Dear Tristan - A Grandmother's Message to her Newborn Grandson
Can I tell you about the night you were born?
It was late - almost 11pm on December 2nd. You were due to be born on Thanksgiving day (November 25th), and exactly one week later your mother checked into the hospital and they forced you out. They call this "inducing labor."
As with your twin cousins, Mia and Grace, I was lucky to be at your birth and privileged to see your first few moments of life. They came out so easily as they were removed by c-section. But yours was the first natural birth I ever witnessed. Though many people shun the birthing process, feeling it's gross and messy, I rejoiced in watching you come into the world. I'm not sure what I expected, but I couldn't have turned away.
You see, Tristan, I've witnessed death ... the death of someone I loved. It was an awful, powerful experience full of mystery and wonder - but in such a sad and painful way. Conversely, watching someone be born is just as powerful and mysterious, but it's joyous, miraculous, almost magical. There's something other-worldly about a new soul passing into the world. It's the purest of beginnings. There's so much hope in birth. And when that particular birth is your grandchild, well ... the magic doubles.
You were born at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, delivered by a wonderful doctor named Courtney Rhoades. I say wonderful, because I could see she felt personal joy in bringing you into the world. Her spirit was engaged in your birth process. You were born in a delivery room - much like a bedroom with a bed for your mamma and two lounge chairs for your daddy and me. There was a television to distract us while waiting the sixteen hours for you to finally be born. As soon as your mother climbed into the bed, they hooked her up to necessary tubes and such and strapped a monitor on her belly and from that moment on we listened - the whole seventeen hours - to the soft sound of your beating heart, ever constant in the background.
There was a little drama while waiting. Evidently your heart rate dropped for an unacceptable amount of time and the nurse raced in and turned your mother from side to side. When this process didn't meet her expectations, she screamed "Get a doctor in here now!" That unnerved us all. But the doctor came, stuck a tiny needle attached to a heart monitor directly into your sweet little head. Your heartbeat got a little louder and it behaved itself from then on. Then there was a little more drama when you passed your meconium (intestinal matter) while still inside your mamma. That concerned us because passing it can be a sign of fetal distress, and it can cause respiratory problems in a newborn infant if inhaled. Hospital policy mandated that you have a doctor and nurses from the NIC unit (Neonatal Intensive-Care) present on your arrival just to make sure you were okay. And you were okay.
Your mamma, though she had an epidural, got very uncomfortable about 10:15 pm. She called for the doctor and said she was ready. Then it was apparent that our nine month wait for your arrival was soon to be over, and there was wild commotion in the room as everyone prepared to bring you into the world. Doctor Rhoades came in looking like she was going into battle - really, these delivery costumes the doctors wear look quite threatening. She was clad in blue sterile garments made of either paper or plastic right down to her feet with not a spec of flesh exposed. On her head was a sort of ring with a plastic shield that hung down covering her face. It looked like a welding mask. But for all Dr. Rhoades' threatening attire, that remarkable smile of hers put us all at ease. She was ready.
Three people from the NIC unit rushed into the delivery room and prepared a space to welcome you directly from the womb. Naomi, the soft-spoken nurse prepared the room and gathered instruments for the doctor. The lights were dim. The sounds were of footsteps - people moving in and out of the room, the subtle clanking of metal instruments, and adding ambiance to the whole process was your constant heartbeat emanating from the monitor... like soothing, rhythmic background music reminding everyone of your unseen presence.
Your daddy stood on one side of your mamma and Naomi stood on the other. Their job was to see your mamma through the birthing process. It occurred to me that I was the only person in the room who had absolutely nothing to do but watch ... and remember.
What I remember most vividly, Tristan is all the thoughts that ran through my head when I looked at your mamma's face as she was trying to give birth to you. She kept her eyes closed the entire time. She holds her pain in like that - she always has, keeps it to herself. I so wished I could help her ... and then I was so proud of her ... and then I was so sorry she was all grown up and not my little girl anymore ... and then I remembered that she would always be my little girl ... you know ... rushing thoughts all at once that really make no sense. Time must have stood still between those final moments when the world was still without you and when you began to emerge from the womb, because in that time my mind overflowed with thoughts that would fill volumes.
As your mamma prepared to push you out, your daddy held one of her hands and Naomi held the other. Naomi coached her pushing, counting to ten - timing the push duration, and your daddy softly spoke encouraging words. With the second push, your little head appeared. I felt privileged to be one of the first two people to ever see your face - the other, was Dr, Rhoades who took hold of your tiny little head and pulled hard to get the rest of you out. I nearly asked her if that was a good idea (my controlling nature). Fortunately I resisted this impulse to tell a top doc from the the best hospital in the country how to do her job, and instead focused on silently watching the miracle of you. With the third push you were born. You were swiftly handed to the NIC staff at the baby warmer who all three called you by name and encouraged you to breath. They suctioned you, and vigorously rubbed your little body to warm you up and get the blood circulating. Finally you cried - hard. It seemed a whaling of disbelief that this new world could be so cold and loud and bright. It was amazing. Once you appeared, all senses sound, sight, touch and smell were of you. You were here, and you were perfect.
Your mamma was having a lot of pain. She had pushed you out too quickly and the doctor was trying to repair the damage. She laid there with her eyes closed, her forehead wrinkled, wincing in pain. Then she got nauseous. I stood beside her, wishing I could do something to help, then I looked over at Naomi and asked if she'd bring you over. Naomi laid you on your mamma's chest, you were crying hard. Your mamma opened her eyes to look at you and you opened your eyes and looked at her. You quieted down when she spoke to you, but kept up just a little cry, like you were trying to tell her something. Your mamma changed in that moment. She became someone new - your mother. She fell in love forever, and she wasn't the only one who fell in love that day.
Later, I went back to the house for some much needed sleep. When returned your mother's first words to me were, "I can't believe how beautiful he is. And I can't believe he's mine forever."
By the way, you look just like her.
The first time I held your mother, I said almost the exact same words to myself. She was so beautiful and I couldn't believe she was mine. I remember she looked right at me, and I knew in that single moment that I would love her forever, protect her, encourage her, and enjoy the light that she brought to my life. I knew that there would never be another like her - that she was special, and my job was to help her grow up so the world could properly benefit for having her in it. And now, she feels those same things for you. And grandmothers feel double the same emotion for their grandchildren, my little angel.
Your mother has always been physically beautiful. People have commented on her beauty since she was very little. But I saw her inner beauty start to pour forth in those few hours after your birth, Tristan. You immediately brought that out in her, and I expect you'll continue to draw out and magnify dynamic qualities in your mother as the years progress.
You are a treasure, my little prince. I have so many hopes for you. There's so much to look forward to. There are songs to sing, stories to tell, places to see, pumpkins to carve, turkey legs to eat, Christmas trees to decorate, birthdays, your first day of school, your first loose tooth, first camping trip, the music you'll love, the books you'll read, the talents you'll develop, and the man you will become. Luckily, I have a great memory and camera. I plan on experiencing and remembering all these things about you, and chronicling the important things in pictures and in stories. Maybe someday, I'll be able to tell your children stories about you.
A friend of mine from Ireland - Maura Brooks - posted this little blessing for you on my facebook page the day after you were born. She preceded it with this message ... "Welcome to the world, little one. Here is an Irish blessing for you."
Welcome to our world, Tristan. You are part of a great big wonderful family that will take joy in loving you for the rest of your life.
Lucky stars above you,
Sunshine on your way,
Many friends to love you,
Joy in work and play.
Laughter to outweigh each care,
In your heart a song-
And gladness waiting everywhere
All your whole life long.