I Nearly Called My Baby Robin

Rachel Allen

© Copyright 2021 by Rachel Allen

Photo by Chris Smith on Unsplash
Photo by Chris Smith on Unsplash

The late February sunshine was stubbornly pushing through the clouds, blazing low in the sky and threatening to blind Graeme as he drove us through the sweeping Brecon Beacons. He’d done his research before we came, and found a walk that promised to be an easy to moderate route through the woods, taking in no fewer than four waterfalls. It sounded like just what we needed, a good dose of nature to shake us up and blow away the cobwebs.

As we got out of the car, a crisp breeze of not-quite-spring air whipped across my face, making me shiver. I fumbled to zip up my coat. I was four months pregnant, at the awkward stage where my clothes were beginning to strain over what looked more like a food baby than a bump. It took a bit of negotiation, but I managed to zip myself in eventually.

We set off into the woods, stepping carefully over tree roots and around icy puddles. We didn’t meet another soul as we walked - it was just Graeme, me, and the little nugget in my stomach we’d nicknamed Shrimpy, because in the twelve week scan he’d looked like a prawn. The tree canopy filtered out the winter sun’s harsh glare, casting everything in a soft, almost magical glow. It was as if we’d crossed a force field into a protective bubble.

We may have been the only people around, but the woodland was bursting with life. There was constant birdsong all around us, and we could hear the gush of the river below the footpath. As I followed Graeme and his backpack, we chatted about baby names, the new job he was about to start, and the important matter of which pub to have lunch at later.

There were clutches of snowdrops here and there, hopeful green buds on the tree branches, and delicate frills of golden fungus fluttering out from old tree stumps. This place was alive, and it was a good place to come to take our minds off the looming twenty week scan. On paper, my pregnancy was textbook, but we were both tense because it wasn’t our first rodeo. My first pregnancy had ended almost as soon as it had begun, and the sting of it was still raw enough to stop us getting complacent about this one, even though all the signs were good. The twenty week scan would tell us whether Shrimpy was healthy, and it felt like a huge milestone. This little trip away was a welcome distraction, to help us relax before the big moment in front of that little screen.

After a while we reached the first waterfall. I picked my way down from the main footpath to the water’s edge, following Graeme’s lead and steadying myself on tree trunks softly furred in vivid green moss. When we reached the waterfall, I paused to catch my breath, and my hand drifted unconsciously to my belly. Just checking in. Down here the rush of the water over rocks was a roar, a contrast to the gentle peace of the woodland above. The river was pure energy racing over rocks and tree branches and hurling itself over the edge, towards somewhere it urgently needed to be.

We were both mesmerised, and we stood for long moments just staring at the river, watching the water on its uncompromising journey. Then, in the corner of my vision, something jumped. A quick little flick of movement on the rocks, so small I might have imagined it. Then another jump, and my eyes found it - a robin hopping around on the rocks, with a belly so delightfully round and obscenely orange, he could have hopped straight out of a story book. I nudged Graeme’s arm to show him, and motioned to him to stay quiet. With each jerky little hop, the robin inched closer to us, until he was just a few feet away.

I’d never thought of myself as much of a wildlife person, but in the years I’d spent with Graeme the outdoorsy part of me had come out of her shell, so I felt a genuine thrill of excitement at having this little robin approaching us. Perhaps because we’d been so still and calm, drawn in by the majesty of the river, he’d felt brave enough to peep over towards us.

Silently, Graeme sunk down to his knee and reached into his rucksack. From its depths, he pulled out a handful of crumbs - the crumbled remains of old biscuits, flapjacks and crisps that had gathered there after past hikes and picnics. Gently, he scattered them on the rock near our feet. Then he withdrew, leaving the ball in the robin’s court.

For a moment, our little friend did nothing. He flicked his head from one side to the other, as if he was about to cross a busy road, and then in two quick hops he was on our rock, picking at our crumbs. He made quick work of them, so Graeme dug around in the bag and found some more. He scattered them near my feet, and it only took a few pecks for the robin to clear his plate again, so to speak.

A light flutter in my stomach brought me back to earth, and I realised I was grinning - we both were. Neither of us had got this close to a wild bird before, and we knew how special it was.

I saw the idea light up Graeme’s eyes just before he did it. When he pulled out a third handful of snack detritus, he sprinkled it, not at our feet, but in my hand. I held out my palm, keeping it unnaturally flat and staying as still as was humanly possible, hardly daring to breathe.

The robin considered me for a moment, then in half a blink he was on my hand. His tiny feet gripping my skin sharply, his pointy beak dipping into the apparently delicious scrapings. He was round and substantial, but he weighed nothing. Fragile, yet plucky; breakable but brave.

My breath paused in my chest, fearful of creating even a slight disturbance that might frighten our friend away. In only a few seconds our new pal had demolished all the crumbs we had to offer, and we had none left.

Sorry buddy, no more. You’ve cleared us out,”

The robin twitched his head from one side to the other, blinked at me, and understood. He fluttered to a tree stump near us, posed for a hasty photo to help us remember the moment, then took off, presumably in search of his next tasty snack.

At the pub that lunchtime, we talked about calling our baby Robin. We didn’t know if we were having a boy or a girl, and the name would work for either, and wouldn’t it be a lovely tale to tell our child, about how they got their name.

At the twenty week scan a week later, everything looked good. Shrimpy, who we learned was a boy, was healthy and growing perfectly, and there was nothing to worry about. Finally we let out the breath we’d been holding for months, and relaxed into the pregnancy. At last, we could let ourselves get excited.

I’ve since read that robins are supposed to be messengers from people who’ve passed away. If I was supernaturally minded, I might be persuaded that our orange-bellied friend came to reassure us. To let us know that everything was ok, and that it was safe for us to relax and enjoy this chapter of our story. To show us that when you trust and breathe, things can turn out beautifully.

In the end we decided to call our son Thomas - the name that had long been at the top of our boy list. That kid has an uncanny love of nature, and watching the birds on our feeder in the garden is one of his favourite things to do. He can name the pigeon, the blue tit, and - of course - the robin.

Rachel Allen lives and writes in North Wales with her husband and son, and their geriatric dog. She is rarely without a hot cup of tea, and when she's not writing, she can be found walking the dog in the big beautiful outdoors, and running around after her rambunctious toddler (not necessarily all at the same time).

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