Ten days ago my son and his wife had their first baby, just a few days early. It was a long labour. C rang me on the evening of the day K went into hospital having had some bleeding. I went to bed but all night long I kept finding myself awake, looking into the darkness, wondering what time it was. Why had I woken? Oh yes, the baby. Was it born yet? How were they?
He rang again the following morning. No, nothing, not yet, just tiredness and contractions. They would induce her. Again in the evening. Things were happening but still painfully slowly. Another night of drifting in and out of sleep. It is not a rational thing. You know perfectly well that it makes no difference whether you sleep or wake. But still that primitive tie, that tug of blood, keeps pulling at you, tugging you out of sleep into dark wakefulness.
On the following morning their daughter was born, our first granddaughter, as our elder son and elder daughter both have sons, who are now seven and very nearly four. It was a joy just to know that baby and mother were both fine but a special leap of happiness for me at the news that it was a girl: Eliza Mary. Why is it good? I don't know. It is just good to have both boys and girls with their different pleasures. I was down in Devon staying at my sister's and helping my parents with their move into a flat designed to provide assisted living where one or both of the couple need additional help. Knowing that new life is coming in at a time when age and ill health are bearing down on my parents, despite their determined good cheer, somehow made it all easier. We hand on life down the generations. And the fact that I was in Devon also made it easier practically. C and K live about an hour's drive from my parents. I couldn't bear to come home without seeing them so on the Thursday afternoon I drove down to the hospital to meet the new baby and to see how her parents were doing.
The baby was in the special care baby unit because she had had some trouble breathing the day before. C assured me that she was fine now and that they would probably let her out into the neonatal ward later in the day. I parked in a heaving hospital carpark and walked in through the grey drizzle of an autumn day. I carried a knitted elephant and a bottle of champagne. A nurse at reception sent me down the corridor. At the door of the unit I met K's parents coming out.
"Only one visitor at a time. Go in, go in. We will go and sit in the lounge."
Smile at my daughter in law. Wash my hands. K is sitting with the baby on her lap, her beautiful face ivory white instead of its usual berry brown. She has had a hard time but that is done now. The baby is tiny and perfect. Some of the babies in here really are tiny, early babies with skinny chicken legs. Eliza is smooth and soft. Her eyes are closed. She looks so exactly like her father did thirty odd years ago that it takes me aback: the same regularity of feature, the same line of chin and cheek, the same neat little nose. I hadn't realised I would remember so clearly. Babies are all alike and not alike at all. This one looks unlike either of her two cousins, a little like my daughter did as a baby, totally like her father. I sit and K hands her to me. The feel of a baby against me is strange and yet utterly familiar.
My son comes in and he and K change places so she can chat to her parents and he can show me their daughter. Carefully he frees the blanket around her and there are the narrow feet and long thin toes which all our family share. We smile at each other. He is aglow with happiness, radiating it like warmth. He is not one for expressions of emotion, my son. He is dry and funny with a good line in self deprecating wit and the quiet puncturing of pomposity or indulgence. He loves his wife, his dog, walks on the beach, cooking and a good glass of wine, and now, clearly in his face and in his hands and in the whole curve of his body as he holds her, his baby daughter. I don't stay long. We all have a cup of tea together and then I am back in the car for the long journey home. I needed to see them, to know that all three of them were OK, and now that I know I can go away again, knowing that Ian and I will be coming back to see them together.
They go home from hospital the following morning and day after day my son sends me pictures or rings to tell me how they are. I knit frantically to finish a blanket I am making for the pushchair, not a white and pretty blanket but a red one for outside and winter cheerfulness. I think about them every day, wondering how they are sleeping, how Eliza is feeding, how the dog is taking to the new member of the family. Somehow the new baby tempers the constant bubbling undercurrent of concern about my parents. It is not that I think about them any less but that little bubbles of contentment break the surface of the water all the time.
Tomorrow we are going back to Devon to finish clearing the house my parents have moved from. On Thursday we shall go and see the new family, the first chance for Ian to meet his new granddaughter. Everything changes. When we were with my parents a few weeks ago for my mother's eightieth birthday my father watched Ian moving furniture and sorting things out and doing all the things he would have done in the past and said, quite philosophically, "You pass the baton down a generation." Here is yet another generation, with the family face and the family feet. I hope she has much too of her mother's kindness and independence of thought, her strength and cheerful resilience. I can't wait to see her grow and to find out what kind of person she is.
Welcome to the family Eliza. There are many people who will love you.