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Part Five, of “ A Grandchild Odyssey

How Grandad has a baby...



Tuesday, June 20, 2017

“Last night, Michael and I watched a movie on his big screen, – a fantasy action flick entitled Guardians of the Galaxy, which they thought I’d like.  Rachael sat next to us, sometimes watching, sometimes scrolling through FaceBook, and always monitoring her nine-months pregnant body.  Heather was not far away, reading a book.

I generally don’t watch movies.  I get too caught up in the plot, and get upset when people are hurt, because I can’t seem to persuade myself that “they’re just actors, and that wasn’t real.”  It’s a problem I have.  But Michael and Rachael were right: I enjoyed this one.  It was so crazy and goofy and campy that I could laugh and enjoy the action.

The credits were rolling when Rachael cried “Ow!  The baby just stabbed me!”

But a few moments later we knew it wasn’t the baby.  Real, full-blown labour had begun, and had hit our daughter like a hammer.

In a great explosion of activity, Heather, Michael and Rachael, plus bags and supplies, were hustled into my rental car, and soon I was driving them down the freeway to the “Birthing” Center.

I had not expected to make this trip, given that a Grandad is something of a supernumary in childbirth.  In my imagination, Michael would be the one, calmly driving his wife and his mother-in-law to the hospital, while I remained at home typing up my blog… or sleeping, depending on the time of day.  But earlier in the afternoon – in the midst of California’s dreadful heat wave – the air conditioning in Michael’s car had quit, and the vehicle had been taken to the shop for repair.  So the only car available was my little rental, and I was its authorized driver!

So down the highway we all drove – to a hospital that is thirty kilometres away from Michael and Rachael’s home.  This birthing centre is one of the best in North America, so I’m told... but thirty kilometres?  Even when expressed in miles (nineteen), it’s a long way.  Especially when one’s beloved daughter is in labour in the back seat…. 

I contemplated calling for a police escort.  Mind you, I could simply break a bunch of speed limits, and I’d probably get such an escort in short order.  But… the officer would have to stop me, and find out what’s happening, and maybe stand there contemplating writing out a ticket… so it’s better just to drive sensibly, right?

And, we managed to get there, safe and sound.  Rachael was quickly moved into the appropriate room.  Heather and Michael went in with her – something that Rachael had carefully pre-arranged.

It was never expected that I should go in, and I made no attempt to do so.  I went and sat in the front lobby of the centre, spending the better part of an hour saying the Daily Office (the formal set of prayers and Bible readings that I, along with most priests and deacons, say every day of our lives).  Prayers for my daughter and her unborn baby were included.

Eventually, Heather came out to ask me to retrieve something from the car.  I did that, and upon delivering it, consulted one of the nurses about whether I should hang around the hospital, or just go home.  This nurse was pretty sure that the baby wouldn’t be born until morning, and encouraged me to get some sleep in a real bed.

Thus it was that, at about 12:30 AM, I arrived, all alone, back at the house in West Sacramento.  I couldn’t go to sleep right away, however, because I had promised to send an upddate to Alison, the administrator at St. Mary’s church.

It was basically a “work” email, although I began it with, “no baby yet” – the way I’ve begun most messages back home over the past two weeks.  I updated Alison about that report I’ve been working on; I asked her to prepare a Sunday service leaflet as though I would be back in Winnipeg and leading parish worship; but I also told her that Brian Rountree is willing to fill in for me again, should I not make it home in time.

Then I sent off a text to Michael, asking whether their tiny dog, Lola, had been fed before we left the house.  He did not reply, which was only natural, since his attention was definitely on something much more important.

After this – though I probably shouldn’t have – I spent about twenty minutes entering the day’s doings into my diary.

Sleep followed; peaceful and quiet sleep.

My phone was left on, of course, in case an announcement should came in to say that the baby was born.

At 2:45 AM, the phone beeped.  It was a text message!  I pulled myself out of a reasonably sound sleep, to find that Michael had answered my question about the dog: no, she only needed water, not food.

Back to sleep.

Then, at 3:17 AM, there was a phone call – not a text – and the device startled me with its high, insistent ring.

Michael said, “There is a little black bag I left in the front seat of the car.  We need it.”

I had seen that bag when I pulled into the driveway at midnight: “Uh-oh,” I had said to myself when I spotted it, “that thing was at Michael’s feet, during our panicked drive to the hospital!  I wish I had seen it there before driving back here!  Oh well, I hope they don’t need it till morning!”

Vain hope.

I dressed, got back into the car, and pointed it towards the birthing centre once more.

Did I mention that it is 30 km. from the house to the hospital?  30 km. on the I-80 freeway, that in daylight is jammed with cars – thousands of California drivers, all hurtling bumper-to-bumper from who knows what to who knows where?  Even in the middle of the night there are a startling number of cars on that road.

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Half an hour later, I parked, buzzed the ward for admission, and was actually allowed into the labour room, where I presented Michael with the forgotten bag.

Rachael was calm and sitting up, cheerful and chatty.  Medical science had done wonders for her comfort, and her body was being allowed to do its work without annoying her.

A monitor showed the baby’s heart rate, and, on another part of the screen, the intensity of the contractions as they came and went.  It was hard not to be mesmerized by that screen.

Sarah the photographer was also there.  She’s a maternity photographer, who does this for a living.  Photographing birth is now a “thing,” apparently.

So we all sat there, chatting away.

After about an hour, medical staff came in, and Heather and I were asked to absent ourselves for a little while.  Which was okay with me, since I had never expected to be in there in the first place, but I was perplexed that Heather was ushered out as well.  Still, she didn’t seem to mind.  She had been in that room since we arrived, without a wink of sleep, whereas I had had at least two hours, in a real bed.

We thought we would go out to the building’s front lobby, and see if we could get some sleep on the benches and chairs that are there.  In due course, Heather was sprawled out, and emitting a quiet snore – which pleased me a lot: the poor thing was so exhausted that she could sleep sitting up.  But for my part, sleep proved impossible.  Doors to and from the spacious lobby made loud clunking noises whenever they were opened or closed; staff members would walk through, their shoes clicking or squeaking on the tile floor; and as 6:00 AM approached, shifts began to change, making for plenty of traffic through the place.

Most notably, the security guards – uniformed young men (mercifully without visible firearms), began to mill around the security desk, chatting quite audibly, as they waited to change places.  One of them, seeing that I had one eye half open, said “Good morning!” to me, before he sat down in a nearby chair to discuss working conditions with a colleague.  Another fellow, half-participating in the working condition conversation, was standing near the automatic entry door, and by standing there, he made the sensor continually open and close the door every time he moved.

I thought, “It’s just early dawn; the air outside is fairly cool, and my car might be much more comfortable – and quiet – than this is!  My only problem was that when we entered the lobby, Heather had vetoed going out to the car.  Now she was sound asleep – or appeared to be – and I hated to wake her up, just to suggest getting some sleep in the car!

Then she opened one eye.  I told her what I wanted to do.  She nodded, so at least she now knew where to find me.  I went out, and got into the car – which was, as I had hoped, perfectly cool and comfortable.  Opening the windows, I reclined the seat, and prepared to do some serious sleeping.

But what if the baby were to come just now!??  Once again, I decided that I had better make sure that my phone was audible.  So I set it appropriately, closed my eyes, and soon was dead to the world.

Then the phone beeped.  I opened one eye and tried to see who it was.  It turned out to be one of my parish leaders – currently in England – just being chatty.  “We are at the National Gallery & then going to queue up for Evensong.  Thought of you ;).  How’s the new baby?  Everybody ok?”

“No baby yet.  We’re still in California.”

You will note that twice, now, I have declined to tell someone that labour had begun.  You see, we are under strict orders not to tell ANYONE about the birth, until after Rachael and Michael have announced it themselves.  “No baby yet,” is therefore perfectly true, and does not tip Rachael’s hand.  Once the child is actually out and breathing air, “no baby yet” will be patently false, and we’ll have to get a new plan.

But sending that message sparked an immediate reply, my church friend being amazed that we were still in California – so there I was, awake again, and texting back and forth, explaining how Brian Rountree had filled in for me at St. Mary’s, and how he may do so again.

After which I managed once more to fall asleep, until the phone beeped.  Was it Michael, announcing a birth?  No.  Just a personal connection from far away... and I absolutely could not rouse myself.  Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’m hardwired to always respond immediately when someone tries to connect with me.  But this time I just couldn’t do it, and drifted off to sleep once more.

When the phone next beeped, it was after 9:00 AM – clearly some deep sleep had occurred – but even so, I could scarcely move or think.  And this text was from Michael.  Apparently the last phase of labour had come upon his wife and he was letting me know.  But what action was required from me?  Was it merely information? or am I to go back into the hospital?

I guessed that my presence was in some way required, so I got out of the car and staggered, weak and drowsy, toward the hospital entrance.

And there I met a couple of Rachael’s friends, who had brought two bags of ice for Rachael.  Heather came out of the labour room, and retrieved the ice.  I started to follow her, but was blocked at the door by staff.  No Grandads, please.  So, grumpy now, and disoriented, I went out to that infernal lobby once more, and plunked myself down on one of those seats, allowing the sleepiness to envelop me.

Until another text came from Michael:
      “Now would be a good time to head for cupcakes if you’re able”
Then,
      “In addition to the list you already have, add chocolate cupcakes with pink vanilla frosting”
And then,
      “Also stop by nugget 1 and buy a bottle of chilled veuve cliquot champagne.”

Up to now in this blog, I have not mentioned cupcakes.

Two weeks ago, when we arrived in Sacramento, I was informed that my duty, upon the birth of my granddaughter, was to go and buy cupcakes.  I was given a detailed list of types and flavours, and I was told that only a specific bakery would do as the source of these cakes.  I eventually turned this single task into a comic requirement, “And then do I get the cupcakes?” I would say, or, “Don’t forget that I have to get cupcakes,” or a variety of other ways to humourously point attention to this curiously banal activity.

It reminds me, actually, of the ancient duty of husbands during labour – to boil water.  The male, in effect, is useless, and needs to be sent away to do semi-meaningless and mostly distracting chores.  Fortunately, in this modern world, husbands now get fully involved in the process of giving birth... but Grandads are sent off on errands.

So, the texts from Michael basically instructed me to do my one chore – the cupcakes – while adding another one: buying champagne.

“On my way!” typed this sleepy old man, going out once more to the car.

The specific cupcake bakery – and I was not permitted any other – was in a suburb, on the far northeast end of Sacramento, sixty kilometres away (thirty-seven miles) from the birthing centre.  I put the address into my GPS device, and off I went.

It was a long drive 2 – mercifully in comparatively light traffic on the Interstate (“light,” that is, for California).  I got the cupcakes, and got the champagne (“Veuve Cliquot” – très élégant ), and began the 60 km. return to the birthing centre.

While roaring along in traffic at 120 km/hr (75 mph) I heard my phone announce the arrival of a text message.  I could do little more than glance at the device, but I saw that it was from Michael, that it was a photo, and I could just make out the words “Annabelle Jane…”

My granddaughter had arrived.

closeup of a husband, wife, and brand new baby
Michael, Rachael, and their brand new daughter

Annabelle Jane Green – to be called “Elle” in daily usage – was born this day
June 20, 2017
weighing 6 lbs. 11 oz. and measuring 19.5 inches.

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But I got all of this information, and the above photo, a little later, for I was still hurtling down the Interstate with cupcakes and champagne.

I arrived a the birthing centre to find a truly relaxed and happy little family.  Evidently the final phase of delivery had gone smoothly, and Michael – yes, Michael – was the one into whose hands little Elle was allowed to slip as she emerged.  Such a privilege! – one that I believe Michael will never forget.

As well, Heather was present through the entire process, and is as pleased as punch.  When she holds the baby she radiates pure joy.

old man with baby
Grandad with Elle
I got to hold the baby, too.

Elle is gorgeous, and perfect in all respects.  This is her Grandad speaking, of course, but you know that I am completely dispassionate, accurate, and objective.

There was a celebration with cupcakes, and champagne.  Sarah, the photographer, made sure that my un-corking of the champagne was recorded for posterity.  Heather found paper cups into which this elegant liquor was poured for the toast, and while the nurses declined to drink, they did enjoy a cupcake or two.



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Epilogue

Monday, June 26, 2017

Rachael, Michael and Elle remained at the birthing centre until Thursday afternoon, getting used to one another.  My final Grandad errand was to go with Heather to the shop where the air conditioning on Michael’s car had been repaired.  We connected Michael to his car, and it was he who proudly drove his little family home.

I got to hold Elle a few more times before I had to return to Winnipeg, which I did on Saturday.

Now I have presided and preached at St. Mary’s, and am slowly returning to “normal.”  Heather will remain in Sacramento for a while, helping out wherever she can.

On Thursday, Rachael and Michael announced the birth to friends and family, and almost immediately after they did, I got a congratulatory text from Markus – Elle’s cousin, and our oldest grandchild.

I remember when Markus was born, and there is no doubt that I felt, back then, what I feel now: love and joy, and a sense that something wondrous had come to pass.  But there is this difference: Markus, at twenty-six, has just graduated from university, and I was able to be there.  But… when Elle is twenty-six, where will I be?  If I should live to see that day, and it is unlikely, I will be one hundred and three years old.

Which makes my being present, at the arrival of this grandchild, precious beyond belief.


baby staring thoughtfully at the camera
Elle, thinking about university



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FOOTNOTES:

1  Nugget is an upscale grocery store in the region.  It has a wide selection of fine wines.
Click here to get back to the narrative.

2  Google says it takes 44 minutes to get from the Sutter Davis Hospital to the cupcake bakery, in normal traffic.
Click here to get back to the narrative.


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(Previous Chronicles entries can be found on the Oxbows page.  Click here to see the list.)

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