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The granny I long to be
Cathy Chutter was told she wouldn’t be able to have children. She shares with us her moving story of the joy and heartbreak of her adopted daughter’s pregnancy
Like many girls I just assumed I would have children, and by my late teens had already chosen some names. But with a history of erratic periods persisting well into my 20s, the tests confirming fertility problems were hardly a surprise. I had married a widower and begun proceedings to adopt his young daughter. With little memory of her birth mother, she had been calling me mummy for months before we’d got engaged. So believing a choice to forgo treatment was the right thing for Sarla’s own welfare, I buried unanswered questions and a gnawing sense of inadequacy as a woman unable to conceive. I would love to say everyone spurred me on with the adoption, but sadly that wouldn’t be true. One relative openly admitted she couldn’t see the point. And, like other adoptive mothers I’ve spoken with, I often faced the frustrating, naive, sometimes hurtful comments, from folk who failed to recognise the reality of my experience, or pushed to impose their own motherliness on my child.
Although I never held Sarla as a baby, I forget I’ve not always been there for her. Yes, I legally adopted her, but quickly and naturally grew to love her as my own. I felt keenly the responsibility familiar to all parents as well as the protective instinct that longed to offer answers to her troubles and quandaries – or, at least, some sound advice.
YOU’RE GOING TO BE A GRANNY!
Those feelings remained when the telephone rang, many years later. ‘I just called to tell you that you’re going to be a granny!’ I was thrilled. I couldn’t stop grinning. But it didn’t take long after ending the call that shadows crept over my heart. I felt inadequate, insecure and vulnerable, without pre- or post-natal experience to support her with. And so my excitement promptly gave way to dread, as I faced, once again, the struggle of having to prove myself able; deep down knowing I’d lost before I’d even begun.
Most grandmas can relate to the joys of foetal flutter, the first kick, and empathise with the sickness, backache and pressurised bladder. They can share amusing stories of craving Marmite with ice cream for afternoon tea, or of having one’s bits examined by queues of midwives in training. They can offer advice on breastfeeding, nappy changing, sterilising bottles or surviving sleep deprivation. The only nappy I’d ever changed fell off my niece as soon as I picked her up, and then my own mother promptly took over. Like every father, I shall never know what it is be ‘as one’ with your child through pregnancy, but I did live through my daughter’s labour in heart, mind and soul. I stood with her, if only in spirit, through those seemingly endless hours. So it didn’t help when someone announced she knew exactly what Sarla had just endured, as she too suffered 33 hours labour, the identical war wounds and the very same pain relief.
LEARNING TO FIND PEACE
What I have learned is that it really doesn’t matter what others have experienced. Sarla shared freely with me throughout her pregnancy. I cherished every detail, treasured every push of a wee foot against my hand held to her stomach, and welled up on first hearing her unborn child’s rapid heartbeat. I was also overwhelmed as the
baby entered our world momentarily, then disappeared back to its own. Desperate for some hands-on experience, however, I did consider asking another young mum if she would teach me to change, bath, feed, burp and treat babies for nappy rash, but decided I would rather have Sarla show me. I also wondered if it might boost her own self-esteem, knowing that mums get their fair share of bad days when they feel an utter failure. And so I found peace, grateful for the intimacy of mother and daughter in that new phase of her life.
I accepted that Sarla couldn’t turn to me for advice on her life-changing event, and learned to counter sporadic attacks to my self-worth by focusing on being grateful; filling my heart with thanks to God for the plentiful supply of ad-hoc tips that she received from her mummy-friends which I was unable to give, the guidelines offered by family members, and not least, from the midwives attending her.
TEARS COME FOR A SEASON
I realised she didn’t need my experience; she’s a grown woman, even if I can’t stop recalling her in a little pink smock with plaits. She didn’t need a know-it-all mum to interfere with advice that has changed umpteen times since she was born, and opinions that still differ between contemporary books and midwives. Sarla just needed me to be there for her as I had in the past; to listen, to hug, to laugh, to cry, to make her a cuppa when she couldn’t get up, to magic away the piles of ironing, to cook a few meals for the freezer, to give the vacuum an outing, to help when the buggy wheels jammed and, of course, to hold, to love, to care for and enjoy, the little person now part of our family.
I admit that, after the birth, I endured an unexpected but dark phase of tears, as I once again faced the grief of my own infertility. But, grasping God’s love, I trusted my night would soon turn into day. Tears come for a season, then pass by. Believing it was best not to bottle them up, I acknowledged them, released them and then found myself free to move on. The bonding I have with Sarla did not happen because I had her – that is, gave birth to her – but because she is my child. And the same applies to the next generation. When I first held my grandchild, I felt that innate, overwhelming ache of protective love I still feel today. It had taken unnecessary months to learn that there is one thing no other woman can give my daughter but me: the love, security and comforting presence of ‘mum’.
I trust that, in turn, will naturally make me the granny I long to be.
First published in Mothers' Union's Families First magazine in July/August 2016