As a new generation of moms, we often hear how much better it is to be a grandparent than a parent (often from our own parents). The truth is, parenthood doesn't end when your adult children give birth. As a parent you still totally have to show up for your kids, especially when they have kids. That fact was never more obvious to me than when my mom showed up for me during my labor and delivery. I can't imagine it's easy for moms to remain level-headed and present during their grandchildren's births. It's a totally different world than having your own kids, and they have to worry about their kid and their grandkid, but my mom handled it like a seasoned champ.
I imagine there are a lot of different ways that mothers can show up for the birth of their grandchildren. In my case, leading up to my firstborn's birth, my relationship with my mother was on challenging and uncertain ground. Times of stress have been historically difficult on my relationship with my mom, so it was unfortunate that there was a tremendous amount of stress in the year prior to the birth of my first child. In that year I finished graduate school, started working with survivors of rape, struggled with severe depression, lost a house to foreclosure, and moved into a temporary studio apartment with my partner of seven years (and our two cats). Even in the unlikely event that my mother's year was stress-free, that's an awful lot for any mother-daughter relationship.
And still, despite all odds and evidence that would have pointed to a contrary outcome, when it came down to it, my mom showed up.
When She Literally Showed Up
My first child was born on Sept. 22, the day after my mother's birthday. My mom lived three hours away and was just leaving for work as a second language acquisition teacher when my partner called to tell her the first grandchild was on the way.
Now, if you don't have any teachers in your life you may not realize what a monumental task it is to get time off. Unplanned, spur-of-the-moment time off one month into the school year? Well, that is a freaking miracle.
Somehow, however, she managed to convince the administration she must go, prepared notes for the substitute teacher, and drove three hours down the mountain to Denver (all in the span of seven hours). My mom showed up and sat in the waiting room for another two hours, with my best friend, before the baby was born. She might never know how much that means to me.
When She Didn't Make A Big Deal Out Of Not Being In The Delivery Room
My mom and I have always been close. At least part of the time I was growing up, she was a single parent. That bond seemed unshakable. Though we've never discussed it explicitly, I'm quite sure she thought she'd be in the delivery room with me when I had my first child. Long story short, daughters grow up and sometimes family narratives change. By the time I was almost 42 weeks pregnant, I only wanted my partner in the room. It was no secret that I was always a very sensitive kid. Though she didn't ask me to, I always felt compelled to take care of my mother's feelings before my own. The thought of that dynamic in the delivery room terrified me. How could I be in unimaginable pain and hold enough space to worry about how she was feeling? The truth is, I couldn't.
I don't remember having the conversation telling her my decision. What I do remember is that my mom never once complained. She respected that decision and showed up fully asking the best way she could support us.
When She Rushed Into The Room
Though I was very clear that I didn't want her there for the pushing, immediately after they ripped my blue baby away from my chest I cried for my mom. My partner was at the bassinet with all the medical staff, silently assessing whether the baby would breathe or not.
I was alone. Bleeding, shaking, sobbing. I cried out for her. It seemed but an instant and she was there.
She reached out for me and kissed my brow. "I'm here, honey."
She comforted me in the same way she used to comfort me when I was a sick toddler. It was the exact, and only, thing I needed in that moment.
When She Cried When She Saw Me
I've spoken before about the vast loneliness I felt the moment the baby left my body. The feeling of being downgraded from queen, to second class citizen, even as you've downgraded yourself and every fiber of your being is screaming for your baby to be OK, is still difficult to digest.
There was one notable exception to everybody's chilly demeanor toward me. My chest was cold, my heart growing numb to protect it from the momentary loss of baby and partner to the NICU. In came the welled up eyes and sweet red-face of my mother. In her eyes I saw wordless comprehension, pride, and the kind of love I was only just beginning to understand.
When She Held My Hand Through The Afterbirth
My mother told me stories about her own experiences with the afterbirth. Her birth of me was a VBAC, in a time when VBACs rarely happened. My dear mother is also prone to exaggeration in story-telling (maybe it's an Irish thing?) so I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. However, it turns out she was exceedingly accurate. They really do jump on your stomach until the placenta comes out.
While I grunted and asked for drugs for the first time, my mother held my hand. She made jokes in all the right places and squeezed my fingers through it all.
When She Held My Hand Through Stitches
By the time the placenta came out (side note: I had to stop myself from barfing at the sight of it) I'm not sure if I had some ibruprofen that kicked in, topical anti-septic, or pain-relieving dissociation, but I no longer could feel my perineum. I did, however, feel the disconcerting tug-tug-tugging of a needle and thread through flesh.
Through it all, she was there. She held my hand and wiped the sweat from my face.
When She Was Able To Make Me Laugh (And Let Me Cry)
In our extended family, my mom is quite well-known as the joker. You have to know how to joke to get through some of the stuff this tough-as-nails lady has been through. Lucky for me, it gave mom excellent comedic timing in times of potential trauma. Seven years later I can't remember what exactly she said, but I know I squealed at moments for her to stop making me laugh about my bum because the laughter made my bum hurt. My emotions swinging as they were on a carousel of sleep deprivation and pain (physical and emotional), there were other moments I needed to cry about the painful fragility of my bum. And she let me.
This may not seem like much, but my mother being the joker she was, sometimes had a difficult time holding space for my softer, sadder emotions. Not this time. This time, she held the emotional container in a way nobody else on earth could have.
When She Tells The Story And I Feel Like A Badass
I told you my mother is a fantastic story-teller, didn't I? Well, since my daughter Lily's birth, my mother tells an extravagant story about rushing down a snow-filled mountain, half-crazed with worry for her only daughter and her first grandchild. In this story, when she gets to the hospital a nurse brings her to the delivery room door and went in to see if it was OK to allow mom in.
At this point, I must have been in transition.
My mom briefly hears excerpts of vulgar swearing when the door opens. When the nurse returns, as mom recounts, her face is white as a sheet and she's flustered. "Um, apparently the patient is not accepting visitors." My mother laughs, pride swelling her heart at the badass daughter who can still be heard from the other side of the door.
When My Modest Mom Didn't Blush
My mom shut the light off to change in a shared hotel room when I was 13 years old. She blushed when I used to change my bra in the living room when I was 16 years old and it was only the two of us again.
This same woman showered with me and held me up when my legs were too weak and my back had too many spasms. She helped me through my first postpartum bowel movement (do not laugh, those things are intense). She even taught me how to wipe and wash my perineal stitches so I didn't pull them out. All with nary a complaint or blush.
When She Stood Up For Me And My Baby
My first child had to spend five days in the NICU because she swallowed meconium on her way out. She had a hole in her lung, they had to pump her stomach, and they had to drain air from her chest cavity. She was, however, a full-term baby. I was intent on breastfeeding her (side note: if I knew then what I know now about the risks of starvation, I would have made some different choices). Nonetheless, circumstances being what they were, the nursing staff refused to let my partner and I pick the baby up.
Yes, I know, this sounds absolutely ludicrous, the baby lay there subsisting on sugar water and IVs while my milk was aching to come in and they wouldn't let me feed her. I would stand over her crib, blood seeping through my postpartum pad, and just cry. I would hold my baby's hand, and she would cry.
In one such pathetic moment I think I was begging the nurse to let me pick Lily up. I asked her why if my child was out of the proverbial woods (i.e. no more cake pan) I couldn't start feeding her. This was two days into Lily's life. The nurse said something about it being NICU policy and my mother's head shot up into the ceiling.
"For crying out loud! This is ridiculous! This baby needs its mother!" Up she lifted Lily out of the crib and shoveled my breast into her mouth.
My mom, who was my childhood hero, had never been more perfect in my eyes.
When She Made It So I Didn't Have To Worry
The first birth, thankfully, was quite a bit more intense than the next two. Perhaps some of that is my perception. Certainly some of it is that in both cases I could leave my current child(ren) with my mom without worry while I gave birth with my partner beside me.
My most recent delivery was in April 2016. Three weeks ahead of the baby's due date, I was unexpectedly admitted to the hospital for acute preeclampsia. My mother, again, rushed down the treacherous, snow-covered mountains at a moment's notice. Yet again, she dropped everything to pick our then 6 year old and 4 year old up from the hospital. She cared for them, took them to school, dealt with all the unanswerable questions about whether their mama would be OK, and did all our laundry. This was five days, no-questions-asked.
People, my children are amazing but they are handfuls. This is a feat for us on a regular basis and it would've been a feat for anyone. In order to do all she accomplished, she had to negotiate special permission from her school district for taking a chunk of unplanned time off right before a school break (huge no-no in education). I'm certain there's even more upheaval it caused her life that she's never told me about. But she did it.
As a result, I didn't have to worry about my children while I was poked, prodded, tested, and ultimately induced. I most certainly would have otherwise. Her sacrifice allowed my partner to be with me instead of with our kids while I brought our third, and final, child into the world.
So Thank You, Mom
I'll probably never find a time to thank you enough for everything you've done for me. This particular list helps me see the expansive, unyielding reach of a mother's love. Thank you for showing me.