There are few days more special to me than September 30, for this day celebrates two of the most extraordinary people in my life-my maternal grandmother and my oldest daughter. Today is my grandmother’s birthday, and it also is the day that I received the news that my fifth in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle had resulted in a viable pregnancy. Although I did not know if we were expecting a son or a daughter, I knew right then and there that if we had a daughter, she would have my paternal grandmother’s first name and have my maternal grandmother’s middle name. So, it was very appropriate that I was given the gift of a positive pregnancy test on my grandmother’s birthday, and I always will believe that she had a hand in bringing my daughter to me.
My grandmother was a dynamic,strong, vivacious woman, and she commanded a room when she entered it with her wit, intelligence, and energy. My favorite memories of her include when we would arrive at her home in Minnesota after making the 800+ mile trek in the family station wagon to the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Kentucky Woman” blaring out the stereo speakers across the lake to greet us, and she would run out to welcome us with big hugs, kisses, and a huge smile. I remember waiting for her to return home from work with giddy anticipation, and as soon as she arrived, she would trade in one of her quintessential 70’s pants suits for her bathing suit and join my sisters, cousins, and me for a swim in the lake before dinner. We greeted her with squeals of laughter and endless chatter, and she returned the favor by joining our antics and listening to every peal of laughter and every silly story. Some of the happiest memories from my childhood were spent with her during our annual summer trip to Minnesota and when she and my grandfather would come to Kentucky every Thanksgiving to visit my family, and then, on June 7, 1978, everything changed forever. She was gone.
In March 1978, my grandmother was diagnosed with advanced stages of colon cancer. I didn’t know what that meant, except I knew that it was very bad news, and I recall desperately praying every night that she would get better. It was the first time I had seen my parents upset, and I knew from their whispers and the fragments of the phone calls I overheard that my grandmother was seriously ill. I was scared. She always was so active and healthy, so, I couldn’t imagine her being ill at all. It seemed impossible, but unfortunately, it was all too possible and very real. My mom was gone a lot during those months to be with her mother and to support her father, and it was a very difficult time for my entire family. We were so worried about our grandmother, and we really missed our own mom. On that June day, my mom was supposed to fly back home, so, my sisters and I busied ourselves cleaning the house and preparing for her return. So, when my dad came in the back door without our mom and broke down in tears, as he said, “Gramma died”, we were stunned. Almost as soon as he got the words out of his mouth, I took off upstairs to the safe sanctuary of my pink bedroom and my security blanket, where I remained until my dad came to comfort me and to help me pack for the funeral.
That trip to Minnesota was void of the excitement we always had felt on previous trips, and every trip thereafter was never the same without Gramma there. I recall walking into her home, which was brimming with family members and overflowing with food, and even though everything looked the same, everything felt completely different. I knew Gramma was not there, yet I still found myself scanning every face looking for hers. The last time I had seen her was that previous Thanksgiving, and the next time I saw her was at the funeral home. The larger than life woman I loved and adored was a shell of her former self, as the cancer had ravaged her once strong and fit body, leaving it thin, frail, and pale. We all mourned what the cancer had taken away from us, but it could not ever take away our memories and profound love for this amazing woman who still is missed greatly, especially on her special day. Naming my oldest daughter after her was only fitting, and it brings me to the other incredible person for whom this day has great significance.
After five years of infertility treatment, my then husband, my Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE), and I all agreed that this fifth IVF cycle would be our final one. So, when I returned to Kentucky after doing that final IVF cycle in San Francisco for the long two-week wait before taking the pregnancy test, I was on an emotional roller coaster. Some days, I felt confident that I would be able to handle another negative result, while other days, I sank into utter despair at the thought of hearing more bad news. Spiritually and mentally, I was exhausted and frazzled. When I realized I would be taking the pregnancy test on Gramma’s birthday, I traded in my desperate prayers for heartfelt chats with her and asked her to help bring me the child I had longed for all those years. So, on the afternoon of September 30, 2000, when our RE called and changed our lives with the news that I was pregnant, I knew that Gramma had heard me and helped make my dream come true. Trust me, she was a woman who got things done, so, no-one ever will convince me that she did not have something to do with this! With the words, “You’re pregnant”, our infertility journey came to an end, and a new journey began.
Yesterday, I was talking with my daughters about the significance of this day, and I began to cry when I shared memories of Gramma and talked about how much I still miss her. After a few moments, her namesake said, ever so wisely, “Mom, you don’t have to miss her, because you have me, and I am part of her and you.” My daughter definitely is her own person, but I take heart in knowing that she is right, as Gramma is a part of her and watches over all of us. Today is one worth celebrating to the fullest, as it is the day Gramma came into the world, making it all the better and brighter for all of us, and it is the day I discovered I would welcome a child into this world. I will end this with an inside joke shared between Gramma and me during every long distance call before we would hang up, and I know she’ll remember it and smile. Gramma, there’s nobody here but us chickens!
That’s another story . . .
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