Baby Houghton

by John Houghton

Baby Houghton

There he lies in a plastic box. A cage. So tiny, It's not his obvious features which make him appear so small, the subtle ones do it. His tiny finger nails, such a small replica of mine yet too small for anybody to have created; so delicate. Dwarfed by his nappy he lies there asleep, pink, an intense warm pink. Wrinkled face and hands, he seems to have too much skin and his few wisps of hair stick to his head. He's moist, damp with sweat, warm, safe.

Yet he's not my brother. The little band on his pipecleaner wrist says he is, "Baby Houghton", yet I don't feel he is. He was going to be a girl, well at least I'd assumed he was, and I was supposed to see him in my mum's arms asleep or maybe gurgling, chirruping away and wriggling in a cot at her bedside. But he's here, in a perspex coop, keeping me out, and my mum's lying in a bed a maze of corridors away.

He's so still, the only signs he's alive are the regular rise and fall of his miniature chest and the rhythmic bleeps of reassurance from the many machines he's plugged into. He can't see me and doesn't know I'm here, we haven't been introduced and I don't even know his name. Yet I'm fascinated by him and I'll just stand and watch.

Again he's asleep. Still tiny, still pink, still sick. The doctors aren't worried about his chest infection so neither am I plus he's got fewer wires going in, or coming out of him today. But he's still just as distant, an unknown stranger to me. Mum saw him today but now she's back in bed still with an empty cot next to her bed, miles away.

H stirs, wriggles, flails his arms and kicks his gangly legs, not used to them - practising, though he sleeps on, silent. I still haven't heard him yet, I stand willing him to wake up even to cry, just to hear him would be enough. I'm too scared to try to wake him and the room's so quiet, a library with its specimens on display, boxed babies, small and fragile and unreachable. Hums and bleeps of machines, scurryings of doctors and nurses and the hushed awe of parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents the only noise. A room full of babies yet there's not a murmur, a wail or even a burble of content.

Everyone at school was asking me about him. What's he like?', 'Erm he's small, he's pink, he's a he, er, he's ill and so he's in an incubator'. 'What does he sound like?', 'Err, I don't know', 'What does he feel like?', 'I don't know', 'What's his name?'.

What is his name? I can't think of anything that would fit but I still don't know him so how would I? I look at him and realise how little I know about him - how much I've still got to find out. I can't wait.
Edward. I like it. Mum and dad told me just before I came here, back in mum's ward. Her bed surrounded by flowers, cards, toys and clothes yet missing the one thing it needed. A bedside so cluttered yet so empty. She seems happy though, they're both 'making good progress' and she sees him a lot but by the time I get here they're both back in their own beds, segregated. It's strange to think that only a few days ago he was part of her, I've still never seen them together.

But today he's awake. Edward is awake, blue eyes open, bright and sparkling and staring as he fidgets still unsure of what to do with his limbs. It's nice to put a name to a face. Edward suits him I think, not that I know him, but he looks like an Edward and his eyes are so penetrating, the only one in our family to have blue eyes, yet when I see them I finally realise he is my brother. He's well enough to be allowed Po, the tellytubby I bought him, in his cot with him which seems strange for him to have as I bought it for him ages ago when I thought he was going to be a girl and I'd be giving it to my sister. But Po has her own bracelet to identify her thanks to one of the nurses and Edward has some company. And finally I'm allowed to reach in. The small portholes into his world on the side of his box are opened and I can slide my hand through. Stretching out a finger I brush against his impossibly small hand and he grasps it acknowledging me for the first time. We've finally been introduced. He's Edward, my brother, he has blue eyes and he's shaking my hand.

John Houghton


This is a short first person descriptive piece of the first three days of my baby brother Edward's life. He was born by caesarean section with a chest infection and had to spend a week on the neonatal ward. I was twelve at the time and still remember the feelings of excitement I felt at the time yet it was extremely frustrating and I felt very distant from him. However over this time I found out more about him and became closer to him and began to accept him as my brother which was very difficult when I first saw him. I was never afraid though at the time even though he was quite ill because of the doctors' and my parents' apparent confidence and due to the distance I initially felt from him. Writing this brought back the feelings of confusion and frustration of the time yet over the last seven years as I've seen Edward grow and his character build it feels very alien to write about when I didn't know him and he was small, fragile and kept away from me.

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