Uncle Chuck

Last night night I became a grandfather. I don’t have to look around for people to thank.

First comes my daughter-in-law and son. Then there are the medical professionals who made sure that both mother and son were able to look into each other’s eyes. I also tip my hat to my daughter-in-law’s parents, who kept us informed of events as they happened, especially when they took much longer than anyone anticipated.

Then there’s my Uncle Chuck, an ob/gyn who, until he retired, had the reputation of having delivered most of the babies born in the western corner of his state. When I was much, much younger, I spent the night with Uncle Chuck and Aunt Char in their big house with its sloping driveway and rooms offering views of the New England woods. After we had eaten dinner, when we had settled down in comfy chairs, the phone rang. Uncle Chuck answered and then told us that a baby was coming and he would be back. He rose, put on his coat and hat and went out into the dark winter night.

He returned when the sun was high and said, in a weary but infinitely calming voice, that everything came out okay.

While waiting to hear if everything was okay with our daughter-in-law and the child inside her, my wife and became more than a little bit worried. Part of becoming a parent is learning that life can be messy, fragile and perilous. You might believe you’ll live forever when you’re young, but when you bring new life into the world, you learn that what goes right, can easily go wrong.

At one point we checked airfares and thought we’d park the dog with our niece and join that privileged few who are two panicked to be astonished at how much the airlines charge for flights leaving that day. But then we remembered our own experiences in the birthing room, recalling that, no matter how close you are, you can’t make the baby come out any faster, easier or safer.

That’s when I remembered my Uncle Chuck’s calm, post-delivery voice. I guessed that part of an obstetrician’s job is soothing expectant parents, as well as panicking grandparents-to-be who hadn’t had an update in several hours and were two thousand miles away from the delivery room.

How could I have known, way back when I saw my Uncle Chuck throw on his coat and go out in the New England winter, that I would, some day, take advantage of the family business?

I called. He answered. I explained what was happening, or rather, what wasn’t happening fast enough. I gave my wife my phone. She listened and Uncle Chuck told her what we needed to hear.

Part of what he said was an outline of standard operating procedure. Then there was a little insider detail about when, and how often, the obstetrician on-call would check on the baby’s progress, and what was most likely to occur in the next few hours.

Finally there was that voice that, to my welcome surprise, was doing for me and my wife what we probably could have done for ourselves and anyone else in our situation, but, in our panic, could not.

Is it ultimately, the information that saves us, or the manner in which it is delivered? A mixture of the two.

I had a moment when I could glimpse way, way back in time, to those who officiated at births, deaths and other momentous events. No matter what information was offered, instructions given (“Go out and fill this basin with hot water!”), or prayers uttered, it all came down to a voice that told us that things will be okay.

May you find that voice when you need it.




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