Firsts come first.
My first grandson came ten days after his due date, after three days of hard labor and medical intervention. I was in the room when he made his entrance, a bundle of long, floppy limbs and loud squalling and curly cord who was pushed out of and deposited on my daughter’s stomach, where he stayed for just a moment before he was whisked away to be weighed (8lb 6oz), measured (22 inches), and counted (24 digits, yes, that’s correct, thank you very much).
I remember his first cries, how soft his skin was, and my daughter’s plaintive call, “Can I please have him, now? Can I see my baby?” But her blood pressure had been at stroke level when she reported to be induced, and they were taking no chances with her and her baby. They both came through just fine.
The second grandson arrived on his original due date, making his debut at a Brooklyn hospital almost three thousand miles from my home. I was in a meeting when I heard my cell phone, and burst out with, “That’s MY PHONE!” and ran to my office, completely abandoning a discussion about finding efficiencies to cut our print costs.
Everyone in the meeting understood, by the way.
Why wasn’t I in New York? I’d thought about flying back for the birth, but my daughter wanted me to come out a little later, to help when her wife went back to work. So I had a ticket booked and paid for. I would see the baby when he was five weeks old, and that was fine. Maybe I would see his first smile?
But when my daughter’s water broke on the morning of her due date, I wanted to be there. I wanted to walk her around the hospital, to count off her breaths, to encourage her in any way I could to have a natural birth. Because that was something I believed in, something I valued, and my other daughter hadn’t been able to do that. Aren’t us parents great? Trying to force our values on our kids long after its appropriate. Meaning well. Screwing up.
So, my daughter was laboring along with her wife’s help when I went to sleep on Tuesday night. She was making progress, but the baby really wasn’t descending. There was all kinds of bouncing and walking to get him to move down. He needed to move! All I could hear in my head was that new song by Hozier, “Move me, baby…” which is still echoing in my head, but that’s okay, because I love that song.
I was falling asleep to the strains of Hozier when the image of my daughter forcing a baby out of her body came into my mind. I was overwhelmed with it, the literal pushing of a human out of my body and into the world. I’d done it three times, and I’d been present at two births, that of my nephew and my first grandson. This should have been old hat, yes? But the image of my daughter pushing her son into the world disturbed me so much that I sat up in the dark and shook my head, blinking. The idea was inconceivable. I couldn’t bear for it to happen.
When my first grandson was being born, I almost forgot about the baby part of it. I spent three days in the hospital with my daughter and her partner, waiting and watching and worrying about my daughter’s health and safety. I almost forgot about the fact that there was a baby in there, a little boy waiting to make his entrance into the world. I just wanted my daughter to be all right.
My daughter-in-law’s mother (who lives near me) hopped a red-eye that night, rather than sleeping. Ann is a midwife. Ann and I were each three-time veterans of natural childbirth. We believe in non-medicalized births, unless absolutely necessary. I trusted her to help my daughter labor. Ann called me, enlightened me, calmed me. When a c-section became necessary for my daughter, Ann reassured me that she was completely in alignment with medical thought behind the decision.
So, I was not with my daughter when she gave birth. And she didn’t push her baby out of her body and into the world. My second grandson was plucked out through an incision, introduced to one mama, and then held by the other while my daughter’s incision was closed. He got here just fine without me.
I have to admit, I am relieved about that. Birth is HARD. It’s a wracking, wrenching experience, fundamental in the real sense of the word fundament. It’s a freight train of pain, a muscular expulsion, a cascade of fluid. Things go wrong, collarbones break, pelvises crack, cords wrap around necks, babies get stuck. Birth is as hard on the baby as it is on the mother.
I’m sure he was startled. His eyes are so tightly screwed shut in his first photo, refusing to let in this loud, bright place in which he found himself. I can’t imagine what it’s like to spend all those months thinking the world was a warm and watery place where you get progressively more cramped, where all you hear are the whooshes and swishes of your mother’s internal workings, her voice reverberating through membranes and fluids to strike your tiny, developing eardrums. And then, in an hour or an instant, you are brought into a world that is huge beyond comprehension.
I haven’t held him yet. I have a lot of photos, and little videos, and thanks to those, I’ve heard him cry. He’s been weighed (8lb 4oz), measured (21 inches), and counted up (just twenty digits this time around). I wish I could touch his soft skin and soothe his little cries, experience the wonder of his long fingers and toes, see if his hair is really red like they say, inspect his eye color, feel the warmth of his small, swaddled body against mine.
Soon, I tell myself, soon. Just in time for his first smile.