Chapter 1: Part 1
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.
Chapter 2: Part II
Hazel leaves you two alone for a few minutes to get everything she’ll need from the car. The air is thick with tension, and you’re not quite sure what to do, so you sit down next to Kathleen, asking if she’s all right.
“Not exactly how I thought it would go,” she tells you and exhales a long, shaky breath. “When I think, this is really it? I’m scared shitless.” She chuckles humorlessly, her hand caressing her unborn child. “Ryan’s gonna hate to miss this.”
You feel unsteady, so you can’t imagine how much worse Kathleen must feel, but you remind yourself that this should be a joyous occasion, deciding from here on out it’s positive affirmations only. Like Hazel you encourage her, even draw a genuine smile from her.
When Kathleen reaches Ryan he’s gutted. The last flight out of Seattle took off an hour ago, and although you had little hope to begin with, your heart breaks for the two of them. You promise Ryan to take good care of her and to be in touch.
And then you sit on the couch, and it doesn’t feel like a new human will be born within the next several hours. Everything is just…beautifully calm. Kathleen’s changed into a tank top and yoga pants, and besides tracking her contractions there’s nothing to do. You watch some show named ‘Schitt’s Creek’ that Kathleen loves that you’ve never heard of, as she’s gently bobbing up and down on a yoga ball. Every now and then you both chuckle. You briefly wonder what you’d be doing now had you taken her to the hospital.
Hazel suggests Kathleen and you should have something for dinner, it’s going to be a long night after all. It’s surreal, because ten minutes later you and Kathleen are in the kitchen, cooking spaghetti and heating up her favorite mariana. While she’s in labor. You think, at the hospital they wouldn’t let her eat, if they even admitted her at all. It’s comfortable though and grounds you; allows you to relax in this unfamiliar situation.
“Would it be okay for me to call Elliot, just so he’ll know what’s going on?” You don’t want to dish him a lie. Omitting something Kathleen entrusted you with is one thing, but making something up to explain why you won’t come home tonight is quite another.
She looks at you, stirring the sauce and swaying her hips a little, nodding in understanding. You told her that your long knowledge of her home birthing plans caused friction between you and her father.
“Yes, sure. But could you ask him not to tell anyone else?”
And you call Elliot.
He’s shocked, excited and deeply concerned—asking how she’s doing, how it’s going—and you explain the strange normalcy of how you’re going about it as best as you can, telling him it’s really quite nice. He lets you go only after you promise him to make sure his girls are safe.
A couple of hours pass before the contractions get stronger. Kathleen breathes slowly and consciously through them, rocking her pelvis back and forth. You thought your nerves would spike now that things are starting to progress, but you’re much calmer than before. You watch Hazel listening for the baby’s heartbeat with a handheld doppler, and your granddaughter is doing absolutely fine. Kathleen’s smiling at you while Hazel examines her in between contractions as she whispers to you: “Thanks for being here, Liv.”
You grab her hand, squeeze it, and although extraordinary circumstances are your reason for being here, you’re beyond grateful for the experience.
You feel the smothering need to tell her that.
“I’m glad to be here.”
And your heart leaps when Hazel announces she’s 4.5 centimeters dilated.
You’re taken aback when they pump up a pool. The living room is small, but Hazel jokes that she has yet to manage not to make space for a birthing pool. Kathleen wasn’t sure if she wanted a water birth, but as the contractions grow stronger and the breaks in between get shorter, she agrees to try.
It takes a while until the pool is filled and in the meantime you do your best to be supportive, gently rubbing Kathleen’s lower back as she leans forward over the back of the couch. She hums, groans at the peak of the current contraction, and you can tell that things are progressing more quickly now.
When Kathleen gets in the pool she asks you to call Ryan and they facetime for a few minutes. Hazel stays but you retreat for a few moments, filling up a bottle with unsweetened iced tea. You take a moment, deciding to send Elliot a text. He’s worried and you know he’ll appreciate the update. It’s only been two weeks, and you’re not entirely sure he’s made peace with this yet.
You return to the living room finding Kathleen in the middle of a contraction, head backwards against the pool. Her eyes are closed as she makes a buzzing sound. You can see the grip of her hands tightening around the handles on either side of the pool and you make your way over, crouching down to her right.
Her lips vibrate on a last exhale before she opens her eyes, her head rolling to the side to look at you. You smile as she shifts in the water, her eyes drooping.
“You’re doing great.”
She swallows and nods, sinking a little further into the water. You see her flushed face relax, and something within you clicks into place. You weren’t sure about the home birth thing at all, but the more time you spend by Kathleen’s side, seeing her so in tune with her body—her baby—you can’t deny that something about it feels utterly right.
There is Hazel with the doppler again, and the woman is so calm and unobtrusive there are moments you forget she is here. When she speaks, she speaks quietly; her words a warm sing-song, and you think, it’s no wonder Kathleen feels so secure with her because you do, too.
Time passes like this. Nothing much happens except a few changes in position whenever the current one gets uncomfortable for Kathleen.
You hold her hands, encouraging her. You put a cold washcloth to her head and make sure she has something to drink when she gets thirsty. During a particularly strong contraction you mention to Hazel how useless you feel, and rubbing the back of your hand she assures you that you’re not useless at all--it’s your job to give Kathleen the support she needs, and you’re doing just that. It does make you feel a little better.
Hours crawl by.
It’s well past midnight when you see exhaustion creeping across Kathleen’s features, and in between contractions she closes her eyes, muttering.
“I’m so tired. I just want to nap, but I want her to be here.” The breaks in between contractions are short now, so Kathleen hardly gets to rest. You feel the weariness in your bones too, but at the same time you’re highly alert and filled with suspense. In some moments, it doesn’t let you breathe.
“I know. You’re doing amazing, sweetie.” You stroke her hair, her long bangs damp with sweat and water. Momentarily you’re reminded of Kathy, how you were present for Eli’s birth, and how both experiences couldn’t be more different.
Eli came into this world quick and sudden, under less than desirable circumstances. Your pulse quickens—races—as you remember Kathy on the gurney; hurt, vulnerable, and crashing as you were holding her newborn son. You ground yourself by focusing on Kathleen, her daughter, so strong and in control. So graceful as she traverses the passage to motherhood.
If Kathy was still alive, you know she would be in your place, proudly watching her granddaughter being born. You feel wistful, humble, that you get to be here instead, that Kathleen feels close enough to you to let you be around and hold her hand when Ryan can’t. When her mom can’t either. And with every piece of you, you know that Kathleen certainly wants her mom.
Sitting up straighter, she moves her torso in big circles, forehead propped against her palm as she takes deep breaths.
“Can I come out? I… I need to move.”
“Then let's get you out, momma.” Hazel agrees.
Hazel helps Kathleen out and you get an extra towel and a dry shirt.
She’s at 7.5 centimeters, but at eight she’s done moving--no longer able to. She throws herself knees first onto the couch, leaning across the back as she noisily processes wave after wave. You see Hazel spread an absorbent pad underneath Kathleen, and it’s not long until her water breaks.
“There you go. The pressure is going to get more intense now, Kathleen.” Hazel explains while discreetly cleaning up and changing the pad. You sit behind the couch, rubbing her shoulders, and when she drops her head the sounds start coming from deep within her.
“If you want to have her in the water, now’s the time to get back into the pool.”
And she wants that, because the water was relaxing. So, in between contractions, you both help her back in. She’s on her knees and before Hazel mentions with a gloved hand between Kathleen’s legs that she can already feel the head, you know this is it. She’s coming. Your granddaughter is going to be here soon.
Kathleen feels for her baby’s head, overwhelmed when she can feel her hair, euphoric when Hazel tells her that within one, two more contractions the head will be born.
“Okay, next contraction, momma. Just push gently, gently, gently…”
She cries out once, a piercing sound that’s followed by a breath of relief at the realization that her baby’s head has been born.
“Really? Really?” She asks, hoisting herself up enough to look between her legs, which allows you a glimpse as well, your heart flooding at the images.
“She’s almost here, Kathleen,” you tell her, your voice unusually high. “You hear that?”
“One more push with the next contraction,” Hazel confirms, smiling. “Grandma is very excited, I see.” And for a brief moment the three of you chuckle, until the next wave takes over, and, once more, your entire world is turned upside down.
“Dad was supposed to catch her, is grandma stepping in?” You have no answer yet, but Kathleen, lips a tight, thin line, just nods vehemently. You have no idea if she fully understands what she agrees to, although she’s now looking at you, but you’re on autopilot just like you were when you agreed to stay..
“Yes,” you breathe, and allow Hazel to guide you, and you feel your granddaughter’s head, a lot of hair, Hazel’s hand.
“Okay, here she comes…one more gentle push…”
“You hear that, one more,” you say, sounding a lot calmer than you feel. Then, she comes out. You feel the little turn her body makes before Hazel aids you in catching her, and you’ve got her—your big hands wrapped around her tiny chest.
“Kathleen, sit back and meet your baby,” Hazel says and you’re so shaky as you raise her up and out of the water. She’s slippery and weighs almost nothing, and you can’t process it at all because of course you instantly pass her into Kathleen’s arms and the both of you gasp. You’re overwhelmed when you see her with her baby—with your granddaughter—in awe and disbelief, just looking at her.
“My baby…my baby,” Kathleen manages, and you take it all in as you move towards them to get a better look and whisper how great she’s been, but all you can think of is how beautiful your granddaughter is—so tiny and pale with vernix coating her entire body and face. She opens her eyes and they are round and dark. You fall deeply in love with her in that instant.
“She’s so beautiful,” you murmur as Kathleen shakes and cries and kisses her daughter’s head before asking you to take a picture.
You take a few, and somehow the next several minutes are a blur. Kathleen asks you to help cut the cord, and when your hand covers hers, together moving scissors through the fibrous tissue, gratitude and happiness surge through you. You didn’t think you could possibly grow any closer the moment she asked you to stay and can’t help but feel you share a special, sacred bond now.
In all the dreamy haze you facetime Ryan, letting him see his beautiful daughter and the mother of his child. He’s overwhelmed; crying with what you think is happiness and sadness alike, but he stresses that all that matters is they’re both fine.
You hang up when a few more contractions come. The placenta, as Hazel tells you, and you use the moment to call Elliot who picks up on the first ring almost shouting at you.
“She’s here,” you say, realizing you sound breathless. “She’s here, and she’s perfect, and Kathleen’s perfect, they are both just,” you draw a deep breath. “...perfect. And she’s so, so beautiful, Elliot.”
He expels a harsh breath that you know is relief. “Thank God! And they’re both okay?”
“Yes, they’re both… they’re healthy and strong and Kathleen did so, so well.”
“Well, how big is she? And her… her weight?”
“We don’t know yet, Kathleen’s still in the pool, it’s… it’s gonna be a little while, but I’ll let you know. Actually, I need a change of clothes,” you determine, looking at your now-soaked, rolled up sleeves. Somehow even your pants are damp.
“I… I can get you clothes,” Elliot jumps at the opportunity, and you don’t check with Kathleen before you agree, because if necessary you simply won’t let him in.
“I changed my mind. I wanna nurse her.”
“Okay,” Hazel nods, making her way over. You didn’t know that Kathleen didn’t intend to breastfeed, although maybe the bottles and sterilizer should have told you as much. You watch, fascinated, as Hazel gives Kathleen a hand, the baby now wrapped in a soft towel and wearing a tiny knitted cap to keep her warm. She latches on with no problems at all, and as you take it in you think you’ll never tire of what you see.
“There’s little data on the effects lithium has on infants,” Kathleen says quietly, looking at you, and you think you see guilt flashing in her eyes. “I thought it was better not to take any chances, but…” Her face cracks in apology, and you get closer, stroking your thumb across her bare shoulder.
“You don’t have to explain anything to me, Kathleen. If this feels right, then it’s right.” You believe this firmly, and Hazel supports the sentiment by stating that by nursing she is doing what is best for her child.
Even with the baby here, everything is as slow and calm as it started. Hazel weighs and measures the little one after the placenta is born, and you dress your granddaughter in tiny clothes that are still a little big on her.
You help Kathleen to the bedroom so she can get comfortable and when you place the little one back in her arms Hazel asks the question that’s been going through your mind for a while now.
“So, can I put down a name?”
Kathleen is torn. She looks first at Hazel, then at her baby. For a long while she’s quiet, just scrutinizing the little one.
“You can take a few days to decide if you’re not sure,” Hazel says easily. “It happens.”
“We had a name,” Kathleen says, eyes on her daughter, brows scrunching together as she shakes her head. “I think I need to talk to Ryan.”
And so the two of you give Kathleen some privacy, returning fifteen minutes later, Hazel deeming it time to check Kathleen for any tearing that might need medical attention.
She’s off the phone, sitting in bed, cradling your granddaughter and smiling at you as you step back into the room.
“Come sit,” she invites you, and you move over slowly. “Hazel, can we have another minute?”
And you get a minute.
“Ada Kathleen,” she says,tells you, looking at you, and you smile , because you think it’s absolutely beautiful.
She interrupts you before you get the chance to tell her you love the name.
“Ada Kathleen is the name we chose, after her grandmothers. Ada is short for Adelaide. And Kathleen’s… obviously for mom.” She smiles, and you purse your lips when her eyes get wet at the mention of Kathy. And I should’ve thought of it sooner, because…,” she swallows and looks at you, shrugging with a small, sad smile. “She has three grandmas, doesn’t she? So, Ryan and I needed to discuss, and we think you should be included, too. She bites her bottom lip, and you’re not catching on until she spells it out for you.
“Liv, meet Olivia Ada Kathleen Stabler.”
If you weren’t already, you’d need to sit down. You’re stunned into complete silence, looking at her like you’ve just seen a ghost because it doesn’t make sense for them to include you; to name their child after you.
You will fill in as her grandmother, of course, and you feel like it. You've been preparing for this for the past nine months after all, but this, you feel, is too much—certainly not something you deserve.
For the past three years you’ve intertwined Noah and yourself in Elliot’s family, but you’ve always felt a little like a third wheel, slightly alienated. Now, for the first time, you legitimately feel like part of something. Part of a family that isn’t just you and Noah, and while there’s this odd feeling of completeness and fulfillment stretching through your veins, you’re also terrified of misinterpreting what it all means.
When you find your voice, it’s thin. Shaky. “Kathleen, you… you don’t have to do that,” you protest, but the words are weak.
“I know. I want to. We want to. Also, Ryan loves the name Liv, so it’s really perfect when you think about it.” She reaches for your hand, grabs it and squeezes. “You’re her grandmother, and with Ryan’s parents in Tennessee you’re going to be the most prominent grandparent in her life, and I know you’re going to be a wonderful grandmother. So, it’s not only what we decided, it’s also well deserved.”
You’re a speechless mess, only capable of shaking your head in denial as Kathleen and her baby blur in your vision.
“Is that okay, Liv?”
‘Is that okay?’ It washes over you.
You nod, and when she asks you if you could take Olivia for a moment, you realize that holding your granddaughter is the only thing keeping you together.
Shy of 5:30, the doorbell rings. You know it’s Elliot, and after buzzing him in, you open the door; your granddaughter content in your arms in a yellow-and-white striped onesie and matching yellow pants. Kathleen, with Hazel's assistance, takes a shower, so you’ve been enjoying a little one-on-one time with Olivia.
A bright smile graces your face as Elliot steps in, his eyes widening with surprise over being greeted by you holding the baby. He drops the bag of spare clothes and leans in, mesmerized. He looks at her, and once again your heart feels so full, you think it can’t be healthy.
“Look, it’s your grandpa,” you coo softly, shifting your arms towards Elliot.
“Hey baby,” he says humbly, scrutinizing the tiny human being you’re carrying. “Hey, beautiful.” His eyes don’t find you even when he talks to you. “My God, she is tiny.”
“She really is,” you agree, reciting the numbers to him. “Nineteen inches and 6 pounds 2 ounces. Come here, hold her.” And you place her in Elliot’s arms, watching him bounce a little as he takes her, beaming proudly.
“Is in the bathroom, taking a shower.”
For a moment he looks around, scrutinizes the pool that’s so out of place for a living room, but soon he only has eyes for the tiny bundle in his arms.
“And it was all good, yeah?” He sounds skeptical, despite cradling the proof against his chest.
“It was… beyond words, El. So calm and beautiful, and… it felt right for some reason, and Kathleen did such a fantastic job.”
“You have no idea how worried I was. Thought this was going to end badly for sure,” he admits, and you have no doubt that he’s playing it down. “What’s her name?”
And at the question your throat locks again, because you’ve hardly begun to process anything that happened tonight, but least of all the name she’s been given, and you legitimately fail at saying it.
“I… I can’t. I’m…” You blow out a shaky breath, putting both hands to your waist. “I can’t actually say it…” You fail at forming the O, your heart racing to the point you think you might pass out. There was way too little time for you to wrap your head around it, and if you’re being honest you’re also terrified of allowing it to sink in, half convinced Kathleen or Ryan are going to change their minds.
“That bad?” You know he’s not being serious, but you can’t even laugh at it, and luckily you’re saved by Hazel who greets Elliot—kind but brief—then announces Kathleen’s done. You grab the bag, holding a set of fresh clothes and together you make your way to the bedroom. You watch as Elliot slowly steps up to the bed, and by his voice you know he’s holding back tears as he approaches Kathleen. “I’m so proud of you, baby. She’s absolutely beautiful.” And as he moves in to hug her on the bed, you step outside and into the bathroom, feeling far too emotional.
Elliot leaves around six. You stay because Hazel’s gone now, too, and Kathleen’s wary of being all alone within the first hours with her newborn. She’s mobile, but tired and achy, so of course you offered. The least you can do is help with a diaper change, or fix a small breakfast for Kathleen before making sure she gets some sleep. Ryan's on the red-eye, so you expect him before noon.
When you lie down on the couch and close your eyes, you draw a deep breath. Kathleen’s asleep and so is the baby on her mother’s chest.
You listen for any noise but everything is still, and once again you let her name roll around in your mind.
Olivia Ada Kathleen.
Elliot was as proud as he was stunned. He fully expected Kathleen;, he told you weeks ago he suspected she would bear Kathy's name.
Your body screams with exhaustion and fatigue, but when you close your eyes, you know you won’t sleep. You’re too tired, too cheerful, too excited over everything that transpired last night, and all you can see, all you can smell is her.
You smile contentedly, allowing your mind to play back every memory you have of this extraordinary, magical night.
You’re Ami or Ama, because she can’t say granny or grandma yet, and a part of you hopes she’ll always refer to you this way because you love it.
“There’s my big girl. Happy Birthday,” you squeal with a lot more excitement than you bring up for anyone else.
Little Olivia almost lets herself fall towards you straight out of Kathleen’s arms. You’re both prepared; Kathleen supporting her as you’re catching her, lifting her into your arms and giving her a big hug. You swing from side to side like a human pendulum as you press her to your chest, inhaling her sweet scent that’s baby shampoo, fabric softener and a touch of Kathleen’s everyday perfume.
“Hey,” you greet Kathleen, managing to pull her into a quick hug as Olivia’s clinging to your neck.
“Hey. Where’s Dad and Noah?”
“Looking for a parking space.”
You smile brightly as your granddaughter gives you one of her bright toothy grins as you carry her inside, pressing a kiss to her cheek that makes the little one squeak with delight.
“Okay, let grandma take off her jacket.” You put her down, and she instantly grabs your pant leg for support, still a little wobbly on her feet.
“Oh yes, please.”
And with Olivia in tow, you make yourself at home. You’ve come to know this apartment pretty much inside out—have spent a lot of time here.
Today it’s just a small get together. Maureen offered to have a birthday party at her house, but Kathleen doesn’t see the point in making it this big thing Olivia won’t even remember. Olivia isn’t shy, but she prefers the quiet over a lot of noise and commotion, and if you’re being honest, you’re glad about the smaller celebration yourself.
Elliot and Noah arrive fifteen minutes later bringing the presents, and Olivia is instantly attached to the crochet doll you had customized for her. It’s her first doll, and Kathleen and Ryan provided a wooden stroller to go with it.
You wait for Ryan to come home to sing Happy Birthday. He works a lot. Misses a lot. You didn’t want him to miss out on this.
You help with dinner, and when it’s Olivia’s bedtime you join Kathleen--you always do when you’re here for it. You sit by the foot of the bed as she occupies the chair in the corner, breastfeeding Olivia, and you drown in the sight of how she tenderly cradles her daughter's head as she nurses herself to sleep.
A big part of this first year hasn’t been easy. Not for you, but especially Kathleen.
They spent three weeks in a bubble; a dream-like state where everything seemed perfect. Kathleen was hardly affected by the babyblues that often came with the sudden hormone drop. Three weeks, and then everything changed.
She hid it for two more before she called you sobbing, unable to stop, and you didn’t know what to do, so you just… stayed.
Fast forward another two months and bad turned to worse. Sometimes she didn’t want to see you but had to tolerate you, because at times she didn’t know what to do with Olivia.
“I don’t feel anything,” she said once. But your heart broke when she admitted in tears that she thought having her was a mistake.
Hazel became a regular in those six months. You learned to cherish her as an important part of Kathleen’s support system consisting of her therapist, family and her closest friend.
You swear it felt like Kathleen hated you sometimes, because you kept pushing her, made her hold Olivia in some of the worst moments, kept begging her to breastfeed because it seemed like the only intimate connection still shared between mother and child.
You remember when the depression got so overwhelming thatKathleen yelled at you to just take Olivia because she couldn’t deal with her—didn’t want to deal with her. Helpless and hopeless, you took your granddaughter to work, carrying her in the wrap Hazel suggested Kathleen should purchase for bonding purposes. At first you hated the thing, deemed it way too complicated, but with some assistance you learned and started to love the lengthy piece of fabric. It allowed you to keep Olivia close and work at the same time, and when you didn’t use it Ryan did.
It got better. Slowly, but it did get better, and you could feel and see how guilty Kathleen felt. How ashamed she was of herself for failing at motherhood. There were a couple of breakdowns, and recovery is still a process but she’s no longer rejecting her child—hasn’t for five months now. If anything, she keeps her closer than ever.
When Olivia’s asleep she unlatches and her lips perk up against Kathleen’s chest as she inhales deeply.
“How’s it going?”
“It’s been a good week,” she says, a small smile forming on her lips. You have a rule that says complete honesty, and you know there’s more when she falters a little. “Wednesday was rough,” she adds as an afterthought and you nod. “I was stressed because Maureen kept asking if we really didn’t want to celebrate at her place, and I had the cake to make-”
“You know we could’ve gotten one from the bakery,” you tell her carefully.
“Yeah. Yeah, I know, but I… it’s her first birthday, and I really wanted to do this, you know? Do what… What good moms do.” Her voice cracks a little and now you understand.
“Kathleen, you’re a great mom,” you tell her, making your way over. You mean it. You think she’s done a terrific job at dealing with postpartum depression. Even through the worst of it she kept up counseling, had Hazel come over, and reached out to you when she was unable to tend to Olivia. None of it was easy, but you’re in awe of her strength and persistence. You remember one of the many bad days when she couldn’t even get out of bed. When, in tears, she told you she just wants to get better.
“I’m not so sure about that.”
There it is again: the stifling guilt, the ongoing self-doubt that she carries around like deadweight on her shoulders.
“Kathleen, sweetie,” you wince.
“I know. I know,” she says, looking up at you, lips pursed. “I just wish it could’ve been different.”
“You did what you could. It was a bumpy road, but you’re okay now.” There are hard days, but she gets through them now. The depression isn’t ongoing. No longer a dark cloak hanging heavy on her all the time, and it’s reassuring that most days are pretty good now. “You know, I am so, so proud of you. And so is your father. You got through this, Kathleen. And you love her, you always loved her, it’s what made you want to get through this.”
She wipes a tear and, stepping as close as the chair allows, you pull her head against your stomach; allow her to mourn the moments she missed. The things that weren’t meant to be.
The past year you were sometimes the only person Kathleen let in. It was you, she called. You, she cried in front of. You, she confided in. You’re grateful that she let you see her in her weakest hours and opted to let you be around instead of shutting everybody out. She held onto you and trusted you to still be there at the end of it. You’ve always been close, but you’re so much closer now.
You held her then, and you hold her now, and by God, if needed you’ll still do it ten years because while you don’t share the same blood or DNA, Kathleen and Olivia are part of you in all the ways that matter.
Your bond to Olivia is beyond what you could have imagined. You’ve been more involved than you ever thought you would be. You were there for late night feedings and diaper changes. Camped out with your infant granddaughter on your chest on Kathleen’s sofa, sometimes at your own apartment. For a while you checked in daily, making sure you got to take her on a short walk to the park nearby, allowing you to unwind after work. And of course there were a few times you took her to work. A lot of it was born out of necessity, but you wouldn’t change anything about it. You don’t compare to mom, of course, but you’re a damn close second, and you cherish it with your whole heart.
You look down at Kathleen, holding your sleeping grandchild, squeezing her a little closer to you.
“Still got a lifetime,” you tell her what you told her countless times, and she sniffles, nods against your stomach.
“Still got a lifetime,” she whispers back, then: “Penny for your thoughts.” You’ve started it between the two of you on nights you stayed over, when Ryan was working late and Kathleen either didn’t want to be alone, or you refused to leave her.
“I love you,” you say, simple but warm. “Both of you.”
A few beats of silence. A sharp breath in. A controlled breath out.
“We love you, too.”
And in that moment, despite the struggles and the hardships--the difficulties of the first year--all you want is to focus on the beauty of the now.