Ransom Bruce Harris was born to doula-daughter, Sadie, and her hubby, Bryan on February 7. Sadie made sure to do all the training she’d been coaching her mamas to do over the years and was in wonderful shape for an easy delivery.
Only there were other plans in place. After a nearly 30-hour labor and C-section, Ransom arrived to exhausted, exhilarated first-time parents, his outstretched arms receiving their overflowing hearts. This was the baby Sadie had been waiting for since she was 5 and asked, “Are you sure I have to have a husband before I can have a baby? I really just want a baby.”
Thankfully, she believed me. The husband came first.
This grandbaby already feels different from our others. He’s in Texas, for one thing. The others are in Georgia, just over the hill or across the mountain. And he was born to my daughter and son-in-law rather than my sons and daughters-in-law. Waiting for the births of my sons’ babies wasn’t as agonizing as waiting for Sadie’s. I’ve been puzzling over why since his arrival last week.
Obviously a daughter is close, as close as skin, blood, and shared shoe sizes. But my daughters-in-law are dear, and honestly, sometimes easier for me. They’re daughters without-the-baggage. I don’t have histories that sneak up and snatch me into regret and shame with them. I didn’t endure potty training with them or wait up for them on late nights or feel them pull away as they became themselves. Besides, I would love and like them, even if they weren’t my sons’ wives. And I worried about each of their baby’s deliveries, too, awaiting eagerly the words and photos that would tell me all was well. That they were well.
But I didn’t panic when hours went by during their labors without a word. I didn’t expect to get regular updates from my sons, whose texting habits resemble telegraphers from the previous century. “Labor done. Stop. Pushing. Stop.”
Besides, these girls have mamas who outrank me when it comes to getting information, as they should. I didn’t expect to get a live feed from their bedside in their hospital birthing rooms. I didn’t expect to hear the joyful news FIRST.
But I guess I kind of did with Sadie. I did expect to hear regularly—and often—about her labor. This was Sadie, after all, the daughter-who-tells-me-everything. And while no one actually said anything about setting up a live feed, I guess I just thought one would sort of magically appear and connect us, kind of like an umbilical cord between hearts, an offshoot of that intuitive mothernet that tells me how Sadie is doing by the tone of her voice or the look on her face. No words needed.
But the mothernet between us is just that. It’s between us. It doesn’t connect automatically via spliced router through Bryan. And while a son-in-law can be included, there has to be a deliberate set up in order to do so, a communication of some kind, the way blue tooth connects your phone to your car’s sound system after you tell it to do it the first time.
I hadn’t thought to pair my expectations with Bryan’s. I hadn’t thought to say, “If you can, would you shoot me a text every few hours?” “Every few minutes” was what I really wanted to say, but I knew better than to ask for that. Telegraph-texting, stop. Would even suffice, stop.
But I didn’t think to ask for any kind of communication. I assumed he would read my mind. I assumed he knew I wanted the live feed but would settle for text-a-graphy. We all know what happens when someone assumes.
So from my expectation to have a constant feed to the reality of Bryan’s zippity-doo-dah CommunicationFast, there was an enormous cavern with a disturbing echo between my ears in a space that’s usually inhabited by common sense and reason. “You don’t matter-atter-atter enough to call-all-all. Everyone knows more than you eww-eww.”
In hopes of hearing that Sadie was still at least alive, for heaven’s sake, after more than 24 hours at the hospital and only one measly crumb of a text that morning from her, I texted Bryan’s mother, Susan, to find out what she knew.
I was dreading both the revelation that she might actually know quite a lot, as well as that she didn’t know any more than I did.
As it turns out, I was better off knowing nothing. I realize now that between in-laws, The Shrugger is a friendlier emoji than The Informant, particularly when a grand-baby is involved.
What I learned from Susan opened up an old wound, one I’d nearly forgotten, one that had gone off-grid since last August. But now, it writhed like a live thing. I could feel it coiled and pulsing. Hissing.
Because at that very moment, she was sitting in a plane on a runway to fly out to Houston that same night, so that she could be first in line to welcome this grandbaby of ours to his brand new life.
I was immediately deflated. And hurt. And then ANGRY. Concerns for Sadie’s well being vanished. Suddenly, concern for my well being came front-and-center. Had Susan not been given #1 of the Ransom Rules of Order? “No visits the first week” was disappointing to hear, of course, but at least it was straightforward and impartial. Non partisan. Not needing psychic powers or the Enneagram to decipher.
Bryan was taking off from work that week to be present, after all. He didn’t want to be tripping over grandmamas or getting elbowed out of the way by their experience. I loved it that he wanted to engage right away as Papa, and I was content to wait. I would buy my ticket to be there exactly a week from Ransom’s birthday, which as far as I knew, was yet to be determined.
But Susan already had her ticket. She was already on the airplane and ready to take off. She was maybe even going to arrive before his birth. The coils wrenched as they slithered.
Had Susan been given the same rule I had? Was she simply ignoring it because it was her birthday? Did Bryan and Sadie know? (Who can say no to a devoted mother’s birthday wish, after all?) Or was she deliberately usurping my long awaited role as The Privileged One, the first grandma on-the-scene?
Dark thoughts swirled. But the bright angel on my shoulder reminded me that I really liked Susan. That she was my friend. That she even felt like family. That she was family.
I loved Susan!
But my devil angel said she was gonna huff off to Houston regardless of any rules. Regardless of my baby-mama’s-mama’s rights. Regardless of my love for her. She was even taking advantage of my love for her and the fact that I was playing by the rules and waiting. I didn’t have a plane ticket, for goodness sake.
I hated Susan!
Memories of being sidelined by the births of other grandbabies rewound and replayed, other births where I stuck by the rules but saw the rewards going to those who didn’t. At least, that’s how it felt. Who knows how it all really went down? Because grandchildbirth, like childbirth, carries with it a kind of amnesia that only dissipates at the next grandbaby’s birth, when the post partum pain–the jostling with others to meet the baby–kicks in and suddenly you realize. Wait. I’ve felt this before. Where do I fit? Where’s my place?
There’s been the most recent grandboy’s birth last summer, Rafe to Kate and Cody. I’m not sure how it happened exactly–my self-protection must be cycling its Grandmother Amnesia Software–but I remember something about how some of my kids beat me to the hospital. By the time I arrived, Rafe was already making the rounds, and I had to wait my turn. I felt myself only going through the motions of being the thrilled grandmama as I held him, so that I wouldn’t betray the rawer, WTF?! feelings that were rising. Had I been forgotten? I didn’t know. I sure felt forgotten.
Jed with Rafe and me at Christmas.
And there was Oak’s birth, our first grandboy, seven years before. Our son, Jed, had clearly and emphatically said we were welcome at the hospital to meet Oak once they’d had some bonding time, but not to come before they gave the signal. So we hung out at Panera across the street from the hospital to be near, but not actually on hospital property. We were finessing this, I thought. Being both respectful and close by. Perfect.
But as things often happen, we either missed the call, or for whatever reason didn’t get it in a timely manner (that darned echo between my ears began sounding and resounding at this point), and by the time we finally arrived, Laura’s whole family was already celebrating. It seemed they’d been gathered for quite some time. In fact, sniff, we learned they’d been at the hospital waiting even before he was born, breaking the sacred rule–the rule we were sure we knew and understood, both clearly and emphatically.
Did I mention perfectly?
Here was my introduction to the experience of playing by the rules and not getting the reward I expected, and to what would become the soundtrack of our grandboys’ births, “I Ain’t Missin’ You At All,” with the ever present mental echo reverb, “You don’t matter-atter-atter enough to call-all-all. Everyone knows more than you eww-eww.”
“Eat that!” my devil angel chided, while my kinder angel consoled, “Cheer up, Sugar. Sadie’s will be different. She’s your daughter.”
I could drag out more stories of other grandbabies’ births between Oak’s and Rafe’s and ache all over again, but I think you get it. For me, there’s been a whole litany of feeling left out of my own life-changing-moments.
I’m sure that if I dug around, I could find the remnants of other left-out memories from childhood that made their cuts, jutting out like the sharp bottle shards I avoided in those sewer pipes where I caught tadpoles as a kid. Like being one of only two girls not chosen for cheerleader in 7th grade or being the 3rd wheel at play dates with Louise and Alice at my own house. Ouch.
So with Sadie’s baby’s birth, I had high hopes of feeling vital, essential, not like the tacked-on-and-tolerated wicked step mother-in-law with the hump. And warts. And frizzy hair. (Well, the frizzy hair is true.)
With Sadie, I knew my place. I was her only mother, after all. She had asked me to come to help when Bryan went back to work. I bee-bopped around our house the first week of February, a giddy getting-ready, gathering goodies: the newborn booties Sadie had worn, essential oils, a letter from cousin Catherine.
So when Susan excitedly gave me the news of her location and her plans that night, along with info about Sadie’s contractions progressing and Bryan taking a walk around the hospital, well, let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled.
I was tempted to spiral into my “you’re not special, ecial, ecial” echo. The edges of a familiar, slippery slope loomed ahead. Would it circle round and suck me down like a vortex underground in Wonka land? That one was fantasy, but this emotional maelstrom was real. I’d been caught in it before.
How would I respond to Susan? Would I ask her emotionally charged questions that implied wrongdoing, at best, and flat out accused her, at worst? Would I let her know I felt confused and hurt by our kids? Would I reprimand her for not following their protocol? Could I find peace to sleep without those answers? Would I find any sleep with them?
I didn’t know.
God, somehow I’ve gotten sideways over these births, as if they’re all about me. As if how I’m included is the true test of my kids’ love and my Ultimate Value in the Cosmos. It’s like I’m participating in my own ass whuppin’, letting these things matter too much. I want to get off this train to the Am-I-Loved-Land-of-Lunacy. I don’t ever want to ride it again.
What do you say?
And I thought about God’s love for me. How before I was born, he knew me. How he formed me and made me all that I am, and gave me all those I love–my family, friends, and church family. And how he calls me his beloved, which naturally reminded me of Jane at church, because she is especially beloved.
She once read aloud, “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in him, for he shields her all day long…the one the Lord loves rests between his shoulders,” (Deuteronomy 33:12). And she reminded me how a shepherd drapes a lamb around his neck, letting it rest between his shoulders as he walks it home. And she said how that visual helps her to feel the love and care in this verse. The nearness of the shepherd is the best good for that lamb.
Was it mine?
I want to feel your shoulders carrying me, God. I want to rest there. I need shielding, too. I want to be protected from the fears that threaten me, the lies I’m tempted to believe.
Have I been forgotten?
Am I less valued than Susan?
Am I irrelevant and unwanted?
Am I important enough to communicate with, even when it’s hard to do so?
Why do I always get left out, and feel expected to suck it up, and never really get to the bottom of anything?
I want to rest secure in your love for me. I want to stop looking for love from everyone else. I want to stop being a love drain and be a fountain instead. You’re gonna have to do it in me. I don’t know how.
And as I lay there imagining what it might look like for me to be a bubbling love fountain rather than a sucking love drain, I imagined more.
If I’d been told I could come and meet the baby but then knew I had to leave for Bryan’s off week from work, would I go anyway as Susan planned, and then return in a week’s time to help as I’d planned? No. I didn’t want to go twice. Helping for a week or two after Bryan’s week was much more important to Sadie and to me.
Did I really think Bryan and Sadie had deliberately left me out of this first peek at Ransom at the hospital?
Could this all be just a misunderstanding?
Was it possible that all the woundings from all the grandbabies’ births were also just misunderstandings, not a deliberate attempt to leave me out?
Do I have an enemy that delights in confusion, chaos, and joy stealing?
Was I going to continue to listen to him and let him come between me and my kids and grandkids? Between me and Susan?
Would Ransom love Grandmother Susan more than me because she held him first? I laughed at how silly that sounded. Didn’t I want him to love her and me, both? Didn’t I want him to have two grandmothers who were nuts about him, who prayed over him, who supported him and his parents with as much love as was humanly possible?
I realized in that moment that all my jealousy and fears had melted away. I don’t know when I stopped resenting Susan and started loving her again.
All I know is that I did.
Was there anyone I’d rather fly in to ooh-and-ahh over our grandbaby on his birthday than Susan Harris, the other grandmama and my very dear friend?
I was feeling better and went downstairs to find some chocolate chips. I wondered if maybe I could win Ransom over with treats down the road. Or bike rides. Or Go Fish.
Maybe what would win him would simply be love.