On Wednesday my daughter had her first baby, a little boy. He was two weeks early and delivered eventually, after a long labour, by caesarean section. They are both fine and still in hospital, with E longing to go home!
It has been quite a journey for her with a pregnancy plagued by sickness. As always she has been her mainly cheerful and stoical self. She has always been like this, not one to fuss, not one to seek sympathy. As a two year old she had whooping cough. Even then, her face flaming and streaked with tears and her little body shaking with the spasms, as soon as the coughing stopped she would shake herself, blow her nose and say firmly "I'm all right Mummy." I have admired her so much as she has gone through this pregnancy, exhausted, sick, trying to hold down a difficult job, but, just as soon as the nausea faded, back to herself, strong and calm and without self pity. She is quite a girl, or a woman now I suppose. And her husband has been fantastic too: shopping and cooking and doing the laundry, singlehandedly looking after their allotment while doing his own work and keeping her spirits high.
You don't know what to expect or how you will feel as you watch your daughter approach the birth of her first baby. Underneath all other feelings there is a faint running surprise that time has whirled away like water down the plughole and your baby is now having a child of her own. How can that have happened so fast? If I close my eyes I can see her sleeping in her carry cot. There are whole stretches of the intervening years that are hazy, although bright images suddenly leap out from the mist to which I struggle to attach a date. But her birth and those first few months of caring for her are clear and vivid and instantly accessible. I don't have to strive to remember. It is all there behind my eyelids.
I did not find motherhood easy that first time. I bonded with her instantly and utterly but I took months to find my feet and to stop feeling adrift in a sea of exhaustion and incompetence. What to do with my memories of my own experience has been difficult. I haven't wanted her to be as totally taken aback as I was by how hard it is to look after a baby. I remember feeling that there must have been a great conspiracy of silence, all those people who had congratulated me on becoming pregnant who must have known how hard it was going to be but who had never told me. I was angry with them. I thought I should have been warned. But I haven't wanted to be all doom and gloom, the spectre at the feast, pouring cold water on her happiness. I have tried to walk a middle way but I may have said too much or too little, I really don't know, and she may have quite a different experience to mine. She might be one of the mothers I used to watch with the babies who never cry and sleep through at six weeks. I hope so.
It has got me right in the gut, wanting everything to be ok. When I found out she had had the baby a great surge of relief washed over me. She was all right. The baby was all right. A tiny tight knot which I had been carrying about in my stomach melted away. I had to see them to really be certain it was all ok. I drove for three and a half hours and arrived at the hospital just as visiting hours began. The joy at seeing her knocked me over like a wave in the surf. She was so happy with her baby and he was so perfect, tiny, with a surprisingly strong nose and E's long slender fingers and toes. There must be something about the handing on of one's genes. I felt I had handed her the baton. I could fall back, dropping my stride, letting the race surge on without me. As I drove back, stopping frequently knowing I was tired, the line from Othello came unbidden into my head "If it were now to die, t'were now to be most happy." Strange, strange, strange.
And now I feel connected to her as I used to be when she was a child. We are quite close and one of us will often ring to find the other was just about to pick up the phone. This happens with my other children too and there is just the same sense with them of being attached even though now that they are adults the line is long and loose, as it should be. But now as the baby is three days old I find myself thinking about her all the time, imagining the nights, wondering how she is, not quite able to settle to anything without the thought of her and the baby rising again and again to the surface of my mind. It must be something genetic, something primitive which focuses the efforts of the grandmother on the new generation, carrying the genes forward into the life after we will be gone.
But it is hers to do now, hers and her husband's as they make a new family. I hope I will be a good grandmother to the new baby as I think I am to my stepson's little boy who I love to bits. I hope I can give them support and love without interference. I hope I can make their lives easier and respect their instincts and their choices. I hope I can be as good a mother to her and grandmother to her son as my mother is to me and to my children.
A family can be a wonderful thing, in all its complexity. Perhaps the fact that mine is a step family makes me think about how it works more consciously - complicated, sometimes difficult, always sustaining, wonderful. Welcome to our family, new baby. Sleep well, my daughter and my grandson. I love you.