Part One: The Grans’ Club

Three women chatting in a hospital waiting room Illustration: Andre Leonard


Part One: Emotions run high and deep as three ladies in very different circumstances prepare to become grandparents

“Keep pushing, love. You’re nearly there!”

Patty could hear her voice coming out in a shriek. Bossy. That’s what her husband – bless his soul – had fondly called her.

She preferred to see herself as a leader, in charge of those who needed guidance. Especially right now. In fact, it was as though she was giving birth herself instead of her daughter, Rosie.

“Remember your breathing,” added the midwife, who was clearly too young to be in charge. Just as well she, Patty, was here. When Rosie’s partner Clive – awful young man! – upped and left last month, it was clear who had to take control.

It had meant rushing down to Devon from the north-east. But someone had to be Rosie’s birthing partner and be there for when the baby came.

“One more push and then we’re there!” sang the midwife.

So soon? Patty’s eyes widened as a small wet bundle suddenly shot out into the midwife’s arms, bawling its eyes out.

Patty found herself unable to speak; something which was extremely rare. Then she gathered her wits.

“What is it?” she demanded, straining to see. The midwife had already placed the bundle on her daughter’s chest and it was hard to glimpse the vital appendages.

“It’s a boy,” wept Rosie.

For a brief moment, Patty felt a flash of unease. Really? She knew nothing of boys! Rosie was her only child and she, Patty, had grown up with four sisters. The men in her family had been quiet, shadowy figures – including dear Fred.

Still, Patty told herself, as she watched this tiny babe latch onto her daughter’s breast with gusto, she would just have to learn how little boys ticked. It couldn’t be that difficult!

“You clever girl,” she said, moving from the rear end to the top of the bed where she stroked her daughter’s head gently.

What kind of man walked out after all those years of trying for a baby?

She’d do anything in the world for Rosie – including killing Clive the rat, if necessary. What kind of man walked out after all those years of trying for a baby?

“We’re just going to deliver the placenta, love,” explained the nurse.

Love? In her day, there’d been more respect in the labour ward.

“Cover yourself up, dear,” she said.

“Actually we won’t be able to do the stitches if she does that.”

“No need to snap,” replied Patty crisply. The midwife shot her a look.

“Mum, please.” Rosie squeezed her hand. “You’ve been brilliant. But do you think we could have some quiet time?”

“Of course, darling. As soon as the nurse has finished.”

“Actually, Mum, I meant you. Do you mind sitting outside for a bit?”

Ouch! Patty actually felt her ribs twinge. Then again, she reminded herself, giving birth was an emotional experience – not always a good one. Wasn’t that why she and Fred decided to stop at just one?

“Of course, darling.”

Glancing at the nurse, she summoned up every ounce of remaining courtesy.

“Thank you for your help,” she said stiffly before sailing out of the door.

Then she paused. The sight of her beloved only daughter feeding this little scrap that looked all too like its father with those dark eyes and thin nose, made her want to weep.

“I’ll be right here, in the corridor. Let me know if you need me.”

“I will, Mum. Thanks.”

Feeling decidedly redundant, Patty took a seat on a sofa next to the water cooler. Water? She needed something stronger. Still, a cup of tea might help – along with one of the chocolate biscuits she’d had the foresight to bring with her.

Besides, it would give her a chance to switch on her iPad and order a new duvet cover. The one in her daughter’s spare room had clearly seen better days. Anything to take her mind off the future.

“Is this one taken?”

Patty glanced up at the good-looking man with bushy eyebrows, indicating the vacant seat next to her.

“Yes – I mean, no. Sorry.”

Patty didn’t normally get flustered but there was something about this man that set her pulse racing

Of course, there could never be anyone like Fred. Then again, as one of her sisters remarked recently, one wouldn’t want that. Steady was one thing. Dull was another. At times, her dear deceased husband had shown rather too much of the latter.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” she continued. “My daughter has just given birth and I’m all over the place.”

One of those deliciously bushy eyebrows rose. “Our daughter’s in labour at this very minute.”

Our? Patty barely had time to register disappointment before a slim, middle-aged woman with blonde hair tied loosely in a casual knot, sank down next to her.

“Not long now, apparently. She’s fully dilated!” she announced.

Patty shuddered. How vulgar! Dilation had been one of those words you simply did not use in front of your husband in her day! But her new neighbour, who had squeezed along to make way for the blonde woman, didn’t seem fazed.

“This lady’s daughter’s just given birth,” he said, indicating Patty.

“Really! Everything all right?”

It had never occurred to Patty that it might be otherwise.

“A little boy.” It felt rather unreal to be saying this. Only a few minutes ago, Rosie hadn’t been a mother and she, Patty hadn’t been a grandmother.

Suddenly the enormity of the situation became too much. To her horror, she felt her eyes swell with tears. How was her daughter going to manage as a single mother, even with her help? It wasn’t what she’d planned for her Rosie.

Yet the worst thing, Patty told herself, was that she didn’t feel that surge of love you were meant to get when you became a grandmother.

Was it the baby’s fault for looking like its dad? Or was it because of the terrible secret she couldn’t share with anyone?

Luckily Sally had happened to put a spare square of kitchen roll into her bag in lieu of a tissue. She pressed it now into the woman’s plump hand.

“Giving birth is so traumatic for grandparents, isn’t it? I’m Sally, by the way. And this is Duncan, my husband.”

A sniff and a quick dab of the eyes.

“Thank you. I’m Patty. I don’t normally get upset but…”

It was all Sally could do not to cuddle this poor stranger

There she went again! It was all Sally could do not to cuddle this poor stranger.

“I felt like you when our first one arrived, didn’t I, Duncan? It’s such a miracle! Nine months of waiting – well, nearly ten actually – and then out pops this little thing from your own child whom you created. Incredible, when you think about it, isn’t it?”

She was talking too fast. Sally was aware of it but she always did this when she was trying to put something right.

In fact, it was one of the reasons she’d just popped out of the delivery room. Her son-in-law was more than capable, as was the nurse. No point putting in her pennyworth too. The trick with being a granny, she’d learned over the years, was to be there but not to interfere.

“How many grandchildren do you have?” asked their new friend. She’d stopped dabbing her eyes and was tucking into a packet of chocolate digestives that she’d taken out of her bag.

“Nine, not counting this one,” replied Duncan, his eyes on the biscuits.

“Nine!” Patty’s reaction wasn’t unexpected. Becoming a mum and then a grandmother at a ridiculously young age, Sally was used to people’s disbelieving looks.

“All between the ages of three months and fifteen years.”

“Like one?”

Sally realised Duncan was being offered a biscuit. Naturally her husband leaped right in even though he was meant to be on a diet!

“Not for me, thanks,” she said meaningfully. “Every one of them is different,” she continued. “The twins – they’re the eldest – are artistic but their younger brother’s a born scientist…”

“I got him a chemistry set when he turned three,” butted in Duncan.

“How do you keep track of birthdays?”

“We just do! Like you remember your own children’s but better – because you can spoil them rotten, give them the things you couldn’t afford to give your own.”

Sally could see Patty’s eyes starting to glaze over so added hastily, “You’ll find all this out for yourself. Is it your first?”

Patty was dabbing her mouth with a hanky. A proper linen one.

“Is it that obvious?”

Duncan grinned. “You look a bit wet behind the ears if you know what I mean.”

Everyone loved her husband. He was warm, boyish, funny and a real rock

Sally wanted to give him a cuddle and a kick at the same time. Everyone loved her husband. He was warm, boyish, funny and a real rock. Yet at the same time, he could be utterly infuriating.

She thanked her lucky stars that, unlike many of her friends, she and Duncan had such a solid marriage. Mind you, it helped that they worked together. Well, sort of.

When the farm began to go downhill, it had been Duncan’s idea to “diversify” into selling eggs, keeping bees and running a B&B. They worked well together as a team. In fact, they’d gone years without a cross word. Until now.

Sally didn’t want to think about the argument last night. It was so unlike Duncan! Still, he’d come round. Behind her back, Sally crossed her fingers. At least, she hoped so.

“You said your daughter is giving birth right now,” the biscuit woman was saying. “Is it her first?”

Duncan gave a snort.

“Third, more like! Our Carrie’s a career girl. Works in advertising, she does, getting people to buy stuff they didn’t mean to.” Despite his words, he was treating their new friend to one of his warm smiles that said I’m really proud of our daughter actually.

“Does she have a childminder for the children?”

Sally stiffened. She had to change the subject. Fast.

Too late…

“No. But she’s going to have to.” Duncan’s tone was firm. “We’ve helped looked after all the grandchildren but like I’ve been saying to my wife, we’re not getting any younger. It’s time for us now. I want to go on a cruise down the Amazon. Do all the things we’ve always planned, before it’s too late.”

Biscuit woman nodded emphatically.

“You’re right. My Fred and I planned to do all that. But then he died. And well, now…” Her words faded away.

Great, thought Sally. Thanks a lot. You might not have known it but you’ve just dug me into an even bigger hole.

Nothing could be more important than her grandchildren. She’d realised that from the minute little Millie was born fifteen years ago. It truly was like being in love, all over again.

“I believe that what you do for one, you have to do for the others,” she said firmly. “We’ll look after this new one and then we’ll have a cruise.”

“As well as running the B&B? How exactly are we going to do that, love? It’s been hard enough as it is.”

Didn’t Duncan realise it was time to stop? Even their new friend was looking uncomfortable.

“You run a bed and breakfast? One of my sisters does that in Newcastle where I come from.”

“Thought I recognised the accent.” Duncan was all smiles now. “My paternal grandparents came from that part of the world. Great place.”

“Yes. I miss it.” Patty sounded lonely, poor thing. “I only came down to be with my daughter because she didn’t want to come up to me.”

“Devon is lovely,” said Sally quickly. “You’ll enjoy it when you get to know it. I’ll show you around if you like.”

Didn’t she have enough to do as it was?

Now why had she said that? Didn’t she have enough to do as it was?

“Really?” Patty was looking happier now. “That would be great.”

“Sally! Duncan!” Their lovely son-in-law, Tom, was running up smiling. “Can you come in now?”

“Has she had it, lad?” Duncan was clapping Tom on the shoulder.

“A girl! Eight pounds two!”

“How wonderful!” Sally wanted to jump for joy. Another granddaughter whom she could look after while her daughter went back to work; just as she had done for all the others.

Perfect! Now all she needed to do was persuade Duncan this cruise could wait for another three years before pre-school.

“Here’s my phone number,” she said, handing Patty a card. “Do get in touch. I’ll introduce you to all the other grannies round here! In fact, that’s Hannah. Cooee! Guess what! Another granddaughter!”

How funny! Hannah had wondered if she’d see Sally here. They knew each other from art and yoga and church and all the other activities which so many of her age group enjoyed, now they were no longer working quite so hard.

In fact, Hannah had only just stopped teaching full-time, although school had asked if she’d come back for two days a week, which suited her fine. It would give her time to spend with the baby if her daughter-in-law needed her.

That was the thing about being the paternal grandmother, everyone said in the yoga group when Hannah had excitedly announced that her son’s wife was pregnant. As a mother-in-law, it wasn’t so easy to be involved because a girl was usually closer to her own mum.

However Gudrun’s parents were in Germany – the dear girl had come over as an au pair and stayed – so Hannah rather hoped she would be needed.

After all, hadn’t she almost given up hope of being a granny? Nick had been in his thirties with little sign of settling down until he’d fallen hook, line and sinker for Gudrun. Within a year, they had not only got married but also got pregnant.

It was, Hannah’s newish husband Simon remarked drily, as if all his wife’s wishes had come true!

Now here they were, waiting for Gudrun to give birth.

Hannah knew that she’d have walked from Berlin if necessary

Her parents weren’t able to get here apparently – although personally, Hannah knew that she’d have walked from Berlin if necessary. Meanwhile, Hannah couldn’t have felt more nervous than if Gudrun was her own daughter! How much longer?

“She’s doing well,” said one of the lovely nurses when they went up to the desk for an update. “Nearly nine centimetres dilated and feeling much better now after the epidural.”

Words like “epidural” and “forceps” brought it all back to Hannah. Reaching for her husband’s hand, she gave it a quick squeeze. Not for the first time, she wished they’d met earlier, at an age when they could have had a baby together. Then he might really understand what she was going through.

“Sally says we’re going to love being grandparents,” she said. “Just think of all the things we’ll be able to do! Trips to the zoo and the pantomime. Won’t it be fun!”

Simon nodded. Maybe he was just nervous, Hannah told herself. After all, he’d never had children.

“I’m a bit nervous, to be honest with you. I’m new to the area and don’t know many people.”

Hannah had almost forgotten the woman whom Sally had half-introduced her to before flying off to see her new granddaughter. Silently rebuking herself, she set about to make amends.

“You’ll be fine. Sally’s a great organiser. She’ll get you involved. Do you like yoga and Pilates? We also belong to a walking group.”

“I don’t go in for exercise.”

You don’t say, thought Hannah, before rebuking herself for being uncharitable.

“We also do art. In fact, I thought I’d start a baby Splash-and-Dab finger painting class when they’re old enough.”

“Art’s not my thing, either.”

Oh dear…

“What about a book group?”

“Only if it’s crime.”

“I see. Well…”

“Mr and Mrs White? Would you like to come in now?”

“Has she had it?” Hannah thought her chest was going to burst.

“Yes.” Was it her imagination or did the nurse hesitate slightly there?

“Boy or girl?” asked Simon casually.

“Boy. This way, please.”

Down the corridor and along another. Such a warren. Past rooms with cots. Mothers feeding babies. Older women – grannies? – hovering importantly. And finally, into a side room.


Her son was giving her a look she’d not seen since school. It was a “help me” expression

Hannah knelt next to a weeping Gudrun. Her son was giving her a look she’d not seen since school. It was a “help me” expression. Instantly, she could see why.

“May I?” she asked gently.

Her daughter-in-law nodded.

Very carefully, Hannah picked up her new grandchild.

“Hello, little one,” she said. “Welcome to the world. Aren’t you beautiful?”

Footsteps left the room. Hannah knew it was her husband. She laid her cheek against the baby’s, smelled his skin.

“He’s Downs,” said her son in a choked voice.

“I know, darling,” said Hannah. “But he’s also ours.” Then, with a courage she hadn’t known she possessed, she added, “And we’re going to make sure we’re all here for him. This little man will be loved as much as – if not more – than any other baby. I’m his grannie and I’m going to make sure of that.”

Next Week: Will the grans’ tentative friendship begin to blossom – or are there are too many obstacles in the way?

Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me