Peter chatted to Fionn as he made the breakfast.
Things wouldn't be like this for much longer. Earlier starts, less sleep,
less energy for Fionn's walks... Just as the kettle boiled, Assumpta appeared
at the kitchen door, the bump now very obvious. Peter's smile turned to
a look of concern as she suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Ow!"
Peter rushed to her side. "Assumpta? what's the matter?"
"Nothing, it just kicked me right in the stomach." Relief spread over Peter's face and he hugged her from behind, his
hands on top of the bump. He felt another kick and wagged a finger at it. "Oi, cut it out."
Assumpta laughed and turned to face him.
"You happy?" Peter asked.
Assumpta at looked him. "Of course I am." She turned round and placed her arms round his neck. "I'll be even better
when this thing gets out of my way."
"Well, not long to go now."
She kissed him, then came a knock at the door. She groaned, reluctant to give up the kiss. "I'll get it."
Assumpta struggled to sit down as Peter answered the door to Niamh - her usual cheery self. The problem was that Niamh was fussing over her and had been for weeks. It was beginning to wear on Assumpta's nerves. "Hi Assumpta."
"I just wanted to check you were okay."
"I'm fine. I have Peter here to worry about me as well now you know."
Niamh shrugged. "Ah, but what do men know about it?"
Considering that Peter had read all the books, all the check-ups and pretended to go through labour at the classes,
he probably knew more about it than Assumpta did.
"You told me you hated being fussed over when you were pregnant with Kieran."
"This is different."
"Because you're fussing over someone else?"
"I'm just trying to help."
The lights in the bar flickered, then a second later, went out. "I'll get it!" called Peter from the bar. He put the tea towel on the bar and went down to the cellar.
"You still having problems with that fuse box?" Niamh asked.
"You should get it seen to. Believe me, you don't want that hassle when you've got a baby to look after."
"I've got other things on my mind right now Niamh."
"Why don't you go and lie down?"
"Because I'd rather be doing something useful than lying in bed all day."
Niamh never knew why she bothered. She did it out of concern for her friend of course, but Assumpta was difficult and never took advice. Mind you, it wasn't in her nature to keep her mouth shut if she thought it needed saying. That trait wasn't in Assumpta's nature either.
Peter emerged from the cellar and dusted himself off. "That fuse box is ancient. We should get someone in to look at it."
Assumpta rolled her eyes. "Don't you start!"
Peter smiled. "Sorry."
"I'm going to get dressed."
Peter helped her to get up and she went upstairs to change. Peter finished dishing up breakfast while talking to Niamh.
"She should be taking things a lot easier, you know," Niamh said with concern.
"Yes, I know. But you know what she's like for her independence and Dr Ryan says she's absolutely fine."
"Even so..." Niamh stopped herself in her tracks.
That evening, Fitzgerald's was packed. Assumpta sat
in a chair by the kitchen door. Peter had banned her from doing too much,
besides which she could feel herself slowing down as the baby grew. She
had refused to take a seat on the other side of the bar. She watched, frustrated,
from that chair, with Peter coming back to her in between serving
customers, checking she was okay and passing on the gossip from the regular's
end of the bar. Dr Ryan came in and stood next to Siobhan. Peter came over
to serve him.
"Michael. Nice to see you. What will you have?"
"Just an orange juice, thanks, I'm on call tonight. How's our Mum to be?"
"She's fine, it'd be you who'd wake up in hospital if she heard you calling her that!"
"No, she's just being difficult... just being Assumpta. She's touchy 'cos Niamh keeps fussing over her."
Michael understood. "Ah. Well, it'll all be over soon."
Peter nodded with enthusiasm. "Yep."
"Looking forward to it yourself?"
That was the understatement of his life. It wasn't something he'd thought very much about until he met Assumpta. Then there was the baby dumped on his doorstep, then Kieran, then Aisling. As time had gone on, he'd started to realise that being a father - in the literal sense of the word - was what he wanted to do. Assumpta telling him that she was pregnant was the second best day
of his life - after the day she became his wife. He wasn't sure where the birth of their baby was going to come on that list. He'd probably have to move Assumpta's announcement down to third place and put the child's birth in second place. He looked over at Assumpta and smiled. She was absentmindedly stroking the bump with both hands, protecting it. He'd watched that bump grow over the last few months, spent many peaceful hours feeling the kicks, watching the movement. His favourite times were when they were falling asleep, or in the mornings when they lay in bed for hours just trying to work out which way round the baby was lying, talking to it, building up a relationship with their unborn child. In some ways he couldn't wait to see their child, but in other ways he would desperately miss those times.
"You are going to be there aren't you?" Michael interrupted Peter's daydream.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world."
Assumpta had got up and wandered to the end of the bar to chat to Siobhan and Brendan and to see Aisling - who was
growing fast. Once again, the lights flickered and went out. Assumpta automatically went down to the cellar.
"Assumpta! I don't think you should be..."
Peter started do go down the cellar steps after her. There was a buzz as the lights went back on, then a thud.
Peter looked down. She was lying on her back on the floor.
"Assumpta! Michael, get down here, quick!" Dr Ryan rushed down the steps after Peter, followed by Brendan, Niamh and
Padraig. Peter knelt by her and took her hand. "Assumpta? Can you hear me? Oh God, don't leave me now." He put her hand to his face and silently willed her to come back to him. Michael started the resuscitation.
"Brendan, can you do mouth to mouth?"
"Right, we need to keep her going."
Michael did the chest compressions while Brendan did the breathing for her. Peter felt sick. "Niamh, call for an ambulance, urgently," Michael called.
"What about the baby?" Peter had two people on his mind. Assumpta was the most precious person in the world to him, but they'd both spent so much time getting to know their baby, he couldn't bear the thought that they could lose it with such a short time left to go.
"We have to keep her oxygen level up."
"Oh, God! Assumpta, please don't go now!"
At the hospital, Peter waited outside a casualty
cubicle. He impatiently fiddled with a tissue, soaked with his own tears.
He sighed and stared up at the ceiling, then closed his eyes and tried
not to cry any more. He heard the curtain swish back and forth. A doctor
stood in front of him. "Doctor?"
"We're going to have to do a caesarean. It's much easier for Assumpta to recover if she's only got herself to support."
"Will she be alright?"
"It's still too early to say."
"What about the baby?"
"Resuscitation was started very quickly, she's nearly full-term. There's no reason why there should be any damage from the accident."
Peter sighed with some form of relief. "I wanted to be there."
"At the birth? You still can be. I know it's not the same, but the baby will need its Dad."
Peter nodded. It wasn't what he'd been planning for, but that was the way it had to be. Less than an hour later, Peter had been scrubbed up and put into regulation clothing. Assumpta was on a ventilator, tubes and wires attached to all kinds of machines. A green sheet was suspended above her chest, preventing Peter from seeing the gory details of what was going on on the other side. He sat beside her, stroking her hair, occasionally kissing the side of her head and talking to her. "Our baby's going to be fine. I'll look after it until you come round. You just need a rest, that's all."
A quarter of an hour or so passed and the doctor's comments to the theatre nurses and the bleeps of the equipment faded into the background. Suddenly a new noise entered the equation. Peter heard his child take its first breath and start crying. Peter froze until the baby, slightly smeared with blood and wrapped in a hospital issue blanket, was passed to him. "Congratulations. You have
He cradled his baby and stared at her, transfixed. He took one corner of the blanket and very gently wiped a spot of blood off her face then kissed her forehead. He turned to Assumpta with tears in his eyes yet again. "Assumpta, she's gorgeous. She's so beautiful."
He looked down at his daughter again. "Aren't you?" He smiled and stroked the baby's cheek, then looked back to Assumpta. "God, I wish you were awake."
The next morning, Peter by Assumpta's bedside, in
a private room off the intensive care ward. His daughter had barely
been out of his arms since her birth and he was still gazing at her, taking in every detail of her face while she got used to what her father looked like. "Your mum is going to think you're the most gorgeous little thing on earth. She is." Peter grinned and kissed the baby again.
A nurse watched from the doorway. "Getting to know each other?"
"Something like that."
"Well, she's due for a feed. Would you like to do it?"
She handed him a bottle and watched as the baby settled down happily to her feed. "You're a natural."
Peter smiled back. "That's what everyone always says."
The nurse left him to it. After a couple of minutes, he looked at Assumpta. "You should be doing this."
Their daughter continued to thoroughly enjoy her drink and Peter began to talk to her. "You are the most beautiful thing in the world... your mum'd better not hear me saying that."
Peter spun around. It was Niamh. For a second there it sounded like Assumpta. "Hi Niamh."
She walked round to get a closer look at the baby. "She is gorgeous though."
Peter grinned proudly.
"I brought some of her clothes over. There's some of Aisling's stuff here too if there's nothing small enough."
There was an awkward pause.
"So what was the birth like?"
Peter sighed. "Clinical. I just wish Assumpta had seen her. I've got the nurses to take photos for when she comes round.
Actually, could you pick my camera up from the pub, please?"
"Yeah, sure... You should take a break yourself." Peter was utterly appalled at the suggestion. "I'm not leaving her. Either of them. I won't."
"Peter you're exhausted."
"No. Niamh, I want to be here when Assumpta wakes up. She's my wife. I should be here. And this one," he said, looking
at the baby. "This one's all I've got at the moment, Niamh, I can't leave my daughter with anyone else."
"I'm sorry...Listen, I brought you some food. Just make sure you eat, okay?"
"Sorry, Niamh, thanks."
"Okay. I'll leave you to it. Promise you'll call me if there's any change?"
"Of course," Peter nodded.
For the next week, Peter's life revolved around the
women in his life. There was no change in Assumpta but plenty of
changing to be done for the new girl in his life... who didn't even have a name yet. He lived in the hospital. He ate there, he slept there - he refused the bed they offered him, preferring to sleep in the chair next to Assumpta's bed. Every night he'd fall asleep with his daughter sleeping in his arms and every night one of the nurses would creep in and tuck the baby into her cot. The nurses
admired him. Everyone who knew him was telling him to go back home and get some sleep, but he always refused to leave her. The problem was that as much as they admired him, they knew that this could go on for months. With recoveries like this, there was no predictable time scale. Assumpta would be left to recover in her own time. That could mean days, weeks or months.
Seven days after the baby was born, Peter was worried that she'd grown. He wanted to preserve her exactly as she was the day she was born. He didn't want Assumpta to miss any of it. The child's skin was settling down now - looking less like she'd been in the bath for too long, losing the kind of waxy appearance. Her hair was different too. Taking photographs of her was becoming almost obsessional. Every morning and night, he took another picture. He hated the fact that Assumpta wasn't able to see it for herself. They'd spent all these months planning how it was going to be and then she had to go and fix that stupid fuse box. After a quiet moment of anger - with Assumpta for being so stupid and with himself for letting her - he fell asleep. An hour or so later, a
nurse crept around him, trying not to wake him up, while she checked the readings from the various monitors around Assumpta's bed. The nurse smiled at Peter, asleep with his sleeping daughter in his arms.
He awoke suddenly when he heard a cough. "Assumpta?"
The nurse turned back. It was Assumpta. She ran into the corridor and summoned help from the ward sister. "Oh thank
He reached out and grabbed her hand as the doctor rushed in. "Will she be okay now?"
"The doctor's on his way to check her over."
Her voice was shaky and sounded confused. "It's okay. It's all right. I'm here."
Her eyes scanned the room and she tried to remember how on earth she'd come to be there. "What happened?"
"I'll tell you later. You've got more important things to know about. We've got a daughter." Unsurprisingly, it took a moment for
that to sink in.
"That doesn't matter right now."
She turned to look at the baby and a weak smile crossed her face. "She's gorgeous." She was just about to reach out and
touch her daughter's face when a doctor came rushing into the room.
He turned to Peter. "Could you wait outside please? It won't take long."
Peter nodded, kissed Assumpta's forehead, squeezed her hand and waited outside cuddling his daughter. Assumpta tried to
get her head around the fact that she had a daughter while the doctor checked her blood pressure, pulse and took readings from the heart monitor. "You're very lucky to have such a devoted husband. That child's barely been out of his arms from the second she was born," said the doctor as he walked out. "Mr Clifford?"
"Is she okay?" Peter asked with concern.
"She's still very weak. She needs plenty of rest. But she should recover very well. She's very lucky to still be here."
"We're very lucky to still have her. Can I see her now?"
"Of course you can. Just make sure she gets plenty of sleep."
"Thank you doctor."
Peter put his head round the curtain. Assumpta was struggling to prop herself up in bed. He helped and then sat down beside her on the bed. "You should be resting."
"Yeah, I know what your idea of rest is." Assumpta gestured towards the baby, who was looking very angelic, fast asleep
in Peter's arms. "Can I hold her."
"She's your daughter too."
She smiled and Peter passed the child over into her arms. "To be honest, my arm's gone to sleep."
Assumpta just stared. It was just like another morning, she'd just woken up and all of a sudden she had her first child in her arms, still fast asleep and looking very angelic. A very strange experience.
"How long since she was born?"
"A week. But I've taken photos for you every day." It wasn't what she had imagined. Of course, she'd bypassed all the pain, which had to be a good thing. But she'd imagined going through all that with Peter by her side, then being presented with the newborn baby she'd waited nine months to see. "I wish I'd been able to see her."
"It wasn't terribly glamorous, I'm afraid."
"Was it a..."
"Were you there?"
"Wouldn't have missed it for the world."
She felt a movement in her arms and looked down at her daughter, who was yawning and waking up. She opened her greenish-brown eyes and tried to focus on her mother for the first time. Assumpta was overcome.
"Hello." She stroked the baby's cheek.
"Oh, you're beautiful. Yes you are. You don't get that from your dad's side!"
"Oi, watch it!"
The baby's fascinated face began to contort and she started to cry. Peter looked at his watch. "She's due for a feed. I'll get a bottle." He kissed her on the forehead and went off in search of the bottle. Assumpta looked down at the grizzling infant and cuddled her, stroking her cheek and wiping away the tears which were making the child's eyelashes stick together. She put her little finger in the baby's hand and then tried unsuccessfully to extract it again.
"Strong grip eh?" said Peter as he came back into the room. He uncurled the baby's hand from her finger and handed Assumpta the bottle. "Here we go."
Assumpta looked up at him.
"Well I'm not feeding her forever."
The doctors had told him that went she eventually came round there may be some problems with the sudden transition to being a mother and there was no way Peter was about to let that happen. He sat back and watched as she began to talk softly to the baby as she drank the milk. After a couple of minutes she looked up at him. She was clearly more than a little overwhelmed, but given the circumstances that wasn't unexpected. Peter leant over and very gently kissed her. An hour later, the baby's hunger satisfied, she lay fast asleep in Assumpta's arms. Peter went over, picked the baby up and gently placed her in the cot, then turned
his attentions towards Assumpta.
"Yeah. Just trying to make up for lost time."
"I know it's difficult, but at least you're here now. I didn't think you'd make it. I didn't want her to grow up without you."
Assumpta saw the tears forming in his eyes and patted the bed. He moved to sit next to her, then hugged her tight. "I thought I was going to lose you."
"I know. He's going to have to try harder than that if he wants to get rid of me."
Assumpta was discharged from hospital a few days
later, having made a remarkable recovery, and Peter drove his new
family home. A welcoming party awaited them.
"Welcome home Assumpta!" The chorus came from all the regulars as they raised their glasses.
Assumpta glared at Niamh behind the bar. "I hope those drinks aren't on the house."
"Ah, she's lost none of her charm, has she?"
"So motherhood hasn't softened you up a bit then?" Asked Siobhan.
"It certainly has not."
It became clear that she was lying when Siobhan went over to have a look at the baby. Assumpta was beaming with pride
as she showed her off.
"She takes after her mum," Siobhan remarked to Brendan.
"Poor child. I hope you don't expect me to teach her. One of you was enough."
"Well, I think that's a long way off yet."
"I'll retire as soon as she comes anywhere near that school."
With perfect timing, the baby started to whinge.
"See what you've done now?" Assumpta gave her a little cuddle and then passed her over to Peter, who kissed the top of the child's head and immediately had the magic touch.
Niamh was impressed. "You got yours trained then?"
"No, he came pre-programmed."
Siobhan was still admiring the baby. "You got a name for her yet?"
"We're still arguing... thinking about that." Peter said. "Anyway, this little lady should be in bed." He looked at his daughter. "Say night-night." He waved her hand at them and took her upstairs."
A few minutes later, Assumpta followed them. "Back in a minute."
When she reached the nursery, Peter was changing the baby into her fleecy sleepsuit, talking softly to her. "Is this exciting, eh? Your own room at last? Nice comfy bed..."
"Is there one of those for me too?"
Peter turned round. Assumpta stood in the doorway with a broad smile on her face. She came over and stroked the baby's cheek and hand while Peter finished dressing her, then held her while Peter put the sheets and blankets on the cot. "The nurses said you've been really good with her."
"Well I wasn't going to have some total stranger looking after her."
"What kind of a mother am I going to be?"
"You'll be brilliant. Once you get used to the idea."
Assumpta looked unsure. Peter finished making up the cot and put his arm round her. "I know it's difficult but it's not your fault you weren't around for the first week. You will get used to it and she'll have a fantastic mother." He looked down and realised the baby was fast asleep. Assumpta kissed her head and laid her into the cot. They both stood there for a moment just looking at their child, then Peter kissed her cheek. Assumpta looked at him with a smile and they headed off to bed.
In the middle of the night, the pub was silent. Assumpta
slept soundly, with Peter's arm draped over her. The sound through the
baby monitor grew from a gentle whinge to a quiet whimper and suddenly
evolved into a loud scream followed by regular crying.
Peter rolled over and sat up in bed, closely followed by his wife. "I'll get her," Peter said, rubbing his eyes and shuffling out of the room.
Assumpta lay back in bed and listened through the monitor. "What's all this about, eh?"
A while later, having done all the checks - nappy, temperature, food - she was still crying. "Come on, let's go and see your mum, shall we?" Peter smiled as he brought her in to their room.
Assumpta sat up in bed. "There we go. Our first sleepless night." Assumpta laughed and took her daughter from him. He got back into bed and looked at their baby. "Are we ever going to get a name for you or what?"
"Actually, I've been thinking about that."
"How about Laoise?"
Peter repeated the name to himself a few times. "Yep. That suits her... it's beautiful."
Assumpta slept soundly that night. She'd hated hospital beds. She didn't like being ill at the best of times, but this was when she and Peter should have been getting to know their baby and it had frustrated her that she couldn't do that. After their early wake-up call, she and Peter fell back to sleep and Assumpta's sleep was so deep that it took her a moment to realise that Peter wasn't beside her when she woke up. She got up, put on a dressing gown and went into Laoise's room. The cot was empty. Assumpta went downstairs and stopped when she got to the landing. From there she silently watched as Peter, sat on the sofa, fed his daughter. He gently stroked her cheek and grinned as she gazed up at him. He softly whispered calming words to her as she continued her breakfast. Assumpta looked lovingly at the pair of them, went downstairs and sat on the sofa next to Peter. She held out her arms and Peter placed their child into them, then put his arms round Assumpta and supported her while she gave their daughter the rest of her feed. It was the first time Assumpta felt they were a real family. Sitting together on the sofa taking care of the beautiful baby they had produced, Peter realised that Assumpta and his child were the things which had made his life complete and he couldn't imagine how on earth he ever lived without either of them.