On the Outside

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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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My grandson is beautiful, for sure, but he was not my star.  Friends,  have you seen the glory that is my girl?

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505 thoughts on “On the Outside

  1. That was the most beautiful blog post I have ever read. It made me cry and be so happy for you and your family at the same time. Enjoy the wonderful times ahead.

  2. Your writing as always is perfect and touching. Reading your last post, I was heartbroken thinking that perhaps you had missed it, but I’m so glad to read that you were there and got to experience everything. Congratulations from the depth of my heart.

  3. Oh, Stephanie! I think my heart holds the love that you are describing. I hope some day to know. Thank you for sharing this with us.
    This is a 3-tissue blog post.

  4. I am so, so happy that you were there for Eliot’s birth and for your Meg. There is something that tears the heart and fills it up as your child passes through Great Life Experiences. Fear, worry, despair, pride, astonishment, joy. And most of all, heart wrenching, all consuming love. Blessings to all of you. Celebrate the wonder that is your girl, and the treasure that is her son.
    And you made the absolutely best choice to leave-all the knitters think so!

  5. Absolutely beautiful. How do you do it? How do you articulate so precisely what I felt when I watched my daughter give birth to two of her three daughters? I love my grandchildren with all my heart, and that love only increased the love I felt for my daughter (and daughter-in-law).

  6. Crying tears of joy for you and your family and thinking of when I gave birth to my own daughter with my mom present. Thanks for putting words to such a special moment. Now I need to call my mom!

  7. Lovely. I’m sure Meg could feel that outpouring of love and support the whole way through. Congratulations to Meg, Alex, and your whole family.

  8. Long time reader. Never commented before. Currently nursing my 9 week old daughter and fighting back tears. Your girl will cherish that blog post forever.

  9. Thank you for giving me that quote. I’ve never heard it before — it describes mother hood perfectly. Thank you, also, for sharing with us. Your words are so profound and beautiful. Congrats to you all. Your Meg is perfect.

    • Yes! Those are the most glorious, intimate photos and I am honored to be allowed to share them with you.

      I had tears running down my cheeks the whole time I read your words, Steph. Congratulations to all, especially to Grandpa Joe who was man enough to cry with happiness.

      I had to touch the balloons! How appropriate.

  10. Thank you so much for sharing. So beautiful. I couldn’t stop crying. Meg was perfect and in that photo of both of you she looked so much iike you. So happy for all of you.

  11. Sobbing (happy tears) at your beautiful honesty. While I’m only an auntie (hysterectomy when quite young)– when my older sister had her first baby, my precious niece, I initially had only eyes for my sister right after–how that resonated! (Of course, darling firstborn niece, her brother, and her sister, are my hearts outside my body–but boy, did that hit home!).

    You did such an amazing job raising job such an amazing daughter. Well done, McPhee Women! Well done!

  12. Thank you for this post. I can’t adequately explain how this touched me. I’m thinking about starting a family, having not grown up with siblings or babies, never having had baby fever myself or connected much with those who had. I feel like I have a better understanding of what I have to both look forward to and fear. Thank you again and congratulations to Meg, Alex, you, Joe, and the rest of the family!

  13. Oh my heart! I have no children, nor will I probably ever have any. And if what I’m feeling in my heart is one tenth of one percent of what you’re feeling, then, I’m amazed you could put it into words at all. Many many congratulations to you, to your daughter, and to all whom you love.

  14. I’m simply sobbing. Most beautiful thing you’ve ever written (and there have been many). So much love to you and you glorious Meg.

  15. How perfect and deeply moving. I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Thank you for sharing with us and the warmest congratulations to you and your family.

  16. i cried too. long time reader, had my last 3 babies at home too 20+ years ago now. there is nothing like a mother’s love, it shone through every word you wrote.

  17. Tears running down my face…
    Beautifully written. Thank you.
    As the mother of sons, three of them, I missed out on girly/ daughter things.
    But I can still tell you almost 54 years later about the birth of my first son, and the later births of his two brothers.
    Seven grandchildren later ( two granddaughters after four grandsons!) I am still amazed at all of them.
    All blessings, good wishes, joy, peace on your whole family.

    • Same, Erin, same. 🙂

      This was gorgeous, and I can see how devastating, how amazing Meg was in the pictures. Thank you so much for sharing them with us, Meg and Alex. It is so generous of you to let the Blog in like this. And Steph your writing, OMG. I’m crying and remembering having my boy, and all the wonderful and terrible things he’s done to me over the years.

      I love hearing about happy Grandpa Joe and I’m so very glad you made it in time! How wonderful!

      Love and hugs!

  18. Oh, my. I have tears in my eyes, Steph. I have so many feelings in response to this incredible post: sweet memories of my own fabulous homebirths; my hopes for my own children, who are still very young; and, broadly, my hopes and prayers for how I wish the world to be.

    Peaceful familial relationships are an incredible blessing, and it is an honor to witness that in your family.

    Meg and Alex: congratulations on a beautiful baby. You three make a gorgeous family.
    Elliot: welcome to the green world! (quasi-quote from a favorite birthy book, “On the Day You Were Born”)
    And Steph: thank you.

  19. So proud of Meg and so beyond happy for you! What a beautiful legacy, watching your daughter become a strong, capable, natural, loving mother. This is absolute perfection.

  20. Oh this was just lovely. Heartbreaking and poignant and loving and joyous all at once. I couldn’t stop crying for the lump in my throat. Thank you for sharing that with us. Welcome to the world Elliott and much love to your new family Meg and Alex. Blessings abound!

  21. Welcome to the world Elliott! You have landed in an amazing family. May you all continue to experience the joys of life. Thank you Stephanie for sharing. Blessings to all!

  22. Oh my heart. You could not have written more eloquently, or perfectly about motherhood. It is such a relief to know that it won’t change when the Grands enter the picture. Big, gregarious American hugs for you and Meg and that beautiful Elliott.

  23. You take my breath away. All week I was hoping that you had made it in time. What a blessing that the Canadian system makes this so smoothly possible; at home with loved ones and without being odd and dangerous. What a beautiful woman you have there. And I totally get you early reaction.

  24. That was so beautifully moving. Tears flowing, off to read this to my husband. You captured the love, joy, pride and anguish of motherhood so profoundly, I will remember this forever. Thank you for sharing this. Bless you and your expanded family.

  25. This was beautiful, and wonderful. Congratulations again to all. <3

    PS I'm ticked it told me to click the "man". Surely it should be a woman?!?

  26. Yup, I’m crying too. Bless you and Meg so much. I can’t wait to show this post to my daughter (who grew up knowing who the Yarn Harlot is). Congratulations and all the best to the young family.

  27. I’m so glad you made it back for the birth; I was worried that you had missed it.

    Also, your story is beautiful. It has me thinking of my own mom and what she’s going to go through later this spring when I have my first child (her first grandchild). It’s going to be quite the adventure for all of us, I’m sure, and I hope we manage with as much grace and poise as you and Meg.

  28. You have me crying tears of joy. You have beautifully put words to so many feelings that I experienced when my daughter gave birth. Wishing you and your family all the best of blessings.

  29. Congratulations to you and your family; so happy for you all. We do have midwives and homebirths in the US as well although sadly not as many.

  30. Oh, Stephanie – this is so beautifully written. You made the right choice to go home, and no one who pays attention to what you write would ever think any other choice was possible for you – or would want to stand in your way.

    My story: my daughter was born by a surprise c-section (she decided to flip over and go breech in the last two days of the pregnancy). I called my mom, 4 hours away, to tell her while waiting to go into the operating room. Mom jumped in her car, which proceeded to burn up its engine halfway between our homes. Later I said, “Mom, you didn’t have to rush, the baby was safe”. She said, “it wasn’t your baby I was rushing to, it was my baby.”

  31. What beautiful writing, Grammy! Thank you so much for making the time to include us in your joy! Thank you Meg & Alex for letting us share this amazingly private moment of your life with you, it was a privilege.

  32. I’ve been reading faithfully since 2006 (and have made probably three comments in that time?) and this is such an incredible thing to share with us. thank you and mazal tov and nothing but joy and love to you and your children and your children’s children. <3

  33. Tears streaming down my face as I read this. I am not yet a grandmother, although, as the mother of a 31 year old daughter, I have hopes of it happening one of these days. I can imagine (but just barely) watching her go through this and how heartbreaking it would be. Bless you for putting it all into words.
    P.S. congrats on that delicious grandson and all of your precious daughters.

  34. Sobbing here with an overflowing heart for my own dear family and yours. Thank-you for sharing this most beautiful post, Stephanie.

  35. What an amazing, beautiful, wonderful story.
    10 years ago, in the middle of one of the biggest series of snowstorms in Colorado, my daughter called me at work to tell me it was time. I got stuck several times and barely made it to the road by my house, then spent hours and several family and friends getting to my daughter. I had the privilege and honor of holding her, helping her while my first granddaughter was born. She had to transport, but I couldn’t go with her; someone had to stay with the baby and I was the logical choice. It was heartbreaking to see her taken away on a stretcher into the ambulance (preceded by the snowplow) and not being able to help. Making up for it was having time alone with my granddaughter, just the baby and her grandfather, for the first several hours of her life, holding her, kissing her, watching her, playing with her, counting fingers, toes, smelling her, worrying about her mom. That began a bond between us that I don’t quite have with any of her siblings or cousins.

  36. Your girl is amazing.

    (And the heart outside is a scarily accurate description.) (yes, I’m crying too; thank you for sharing)

  37. Mazel tov! Congratulations to all! And especially congratulations to Grammy Steph for finding the unfindable words that let us all into her beautiful beautiful heart.

  38. What a beautiful tribute to your daughter. This story makes me look forward to the many years, and various transitions I will get to share with my own girl. Thank you.

  39. What lovely writing and explaining. I was also concerned you were in Dallas and missed the birth. I know no knitter would ever say anything about your running home to this super special event. I’m so happy for your family!

    • I was at DFW, and can tell you that your prediction about the knitters there was spot on! I spent all of Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning at the convention center and absolutely did not hear one negative or disapproving word from anyone! In and out of classes, the market, the keynote speech – it was all just love and support and understanding. Joni and everyone in charge handled the whole situation with grace and competence, and as far as the running of the whole event went, you would not have known that anything out of the ordinary had happened – everyone knew immediately what was the right thing to do, and they just set about making it happen. I met a woman who had been in Steph’s Friday afternoon class, and she said everyone was amazed at how professionally she was able to carry on and teach the class. Congratulations to all!