The words fall upon you in the heat of late August, get absorbed by your skin. Become part of you.
You’ve heard them a few times, the smile that stretches across your lips, your cheeks so familiar. It almost reached your ears, but not your eyes. Never the eyes.
It does this time.
You smile genuinely, for the first time, at the wonderful news of new life growing in someone else’s womb.
“That’s wonderful,” you say, your body taking pause as you feel for that ache in your heart, the burn in your barren belly, finding it’s truly not there.
You feel elated. Alleviated. Mostly, however, you feel grateful.
Her big blue eyes look back at you, bright with joy and excitement. You pull her into a hug and find they are infectious emotions, because as you press her to your chest, you feel it, too.
It’s unadulterated happiness.
“Don’t tell anyone yet,” she whispers after an initial squeal that erupts from deep within. “It’s still early.” And suddenly you feel like a co-conspirator to something you assume only her partner knows. Maybe Maureen.
You promise, of course, not to tell anyone—especially Elliot. Secretly you wonder why she told you so soon, but the happiness bubbles where you never grew life.
Inwardly you’re still on guard, expecting jealousy to strike out of nowhere, but as much as you listen within it’s peaceful and quiet.
“You’re gonna be a grandma, Liv,” she says, pressing herself all the more against your body that is so much softer than hers, and your heart trips and swells.
You expected a whole lot, but not this. Elliot already has a grandchild, and while you are very much involved in Maureen’s, Carl’s and Joseph’s lives, you are not grandma. You’re Olivia. Liv.
Kathy is grandma.
You’re not bitter. You get it. Joseph was born when Kathy was still alive, and there are some places, you understand, that you just can’t take.
But here you are, and apparently you’re going to be a grandma to the tiny human that’s growing in Kathleen’s belly.
“How far along?” You ask, curiosity getting the better of you.
You know there’s a heartbeat, faster than yours, than hers, something akin to galloping horses. Many years ago, before you got Noah, you were two weeks late, giddy with the idea of what could be. You held off on taking the test for an entire week, wanted to be somewhat sure. You may not have peed into a cup and dipped that stick in, but you googled pregnancy symptoms. Before you knew it, you were knee-deep in countless medical sites, checking out things like ‘Fetal Development: Week By Week’.
You smile at the information, trying to remember if baby's the size of a raspberry or an olive.
The happiness pretty much boils over and you close your eyes, holding onto Elliot’s second eldest daughter as if she’s part of you, and you think she is. She is. And so is the child that already owns every part of Kathleen.
That night as you lie in bed you admit to yourself that you never thought you’d be a grandmother to anyone. Noah’s ten and your sixtieth is just around the corner these days. The years creep up on you slowly, and while the man sleeping next to you would scold you for it, you can’t help but think that you don’t have the best genes, even taking your mother and father out of the equation. Your own grandparents didn’t live to be seventy and although bitter-sweet you hope to God that Noah won’t start a family before getting a proper degree and building a life for himself.
Underneath your skin, happiness and excitement still bubble. You grin into the darkness like an idiot, thinking how you’re going to be dead tired in the morning. Once upon a time you were days deep into cases, functioning on little to no sleep, whereas now you feel the lack of shut-eye like lead in your bones.
Jesus Christ, you’re getting old, you think.
You’re going to be a grandma.
Turns out you and Ryan were the only people who knew. Kathleen tells everyone after the first trimester and the reactions range from ridiculous excitement to total surprise.
You don’t think they saw it coming, and truthfully, you didn’t either. After almost five weeks of keeping quiet, you’re glad the secret’s out. Although this is good news, you hate to keep things from Elliot.
He’s fucking proud, beaming, but there’s this shadow behind his eyes that you recognize like an old friend.
You reach for his arm, squeeze, letting him know you’ve got him. His eyes are red and a little wet, and if you had to bet, you’d wager your home that he shed a tear or two during the hustle and bustle following the reveal.
It’s not until you’re back home and Noah’s in bed that the two of you get the chance to talk about the dangers lurking behind the corners. You know more than he does. You’re no longer sworn to secrecy, and you’ll be damned to leave him like this, thrilled, but hopelessly floundering.
He stands in the middle of your bedroom, loosening the knot of his tie, craning his neck, and his breath is a little too heavy for your liking.
You walk over, take over, pull the noose from around his head and drop the tie at the foot of the bed. He breathes in and breathes out slowly, more collected, and you know it’s for your sake. Cocking your head you cup his cheek, smile faintly. He leans into it, into you, and you place your lips against his chin, unhurried.
Elliot’s eyes flutter closed. Your hand drops to his shoulder, and maybe, you think, you can quiet the chaos taking over in his head.
He swallows as you smooth your hands towards his neck, undoing a first, second, third button of his shirt.
“The bipolar,” he chokes out, and you think the last time you heard his voice so strangled, so full of pain, must have been shortly after he lost Kathy.
“El,” you soothe. “She’s got this.”
It went through your mind, too, because how could it not. After a couple of weeks you’d worked up the courage and you asked flat out. Of course there was the chance you’d offend Kathleen, but she was matter of fact about it. So yes, you know things, and while still a delicate situation, the conversation put you at ease.
You see him struggle, his brows folding as he sucks in a breath, shaking his head.
“Is she taking her medication?” Maybe it’s rhetorical, or maybe he senses that you've been privy to the news before him and everyone else. He grabs your wrists with both hands, his palms warm, fingers calloused as he’s searching your face for answers. Your fingers are still against the fourth button, and you nod slightly.
“They’ve planned and prepared for this for over a year,” you offer almost casually, his grasp easing in an instant. “They’ve changed her medication to something that’s safer for the baby and that she responds to. It was a few months of trial and error, but she’s doing well, and they’re monitoring her closely.”
There are risks, of course, but you don’t think tonight’s the time to burden him with them.
By the way he looks at you, you see he’s hardly surprised you have answers. There’s this little sound he makes in acknowledgement, not quite scoff, not quite sob, tugging at your heartstrings. There’s nothing you can say to reassure him fully, but you hope for tonight this can be enough.
“She’s safe?” He asks and clears his throat that’s blocked by emotion.
“As safe as she can be,” you say sedately, looping the button through the hole, his clasp no longer restraining you. You realize his main concern is for his daughter, because he raised her, loves her, knows her. The baby, you suppose, is not yet real to him.
For Kathleen, the baby’s health has priority, and in your belly you feel a pinch of regret for you will never know what it feels like to be ready to sacrifice anything, everything for a tiny human being in the making.
People certainly have opinions, thinking what Kathleen does is reckless, that risking her mental health during and post pregnancy can’t be worth it, but you beg to differ. You look at Kathleen, and of course she beams with joy, hell, she’s got that entire pregnancy glow thing going on that you didn’t see (or maybe didn’t want to see) with Rollins. It’s not just that, though, because looking back you remember her like that: a nurturer. In your heart you feel that she deserves this, her shot at motherhood. There’s so much bravery in it, despite struggling with the final decision like she told you, and given all precautions she’s taken, you can’t help but want this for her.
His hands fall from your wrists and find a new home on your hips, moving you so close, there’s no more space between your bodies.
“Okay,” you repeat, and when you taste the desperation on his lips, you know there’s only one way for you to catch him tonight.
What used to be a mere pregnancy glow now tinges Kathleen's cheeks in a beautiful natural blush. She looks absolutely radiant in a long sleeved, sage-colored maternity dress. You haven’t seen her for three weeks, things were literally upside down at the precinct with a serial keeping the NYPD in suspense. The small bump Kathleen accentuated with a fitted t-shirt last time you saw her has grown into a gorgeously protruding baby bump.
She beams at you and you hug her briefly, then rub your hands across her upper arms. Unable to help yourself, you look down between the two of you, taking it all in.
Twenty weeks, you think, and excitement surges through you when you fully realize that she’s already at the midpoint of her pregnancy. Twenty more and you’ll be a grandmother.
You slide into the booth, feeling the exhaustion of the past few weeks in your bones and in your eyes that you can hardly keep open. You treated yourself to a rare day off, and meeting Kathleen was the first and only thing you planned for yourself. Later you have errands to run, Elliot’s suits and your blazers and jackets to pick up at the dry cleaners, a brief stop at the grocer. Maybe you’ll stop by at one of the various baby stores. Until now you have been hesitant to make any purchases but you know Kathleen and Ryan have painted and picked out a few items for the nursery from the pictures she sent you last week.
You nurse your coffee as you talk while Kathleen’s enjoying a full late breakfast. Even watching her have a healthy appetite is mesmerizing to you.
“I want to check out strollers one of these days,” she tells you around a mouthful of scrambled eggs. “Ryan can’t really be bothered with it, he said to just pick something I like.”
You chuckle at her eye roll. Ryan is a good man, but he’s probably more excited about looking into a more family friendly car than the specifics of strollers.
“Is that a bad thing? Not needing to compromise sounds like a dream to me.”
She looks at you, scraping her fork across the plate and shrugs as she shuffles more eggs into her mouth.
“I’ve got some time, wanna go?”
“I can’t. I’ve got an appointment at my OB-GYN at 11:30. But maybe we could go on Saturday?”
Saturday sounds wonderful, and you agree, deciding the boys can fend for themselves.
“Oh,” Kathleen exclaims, and her big blue eyes get even bigger as she reaches across the table and grabs your hand. “Do you wanna come? To the ob-gyn? Ryan can’t make it, and it would be nice to have someone there with me.”
She cut down on her hours, so Ryan’s working more, and while understandable, you can only imagine how lonely it must feel at times not to have him there.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, absolutely. I have my anatomy scan today, we might even find out if it’s a boy or a girl.”
She beams at you, but it hardly diminishes your insecurity. You don’t want to impose on her. You are close, very, but coming along for a sonogram is something mothers do, at best. You’re… not that.
Tipping her head to the right she slides her plate out of the way, leaning slightly across the table top. “I want you there, Liv,” she affirms, and you’re floored and full of humility that she allows you to be part of such an intimate moment.
“Okay,” you say, voice thick.
With age, you’re getting more and more emotional.
You expected to look at a fuzzy ultrasound, but instead you get clear 2- and 3D images of the baby.
The scan takes forty minutes, and three sets of eyes are glued to the computer screen as the ultrasound tech takes a look at the baby’s heart, the kidneys, bladder, stomach and brain. It’s fascinating and overwhelming, and you’ve never seen Kathleen so in awe. You take a mental picture, because you don’t think you’ll cherish anything about her more in this lifetime. You have no idea yet how wrong you are.
There is a lot of measuring going on, and the practitioner talks about soft and hard markers, and when you hear about characteristics that may indicate chromosomal abnormalities you swear your heart stops beating.
It’s fine though. Everything’s okay.
You’re going to be a grandmother to a precious baby girl, and like Kathleen, you shed a tear at the news.
Afterwards, in the car, she tells you she’s secretly been hoping for a girl, and as you squeeze her hand you think that honestly, so have you.
You drive her home and when she asks you to come up, you go. You want to take a look at the nursery, and it’s not like you’ve got anything better to do. She offers you a coffee that you gladly accept. You can hear her move about in the kitchen as you settle on the couch, a hardcover book on the table catching your attention. You wrinkle your forehead as you pick it up. ‘The Essential Homebirth Guide’, and underneath ‘Why Choose Homebirth’.
And oh boy, she’s going to ask you to keep another secret, and you’re absolutely terrified for the next several weeks of your life.
Elliot is not going to like this. Actually, you’re not sure if you do, either. Your first instinct is that it’s unsafe. You think of horror stories you’ve heard of women who almost lost their baby or died during childbirth, so the idea of not having a doctor or medical equipment present fills you with dread.
Your eyes scan the first couple of lines on the back of the book, chuckling to yourself.
If you are considering a home birth, please read this book.
If you are not considering a home birth, please read this book.
It makes you curious, and you think you might just read it. When Kathleen sets two cups on the table, coffee for you, herbal tea for herself, you catch her with her bottom lip sucked between her teeth, looking at you apologetically.
“Homebirth, huh?” You try to sound unbiased as she takes a seat, nodding on an exhale. Your opinion matters to her, and while you can’t say you’re happy about this, you’re also not familiar with the subject matter, so you’ll beware of saying something potentially hurtful.
“Hospitals always give me the creeps, and the more I thought about it, the more anxious I got,” she explains. “I never would’ve considered it before I got pregnant.” She picks up her cup, carefully blows into it. “I talked to my OB-GYN about it and she mentioned a birthing center, so I made an appointment there and everything was really homey, and I figured, why do it at a place that looks like a model home, if we’ve got a home ourselves.”
She tells you that her therapist and OB-GYN are both supportive of the decision, and stresses how a calm and autonomous birth is of major importance, especially with her being at higher risk for postpartum depression and psychosis.
You hesitantly mention that you think there might be safety issues, but Kathleen recites statistics about unnecessary interventions at hospitals and subsequent complications for mother and child, and while it does little to put you at ease, she’s at least not making some uninformed decision.
You’ll support her, of course, no matter how she’s going to do this. It’s not your place to voice your opinion, anyway. It’s a deeply personal moment in Kathleen’s and Ryan’s life. You keep further concerns for yourself, telling her the one thing you know is right.
“As long as you’re sure and happy with it, I’m happy.”
At 35 weeks Kathleen drops the bombshell in the family chat.
You’ve been dreading this moment since she let you in on the secret, and you had a bad feeling about it from the start.
“You knew about this?” He got the text in the car, and for half the ride you prayed he wouldn’t drive into a brownstone. You get that he’s mad, that he feels betrayed, but you were between a rock and hard place.
“It wasn't my place to tell, Elliot.” You say calmly, closing the door of your apartment behind you. He makes a hard pivot, staring incredulously. His chest looks broader now, his eyes ablaze, and if you didn’t know him, you might be scared.
“The hell it wasn’t! Did you at least try to talk her out of this nonsense?”
“That wasn't my place, either.”
“For fuck’s sake, Olivia! How can you, in all good conscience, support this?” There’s spit flying from his mouth and you wipe the drop that hits your chin away, unimpressed. “I know you’ve always kissed her ass, but-” You can’t remember the last time he yelled at you, and while you are compassionate enough to know it stems from a place of utter fear for his child and his unborn grandchild, you’re not going to stand here and just take it.
“You will not speak to me this way, Elliot,” you hiss, taking a step closer to him, never one to back down. “And fuck you for saying that!”
You fight for five, maybe ten minutes, going around in circles, and at the end of it nothing gets resolved. Elliot reproaches you, too worked up to really listen to anything you say, so when you reach an impasse, you raise your hands and give up. He grabs his gym bag, storms off, and you hold your breath, waiting for him to slam the door.
It’s late by the time you hear the key in the door followed by the living room light being switched on. You sit in bed, studying a file, but you don’t lift your eyes off the page just yet. You left the bedroom door open, knowing he’ll recognize the olive branch. These days you don’t fight often, but you have a rule never to go to bed angry, and you don’t want to be the one to break it.
You hear him drop the bag and kick off his shoes, every noise standing out in the quiet of night. Then footsteps, the creaking of the kitchen cabinet, the door of the fridge being opened, closed. A few long moments of quiet.
You draw a breath when you see him in the doorway, unaware you’ve been holding it for a while. You raise your gaze, eyes locking, and he’s better now. Softer.
“Liv, I’m sorry.”
Apologies don’t come easy to him, but he always finds the words when he’s wronged you. It wasn’t always like this, and you appreciate that he's trying. There’s been a lot of growth for both of you.
You take off your glasses and close the folder, finding your voice scratchy with fatigue. “Me too.”
And you are, because you wish you could have told him, could’ve tried to prepare him for this. You nod at his side of the bed, relieved it’s not going to stay empty. For a little while you weren’t so sure.
Elliot comes in, closes the door behind him, scrutinizing you for a little longer. You know he wants to talk, probably doesn’t know where to start. He’s good with surface stuff and opinions, but not with feelings.
Elliot’s changed in many ways, but like a leopard he can’t change his spots.
It takes him a few more minutes, but by the time he’s undressed to his boxers and undershirt and sits next to you, his confusion is palpable.
“I don’t understand why she would do this.”
A few months ago, you didn’t either, but you had time to adjust to the idea of it, and in addition to a couple of conversations with Kathleen about her reasons, you’ve also downloaded one of the books on your e-reader.
It’s still not something you think you’d consider for yourself, but at least you no longer feel like it’s unsafe, or less safe than having a baby at the hospital.
“Why don’t you ask her, Elliot?”
“I’m asking you. Closest I can get, isn’t it?” Elliot states, prosaic.
He’s got a point, you have to admit, and you’d rather he asks you, instead of saying something stupid in front of Kathleen. It’s probably still too fresh.
“Well,” you sigh. You’re tired, but this is not a conversation that can wait until morning, because neither of you will sleep. “She’s not fond of hospitals, for one.”
“Nobody’s fond of hospitals, doesn’t mean they have surgery on their kitchen table,” he grumbles, and you chuckle at the comparison.
“You know she’s not planning on a c-section in her living room, right?”
“Might as well…”
It takes a while until he can hear you, and you need to call him out on his bullshit first, asking if he truly wants to know.
You share with him all that Kathleen explained to you. She desires a quiet birth where she can welcome her child at her own pace, in a warm and familiar place instead of a clinical setting that spikes her anxiety just thinking about it. She won’t have to go anywhere in labor, she won’t have to get dressed, changed, or hail a cab. There will be no waiting periods, no conversations with medical personnel, and more importantly, no changing faces.
At home, she said, she can just be, and do whatever feels good. She’ll have constant one on one care by a capable midwife, and can move around as she pleases, no unnecessary IV or machines to hook up to.
And then there’s the simple fact that there’s an actual lower rate of interventions in home births. You don’t know exactly why that is, but it does sound more peaceful to lie back and let things progress naturally, than having to leave and submit to hospital regulations and practical strangers. Maybe, you think, with that peacefulness comes safety.
Elliot listens to you, but at the end of it he’s still not convinced. He wants to know that Kathleen and the baby are safe, and nothing is going to give him a bigger sense of safety than knowing his daughter is in the hospital. When it comes to his kids he tends to think in worst case scenarios only.
“It’s not your choice to make,” you remind him. “You don’t have to like it, El, but maybe you can support their decision anyway. Sure as hell’s gonna be better for your relationship.”
You admire the way he loves his kids, how wildly and unapologetically protective he is of them. You also love that he values your opinion, your generally calmer disposition that allows you to look at the big picture instead of picking out the tattered pieces.
Under your touch he softens. Sighs. He’s not an avid reader, but you might offer him that book you read, thinking if he’d attend to it, he’d find some reassurance in it.
Anyway, you find comfort in the fact that there’s still time for him to get on board with this, and knowing Elliot, he’ll come around.
You stop by after work to bring the stroller Kathleen picked out a while ago that you and Elliot have decided to gift the parents-to-be. Kathleen’s belly is huge and beautiful, but you can tell that she’s exhausted. Hugging is no longer easy, but you do it anyway, the both of you laughing about the awkward position you take as you pull her close.
“You look like you’re about ready to pop,” you tease, following her to the sofa as she walks with a rolling gait.
“God, I wish. I hope she’ll be a few days early, at least,” Kathleen smiles, slowly lowering herself down. Her face is round with fluid retention, her bare feet swollen, and a tiny part of you feels sorry that she has to put up with the difficult realities of late pregnancy.
She tells you about Ryan, who’s off for one last conference in Seattle before the baby will be born and looking back you have to admit time flies. It feels like Kathleen only just told you about being pregnant when it’s more like thirty weeks.
Three more weeks, approximately, until you’ll be a grandma.
Sometimes you can’t quite believe this is happening for you.
Kathleen rubs the expanse of her belly and the little one starts to kick in return, her skin arching under the foot pushing against her abdominal wall. You just stare, fascinated to see this magic play out in person.
Kathleen must pick up on the way you look, offering: “Do you want to feel it?”
You do. God, you really do, and before you can second guess your decision you move closer, allowing Kathleen to put your hand on the right upper side of her swollen stomach.
“You can push a little, she’ll push back,” she encourages, and you delicately press your palm against her shirt-clad belly, and Jesus fucking Christ, your heartbeat almost escalates, joyous wonderment mirrored in your face.
“Pretty amazing isn’t it?” Kathleen smiles, and all you can do is whisper that yes, it really is.
Around five the doorbell rings, and Kathleen announces that this is her midwife. Introductions are made, and when you want to make a quiet exit Kathleen tells you not to be ridiculous. You know she appreciates your company, especially because your job keeps you busy most of the time. You don’t feel uncomfortable exactly, but not quite comfortable either as Hazel, probably a few years younger than yourself, asks Kathleen how she’s been since Monday, and by the time she hooks Kathleen up to a portable cardiotocograph you feel like an intruder and retreat to the kitchen, deciding to make some tea.
You hear their voices faintly but can’t make out what’s being discussed. By the time you return to the living room Kathleen’s still hooked up to the machine, the mood however is… different.
You have a strange feeling and start to feel twitchy, cautiously asking if everything’s okay.
“Well,” Kathleen says, turning her head to get a better look at you. “It looks like I’m in labor.”
You learn that she has regular contractions every 7-12 minutes, that she’s noticed since around midday but figured they were braxton hicks contractions. Apparently they aren’t very painful yet, either.
Kathleen’s obviously rattled as Hazel asks if she may examine her cervix, and once more you retreat and give them privacy.
Her cervix, you later find out, is 2.5 centimeters dilated.
Kathleen’s processing as she wipes the blob of gel off of her belly, and so are you. Hazel estimates that if everything goes according to plan, the baby will be here between midnight and the early morning hours, and suddenly you’re no longer processing, you’re legitimately about to lose your shit.
There is no way Ryan is going to make it to New York in time. In fact, Kathleen can’t even reach him, assuming he’s either at a late lunch with colleagues or still in the conference listening to boring presentations.
You listen to Hazel’s reassurances as Kathleen, close to tears, explains that they thought it was safe for him to travel. It’s safe for the baby to come at 37+3 weeks, and of course they knew that technically she could go into labor any day, but Kathleen’s completely thrown.
She breathes with Hazel and calms enough to agree that she can do this. She’s going to do this, and you take a deep breath of relief before she looks at you and makes your heart stop.
“You’re gonna stay with me right, Liv?”
And like in trance you nod your head at her, answering on auto-pilot.
In less than twenty-four hours you’re going to be a grandmother, and you’ll be here for the birth of your long awaited granddaughter.