The best gestures usually arrive when you are bone-tired.
Mine was a bowl of ragu pasta, my first meal after leaving hospital with our newborn son. I ate it in bed. I have no idea what time it was. You might have heard a lot of tall tales about that first slice of flaccid toast you eat in hospital after pushing out a baby. This was my flaccid toast.
Much like having the baby, I had already done the hard part myself: browning a wedge of beef shin, then cooking it for many hours in wine, bay leaves and a tin of whole San Marzano tomatoes. I made it when I was heavily pregnant in the grand tradition of late-day maternity leave, filling my days following granular batch-cooking recipes, in an attempt to silence the screaming voices that told me I was about to blow up my life. Instead of panicking, I cooked and cooked. But this sauce had barely made it into the freezer when I felt my contractions begin.
It was my boyfriend who did the rest: taking the sauce out of the freezer, possibly about 2am, defrosting it in the sink before reheating it while he cooked the pasta in heavily salted water, and then carefully cutting the linguine into little pieces with a pair of hair scissors. The whole thing took almost as long as my labour.
But – and this is crucial – I hadn’t asked him to cut the pasta into pieces. He just somehow knew to do it. Like how he knew to give me water when I was breastfeeding, and to stick a pillow under my arm as I switched boobs, and to give me daily blood-thinning injections without fanfare even though, in spite of the utter gorefest that was my son’s intervention-laden birth, I had to have them lying down because needles make me faint. He knew that I only had one hand to eat (the other was holding the baby’s head to my nipple), so he cut the pasta accordingly.
It is impossible to write anything new about those early days of having a baby, but it’s an objectively peculiar time. You have been so afraid of the pain to come that you forget about what happens on the other side of it. Then suddenly, after a short period in hospital, you’re released into a world where night and day are interchangeable, and nothing from before makes sense. My only constants were keeping my baby alive with milk, and the one meal I would eat each day in order to make that happen.
But it was especially strange for my boyfriend. Unable to do almost anything for our baby, he felt, I imagine, utterly useless during that time. And so, like me, he cooked. Sometimes he spoon-fed me scrambled eggs, sometimes he burned my toast. But among the slow, boring chaos of those early days, I remember that pasta. It was the best thing I’ve ever eaten and made all the better because I didn’t drop any of it on my son’s head. Of course, the really sensible thing would have been to cook fusilli, but you live and learn.