My whole life, as a woman, has been awash in hormone awareness. Adolescent despair? Hormones. The stunning efficacy of new love affair crash diets? Hormones. The fragile nights of new motherhood? Hormones.
Women, over the course of a lifetime, are tortured by, and tutored in, the intricate complexities of hormones and their inevitable imbalances. For those of us who didn’t tune in to science classes when we had a chance (too many distracting hormonal rages, and don’t even get me started on those math anxiety hormones), hormonal chemistry remains mysterious. Partly because it is.
When we’re young, aging looks sort of yucky; frankly, even though it is extremely un-PC to say so, it looks sort of yucky when we get there, too. Hence, the magical thinking around skin creams.
But then I became a grandmother. Nothing compares to the experience of holding 6 pounds of newborn boy against an older, wiser, pounding heart, a heart burnished with the patina of age, a heart that bears the traces of fractures, the patchwork or plaster lathed over bad breaks. That heart suddenly, unexpectedly, floods with … hormones.
Hormones still rule. That is the only way I can explain the mysterious, intricate nature of my chaotic response to this new love. The joy: He’s here! He’s made the passage safely! He’s breathing, he’s digesting, he’s already got the rooting-around-for-the-breast-thing down! The grandchild’s every grunt and squeak is a fascination, and I could gaze forever, rapturously, as the shadows of chemical firings cross that tiny sleeping face.
Yet, howling alongside the lunatic joy comes terrifying anxiety. I gaze at Baby Boy (as it says on his cart) and think: Not only do I have to worry about every single little thing that could go wrong with a grandchild, but I also have to worry about what that pain would do to my own son and his wife. Double whammy.
I will spare everyone the hellhole whipped up by my hormonal grandmother furies – the snatches of disaster that light across the ceaselessly channel-surfing screen at the front of my brain as I ponder that frail neck, that pulsing vein.
And then there’s...climate change! I lay in bed, the first night of being a grandmother, and do the math: When Baby Boy is my age, worrying about his own grandchildren, Miami Beach could be advertising scuba tours through its skyscrapers; Amtrak to Boston could be running on elevated tracks that skim over the Atlantic Ocean; the Long Island Expressway may no longer be a parking lot – it will no longer be anything at all; New York City will be the Venice of America, with gondolas bobbing over the David Koch Plaza in front of the Met.
And still climate change deniers will claim, “Nothing happening here!”
No wonder grandmothers make great activists.
Every day that I visited the new parents in the hospital, whenever I wanted to leave the maternity wing, the nurses thoroughly checked my bags before unlocking the doors. The TSA could learn something from our R.N. authorities. And they were absolutely right to make sure I was not smuggling out a wee creature.
My inner crone wanted, desperately, to keep Baby Boy in my arms forever. A frightful loop played in my deranged brain: yes, yes, yes, I want him, every moment of him, every adorable sneeze and snort. Hormones are like that: They create an alternate reality.
And then comes the leave-taking. Why do we not live in those villages everyone always claims it takes to raise a child? We should admit that raising a child depends a lot on the kindness of strangers. It is rare that extended families live in the same state, much less the same city. I sit in the hospital and ponder the Amtrak website, the American Airlines website, and I cannot bring myself to buy a ticket home. Because what is home if it is not with Baby Boy?
There’s nothing like a hormonal storm to light up the skies, especially those night skies, at any time of life. I know I’m going to get all this under control. But right now I plan to let myself ride this Queen Tide of Love out into the wild blue yonder, no matter where it takes me, relishing one of life’s final big gifts: At any age, we are capable of crazy-mad, head-over-heels falling in love, even with its attendant crazy-mad brain dysfunction.
Speaking on behalf of hormonal grandmothers the world over, I want to say, simply, to our beloved children, in law and in love, who bear us grandchildren: Thank you. We are eternally grateful.
Dominique Browning, a founder and senior director of Mom’s Clean Air Force, is a 2016 recipient of the Rachel Carson Award.