Becoming a Grandmother

Posted: March 13, 2014By: Briony Cooke

The most important event this year has been the arrival of our first grandchild – a boy born in mid-February. At 8 o’clock one Tuesday evening our son called us to say they were at the hospital, but the birth wasn’t going to happen quickly. Of course I didn’t sleep at all; it was a mixture of excitement and thrill about seeing this new member of the family and worry about the delivery. It was a long wait, and Sebastian Robert weighing 8 pounds 7 ounces was born by caesarean section the next morning. Our relief was overwhelming.

He is now almost a month old and a delight to all the family. It is an important event because it marks the start of a new era, when we look forward to a new generation arriving. When I look into this child’s face I see the genetic input of several families; it is fascinating. There are good times ahead for me and, hopefully, there will be more grandchildren in time. Living with the knowledge that Parkinson’s is incurable and progressive could easily cast me down, but this baby diverts my attention and brings hope. His arrival provides a new source of interest; I have been reading up on child-rearing and have discovered many changes since we were having babies over 30 years ago.

I am hoping that having Parkinson’s will not prevent me from helping to care for my grandson. But there are uncertainties, especially while the baby is so young. We have seen him three times now, and each time I have felt unsure about holding him while walking around: there is a real risk of falling, so it is best if I cuddle him while sitting down. I was going to bath him in our sink, but supporting his back and washing him while propping myself up is a two-person job. However, nappy changing is a doddle, even with the constant kicking. These new-fangled disposables are easy to manage. No more struggling with safety pins and no more festering buckets of soaking towelling nappies to deal with every day.

It is only at this early stage of grandparenthood that bothers me. I would avoid caring for him on my own in case I have a fall or put him in any kind of danger; ideally, I would mind him with my husband. Sometimes it is difficult for the rest of the world, and even our close family, to recognise and acknowledge the difficulties that Parkinson’s brings to us and the way that it limits our activities. This is because so many of our worst symptoms are invisible. For example, poor balance has a profound effect upon walking, and can make carrying loads impossible. Carrying a baby downstairs unassisted would be asking for trouble. Muscle weakness, stiffness and slowness of reaction are other limitations to my minding a young baby.

However, as time goes on and the baby’s muscles become stronger, he will not need the same amount of physical support from me and will be able to sit on my lap. He will not be so dependent, and will become much more agile and mobile than me. I look forward so much to some play-times: building towers of bricks and beakers then knocking them down. Then there will be story times and messy times in the kitchen. I don’t think these old activities that delighted our children will ever be replaced by technology. Children need company and interaction, which I can easily provide in spite of having Parkinson’s; no amount of plastic toys or technology can replace this. Parkinson’s should not get in the way of playing with and enjoying the company of this grandson nor any other grandchildren that follow.

Briony Cooke

Briony Cooke

I experienced the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD) during my 40s and was diagnosed in 2000 at the age of 47. At the time I worked as a lecturer in a further education college where I was in charge of geography and environmental sciences, and was Senior Tutor to 250 students. I also held the post of Deputy Chief Examiner in geography for the International Baccalaureate and ran training courses for teachers in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. I worked with PD for 6 years and finally retired in 2006. Since retiring, I have setup a support group for those with young onset Parkinson’s in the Reading area. I write in my spare time and have published three geography textbooks.

I have three grown-up children who have all left home and I live with my husband, two fat cats and five tortoises. My hobbies are photography, gardening and breeding tortoises and my philosophy is: “there’s no time like the present”.

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