There are places in our lives that often become sacred spaces, where there is the overwhelming feeling of something holy. For some, it is a special tree by a creek, or a spot in a backyard garden.
For me, battlefield cemeteries have this feel: Vicksburg, Normandy, the 9/11 Memorial. Some churches or chapels have resonated with me; the Cathedral at Chartres, a tiny chapel at Saint Michael and All Angels, a beach near where I grew up … but always a newborn nursery, where the infants, “so fresh from God” as Dickinson once said, lay, experiencing life outside the womb.
Newborns are certainly common, yet each birth is a miracle, each uncommonly distinct. Infants are as unique as snowflakes. Sadly, not all newborns are as welcome as others. There is the mild disappointment of yet another child of the same gender when “changing flavors” was desired, or the rejected child of an addicted mother, the babes who come forth with obvious abnormalities, which portend a foreshortened life or a life filled with challenges.
But it was only a few weeks ago that I entered a birthing room at Margot Perot, gazing at a father, a mother, and a newborn — a sacred trinity. My son, his wife, and their son. All was perfection and joy, just as it was when I was there 38 years ago in that same place.
Soon I was inhaling the fragrance, nuzzling the unblemished skin, stroking the crown of velvet fuzz on my new grandchild. Embracing this one-hour-old package swaddled in blankets was akin to cradling a warm loaf of bread. Large for our family at nearly eight-and-a-half pounds, yet startling how very small. This, my fifth grandchild, was nevertheless my first grandson.
Would we have loved another ballerina princess? Of course. Yet this little man was “carrying on the family name” that would have died out, which in the Deep South is still something. Actually, despite the fact that feudal primogeniture has fallen by the much-needed wayside, the desire for a male child at some point still pervades much of the world. It’s not just in China, where female infanticide has been a problem, or in the parts of the Middle East where women are regarded as chattel, or in other patriarchal societies. Even in America, where we adore our daughters, there is some secret implicit desire in many families to sire a male.
Gender was not a surprise in this day and age, unlike the arrival of my firstborn male nearly 40 years ago, when I produced the little Texan who would “carry on the family name.” Still not sure why this undercurrent of maleness persists. Perhaps it is just history, which is ever-changing.
Like all proud grannies, I posted his visage on Facebook and emailed a dozen friends. Then I spent the next hour doing what families do. I tried to remember if he looks like his father did at birth, if he has my family’s mouth or nose, or coloring. Did he have our feet, fingers, and hairline? Both sides produced old photo albums to jog our memories.
I thrilled at his every coo, mewl, and yawn, watched breathlessly as his eyes fluttered and he frantically searched for his thumb while making sucking sounds. There it was, his first smile. A dream … or gas? Watching his little spindly legs unbend as he was cuffed with an ankle monitor, so he would be protected as ours, was akin to watching a fawn rise on wobbly legs.
An infant is endlessly fascinating to the birth family, and, despite all good wishes, less so to others. Despite the welcoming email responses, it took one fellow granny of boys who wrote “Isn’t it amazing how they look like grumpy old men at first, but in a few years become these young studs” to penetrate my fog. I rechecked the photo I had sent out; his eyes were swollen from the drops, his lips puckered, and his brow furrowed. Still, he was gorgeous. Surveying my bundle of perfection I did not want to fast forward 15 years to those studly years. In the beginning, there is only this marvelous innocence. And it is sacred.