Visiting hours on the maternity ward are pure bedlam. A nice bedlam, but a bedlam all the same.

Balloons float above each cubicle, every few seconds there is a flash from a camera or a semi-serious discussion about whose turn it is to hold the baby. Grandmothers queue to hand out knitted cardigans, new-borns cry from being handled too much and the ward is drowning in baby-grows. Baby-grows with bumble bees and Disney characters and cute little logos:

“I love my mummy”

“I love my daddy”

“I’m just perfect”

There is just one more baby to check. One more little life to be sent into the world.

I have to fight my way through the chaos, to get to a side room along the corridor.

To anyone who glanced in, the room would appear to be empty. Quiet, clean and still. But lying in the cot, in faded clothes which are worn from too much washing, a new life is waiting for his turn in the world.

There are no balloons here. No one is fighting for the chance to hold him. There is no mother waiting for my words of reassurance. She has left to resume whatever life she had before. Lost in the crowd. I don’t know her reasons, nor is it my place to find out. But it will always be my place to wonder.

The midwives feed and hold him, but they must smell of uniform and NHS and other people’s families. A different midwife for each bottle. A different voice. A different family. The other mums have wandered in to speak to him, but were quickly drawn away by the pull of their own babies, before he even knew they were there. One mother has left a toy for him in a corner of the cot.

A little, soft, grey elephant who watches over her new charge with solemn, stitched eyes.

There is no one to wait anxiously whilst I listen to the beat of his perfect heart. No one to congratulate. No one has taken his photograph and his first few hours on this earth were never recorded. He lies still whilst I look into his eyes. He makes no objection to being turned or moved and when I examine his hands, tiny fingers curl around mine for comfort.

He passes his baby check with flying colours. He’s perfect. He doesn’t need a baby-grow to tell me this.

The baby reaches into the space above his cot, for a cuddle which will never be there. Little legs kick underneath the borrowed blanket and his eyes dart around the room, trying to make sense of a world which has already rejected him.

The elephant watches.

Someone will come for him. In an office across the town, there is a filing cabinet full of the names of those who wanted him even before he existed. He will be someone’s precious gift. I comfort myself with the knowledge that he will never remember. He will never think back to a ward full of balloons and cameras and excited voices.

I look down at him and say he’s perfect, even though there is no one to tell. I pick up the elephant and hold it in front of his eyes because it’s the only thing here which has any connection to him.

He is too young. These moments will be lost. I know the first memory he makes will be a happy one, yet I am surprised by how difficult it is to leave. I look into the room one last time and the elephant stares back at me, with solemn, stitched eyes.

The elephant and I have an understanding.

All the way down the corridor, I tell myself that it will be fine. This time tomorrow, he will have baby-grows and hand knitted cardigans and a new life all of his own. He will grow up and go to school and make friends and one day he will have his own family and visit this ward with balloons and cameras and excited voices.

He will remember none of this.

But an elephant … an elephant never forgets.


  1. February 5, 2011 / 2:05 pm

    Let’s hope he bumps into folk like you along his way.

  2. February 5, 2011 / 2:07 pm

    Beautiful. And perfect. And I am crying.

  3. Eff
    February 5, 2011 / 2:13 pm

    Eep! So beautifully written. You should print this beautiful but so very sad story and give it to the social worker who comes to collect him. She will keep it in his file. It will be there for him one day and he will smile, and know that some one cared.
    And if nobody comes for him, I’ll have him!

  4. February 5, 2011 / 2:35 pm

    Jo, this is another perfect post. In the midst of happiness and congratulations there will always be one crying soul and we should remember this.

    Bless you for loving him, bless you for providing the emotional counterbalance. Bless you for being yourself.

  5. February 5, 2011 / 2:42 pm

    Gah, that had me welling up! How beautifully written but how unbearably sad.

    I feel like I want to hold him tight; but also you, for you can tell how deeply it’s affected you.

  6. February 5, 2011 / 2:54 pm

    Beautiful, beautiful post. I am so glad this little soul had someone like you to spend time with him, and to notice.

  7. February 5, 2011 / 3:28 pm

    Beautiful, poignant, moving.

  8. Catherine Hagarty
    February 5, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    I love you Joeykins – & feel this rip in your beautiful heart
    even oceans away……
    Another year gone & Another Feb 7th coming our way yet again,
    what life has shown me in this latest cycle of Lessons
    is that I’m utterly Blessed that we have become dear friends;
    even though separated by thousands of miles & leagues of cold water,
    your friendship & beautiful heart warm me,
    & I share endless tears & laughter with you
    as we stumble along this crazy path of life we’ve embarked on….

    always love you girl

  9. February 5, 2011 / 3:49 pm

    Beautiful and emotive as usual. I have written a similar story but from a midwifery perspective in my book in progress Butterfly Baby. So happy to see a new post here, it has been a while.

  10. February 5, 2011 / 3:54 pm

    An absolutely beautiful post. I welled up the minute the elephant was mentioned. A child will grow in the world oblivious to his impact on a stranger. Moments is all it takes. Thank you for sharing.

  11. February 5, 2011 / 3:58 pm

    Poor wee soul. Thank God for the people who care for him and thank you for sharing.

  12. February 5, 2011 / 4:14 pm

    Gorgeous emotions and powerful writing. Lovely read.

  13. Fionasrotties
    February 5, 2011 / 5:23 pm

    Made me watery eyed this. Thanks Jo. Lovely. X

  14. Cindy
    February 5, 2011 / 5:43 pm

    very nice…thanks for sharing that one…

  15. alisonwells
    February 5, 2011 / 6:02 pm

    What everyone else said. Raw, human, loving, sad.

  16. February 5, 2011 / 6:27 pm

    Beautifully expressed. I shall remember this for a long time. My husband was adopted at 6 weeks and I sometimes wonder about both him on the ward and whether anyone remembers him and where his mother is now. My mother was also adopted but we know more. The little mite – I hope he grows up happy and loved.

  17. Mardi (Tillywinny)
    February 5, 2011 / 6:28 pm

    This is so beautifully written and so emotive. It definitely should be published. I created the elephant image in my head as the tears welled in my eyes.
    Thank you

  18. February 5, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    You have killed me with this Jo – killed me.

  19. February 5, 2011 / 6:56 pm

    Beautifully and perfectly written Joanna with gentle non-judgemental wisdom. I’m sure he will find love and cuddles soon. I hope it’s not too long.
    I also hope his natural mother is not hurting too much.

  20. Ann Patey
    February 5, 2011 / 7:02 pm

    Beautiful and very moving…

  21. Alan
    February 5, 2011 / 10:10 pm

    “…when I examine his hands, tiny fingers curl around mine for comfort” – that’s the spine-tingling moment!

    The beauty of your writing is that you give a voice, and a presence, to those that don’t have them. The forgotten, the neglected, the unnoticed – they all have their stories and you tell them so well.

  22. February 5, 2011 / 10:38 pm

    Oh my word Joanna, this is a magnificent piece of writing. Thanks for telling this story, thanks for giving that baby so much love and let’s hope someone comes to claim him soon.

  23. monica.lalanda
    February 5, 2011 / 10:40 pm

    Congratulations on a very moving post.
    Thanks for sharing it.

  24. February 5, 2011 / 11:26 pm

    Beautiful and emotive. I walked every step with you down the corridor. Lovely.

  25. February 5, 2011 / 11:50 pm

    This is beautiful: clear and unsentimental with real emotional depth. Thank you.

  26. Mike Jarman
    February 6, 2011 / 7:22 pm

    Jo, I give you one promise. When your book comes into this world (and it will), I’m going to take great pleasure in buying and treasuring it.

  27. A__Poet
    February 6, 2011 / 8:00 pm


    It’s not easy to write in a way that is easy to read. I find the reading simple and enjoyable despite the subject matter in some of the pieces. This is very important in my humble opinion.

    Those little insights into the things that are beyond the normal human, or humane mask, are a kind of reassurance to the reader that we are nearly all similar when it comes to important points in life and death. The spirit (not religious) often shines or comes through.

    Truthfulness is important but I find myself asking the question why, why certain things happen as you describe them or if they could happen. But I ask this a lot in any written work.

    As with most good accounts the questions that arise move beyond the written material. Why write these words ? What happened in October last year (November was the oldest submission I can find) that made you want to speak to the world ? I do not need an answer, it is just that your questions seemed to have arrived suddenly and gone into print.
    Maybe I do you a disservice and there are many examples of your work, but just a few here. Any good writing asks questions, it is the catalyst that I like to uncover, the motive if you like.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the titles and the content. The subject matter was personal and simple because is seemed close. The cynicism was just biting enough to be relevant to your age. Above all it was a delight to read. I think it would do wonders if you worked outside your comfort zone, perhaps dabble in places that are strange or unfamiliar. Then we would see, see something more complex, philosophically speaking. Maybe a opening that stretched your imagination further.

    But that all depends on you, your wants and needs and ultimately on your ability. I like being at the edge so that dictates my response. It is, at the end of the day, a personal choice and my personal reflection.


  28. Joanne Harris
    February 6, 2011 / 8:25 pm

    Lovely. Just lovely. 🙂

  29. Clare
    February 6, 2011 / 10:56 pm

    Another beautifully poignant post – your unfailing ability to capture the essence of humanity is breath-taking. Thank you.

  30. Katie
    February 6, 2011 / 11:41 pm

    As one of those whose name waited in that filing cabinet across town (across the world), this made me cry. I’ve been into a room full of babies just like him. Believe me, he will be loved and cherished every day – every bit as much as all those babies with balloons. We can only guess what led to his situation but for whatever reason, his birthmother is losing so much. She won’t forget either.

    Thank you

  31. February 7, 2011 / 9:52 pm

    A stunning post. Captivating in every sense.

  32. Anne Mackle
    February 21, 2011 / 9:30 am

    This was so sad and yet happy I wanted to read more like what happened to the baby? Years ago I worked in a maternity hospital and a few babies passed through that no one wanted , I was very fond if one and named him Christopher he was well loved in the hospital and his adoptive parents were a lovely young couple , we all cried when he left a mixture of happiness and loss. He will be about 34 yrs old now and I think about him now and again and the joy he gave us all in the first few weeks of his life and I wish I could tell him that.

  33. March 5, 2011 / 11:37 am

    Ever thought of being a writer?

    Not much makes me cry. This did.

  34. March 5, 2011 / 7:46 pm

    Oh dear, this had me in tears, in a beautiful way. It was like reading about QT, our adopted daughter – left all alone after she was born. We were incredibly lucky though as her wonderfully kind foster carer collected her from the hopsital and loved her until she came into our lives aged 6 months old. She is cherished beyond belief x

  35. March 8, 2011 / 11:53 am

    Awww. Jo, I understand now why everyone on Romna was talking about this story. It’s beautiful!

  36. April 1, 2011 / 11:59 am

    Just dropped in on your blog because we were thrown together in a chance tweet by Sue Cook. I could spend far too long here, submerging in your writing. Lovely to discover you.

  37. May 18, 2011 / 6:59 am

    Beautiful. Gosh. There is a novel coming from you one day, isn’t there? Just checking, as I’ll be one of the first in the queue to buy it.

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