3:45 a.m.: “Mom, we are bringing Ava over...now.” I could not be more wideawake. I get to shepherd my three-year-old granddaughter while her Mom and Dad go to the birthing suite. Then, I join them to welcome their unborn daughter, who has decided to be born any minute.
4:30 a.m.: Forget getting the child to sleep. We do chocolate chip cookies and milk (two cookies). “Grammy, Sara is going to pop out...she is going to pop out Grammy...” Yup. Indeed.
5:15 a.m.: “Grammy, can we cuddle in your big bed?” Now? You bet. Good Night Moon and three songs later, Ava is sound asleep. I am not. I wait to be called to the birth of a person.
5:45 a.m.: “Juliette has asked that you come now.” Michael, son-in-law extraordinaire, sounds calm. I know better. I hightail it 25 blocks to Pennsylvania Hospital’s birthing suite.
6:05 a.m.: “Oh, you’re Dr. Galbraith’s Mom. She’s over there.” I enter a Day’s Inn type room and try to fold my 5 foot, 9 inch frame into a small package. Staff and surgical paraphernalia surround me. Bright and cheery professionally trained dispositions abound. Their smiling chattiness camouflages immense skill. A nationally reputed birthing center, Pennsylvania Hospital hourly orchestrates easy and excruciatingly difficult deliveries. I feel lucky to be here but decide not to think about potential disasters.
6:15 a.m.: “Come On, Sara,” I cheer silently. Knowing how interactively intelligent pre-birth beings are, I have been talking and singing to Sara for weeks. Michael stands at the bed, following directions from wife and nurses. “No, hold my hand a little further down.” He and I exchange a brief glance that says, no matter how skillful, deliveries contain inherent risk. We both want this birth successfully completed.
6:30 a.m.: “Second babies are a different delivery situation than first babies” the obstetrician sees a quick entry. At ease and in charge, she looks at me, calculates her options, and says, “Mom?” I nod. I feel very lucky to be here.
6:45 a.m.: A shock of wet umber hair is the first evidence of Sara, who slithers into our lives with vehemence. She moves her head jaggedly. Wrinkled but alert, she opens an eye partway, and begins to wriggle. A nurse’s pat in the right place, and Sara squeaks briefly, then announces her arrival with a bellow in a voice bigger than this tiny person. The kid is going to be a belter, a squeaker, and a wriggler. Understated elegance of her name aside, the personality I just saw portends that Sara Grace Galbraith is going to impact our world. Just watch.
7:10 a.m.: First bath complete, miniscule pink and blue striped cap covering her temporary post-birth pointy skull, Sara looks exquisitely beatific. Her skin has become robustly pink.
Her lips, still puffy from her nine-month aquarium, put ads for lip gloss to shame. Her large eyes, alternately wide open and closed, announce intelligence. She wraps tiny tendrils around the stalk of the long index finger I inherited from my pianist mother. Quietly breathless, I feel ...well...reverent.
My experience has been informed by recent research. Well before birth, infants are distinct individuals. They intuit much about our world from their belly aquarium. Dr. Alison Gopnik reports that babies are born with high intuitive grasp of complex human needs and resources. Newborns believe that people are special and intuit crucial links between their own internal reactions and the internal feelings of others. For example, researchers found that if they stick their tongue out at a newborn, the newborn will mimic the reaction, indicating that newborns can link their own internal kinesthetic sensations to those of another person. This ability enables infants to form the attachment to adults crucial to their welfare. The system is simply brilliant. And Sara has just demonstrated it without any instruction.
Looking forward to future time with my new granddaughter, I decide that I will try this experiment. Next time I see Sara, I will stick out my tongue at her and see if she returns the gesture. Who knows? She just might. So far, child development research has been really helpful in knowing what lurks inside keen minds that cannot yet tell us just how many of our secrets they have precociously deciphered.
To consider: What do you think infants know before they are born? How do you know? Might you like to learn more?