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Becoming a Mom, Becoming a Grandma

Perri: When I went into labor with my first child, I called my mother. This may be the most old-fashioned thing I've ever done. On some level, I suppose, I wanted someone in the room who had been through what I was going through. And maybe my impulses were partly generous -- I wanted her to be there to see her first grandchild born. But mostly, I think, I just wanted my mother. I was scared of the pain, scared of something going wrong, scared of the way my life was about to change. So I did the obvious thing. "I'm in labor," I said.

"Can you come?" I was in Massachusetts; she was in New Jersey. "I'll come as fast as I can," she said.

My mother had her babies quickly. In her first labor, with me, they never got her into the delivery room. My brother was similarly speedy. Only my sister, who was born breech, took a little time. I felt somewhat entitled to the same quick delivery, but my own first labor went on all evening, all night, and well into the following day. We walked, endlessly, up and down the hospital corridors. I'd stop for a contraction, hanging on to Larry or my mother or a door frame, and making appropriate noises. Then we'd keep walking. My mother and Larry spelled each other -- they took turns taking naps. I resented this deeply, but in spite of my completely reasonable irritability, I was glad to have my mother there. She was cheerful and encouraging and happy to walk and talk. The only thing that made her a somewhat less-than-ideal delivery-room attendant was that every so often she would look at the clock in perplexity and say, "Perri, I just don't remember it taking this long to give birth! Are you sure you're doing it right?"

Sheila: If becoming a grandmother was easy, getting to Massachusetts in midwinter to attend the actual event was really hard. My husband, Mort, drove me over icy roads to the airport, where I shamelessly crashed a line of standbys boarding the last and only Boston-bound plane of the night.

"Sold out," I was told, but I pleaded Perri's belly so eloquently, the airline people found me a seat. On the flight, my thoughts drifted. Perri will be a mother... Larry will be a father... The kids are having a baby!... How will she manage medical school?...

A young woman across the aisle was knitting a pink bootie. She made me feel guilty. I'd tried, but I'd never learned to knit. I'll take lessons, the airborne, heroic me resolved. A grandmother should be able to knit. But in my heart I knew I would never learn. My fingers are twigs in the presence of wool and needles. Okay, so instead, I'll read to the baby! I made a list in my head of all the wonderful authors whose books I would buy: A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, Beatrix Potter.

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