By Khaled Diab
A revolution is on the way and it's going to change everything – in our house.
21 July 2009
Sleeper cells are awakening and an embryonic plot is taking shape. Small but powerful underground forces are massing – even the occasional lashing out has been reported. Great change is on the horizon.
No, this is not some movement to overthrow the government or bring in a new world order. In fact, the revolution is so localised that its ripples are unlikely to reach far outside our house. This revolutionary force is positioning itself to turn our lives upside down; to subjugate us and liberate us; to plunder our resources, but win our hearts and minds.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, we're having a baby.
I realise that the two opening paragraphs sound melodramatic but that's kind of how it feels. For years, I've smiled indulgently when friends told me how having a child completely changed their lives. Of course we were aware, on a theoretical level, of some of the transformations that accompany parenthood.
That is partly why we took so long – the good part of a decade together – before we decided to take the giant leap from recreation to procreation. We bravely resisted the bangs of the baby boom surrounding us.
With the familial urge failing to swell up inside my bosom, I was even beginning to reconcile myself to the prospect of being forever childless. Some see this as selfish, and at some level it is.
But isn't having a child also selfish in other ways?
Concerns aside, something imperceptible, like a continental drift, recently began to shift inside us. Then, one day, we decided to leave it to fate and, judging by her speed, Lady Fortune was in a hurry. But her timing was a little rotten.
The evening we discovered that we had crossed a very thin but significant blue line, our contemplations of the probable life forming inside my wife were cut short by her departure the very next morning for a fortnight with mine survivors in the Far East, where she had to deal with the immensity of the changes about to beset her by herself.
Even when still an embryo a few cells across, it's amazing how much influence an unborn child exerts. There are the lifestyle changes, like cutting out booze and caffeine (my two favourite drugs), full-time for my wife; part-time for me.
You also begin to notice things that had obviously existed in another dimension before, but have now managed to worm themselves through time-space to cross your path, including prenatal shops and gynaecology wards. Then, there are all the practicalities, such as booking creches well in advance because of the waiting lists.
There's also the gradual shifting of physical and visual centres of gravity. Suddenly, navel-gazing becomes the most entertaining pastime in the world, and my wife's slowly swelling tummy has grown, quite literally, into an object of immense fascination to us as we try to connect with the impenetrable netherworld of the womb.
Of course, the inevitable speculations about how the child will look kick in – and with our transcontinental backgrounds, the palette of possibilities is quite broad. Our main hope is that the baby will bear something of both of us. Given that my role during the pregnancy is largely that of an observer and assistant, I've had more space to let the wild horses of my imagination gallop.
A rose by any other name may smell just as sweet, but a child's name can actually have a significant impact on their lives. In our case, if it is too Arab-sounding, it will overlook the child's European heritage – and vice-versa. Meanwhile, the range of names common to both cultures is quite limited and, in many cases, overused by people in our situation – so the hunt continues.
Language is another issue. Between us, we speak half a dozen languages, and we want to raise our child to be fluent in three of them. So is culture. We want our child to grow up with a keen awareness of its different cultural heritages, and to be comfortable with them. Later in life, (s)he can choose to belong to all of them, one of them or none of them.
The idea of becoming parents still sounds outlandish to us. For the first 35 years of my life, parents were other people, and I was just plain old “Khaled”. Now when our kid starts referring to me as “dad” or “baba” or even “pffft”, I will feel like a bit of an impostor! But for our future child, our status as parents will seem like the most natural, and perhaps irritating, thing in the world – and (s)he will also think parents are other people.
This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited's Comment is Free section on 18 July 2009. Read the related discussion.