I have started and deleted this post about twenty times. Editing, deleting, re-writing, deleting, trying to say the right things about Elliot’s arrival, and what it was like. This time I’m just going to write straight through, and whatever happens, happens, because like all the times I try to write about big things, it never seems right, but now that I’ve realized I was writing about the wrong thing, maybe it just will be.
Elizabeth Stone wrote “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” I’ve always felt this, as most mothers do, to be absolutely true, and wonderful, and horrible and risky in its truth. Motherhood for me has been all of those things. Fabulous and heartbreaking and easy and hard and dangerous and frightening and glorious. Usually all at the same time, and while you are doing laundry. I tell you this, because it perhaps explains what happened to me when Megan told me she was pregnant. I knew it was coming. I’d even suspected it for a while, and I thought that when they made the decision to get married a baby was what they were really after, but somehow – when Megan said that she was expecting, I did something horrible. I congratulated her and Alex, and then I excused myself, and I went to the bathroom and cried. Not happy tears either, not “I’m so happy for you” tears, but some sort of heartbreak that took me by surprise. Everyone knew I was crying, and it was days before I knew why, or could even start to explain myself. I think that people thought that I didn’t want to be a grandmother, or that I thought she was too young (she’s not) or that I’m bad with transitions (I am) or that I was too young (I’m not.) It wasn’t that at all – I was fine with me being a grandmother. I was heartbroken that Meg was going to be a mother. That her fine, young, happy heart was going to start going round around outside her body, and that with that, she would get all the joy, and also all the pain and work and risk that motherhood brings.
It was a maternal reaction, I see that now. Some wild urge to protect my daughter from… well. Let’s be frank. I wanted to protect her from everything she’d ever done to me, and it took me a few months to settle down, but I did. (As an aside, this trait must run in the family, because I think my mum went through the same thing.) As the months went on I started looking forward to it, and as a retired birth worker, I was over the moon when Meg asked me if I’d come to her birth. She was planning a home birth with midwives – a practice I wholeheartedly support, and the way I had my girls, and she set about preparing herself, and her husband Alex did the same. (A little note here, let’s not debate home birth in the comments. I know it is not the case in much of North America, but here in Ontario we have educated, licensed midwives who are registered primary care attendants, and they are covered in our provincial health care plan. The research where we live is clear. Low-risk healthy women and babies are more likely to stay that way if they give birth at home.) I (eventually) became beyond excited.
Let’s fast forward to last Thursday, when I was about to get on a plane and leave my daughter to work at the DFW Fiber Fest. I’d booked the work before Meg was even pregnant, and although it was a tiny bit of a risk, I felt sure that it would be okay. First babies are seldom early, and almost never that early, and so with Meg’s blessing, I got on that plane and left. Friday morning I texted her and said something like “Whew! We got through the first night without you having a baby!” and two minutes later the text came back… “About that…”
Meg was (maybe) in labour. She’d started having contractions about every ten minutes that morning. I swore, and then I went to breakfast. Sometimes labours start and stop. Contractions didn’t mean a baby was coming – so I went to work. I taught the morning, and then at lunch, Meg texted that they hadn’t stopped, and I spent the next 15 minutes having a complete nervous breakdown. I tried to find the part of me that could stay at work and miss the birth. I tried to imagine the part of me that did that, the part of me that has been to so many births for clients, but misses my own daughters, – and then I called my friend Jen (student midwife) and she told me what I already knew. “Go home.” She said. “I’m supposed to work two more days” I said. “Imagine that it’s twenty years from now” she said. “Where will you wish you had been?”
Right around then, a representative of the DFW Guild walked into the room, and I told her everything. I might even have almost cried. I told her I was trying to be the sort of person who stayed and taught while her grandchild was being born, but that I was failing. Then I stood there, and looked at her, and… Blog, I will be eternally grateful for this…She said “Family first. What do you need to get home?” (Here I must note: my eternal thanks go out to the executive of the DFW Guild, and the knitters who were booked to have a class with me and missed out. Your generosity and kindness was a tremendous gift, One that I will never be able to repay, though this time next year, I’ll try.) A quick call to Joe, and I was tentatively booked on the 7:30pm flight to Toronto. (It was the soonest one.) I taught the rest of the day, then checked in with Meg to see if things were still underway (they were) then Joni (the spectacular teacher liaison for the guild) drove me to my hotel, I bugged out faster than a MASH unit, and she drove me to the airport like James Bond. I was at the airport about 45 minutes after class ended.
The whole flight home, I was wild. What if the baby is born before I get there? What if I go home and the baby is born in three weeks and I left for nothing? How mad will the knitters be? I was my dear blog, a mess. (Photo below of the guy who sat next to me on the plane, and upon learning that I was flying home for the birth of a grandchild, showed me 837364557 pictures of his granddaughter, born just months before. He was reassuring.)
Joe picked me up from the airport at 1am, the baby not born yet, and he was so excited that when he got out of the car to put my case in the trunk, he forgot to put the car in park and had to chase it. The family text group was on fire. No baby yet, contractions continuing… Meg was going to try and rest. By 5am her contractions were at 5 minutes apart, and we all knew it was showtime. I spent the day knitting on the blanket, checking my phone to make sure the volume was on, and trying to deal with Joe, who was (still) so excited, that when he got on the phone with Air Canada to cancel his flight to Calgary that day, as he explained to the agent that his daughter was having a baby, cried from joy enough that she didn’t charge him a change fee. By late afternoon, I was crazy. I’d been texting with Alex, who kept assuring me that Meg was doing beautifully, but knowing Meg, and knowing how my labours had been, I had the feeling that she was farther along that she was letting on. I had a sneaking suspicion that her ability to cope so beautifully was making it look like her labour wasn’t intense, when really, she was about to bomb drop a baby on us. (I know this, because it’s pretty much what I did with her and her sisters. McPhee women specialize in having a grip, often to our own detriment. We are stealth. You never know when we need help.) Alex, who was doing a spectacularly wonderful job and knows this about his wife, snapped and called me and the midwife around suppertime.
I arrived, walked in the door, and Meg fell into my arms. It was very, very clear to me that there would be a baby soon, and she settled into the birth pool, and then… oh Blog. She proceeded to break my heart into a million pieces, over and over, and over again. She was graceful. She was gorgeous. She was strong and she was gentle and she was… she was perfect. Her labour with her babe was just like my labour with her, and I was carried on waves of remembrance and of pride and while on the outside, I helped her and Alex and the midwife set up. While she breathed her baby out and let it carry her, on the outside of me, I held a cool cloth to her brow and held her hand, and laid out towels and birth supplies, and on the inside, there were no words. Never, in my life has my heart walked round more outside my body, never have I felt more keenly the cord that connects me forever to a person I gave birth to. There are no words for her strength. She was absolutely perfect. Absolutely beautiful, and absolutely something I had always hoped she would be.
At 8:17pm, her baby slid from her, and the midwife gave him a little push, forward between Meg’s legs, and he rose up, right in front of her in the water. She sat back on her knees, looked at him swimming there, and then reached down, and lifted him up to her, up out of the water, and into the world of air, and wild things, and love.
I had expected, Blog, that in that moment, I would be possessed with my grandchild. That his small self would be the star of the moment. That I would see him, and he would be my moon and my stars and the focus of all of my heart. I thought he would sweep me entirely… and he was lovely. He was perfect and tiny and early and his ears are like little shells, and his small hands are everything I have ever needed or loved or found beautiful, to be sure, but Blog… I was all eyes for my sweet Meg.
My grandson is beautiful, for sure, but he was not my star. Friends, have you seen the glory that is my girl?