Shaking Hands with my Mother.


By Sue Adair

I was never close with my mother growing up.

When she offered to come up and help me right after the baby was born, I tried to get out of it. What would we do? What in hell would I ever say to her?

Even though I had only known my boyfriend a couple of months before I got pregnant, I knew it was the right thing to keep this baby and to get married. So what if he didn’t have a job and lived in a house way out in the country with no heat and running water?

We had a good thing and we would figure it out.

I’d finish college and have the baby in this 24-Hour program that Derek found at the hospital in a local city university. As long as I had the baby in 24 hours, it was a set fee. And childbirth would be easy—just like everything else was when I put my mind to it. We’ll come up with a way to make the payment. Why can’t you see that it’s just not a big deal, Mom?

But still my mom insisted on coming to help me even though I assured her I didn’t need any help. I wondered how she would begin to find our house driving on country roads when she was used to suburban streets with signs.

Turns out, it took me longer than 24 hours to have my baby. I labored in a hospital waiting room for 10 hours until they finally admitted me to a hospital room.

The next day, the nurse told me it was time to leave and asked me where the baby’s clothes were. I told her I didn’t think of that. She shot me a disgusted look, shook her head as she sighed, and then she fashioned pants from a hospital tee shirt and wrapped him in a hospital blanket. I held him in my arms in the front seat on the drive home because we didn’t have a car seat.

The next day, Derek left to look for work and mom miraculously found our house in the country. Even though I had no idea what I would say or do with her, I was surprised to find myself greatly relieved when she finally drove up.

I let my mom into the house and offered her a cup of coffee like you would a guest, but she declined.

And although I didn’t want her help, she started tidying up, doing the dishes and our laundry. Pretty soon I was following my mom as she took care of things.

And then she said it was time to give the baby a bath.

“I don’t know how,” I confessed.

Mom looked at me for a few beats with those hazel eyes I’ve never been able to interpret and set up the bath gear. Gingerly, she unwrapped the baby and eased him into the warm soapy water. He was so tiny.

I noticed my mother’s hands were shaking, and she said, “I haven’t done this in a long time.”

As I looked at her shaking hands, forgiveness washed over me.

I realized she had simply done the best that she could with what she had. We were mothers.

Years later, my daughter said she would be flying in from Canada to spend some time with me.

She had fallen in love with an older woman she’d met her senior year at college and she seemed to be happy.

“Dana really wants to have a baby and time is running out for her. Since I’m younger, we’ll use my eggs. I’m already in the fertility program, anyway. We’re putting my fertilized eggs in her so she can have the baby. We took a loan out and everything. We’ve got it all figured out.”

I was stunned. How could my daughter have a child with a woman she’d only known a few months in a foreign country?

I’d never listened to anyone’s advice anyway, so I knew that whatever I’d say wouldn’t change anything. Maybe I would be different from my own parents by simply supporting my daughter’s decision, no matter how crazy it seemed to me.

After many medical procedures, their twins were delivered just after my 50th birthday. I had flown there to celebrate my birthday and to help after the babies were born.

My daughter motioned for me to come with her to a room off the nurse’s station. “They told me I have to give them a bath,” she said as she looked at me. “I don’t know how.”

She handed the tiny naked baby to me as if he was a loaf of bread, and said, “You do it.”

“I haven’t done this in a long time,” I said.

I looked down, and my hands were shaking.


Sue AdairSue Adair successfully raised her four amazing children in the first half of her life, keeping her sanity working in the corporate world. The second half of her life is blue sky. Sue is a columnist for elephant journal and has been published at Tiny Buddha. Sue enjoys making things with her hands, especially spinning yarn, knitting and cooking. Her blog—uncomplicatedlife—is about letting go of what we no longer need or no longer serves to create space for what brings us happiness.


Photo: Nationaal Archief/Flickr

Editor: Jes Wright