Miriam wiped her hands on the tea towel, then hesitated briefly before picking up the insistent phone. Good news rarely came at this hour of the morning, not even fully light yet.
“Mrs White? It’s Graham. I’m taking Sarah in to the hospital, I thought you’d want to know.”
Her fingers clenched the receiver painfully and she forced herself to take a proper breath. “She still doesn’t want me there?”
“She didn’t want me to phone. Too scared of jinxing anything. But I thought you might want to know. Just in case.”
Did she? “Yes. Thank you. Right, well, I’m sure you’ll let me know when … if …” Her tongue felt heavy as she struggled to work out what she wanted to say.
Graham took charge. “Of course. When anything happens.”
Just in case.
A year ago Miriam had been there with her daughter, through all the antenatal appointments, her labour, the panic of an emergency caesarian and finally the tragedy of Sarah’s baby being stillborn. Miriam’s grandson. She wanted to be there again, to help, to fight for whatever needed fighting for. Or else to have it magically over, just be presented with a little bundle of whatever.
There were still dishes to be dried, but after nearly dropping a bowl, Miriam decided to abandon the rest and let them drip. She found the hoover under the stairs and went round all the carpets with it, then mopped the kitchen floor. Lunchtime came and went with no news; she wasn’t hungry. Instead she got out the bathroom cleaner and scrubbed at the stain behind the sink. The phone rang, but it was someone trying to sell her loft insulation. She checked her watch. Still lunchtime. It could be hours yet. Waiting. Not knowing.
Finding her raincoat and boots, she went out into the drizzle. Her hair was soon damp around the edges of the hood, water dripping onto her cheeks, but somehow it helped her feel more alive. Connected with the world. Walking briskly enough to get out of breath, she reached the top of her road in record time, nodded to a lone elderly man with his dog, then turned right along the rocky track across the moor. It was bleak today, the cloud hovering not much above the hillside and obscuring the views. Later in the year the heather would be in flower, but today she was more aware of it dripping water into her boots as she brushed past onto a side path.
Winding her way across to the western edge of the moor, the terrain became rocky, with the occasional abandoned millstone. The wind was stronger along the edge, blowing the rain against her side, ensuring her corduroy trousers were now behaving like a sponge. She walked faster, then dropped down into the trees. Mostly young, they were a mixture of birch, rowan, sycamore and oak, with underplantings of heather and bilberries. And some bracken unfurling. But her favourite spot was a hollow filled with just silver birches and an understory of moss. Sheltered from the wind, time seemed to stand still.
It seemed less wet here; either the lack of wind made it so, or the rain was actually easing at last, so Miriam paused in her walking and found a flattish rock to perch on for a few minutes.
Finally she started to relax. The birches were just coming into leaf, the bright green contrasting with the darker green of the mosses. It was such a delicate sort of tree, yet it survived in the toughest of places and the most meagre of soils. This grove was almost too rich; likely oaks would take over next. But the birch, that young maiden of the woodland, had paved the way, stabilised the soil, encouraged the micorrhizal growth that would support all roots.
It was the same in a family, she realised. Each generation paving the way for the next, passing on their skills, or else trying not to repeat the mistakes of their parents and instead making a whole load of new ones in the process. Like most parents, she had got some parts right, seeing her child grow up somehow, leave home, get a job, find a partner. What were the next parts? Letting her go, with love, and welcoming her back when she was ready to return. Her own relationship with her mother and grandmother had been healed after she had Sarah, because she had finally understood.
She thought of Sarah now in that cold clinical hospital, cutting herself off from all of this. It had been fear talking, taking over. Miriam had let her go, but Sarah needed her support too, her roots, her connections. Miriam was sure the midwives would do their best, as would any doctors who were called in, and Graham of course, but …
Then it came to her. Not being physically with her daughter didn’t matter; it was being mentally with her that was needed. Forgiving Sarah, and forgiving herself for not having been of any help last time, she closed her eyes. Visualising her daughter in the hospital, she suddenly saw her in the later stages of labour. A moment’s panic: she was almost too late. Then she steadied her breathing and refocussed. She was needed, and she had to do this now and do it right.
Miriam let waves of energy flow from her as she breathed, up from the soil around her feet and out of her hands, into Sarah. It was a start, but it felt too small. Sarah needed more. She asked the Silver Birch trees all around her to help. Up from the tree roots she felt the energy flow, through their trunks and out of their leaves, also into Sarah. Many, many green hands, all assisting. With each breath, each wave of energy, a pushing, an easing, a smoothing of the passage of her grandchild. Let him or her come down the birth canal as smoothly as possible, turning just so. She saw the energies as being green, the colour of the heart, of healing. All the emeralds, viridians, phthalos, limes, peridots she saw around her in the trees. If the child was to live, then let it come to life. Let it be flexible and strong as a birch branch. Look after that cord now; keep the cord as safe as the roots feeding the trees. Okay, good. Now turn and face the world. You’re coming out. You can do it, both of you. A final push. A cry.
A blackbird flew into the tree nearest Miriam and started singing. The rain had stopped. Gradually all around her a chorus of birds started up. Her concentration was broken, but she realised it was no longer needed. She had a new granddaughter, as graceful as the birch itself, and everything was going to be alright. The vivid colours, freshly painted, seemed intensified. Their happiness at having helped felt equal to hers at having succeeded. What a wonderful world this was.
Oh heck! Sarah would be trying to phone her and she was halfway up the side of the hill. Starting briskly, she increased her pace to a very unfamiliar half-run as she splashed down the path, raincoat flapping at her sides. The hood flew backwards and a wet, leafy branch baptised her, as if it was her being welcomed into the world. She just made it to her door as the phone started ringing. Please hang on, she cried silently as she fumbled with the lock.
“Mum? It’s a girl. Born about twenty minutes ago. And she’s okay. She’s perfect. I thought it wasn’t going to be alright, and then suddenly it was and she popped out like she’d never even got stuck.” A pause. “Are you still there?”
Miriam realised that it was tears not rain running down her cheeks. She sat down. “That’s wonderful, love. Just wonderful.”