My mother’s reaction when the midwife presented me, clean and peaceful after my first outburst of anger: she was too shocked for words.
That is, she seemed tired but joyful enough. Until the midwife trilled, “Yes, ma’am—it’s a boy!”, parting the white cloth in which she had wrapped me, discovering my baby willy and red balls. She expected enthusiasm, maybe a bout of misplaced pride.
Instead of that, my mother started to sob.
The midwife, fearing a precocious outbreak of Baby Blues, thought it best to lay me on my mother’s lap, tiptoe away while she still could and find comfort in the hip flask filled with schnapps she had stored away in the staff room.
But my mother doesn’t do Baby Blues. She’s more into the Anything-can-be-a-problem-Blues. Some say it’s because she’s a Virgo, always worried and angsty. Others believe it’s because she thinks life too easy-peasy and has to invent problems in order to feel alive. Anyway, she grabbed the midwife by the sleeve and whined, “What have I done to deserve this?”
“What’s the matter, ma’am? Aren’t you happy?” the midwife asked.
“Oh… yes, I am. Very much,” my mother lied, looking more miserable by the minute. “Really… happy’s the word, yes.”
“You don’t look happy to me!” The midwife lifted me up again and held me tight, fearing that she was talking to a madwoman who might take the baby and smash it against the wall.
My mother’s voice became tiny, tears still streaming down her cheeks. “Well, it’s a boy! know how to deal with a girl, wash her, powder her, you know. But how shall I deal with… that?” She made a lame gesture toward my baby privates, still in full sight. “It looks so… fragile. What if I do anything wrong?”
“Oh!” The midwife sighed with relief, hiding tiny noddle and eggs from view at last. “That. Don’t you worry, ma’am. We’ll show you. It’s… well, different, yes. But not very complicated. You will learn in no time. Now, do you want to hold your son for a second?”
My mother looked only half-persuaded. But her hormones kicked in at last. Or her maternal instinct. Or simply her sense of duty. “Yes,” she said. “Give me my son.”
The midwife complied, her face expressing ‘All’s well that ends well, and I can go have me a quencher’.
My mother pressed her nose to my neck and inhaled my sweet-sour baby smell. Then she kissed me on the forehead and whispered, “I love you, my little son!” And she did mean it.
The next problem arose when my father came to discover his son. After a first explosion of joy, he fetched a chair and took me in his arms the way one picks up a piece of precious china. “How are we going to call him, darling?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” my mother replied, her tone meaning ‘I don’t care right now’. She had just delivered a baby, after all; she felt too weary to take a decision.
“Shall I ask Mom?” my cunning father asked.
This stirred the reaction he had hoped for. My mother sat up in bed, her eyes sparkling with determination. “Over. My. Dead. Body!” she hissed and held out her arms to reclaim me.
Amused, my father handed me back. “We could call him Johann, after your dad,” he proposed.
“Everyone will call him Hans. Or Hansi,” my mother said. “I don’t want people to use one of those hideous nicknames.”
“Ferdinand, after Dad?”
“People will call him Ferdi. Or Ferdl.”
“Josef? Christian? Sebastian?”
“Sepp, Chris, Wastl.” My mother shuddered. “Why not choose something special?”
“Alright. My son will become someone special anyway,” my father replied. “He will do the things I couldn’t: go to university, have a fine career.”
Both pondered the question for a moment. Until my mother came up with a name. A special name. None they had ever used before. They knew no one who had that name, either. “If we called him… Cornelius?” she suggested.
“Hm… Cornelius Dohr. Sounds good. Okay. Let’s call him Cornelius,” my father said. Sealing my fate without knowing it.