On Nov. 24, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, my second granddaughter, Hadley Claire Prather, was born. To my great and glorious surprise, I witnessed the event.
My daughter-in-law, Cassie, along with my son, John, went to the hospital Monday night so Cassie's doctor could induce labor.
It was the same process they'd followed a year ago, when Cassie gave birth to their first daughter, Harper. Last year, Cassie didn't deliver until 8:30 the next night, more than 24 hours after she had checked into the maternity ward.
So when Cassie and John went to the hospital in Winchester on Nov. 23, I visited them, of course. I stayed a couple of hours, saw that nothing was going to happen and drove home to Mount Sterling.
Recently, I took a full-time job in corporate communications. Early Tuesday I called John. He said this labor didn't appear to be progressing any more rapidly than the first. Being newly employed, I felt obliged, then, to go on to my office, which is only a few miles from the hospital.
About 10 a.m., I called again.
"She's dilated to a 5 or 6," John said.
"Do I need to come over?"
"I don't think so. Looks like it'll still be a while."
I gave my boss an update. He's the father of four. He has been through this more times than I have.
"You'd better go," he said. "You don't want to miss anything."
I left work. But I was hungry. I veered off at the McDonald's drive-through for coffee and a McMuffin. I figured I had plenty of time to spare.
When I strolled into the hospital lobby, perhaps 30 minutes had elapsed since I had last spoken with John. (I discovered later that he'd tried to call me back almost as soon as we hung up, but due to some cyber-glitch, his voice mail didn't show up on my cell phone for six more hours.)
In the lobby, I bumped into one of John's aunts.
"Well, what's happening?" I asked casually.
"They're having a baby," she said.
"Yeah, it won't be as long as it has been."
"I mean they're having a baby — right now."
I dashed for the locked entrance to the maternity ward, grabbed the intercom phone and called the desk. When the electronic lock clicked, I hustled down the hall to Cassie's labor room. The door was shut. I knocked.
"It's John's dad," I shouted. "Can I come in?"
"You cannot," a woman's voice said. I think it was a nurse. "We're delivering."
My heart strangled my windpipe. I couldn't believe the labor had moved that fast. I hadn't even gotten to wish Cassie and John good luck.
And then, without warning or explanation, somebody opened the door and said, "Come on in." I was so discombobulated I didn't even notice who it was.
I wasn't supposed to be present for the delivery. Hadn't planned on it.
But I didn't ask questions. I just bolted inside.
There I saw, right before me, the crown of a little head appearing.
A tiny head matted with thick, wet, black hair.
Cassie pushed. She pushed again.
Out popped the whole baby, red and purple and bloody. My granddaughter.
I glanced to my left, into the face of Cassie's dad. Papaw Bob was laughing and weeping, all at the same time.
Seeing his tears, I welled up, too. Hadley bleated. But we two grizzled old grandpas were crying harder than she was.
For what it's worth, the women present — Cassie's mother and grandmother, not to mention Cassie — all seemed perfectly composed.
As the nurses cleaned up Hadley, I snapped pictures of her with my cell phone. And wiped away more tears. And hugged John. And grinned.
I kept thinking how blessed Hadley was. To have 10 fingers and 10 toes and strong lungs. To weigh 7 pounds, 12 ounces. Yet more so, to be born into a world where she was surrounded by three generations of kin who adored her from the moment she appeared.
I still can't believe my good fortune or how close I came to missing it. It was only the second time I've seen a child born. The first time it was John, but his birth was complicated. We almost lost him. His birth wasn't fun. It was terrifying.
This one was sheer, unmitigated joy.
You who read this column regularly know I'm already nuts over Harper, Hadley's big sister. I've worried publicly that I wouldn't have enough space left in my soul to love another grandchild.
Let me assure you, friends: That's not going to be a problem.