The miracle of birth comes when you look into the eyes of a newborn and see an individual human consciousness looking back at you from a face composed by families.
One afternoon this past week, Jim phoned me at the office, something he rarely does. “Alexis has gone to the hospital. There’s going to be a C-section,” he said, in a voice I could sense was consciously controlled. Jim was becoming a grandfather three weeks earlier than expected. To us, the birth had still seemed a long way off; suddenly, it was right in front of us.
For the next few hours, we both held our breath. Oh, yes, we went along with what we were doing, but always there was this awareness that something momentous was going on in California–the other side of the world from where we were in Oxford.
Then, the good news came: Mabel Jade had arrived, mother and baby doing fine. I went home and peeled Jim off the ceiling. He was beside himself with excitement. Couldn’t think about anything else. So pumped up with adrenalin, he could hardly sit still.
We talked a long time that night about the feelings that family members have when a new baby is born. Especially the first child of a generation, as Mabel is for Jim. People talk all the time about “the miracle of birth.” But it is really only when it happens close to you that you realize what those words really mean.
The moment you look into the eyes of a newborn and see the human consciousness looking back at you, especially eyes set in a face that is somehow your own and yet also the face of every family member on both sides of the parents, you know what “miracle” really means. Particularly because, while the baby manifests the gene pool in a visible way, it is equally undeniable that each and every one of them is utterly unique, their own person from the moment they hit the birthing table. This is what makes birth a breath-taking experience.
As Jim observed–and I agree with him–a new baby feels like the personal creation of every family member. I would be the last to underestimate the contribution of the mother. My own first birth was a world class nightmare. And Alexis had to go through some real pain to bring Mabel into the world. Even so, I think our tendency to focus so wholly on the mother as “author” of the child belies not only the biological reality of the mutually crafted DNA, but overlooks the heart of what makes a birth so special. The arrival of a newborn unites families–indeed, the arrival reminds families who they are, why they are important.
Several days later, we are still basking in the glow. Pictures and videos are pored over and posted. Congratulations keep coming in from people Jim has not heard from in years. I would never have thought becoming a grandfather would be such an extraordinary moment. But, even as a male, even at a generation’s remove, and even at a distance of 5,000 miles, Jim is living this instant in complete immediacy.
Welcome to the world, Mabel Jade.