I gave up jumping at the
sound of the ‘phone and left it for others to answer.
Instead, armed with secateurs and gardening gloves, I attacked
overgrown roses and thorny shrubs, snipping and snipeing, hacking a way
through a forest to make an unrestricted passage, easing my daughter’s
Would I do this for my son?
Why hadn’t I asked other grandmothers?
Why hadn’t others told me? Becoming a grandmother is still
unexplored territory. There’s no
recognised language for the process, no preparation.
Just after midday on
Saturday the news came.
A girl. I heard it from my daughter
herself. My husband picked up the
‘phone and immediately handed it to me when he heard her voice, placing
himself second in the hierarchy. I
could breathe again.
hierarchy continued in the telephone calls to the rest of the world.
First my own parents. Then my sister.
Then my other daughter. A
very logical, generational pecking order.
But after that I had to link
with my own history.
Suddenly it was important to ring my very oldest friend from my teenage
years, though she herself did not
have children. Then there was the
need to speak to friends who had become mothers around the same time as I
had done. I felt deep pangs
of loss and sorrow for those I couldn’t ring,
those who had died.
most important friend with whom I had shared the early doubts and joys of
motherhood had died over twenty years ago.
We had met in the ante natal class. Our daughters, our firstborn,
were still close friends. For the first time in many years I felt her loss keenly.
That afternoon, in the
hospital, we celebrated
with champagne, the two bigparents, the dazed and euphoric parents,
and my son the newly-made uncle, watching over the tiny sleeping
were family in a new and deeper way, linked by that tiny figure with her
spiky black hair and fine, elegant fingers.
A long, skinny child like her parents, we noted.
funny how you keep wanting to look at her face,’ said the other
bigmother. It was true.
I looked at that face and it was printed indelibly on my mind. I
Perhaps it was this that
made me feel a tiny sense of loss.
My own child had shifted just a little.
We had established a compatible, adult relationship for some time.
A modern mother and daughter act, part protective on my side (well,
all right, very protective, but kept under wraps), and part equal. She complemented this
with her independence tempered by an acknowledged desire for me to be
around in the big moments.
And now this daughter of
mine had joined the club of motherhood. We had new things in common. She
would now know the exquisite pleasures, the excruciating pains, not to mention the less-poetic
frustrations, doubts and fleeting moments of rejection.
We would all be focussing on that tiny face, that new, unknown
member of the family, and transferring our protective instincts to her.
Or so I thought.
Within a couple of days, there were tears and exhaustion. The baby
was thought to have jaundice. When
I visited this time, the cramped side ward was lit by a medicinal blue
light as the baby received ray treatment.
She cried and squirmed, stopping only when she was illicitly
removed from the lights and wrapped in a blanket, once the nurse had left
Tough stuff for new parents.
My protective instincts instantly went out to both of them. I offered to
give them a break. ‘Go out and sit in the day room’, I said.
But times had changed since I’d had a baby in a large teaching
hospital. There was no day
room and the nursery was unlocked and unsupervised.
Not a good solution considering that babies may be stolen from
unsupervised wards in busy hospitals.
Now that women go into
there are few facilities that cater for afterwards. When the birth is
without complications, there seems to be no one in a hospital to mother
I realised that my
protective days for my daughter
were far from over. Indeed,
now I had her partner’s welfare in mind, too.
And how did his mother feel, watching her son’s intense
involvement? If we expect
fathers to be at the birth and to participate fully in parenthood, then
they need nurturing too.
a mother, always a mother. And
now a bigmother too.
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