My journey to meet Madeleine began with a phone call. I was in the midst of cleaning out my late mother’s kitchen, standing in front of her pantry looking at boxes and cans dating back to the 20th century, when my son-in-law reached me on my cell phone. “I guess you know why I’m calling,” he said. “Caitlin and I are at the hospital. She’s in labor and doing really well.” I glanced at the clock—late morning California time, afternoon in Rhode Island where they lived.
I said, “So you’ll call me when—” and we both laughed.
“Of course,” he said.
I called my husband at work and gave him the news: “Hey, Gramps,” I said. “Game on!” I got back to my task, accelerating my efforts so I could go home and wait for another phone call.
No one ever forgets what it’s like to be expecting that first baby: a complicated months-long dance that twirls between excitement and fear. My husband and I were so young and unprepared for what was to come, not like my daughter who is a well-trained nurse with lots of experience with labor and delivery. Even so, I told her, when it’s your time, all bets are off. Each birth is different.
“I know,” she’d replied. But you don’t really know until you find yourself living out the events you have been obsessed with for so many months. Everything planned, nothing predictable.
A million scenarios go through your mind as you try to visualize your own labor. Most of these scenarios will be pleasant ones: you will fill the air with your careful selections of birthing music— some instrumentals or the sound track from that movie you both love, but nothing with drum solos— that’s a deal-breaker. You will have a focused, prepared, supportive and minty-breathed partner/coach at your elbow who reminds you to breathe with your contractions and who will not think even once about grabbing the remote to “just check the score.”
Softly murmuring nurses will offer soothing hands and calming words; they rub your back and place a cool cloth on your brow. You are strong and brave, and your hair is clean. You have a little lipstick on, maybe. Waterproof mascara for sure. You do not sweat or swear or scream. You exude grace and confidence. Everyone around you will comment on how graceful and confident you are, and isn’t it lucky that you don’t have stretch marks anywhere. And then you will begin to push that baby out. One or two, maybe three good pushes, and the baby will be born and sunlight will fill the room, and you will hear joyous birdsong like in an old Disney movie, and the doctor will put a hand on your shoulder, smile and say, “Congratulations! It’s a perfect…whatever,” and you will smile back and reach for the beautiful, clean, round-headed, sweet-smelling baby who will fit in your arms perfectly. You will put the baby to your breast and a maternal flood of emotions will fill you to the bursting point. You may shed a happy tear or two and your mascara will not run. Transcendent and glowing, you will fall back on your pillow in a state of contentment, or…or… pure bliss! Yes. Someone should paint this portrait right now, for the ages.
But then, of course, there is the reality…
I woke with a start from a deep sleep and a dream about babies. The phone was ringing, just after midnight. Oh my god, oh my god. The brand new father was calling: their baby had arrived healthy and pink. Seven pounds, two ounces.
I was so sure this baby was going to be a boy that I started to ask what his name was, when my son-in-law said, “And it’s a girl! Her name is Madeleine Olivia.” I reached for a pen and scribbled the name on a piece of paper. A girl? A little girl—born to my grown-up little girl, the child of my heart, now with one of her own.
I nudged my sleeping husband. “Wake up,” I said. “It’s a girl!”
And there, in her lap, swaddled in pink—a sleeping baby. “Hello, Madeleine,” I whispered. “I came a long way to meet you.”