My maternal instinct was absent before and during the whole of my pregnancy until my firstborn appeared, at which time it kicked in with a wallop, like a bolt of lightning. This I assumed was nature at work, and at her best. I had no particular preconceptions, literally, I became pregnant initially mostly out of curiosity. I had a freelance career and a life into which a baby did not fit without some upheaval. But it’s not an exaggeration to say I did not feel I had fully lived until that tiny, yelling creature entered my world.
And now I am a grandma.
It’s been a long long wait, during which my daughter spent the best part of her childbearing years with a partner who did not want children and I had all but given up hope. Little Billy (not his real name) entered this world at the end of March 2021, during semi-lockdown. My daughter was 41 at the time and had a completely uneventful pregnancy which was closely monitored, so there were no reasons for worry. But worry is a part of childbirth, far more I discovered when you’re a grandma than a mother. Will it – the gender was unknown until the birth – be okay? Will it develop normally? Fingers, toes, eyes, hearing?
Billy was a largeish baby, delivered a few days early by C-section. For a worrying few weeks he barely opened his eyes. Worrying for the grandma, that is, not for the mother or father. He fed well. He grew, slowly. He began to open his eyes, and then to focus. Then after around three months the first glimmerings of a smile – not always distinguishable from wind, of course. Now he fixes you with an unblinking stare that appears to delve into the depths of your soul. Babies do not blink much, apparently. What is happening inside that small brain heaven only knows, but there is certainly something.
I have been the good grandma and offered support but not advice.
It is not hard to do. If a baby has two parents who love and cherish him as Billy does there is nothing to be advised. My mother would disagree. In her view a baby can be ‘spoiled’ from the moment it emerges from the womb. It can also be bullied, and neglected, and I have no doubt at all which is worse.
There are things a grandma gets to notice that she did not as a fraught, sleep-deprived mother. That a baby’s mood begins in the eyebrows. When they begin to quiver that’s the signal for an outburst, and if you’re quick enough you may just be able to distract him away from what’s to come.
Then there are the toes.
In the year or so before a baby begins to use his feet to keep him upright the toes operate much like fingers. And they are all the same size. They grip onto things, like the window sill on which I perched little Billy one day in order to play a riveting game called ‘guess what’s coming down the road next?’ – car, white van, lorry, or bus. His toes were holding onto that sill like his life depended on it. (There was a window between us and the outside world, needless to say.) Now I understand how it is that people who cannot use their fingers manage to do such astonishing things with their toes.
Of course he is beautiful
As are his parents. But what is astonishing is the almost overwhelming feeling of love that has taken over his grandma. His ageing grandma, whose life truly began with childbirth and is now undergoing whole new experiences in her late seventies. What is that about? I am not particularly a baby or small person sort of woman. I don’t go out of my way to chat or play with other people’s little ones, like so many of my friends do. I would never allow myself to rely on a grandchild to transform my life. But this small creature, this small, fierce, occasionally ear-splittingly noisy creature, has taken hold of my heart and is hanging on with his tiny, powerful fingers.
Ain’t nature wonderful?