Three of us sat in an annex near the delivery suite anxiously awaiting news. After an hour, a smiling midwife slipped quietly into the room holding a notepad. She checked who we were and read out her message – “Your grandson was born at 19h16. He and his mother are doing well. You are free to see them if you so wish”. My wife, Rohan; Urs, the other granny, and I were soon by the bedside for what was an extraordinary moment.
By the head of the bed stood our son Josh, a very proud and beaming new dad. In the bed was Urs’s radiant daughter Ali on whose breast was lying ‘River’ who was just half-an-hour old. Mother and son were looking at each other with expressions of love, of oneness and, for River, of an element of surprise. Occasionally, River looked up at the faces peering at him from around the bed, but very soon he went back to staring into his mother’s eyes.
Things were very different in the outside world and nothing will have prepared River for being free to kick and stare and, at the same time, to feel exposed and vulnerable. But, with his ear close to his mother’s chest he seemed content – he was, no doubt buoyed by hearing the sounds of her heart beat and the gurgles of her tummy which for months had signified ‘home’. Seeing mother and son so close was as wonderful a picture as could be – nature at its best.
All too soon, Rohan and I had to leave. Before going we gently kissed River’s furry pate, embraced and congratulated Josh and Ali, and once again exchanged hugs with Urs. We left the hospital happy, relieved and emotionally drained. The day had been both long and unforgettable.
Older men have welcomed in their grandchildren for millennia; now it was my turn, but it was as if I already knew him. We had been in touch with River almost every step of the way. Some eight months earlier we had been sat down and told of the ‘positive’ test result; the room was immediately filled with hoots of delight. Added to the pleasure of having a new member in the family, at that moment, there was, for me, a feeling of relief that my family genes would be carried into at least one further generation.
Josh had downloaded a pregnancy App and every Saturday we received updates about River’s progress. The very first message told how our grandchild was the size of a ‘petit pois’, and for me, ‘Little Pea’ remained his name until he was born. Next we learned that Little Pea was a boy and, at the time, this news seemed of great importance.
Some months later, we were invited to ‘meet’ him at a scanning session. To see his face, to watch him put his toes in his mouth, to be shown the very feature that informed us that he was a boy, was marvellous, but it was also a little eerie – there was our tiny grandson out of reach, in black and white and surrounded by silence.
I felt very much closer several weeks later and in a most unexpected way. At a family get together the question arose was to whether Little Pea was lying with his ‘head’ or his ‘bottom’ downwards – a ‘head-down’ presentation would have meant an easier delivery. Doing acrobatics was one of Little Pea’s favourite pastimes and after yet another somersault his position was unclear. I offered to use a skill I had learned as a medical student to resolve the debate, and Ali agreed. In no time, by carefully feeling her tummy using a system referred to medically as ‘ballottement’, I managed to feel his head just above the brim of the pelvis. For me, ‘touching’ the little fellow was wonderful, for everybody else, it was more important to know simply how he lay.
At his birth, the importance of the new-born’s genes and gender immediately evaporated; now all that mattered was him as our new grandchild. His very being gave us all so much pleasure and that pleasure was catching. Seeing Ali so lovingly cradling River, touches me every time; in making such a fine baby she had been so clever. Watching Josh walking with him or changing his nappy or hearing Josh singing comfortingly to a colicky River in his deep voice has been a delight. And being with Rohan as she melts with pleasure at being a grandmother, at holding him for hours on end without noticing the time go by, could not be more warming.
River’s arrival has been a wonderful experience and real delight but unlike Rohan, melting doesn’t come naturally to me at this stage – I am sure it will by the time he is a toddler. I wonder how River will view our difference.
The illustration shows a ten-day old River asleep in Rohan’s arms.