Laura Riding with son Reggie at two weeks

The moment I was told “our newborn has a cone head…and 11 fingers”

I’m lying on my back in theatre after a heavy slog in labour that yielded umpteen hours of effort, horrendous pain, revolving shifts of midwives – but no baby.

It is a strange experience now. Not unpleasant, the ceiling lights are bright and the radio is loud, the mood is light among the shoal of surgeons as they each in turn check my identity, a repetitive process due to there seemingly being 400 of them.

It makes me wonder if this officious formality is due to operations performed on the wrong patient in the past – an amputation, I think in horror.

I’m numb from the bellybutton down. This is tested twice by a cheerful woman who first pricks my skin lightly with something slightly blunter than a drawing pin.

I marvel in a groggy and drugged silence as she moves the pin from my legs to my upper body, the sensation kicking in – as intended – around the middle of my torso.

Little Reggie Irwin and his 11th finger

Next she uses a freeze spray up my body, and I flinch as the cold hits my stomach, a reaction completely lost on my anaesthetised nether half.

After the nod of approval from the anaesthetist, giving the surgeons the go-ahead, a screen is erected halfway down my body, shielding their scalpel work.

One of the surgeons offers my partner Dan a stool to sit on that is level with my head. He is asked not to peer over the screen. “We don’t need any fainting dads,” the surgeon cautions.

Thank f*** for modern medicine, I think, as they cut neatly through my lower abdomen; a knife sliding through skin, fat and muscle while I lie oblivious, staring at the ceiling. I say oblivious but not all sensation is lost: a strange tugging remains, and I get the odd feeling that my organs are being – forgive me – moved about.

One big tug, and I hear a gurgling sound – a pair of very small lungs being cleared – followed by a big healthy cry, the sound I’d been waiting for. This is the only time I will be pleased to hear this noise, I think to myself as Reggie bawls his little heart out of our still conjoined bodies.

After a snip followed by a brief moment on my chest – his heart beating fast like a rabbit against mine, which is slower, steadier, a hammer against cloth – he is taken to be cleaned and weighed, Dan following.

Having been stitched up, I am wheeled after them and as I arrive in the recovery room where Dan and my new son are with the midwife.

I am greeted by Dan joyously pronouncing: “He’s got a cone head and eleven fingers!” I laugh weakly while not quite getting it, wondering why he would joke about such things, why he would joke about anything at a time like this.

It’s then I realise he’s not joking.

His head, as a result of the length of time it was pressed against the cervix, looks like it has been squeezed into a cone mould.

The midwife ensures us that this is common and will disappear within 24 hours, which it does. More worryingly on our son’s left hand, attached to its itsy-bitsy pinkie is, as Dan proclaimed, an extra finger.

I say finger, but it looks little like one as we would know it. It has no bone for a start, is merely a bulbous sack, not unlike a b****ck, hanging from a thin string of skin.

Sitting, almost humorously, on this extraneous and redundant non-digit is the minutest of fingernails.

The staff barely bat an eyelid at this bizarre phenomenon, and refer us to a specialist plastic surgeon in East Grinstead who will apparently remove the ‘extra digit’ within six weeks.

Since his birth we have now heard of several friends-of-friends whose babies have been born with an extra finger, so apparently it’s not as rare as we thought.

Anne Boleyn apparently had six fingers on her right hand, and she shagged a king, so it can’t be all bad…

3 responses to “The moment I was told “our newborn has a cone head…and 11 fingers””

  1. Another good piece by Laura Riding. Keep ’em coming. Not sure about Anne Boleyn though – we all know how it ended for her. I think that little extra digit is Reggie’s way of saying look here I’m special but he didn’t need an extra finger for you to know that, did he?! ??

  2. Katy says:

    My son had an extra finger exactly the same as that, With a little nail. We were referred to east grinstead but said they’d wait a year unless there was a problem. When he was 9 months it went a funny colour( something had happened causing the blood supply to be compromised) so we went down next day and they removed. But he never had any probs with it and that was 15 years ago now

  3. Another good piece by Laura Riding. Keep ’em coming. Not sure about Anne Boleyn though – we all know how it ended for her. I think that little extra digit is Reggie’s way of saying look here I’m special but he didn’t need an extra finger for you to know that, did he?! 😃👏

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