It was much too early in the morning and the baby cried again.
It was the middle of the night.
The light, being switched on.
Sansa’s steps, soft like her kisses, padding gently to the baby bed.
He turned to the other side in their bed, tailor-made to fit him comfortably , and tried to sleep on.
Small chance of that.
The baby was silent for five or six minutes, granting his plea for rest.
Then she cried stridently for another two minutes. Sansa sighed and hissed softly, in attempt to mask her pain while she was changing the baby from one breast to another, before the sucking effort successfully continued. Breastfeeding still left small wounds on her nipples even now when the baby was three weeks old. In theory, she should be used to it by now and all discomfort should have been gone, according to the many books describing the topic, gathering dust on shelves of their no longer perfectly clean house.
Since the thing was born, there was no more time for anything and certainly not reading, though Sandor was convinced that Sansa had already studied all books in existence about parenting and childbirth and knew their content by heart. He only read some, surreptitiously and too fast, absorbing them during lunch breaks and coffee breaks, rushing through the content to get an overview, after the thing was born.
Another blessed silence followed, five minutes, eight minutes the most. The baby preferred one of the breasts, not realising they were both perfect.
Then the peace was over, like every night. The meal kept his daughter quiet for twenty minutes at most, up to ten minutes on each breast. By now, Sandor knew her routine by heart.
The baby wailed slowly, increased in tone, complained stridently in a few short, uniquely potent shrieks until she finally screamed and screamed and screamed, continuously so; as if Sansa had shoved her face in coals instead of carrying her gently around the room and singing her sweet lullabies.
They had a fully furnished baby room down the corridor but the baby had yet to sleep in it. Her bed somehow made its way to their room in the first days of her life and never left it.
Sandor sometimes wondered if his daughter slept at all. More than one or two consecutive hours during night that is. Sansa claimed she was somewhat better during day when he was on duty. Sandor had his doubts about it. In the weekends they always spent at home now, he hadn't noticed much difference between days and nights.
It was hell on earth, pure and simple.
If it depended on him, he would have gone and sterilised himself after two weeks, to avoid the repetition of this misery.
It did not depend on him. Sansa was strongly against the simple surgical procedure arguing that it was… unnatural and that they had other less invasive means of birth control if they decided not to have any more children.
Sandor sat up in bed, covering his ears, refusing to look at the clock. It was useless anyway.
"Let me," he told Sansa in a grumpy voice.
As always, she refused, in her voice of a newly-made nightly martyr in their marriage. She had adopted that attitude since he had to restart working, after ten days of leave. "No, baby, you have to rest. You must get up so early in the morning."
She had the right of it, but, as a consequence, none of them slept.
And tonight he was about to do his share of the night's misery whether she willed it or not.
"I carry her around during the day when she's crying," he said, standing up, approaching his daughter and his wife. "Why not now? I can't sleep," he stated calmly and hated the look of guilt on Sansa's face, over not being a perfect wife and a perfect mother, he supposed.
He didn't want perfect. He wanted Sansa. She was more than perfect anyway. His thoughts made no sense as usual. He tried to tell her as much, but since the baby was born she turned too stubborn to listen.
"It’s not your bloody fault," he muttered, "none of it," he made an empty gesture of hand waving, remembering the baby they lost, "this is just," he wasn’t certain at all how to continue nor what this was, "bad luck," he finished lamely.
Sansa sank on the edge of their bed and began crying. She was cradling the screaming baby in her arms, staring at her daughter's wrinkled, red face.
"Here," Sandor took the baby from Sansa as gently as he knew how and lifted their daughter up on his shoulder, supporting her head. Her little face leaned on him. A single lock of soft, long black hair on top of her head tickled his chin. Little legs and arms shook against his chest. The touch calmed his nerves though his ears still remained tortured by the unavoidable, ungodly sound that came from the baby's tiny, sobbing body. He had an impression she screamed less when he carried her like this, though it was probably only his imagination. At least he didn't tease her with the possibility of feeding. He had read somewhere that the babies sank naturally into the position to suck when cradled. It was probably bullshit as most other things he had read, but at least he was trying.
His daughter had his hair and seemingly, his temper. All guests who came to see her after birth said how cute she was. Not beautiful, as he had heard them say to other babies in Sansa's enormous and very prolific family. The truth was, Sansa's and Sandor's baby was ugly, like him. Probably the other baby, the one that died before being born, would have had the sweet looks and temper of her mother. Dark sadness gnawed at his soul from the memory.
And this baby, this buggering baby…
She may grow into a new Gregor.
Shut up, he told himself inwardly. The books he read on the sly all affirmed that the character of a child was not genetically predetermined although the appearance and some diseases were hereditary. He could not bring himself to talk about this to Sansa, not wishing to worry her on top of her painfully visible concern for the welfare of their baby.
"Shouldn't you put on a T-shirt?" Sansa asked weakly, seeing how he was serious in doing part of the night shift this time.
Faced with her quiet acceptance, he regretted never having done this before, hating himself for turning on the other side of the bed and pretending to be sleeping as she walked and walked and walked herself to exhaustion, until the baby finally slept in her arms and would be laid in baby bed. Only to stay there for an hour and wake again.
"It's easier to wash like this," he said carelessly. He had never slept in more than his boxer shorts, not even in the middle of winter.
The baby puked milk after every feeding. It was the norm.
Sansa made a face, but was too tired to protest further.
"I'll just…" she said, "I'll just lay down for a while. Please wake me up if the two of you need any help."
"Sure," he said, not meaning it.
He would give his wife a few hours of continuous sleep no matter what. He was awake anyway.
When he was fairly certain that Sansa began dozing despite their daughter's continued screams, he ventured with the baby into the corridor, down the stairs and into the kitchen, to the secret stash he'd procured in desperation ten days ago.
"And now we'll see if you are still hungry," he told his baby as if she was a grown up person who could understand him.
He tried to warm up the water and mix it with the right quantity of milk powder in the baby bottle with one arm and found that he could not. Not without dropping the baby. He wondered how Sansa managed to cook almost every day with a crying baby in one arm and still feel insufficient about herself . He was the one who should feel bloody inadequate in this family. Nonetheless, he mostly felt confident, even when he was bloody wrong.
He lay the baby in the middle of the thick, furry carpet that looked more like a skin of some animal, brought by one of the Starks for their wedding anniversary. Sansa would hate him for laying the baby on the floor, but it was the safest place, really. It was soft enough, Sansa reminded him to vacuum clean it every day, and the baby could not fall from it.
He mixed the bloody powder according to the instructions he had by now learned by heart. He shook the bottle, retrieved the baby and offered her the new stuff.
He was raised on it forty years ago so it couldn't be poisonous. Back then, everyone did it because it was supposed to be so much better for the babies. Nowadays it was done only by those unfortunate women who did not have enough mother's milk. Breastfeeding was to be replaced by formula only if the baby did not gain enough weight, the experts claimed.
His daughter, his and Sansa's baby, was gaining a bit less than 20g per day. Just on the limit for the doctor to conclude that she didn't need extra feeding and to drive them mad by her continuous screams.
Sandor stubbornly believed, already for a while, that she might sleep if she ate more. It mostly worked for him and if this baby was like him…
Shut up, he told himself more insistently. It's not predetermined.
He had even overheard Sansa's friends Margaery and Jeyne, after enduring a two hour visit to the exhausted mother and sleepless, crying baby, saying to each other that Sansa should just give up on this ideal of breastfeeding and let her baby drink as much milk as she wanted. He thought that Sansa might have heard them as well through the open window because she cried her eyes out after they left. Since that evening, five days ago, Sansa politely declined all other potential visitors claiming that her family needed rest.
He dared once to bring up the issue of complementing mother’s milk with formula and immediately dropped the discussion when faced with an expression of total gloom on Sansa's heart-shaped face.
Her mother had obviously breastfed all her five children and they were all fat and chubby in the photos. This did not help matters in the least.
His daughter, their daughter, was wiry and thin, with nervous strength in her limbs, and very long for a newborn.
The baby's unfocused, dark gaze took in the bottle. Her little lips touched it briefly, drew a tiny drop of milk out of it and some more, and more…
And spat it out with disgust and ultimate refusal.
The siren went on.
Sandor tried again, but try as he might, his daughter would not drink from that bottle again.
So you know what is good after all, he mused. Faced with the choice between Sansa's breasts and cold rubber, he knew very well what his preference would be.
Giving up on his probably very poor idea from the beginning, he lay the baby on the carpet again, cleaned his mess and hid all traces of it, hoping that he did it well, and that Sansa would not find him out by some forgotten stain or grain of milk powder.
He wondered for how long his daughter was already awake. On average, after two hours she would fall asleep no matter what. But as he didn't look at the time when she woke, he had no idea.
Sandor shrugged and put the baby on his other shoulder, the one under his scars. He could not feel her hair on his chin like that, only the little muscled arms and legs and the warm pressure of her miniature body.
A distinct smell floated to his nostrils. Unlike his vocal chords, his nose had never been burned.
Mostly Sansa did not let him change the shitty diaper, only a pissed one because he never cleaned her good enough. He had only done it a few times.
Piss on that.
The equipment for changing was in the empty baby room. He walked up, not turning on the light and stumbled across a pair of his shoes, very nearly falling. It was his own stupid fault for not leaving them in the hall, but upstairs and in the middle of the house. Sansa had probably not had time to pick them up after him and bring them to a more usual place. He made a note to self to always take his shoes off when he came home or at least personally remove them out of sight after greeting his family.
He could be a modern man for his young wife, couldn't he?
He had witnessed the delivery without flinching, despite suffering a pang of fear and disgust a few hours before the great event itself, when the doctors put the needle in Sansa's back to ease her pain. That looked really strange and mortifying, as if his body was being pierced or worse, as if hers would be irreparably harmed by it. He didn't feel modern enough to witness that, not at all. As always in public, he hid his emotions and did not let them show.
Now he told himself harshly that being modern included changing a shitty diaper in the middle of the night and shushing the bloodthirsty baby to sleep.
He wished to have a drink or two and decided against it. It wouldn't do to drop the baby from both sleeplessness and tipsiness. Sansa would never forgive him.
With these nagging thoughts on his mind, he made three or four large cottonpads wet in the bathroom (Sansa refused to use industry-made baby-ass-wipes that contained too much perfume and chemicals) and readied a diaper next to the changing mat. (At least she capitulated and abandoned the use of cotton diapers after a week, turning to normal Pampers as everyone else they knew).
The pile of soft yellow shit came to his daughter's neck, stinking as badly as his own, maybe worse, in contrast with the theory that it shouldn't, not as long as she drank only mother's milk. Her little clothing was all dirty. The mess required washing and not only changing. He had no idea where the baby bathtub was. He should probably know this after three weeks, but he didn't. Sansa would always magically produce it from somewhere while he would hold the baby. He mentally compared the size of the small basin for washing hands with his daughter, and decided that it would have to do. Gingerly, he filled it with lukewarm water. He soaked his naked daughter in it, careful to always support her head.
Screaming increased to levels he didn't think possible.
Babies were supposed to like bathing and relax in pleasantly warm water, but their daughter just yelled harder.
The water was soon yellow from the excess of shit. Sansa was right, he truly didn’t clean the baby buttocks well with the old diaper, cottonpads and dirty clothing. So he emptied the basin, refilled it and rinsed the baby, certain that Sansa would hate the word rinse even if he only used it in his thoughts.
Their daughter was not a piece of laundry, she was a person in her own right.
She didn't look like much of a person to him now. She was more of a little monster, his monster.
He wrapped the screaming thing in a clean towel and looked into a mirror. It was hard to tell whose face was more twisted.
Finally he wiped the milk stain from baby puke off his shoulder on one of his not so dirty T-shirts from the washing pile because he couldn't find a small towel. He only noticed the vomit now in the mirror and wondered for how long he had walked around with it, most likely with the baby's head in it.
He found a white, long-sleeved T-shirt and some baby trousers. The sleeves were too long, probably a number too big or something, but he didn't care. He rolled them up and put the dressed baby back on his shoulder, under the good side of his face, resisting the temptation to kiss her little screaming head. He might scratch the soft part of her head with his beard.
After another half hour of sleepless walking around the house, always avoiding the bedroom where Sansa softly snored, he distinctly wished to toss the baby on the bed from his great height to see if she would shut up.
He nevertheless held himself in check.
It was a stupid and a cruel thing to do and most likely his and Sansa's daughter wouldn't shut up anyway. They were both bloody stubborn. Probably that was hereditary, like diseases.
When he pondered breaking the glass door in the kitchen with his free arm just to break something, the screams slowly waned. First he didn't believe his tired ears, but in the end he did, humming some stupid lullaby in the deepest rasp he was able to produce. The baby seemed to like Sansa's melodious voice but also the deepest register of his own broken one.
Well, like was a big word. She only liked it when she was tired enough, exhausted from all the screaming.
Their daughter either ate or slept or screamed since she was born. That was all she did. In contrast with the books that forecasted that if she was fed and dry and healthy, she should be content when awake. Content implied the absence of crying. Both Sansa and Sandor agreed about the latter. Maybe happy, smiling babies existed only on TV commercials and in parenting books.
The little bundle on his shoulder turned heavier than a snowflake, meaning that she finally slept.
He returned to their bedroom and lay her gently in baby bed, on her back, because it was safer. In his time, babies slept on stomach and it was deemed better. Probably in twenty years they would all sleep on one of the sides or hanging upside down, with the experts having a distinct opinion as to whether it was safer to hang more to the left or to the right.
As soon as his daughter's head touched the mattress, she screamed again.
After one more tour of the house, endless rocking and lullabies, it was time to try again.
The second time, her sleep held.
Sandor released his raspy breath, wiped his forehead and realised he was sweaty from the effort, although the baby's weight was nothing to him.
He felt strangely nervous and shaky and wretched as he slipped into bed next to Sansa, wasting much more time than usual to catch sleep.
There was light in the room when he woke. And silence, blessed silence.
So she's still asleep.
He drew himself up slowly, knowing it was time to shower and go to work.
To his surprise, Sansa was seated on their bed, staring at their daughter in her bed with the beatific expression on her lovely face.
In two leaps, he was next to his wife.
Elisabeth, their daughter, lay on her back with her eyes open, calm and quiet. Her eyes that looked dark up to now revealed a distinct bluish hue.
Will you have blue eyes? Sandor thought. You might. The eye colour was not defined at birth, was that so?
Elisabeth opened her mouth. Instead of a scream Sandor expected and Sansa probably dreaded, she drew her lips tightly together and said…
And kept looking at them.
Sansa smiled from her heart and hugged him. "Isn't she wonderful?" she asked. "So aware of her surroundings! Just as it should be when a baby is about one month old!"
Finally something was as the books claimed, and even a week earlier than forecasted.
"She’s beautiful," Sandor had to agree. "Like you," he added. Sansa looked much, much fresher after getting some sleep and his heart became warm from seeing her so. And Sandor might just hit in the face the next person who said that their daughter was merely cute.
"No," Sansa disagreed. "She’s good looking like you."
He let pass her blatantly embellished view of his appearance without correcting her. Maybe if he heard it for long enough, he would believe it.
"She's a bit like me," he voiced his main concern very carefully.
"Then she'll know if men lie to her," Sansa said, laughing. "That can be useful, don't you think?"
"She might beat someone bloody," Sandor said, sniggering hoarsely in return.
Maybe it was not completely bad if those gene theories were also all wrong and if his daughter truly turned out a bit like him.
Just not too much.
“She’s bright,” they said at the same time by chance. “Like you...” they told each other on purpose, grinning widely.
"Are we going to have one more?" he asked, not knowing where that came from.
"Of course we will," Sansa assured him, looking very self-accomplished for the first time in three weeks.
Their baby was probably normal and they hadn't done anything wrong.
"Three more?" he asked with feigned arrogance.
Sansa slapped him jokingly and he drew her in for a good, long, noisy kiss.
The baby began to cry again.
Probably it was time for a morning meal.
Maybe with the second one they would know better.