By the clipping of his thumbs…

I ain’t afraid o’ no nappy but the thought of clipping baby’s nails fills me with a mortal dread.

I’ve only seen my son’s blood twice. Proper blood mind, not the grazed knee smears that are a staple of the summer toddler’s battles with tarmac, no I mean the really red stuff. The second time was when they had to take bloods in the hospital which was a whole other barrel of trauma. The first when I sliced his tiny thumb, cutting his nails for the first time when he was three weeks old.

Of all the things you worry about as a prospective parent, finger and toenails weren’t even on our list. On learning that our tiny baby, mere hours old, had fingernails I was stupefied. I had simply not come close to wondering where and when the nails started.

Mum was asleep, drained by two days of induced labour on the journey to a Cesarean we didn’t want but had to have and all the drugs you have to have to get there. I was on duty, watching, wondering what had just happened to us all and coming to terms with the reality of this new life before me that I was now very very not in class anymore this is real this is not a drill responsible for.

This new life with scratches all over his face. Which were not there before. They were not there before. I would have noticed. Surely. I check the photos from earlier. No scratches. They were not there before. I check the photos again. No scratches.


I have only been watching him for an hour asleep in a hospital cot. It’s not like he climbed out and got in a fight with the newborn next door. I cannot let his mum wake up and see that I’ve failed in my first task as a protective father.

I marched to the midwifes’ station holding the baby with both hands at arm’s length directly out in front of me. I raised a finger to gesture at the red marks all over his face. I knew I looked severely panicked. The midwife smiled at me. I am not the first dad to do this I realised… Midwives have a special smile they give to new dads to let you know just how much of a shameful miscreant unworthy cretin you really are. I got that smile.

Baby’s new skin is so soft and sensitive and is reacting to the new air around him. But he’s also scratching his face. Because babies are born with fingernails. Fully grown. Baby rubs his face, baby scratches his skin so delicate even the impurities in the air can raise a rash. I make it through day one a wiser and more humble man.

We bought some child nail clippers. They’re basically adult nail clippers with giant handles to make you feel you’re in control. You’re not of course. The ratio of clipper to wriggling finger is about five to one. The nail was hardly bigger than the edge of the blade.

It was the tiniest of cuts but thumbs bleed. For an eternity. Long enough for mum to come down from a rest to see me gaze pleadingly at her, ashen faced, in a please don’t lose it on me because your son is bleeding as a result of my ineptitude kind of way.

I was devastated, just ripped apart inside. It was horrible, his blood dripping out of the tiny slice I had made. Did he have enough blood to lose? Seriously, I was asking myself that. His arrival had been so traumatic we didn’t have the emotional room for another trip to the hospital.

I had hurt my baby; who apparently hardly felt a thing and didn’t make a squawk. It was the worst feeling and I thought my wife was going to go ballistic on me.

Baby stopped bleeding . Mum shrugged it off.


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