Birth begins simply with a sperm and an egg. They hook-up and travel together, then, once embedded, they cover themselves with myometrium so they can safely express themselves, completely and thoroughly. Elated, they double, then double again, … on and on until, miraculously, many months later, there’s a human. A person identified by their gender, weight and length; but also with spirit, personality, and an eye color no one will know for months. A wee little one, warm and delicate, happy to just curl in a ball on your chest to warm your heart and amaze you and give you hope for the future.
This is where my mind wanders as I anticipate the imminent birth of my granddaughter. My son’s in the labor room with his girlfriend, and of course her mother's there, but I feel like an outsider to the birth and, in fact, to their lives right now. In his yearning to be - and be seen as - independent, my son only allows me into the periphery of his life.
This is ironic given that I’ve had a long and successful career dedicated to making pregnancy, labor, and birth better for women and families. And that's not the only irony - I’ve never been pregnant. Never labored. Never given birth. The sperm and egg were both problematic in my case … you see, after years of birth control pills I fell for a double breasted person, then another, and stayed there, on unfertile ground, ever since. Of course, I tried donated sperm. It was delivered on dry ice, which was much more fun than the sperm it protected, but even then, endometriosis had spoiled the landscape.
No birth for you, some all-powerful being must have said early on. Inseminations, fertility doctors, ultrasounds, surgery; OK, there were no shots, but still. It all led to nothing but the fatal swipe heralding the washout of hope. A monthly miscarriage. The bloody blues.
One chance at adoption, admittedly on the edge of ethical what with being my own patient and all, fell through, and then hopelessness gathered strength and nearly won. Solace could be taken, perhaps, in having a lifetime of pediatric patients?
Then came the phone call from my brother, which, believe me, to understand completely requires a fair amount of back-story, (another blog, no doubt) but suffice it to say, he called to say his daughter, let’s call her Betsy, who he had adopted five years before, was pregnant. At fifteen. I listened as he talked about his disappointment in himself and his fears for her. I supported him as any sister would, but, by the middle of the conversation I couldn’t stop the latent baby fairies in my stomach from rising. When he said Betsy was firm on her plan for adoption, the fairies jumped and danced and, by the end of the conversation, clapped.
Three months later, I was a grateful bystander at my son’s birth. After weeks of deep and emotional talks with Betsy, the long drive from my home in West Virginia to hers in New Jersey, and the final of many epiduralized pushes, it seemed sudden when a baby appeared. The birth was attended by some nondescript old doc who arrived at the last minute, held the boy by his feet, and if I remember correctly, smacked a cry out of him. I stood by – tense and unsure I belonged. Still, I saw him – eyes intent, skin glistening, curly black hair and a good strong cry. I stood there for ten minutes or so, soaking it in, I even held him for a few of those minutes.
Then I left the delivery room and waited ... no, paced, in the waiting room, trying to give Betsy time – time to be sure; time to, god forbid, change her mind.
It is this waiting room I think about when I am, again, nearly eighteen years later, cordoned off to a waiting room while this same son is witnessing the birth of his daughter.
Waiting. I have room to wait. I know how to wait. And I’ll keep waiting 'till he has room to invite me in again.