|On My First Grandchild
By Sandra Olivetti Martin
As my daughter-in-law labored and my son sweat, her parents and I haunted the halls and snoozed the couches of Anne Arundel Medical Center's Clatanoff Pavilion. Four thousand babies were born in that well-appointed birthing center this year, but our hopes were pinned on one. A week after his or her August 18 due date, the first child of Lisa Kate Edler and John Alexander Knoll was keeping its appointment, and none of us could think of any better place in this world to be.
The passing hours weighed lighter on me than on the others, for I rode them out in the kind of trance of well-being I enjoy in a train. In both passages, there's nothing I can do but wait. Planned waiting is time I've learned to welcome as a friend. In anticipation, I'd brought a bag full of books and newspapers, bottled water, socks and a blanket - and a cell phone to link me to my husband. Bill was at home delivering his own first born, a book, but he was prepared to join us at whatever hour this child demanded.
Between reading - Harry Potter this time, not the terrible choice I'd brought to my own first labor, Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit - sleeping and going to the mental movies with Marilyn and Howard Edler, I revisited my own births.
What woman doesn't count her births as the epic labors of her life? So I remembered that first labor, giving birth to Alex, the man about to become the father of this child. And sweet Nathaniel's birth five and a half years later, both dutifully and curiously attended by my first husband, John Knoll, who would become a grandfather at a distance.
I traveled back far longer, joining hands across the years with Elsa giving birth to me, and Catherine to Elsa. To Florence giving birth to Gene, my father, and his long-dead brother Jack. To Mary giving birth to John, the grandfather. To Ada Jane giving birth to Bill, whose grandchild by way of Alex and Lisa will be the first newborn he cradles in his arms. And so to Marilyn and her second-born, Lisa, who labors as we wait and dream.
But when each new child squirms and squalls into the world, the stage is his. So I was glad to dwell in those hours with the great chain of mothers, where we are all ageless: all infant, mother, grandmother.
August 24 gave way to August 25 and still Lisa labored. The knife of pain was dulled by epidural anesthetic, but she labored long, through the hours when all the world slept, even those nearest her, though fitfully.
The magical, shifting fogs of a rain-soaked evening gave way to the brilliance of morning light when Dr. Donna Jasper declared this child would be born in the style of Caesar. "Don't worry, we do this all the time," she said. But we worried, and Lisa's parents' hearts iced with fear for their daughter, the child they had made and Marilyn borne while Howard - as was the custom then - slept alone at home.
The next we grandparents knew, all else had given way to joy: all fear and hope and anticipation dissolved by the sight of Jack. For the long-awaited star of this night's drama was a boy, John Alexander Knoll Jr. -Jack - taking life's stage at 8:11am.
What was in his parents' hearts I can only imagine. I know what was in mine as, within the hour of his birth, I cuddled his seven pounds, 11 ounces. Holding the child, you touch the far reaches of the ages, beyond your beginnings, beyond your end. With Marilyn, Howard, Bill and all our people, I was not alone.