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.
As I await the birth of my first grandchild, I can’t help but admire his mother-to-be. My youngest child, a mere baby of 27, is term. She has gamely carried on with a full load of working fulltime, co-parenting a stepchild, exercising, cooking, cleaning, and carefully preparing a nursery with paint, wallpaper, a crib fit for a tiny royal family member, and décor and organization suggestions from Pinterest. She’s maintained her beautiful self, though I can see the strain she undergoes in the circles under her eyes. When we go shopping, she needs to sit and rest a bit, and when she sits, she really SITS, and when she rests, she really RESTS. As I edge up here to my 60s, we are currently at energy parity. Her feet hurt too.
Of course, this takes me back to when I was waiting for my first child. I was a young mother-to-be of 22, which was pretty young, even in those days. I’d gone to school full-time and worked 30 hours a week until I was gently instructed to knock all that off by my doctor. He was young and excited by his new profession, and supported my desire to keep going for as long as I could. My blood pressure was always perfect, my health was fine, but there were limits to my energy and it was time to rest. I had finished the term at school in June. I let go of my job (nannying three kids, who I loved dearly). Even with my own on the way, that was hard. And I came home.
Home, at the time, was the ground floor of a duplex in Northeast Portland. This was a corner of Haight Street, between Williams and Mississippi. The neighborhood is completely gentrified, now, and the old place has a nice fenced yard and urban chickens, but at the time it was rough. Nowadays, Mississippi is a cool shopping and restaurant neighborhood, very hip and experiential, with a salt store and a ‘Por Que No’ and the like. Back then, it was a mess. We lived next door and across the street from drug dealers (lots of consumer choices, I guess), and up the street from a motorcycle club’s (Gypsy Jokers, to be specific) residence house. But we were also surrounded by families who had been in the neighborhood since the forties; established homeowners who carefully tended their yards and said patient, encouraging things to my ever-swelling bulk.
It was a desperately hot spring and summer that year, and we had no AC, so I kept myself cool by sitting on the sofa with large glasses of orange pop. I have never liked or drank pop at any other time in my life, but it was a necessity during those weeks for some reason. I also read. I only wanted to read scary books. I borrowed a lot of Stephen King and Peter Straub from my parents’ bookshelves, settled in with frosty glasses of sugar, and scared the crap out of myself, all day long. My due date was July 14th, and I waited for it like it was magic. Despite a complete lack of contractions, I remained sure that my child would appear on that date. It was due, after all. On the day itself, my then-husband came home with 24 white roses, and one small pink rosebud in the middle, because he knew how badly I wanted a girl. Those roses kept me company for the next two weeks as I continued to read, drink pop, and wait.
There is an old saying that pregnancy is eight months and one year long. It’s true. There is no waiting like the waiting to give birth. I remember thinking that I was the only woman in the world whose pregnancy wouldn’t ever come to an end. I would be pregnant for the rest of my life, forever. I was simply never going to have my baby. And I look at my beautiful daughter, and I know she feels the same way. He’s in there still, just hanging out. He’s been inspected, photographed, measured and scanned to a degree I find remarkable. He’s healthy and he’s ready, except he’s not ready, or labor would start. And so she waits, and works, and rests when she can, and dreams of the day when he appears. I can’t wait, but I have to. I am so ready to welcome the little boy she’s so lovingly prepared for, the grandson my daughter has miraculously grown from scratch, the sweet, familiar stranger, the strong little passenger who will finally reach the destination of his birth.