyed; I no longer worry that I won’t manage to bond or do a good enough job.
Meanwhile, Herbert seems to have found it easier, too. He’s been able to think about the things that they might both enjoy together, and the things that he wants to offer to his son. He is developing ambitions and desires around this future life. Maybe this would all have happened anyway as the pregnancy went on, but there has been something about having a name that’s eased the transition for us. Now that we’re imagining a person rather than a screaming baby, we’re looking forward to meeting him. We’re no longer afraid that we won’t bond, because we’ve already started the process.
If anything, I will probably push all the harder now that I know the sex of my baby. Hopefully, we’ll find something a bit more suitable than Albrecht to name him; but then again, I realised yesterday that he would have the great artist Albrecht Durer as a namesake. And if nothing else, at least it’s unique.