The first thing she thinks when she finds out is I wish I could call Mom and tell her about this .
It’s a thought that’s crossed her mind plenty of times in the last decade. Birthdays, graduations, her first job after college, her wedding day, Henry—especially Henry—, but this, this is bigger than any of those, by every measure.
Elizabeth McCord is not a woman of many regrets, but the few she does have all revolve around the day her world shattered, the day she yelled “close the door!” and breathed a sigh of relief when she was finally left alone to study for a test she never had to take, when hours passed and they didn’t come home and she started to worry, when the policemen showed up on the doorstep with the news that would shape the rest of her life. It would be years before she would feel like a whole person again.
Now, as she cries on the bathroom floor in the home she shares with her husband who’s thousands of miles away, she misses her mom. She’s missed her every day for the last ten years, but today she misses her in a way she hasn’t in a long time, since before she met Henry, since she moved into her dorm room at UVA alone because her aunt was too busy and her brother, too young.
She didn’t think it would happen like this. It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. She wasn’t supposed to see two pink lines on a stick for at least another year, after Henry came home for good and they settled back into being in the same space for a while, back into the new marriage they’d been building when his unit has been called up. They’d talked about having a family since before they got married, and she knows he’ll be so excited when she tells him. She expects it, even; he grew up with three siblings and has always wanted a big, rambling family, and she wants nothing more than to be part of all of that.
What she didn’t expect, though, was being alone when the test came back positive.
She wants to be mad. At him, at the stupid antibiotics she was taking just before he came home for a few days six weeks ago, at the universe for taking the ground out from under her, twice, when she needed it most, but she can’t. She’s spent too much time being angry, and she shouldn’t be angry, not about this, never about this.
She just wishes her mom was here, wishes she could’ve seen how happy Henry makes her, how good and kind and perfect he is, wishes she could be here to meet this baby, her first grandchild, and whoa , how can she even contemplate being a mother without her own here to guide her?
Intellectually, she’s known for a long time that her parents wouldn’t get to meet her children. It’s one on a long list of things they’ll never get to see her do. They didn’t get to see her graduate from high school; they didn’t get to meet the man who helped her put her shattered world back together and makes her the happiest she’s ever been, every day; they weren’t there when she learned to drive or when she found her passion for numbers or when she walked across the Lawn into Henry’s waiting arms, degree in hand. They’ve missed so much, and yet of all the things they’ve missed, this feels the most unfair.
Eventually, she pulls herself off of the bathroom floor and leans on the sink, drained of all her energy. She looks at herself in the mirror, sees puffy eyes and blotchy cheeks and a runny nose from all the crying, and takes a deep breath for the first time in what feels like hours. She stares at herself, really looks at the reflection staring back at her, and vows to be the kind of mother she had. Strong, and soft, and loving, and beautiful, and always, always, present.
Months later, when Stephanie Anne McCord enters the world and Elizabeth stares into her hours-old daughter’s bright blue eyes (she knows that all newborns have blue eyes, but she’s hoping they stay), she sees her mother in Stevie’s light, fuzzy head and delicate features and she cries. She feels like she hasn’t stopped crying since she found out she was coming but now she’s here and she’s perfect and oh god what if I can’t do this and what if I can’t be what she deserves and she wishes, like she has every day for the last eight months, for the last eleven years really, that Suzanne Adams was here to see this, here to snuggle her brand new baby girl and hold her close and whisper how proud she is of her.
She’s not alone now, hasn’t been since Henry came home for good months ago, and he’s been there for every appointment, every kick, every craving since then, and he’s here now, rousing from sleep across the room in the early morning light. He opens his eyes and smiles sleepily at her.
She ducks her head and smiles back. “Morning, sleepy. Come here,” she says, patting the bed next to her. “Plenty of room. Oh, and get the nurse, see if they can get her for us, I missed her all night.”
Henry laughs. “You're the one who voted to send her—never mind, I’ll find out.” He stands from his chair and walks over to the bed. Leaning over, he finds her lips and whispers, “I missed you, too.”
Minutes later, a new nurse comes into the room and finds them snuggled together in the small hospital bed, talking quietly to each other. She knocks on the door. “Look who’s here to see Mommy and Daddy!” Elizabeth can see Henry’s face light up in her peripheral vision and knows hers is similar; he’s been enamored with their daughter since he first saw her profile in a grainy ultrasound a week after he got home. The nurse helps them settle in holding her and tells them to call if they need anything and then they’re left alone with their baby girl. They sit and watch her for a few minutes before either of them dares speak, so enthralled by this tiny person they made, watching her pink lips smack together in her sleep, and Elizabeth feels a tear slide down her cheek.
“Damn it, I thought I was done with that,” she says, frustrated. Henry swipes a thumb across her face and tilts her chin up to look at him.
“You want to tell me about it?”
She shakes her head and stares back down at Stevie, still sleeping in her arms. After a minute, she takes a deep breath. “Just… thinking about my mom, and how much she would’ve loved her, and how much she already looks like her, and it’s not fair, Henry, it’s not fair that she’s not here for this, or for any of it, really, and she would’ve loved it, Henry. She would’ve loved you…”
She trails off and he looks at her and his heart breaks for her, just like it has on the handful of occasions she’s talked about her parents. He’s heard all this before, in the middle of the night while she was pregnant and feeling vulnerable, and he’d reassured her then that she was going to make an incredible mother, even if hers wasn’t around to see it. “And I already cried about this yesterday when I saw her, because she’s perfect and we made her and my mom isn’t here.
“And I’m so happy, Henry. I’ve never been this happy in my entire life, and it’s not right that she doesn’t get to see any of this, because she’d be so happy.”
Henry nods, wiping at tears she didn’t even realize were falling. When she looks back up at him, he’s smiling at their daughter in her arms, staring wide-eyed at them. “Look who’s awake, just in time,” he says reverently, not daring break eye contact with Stevie as she stirs in her mother’s arms.
“Just look at her. She’s beautiful, just like her mama,” Henry says softly, pressing his lips to her temple. “You know she’d be so proud of you, right? Because you amaze me, every day, especially today, and yesterday, and every day after today, because you’re going to be great at this, and I love you and I’m here with you, and with her, always. And she’s here with you, too.” Henry takes Stevie from Elizabeth wordlessly as she sits up and wipes the tears off her face.
As she watches her husband hold their daughter, Elizabeth remembers the promise she made to herself the day she found out she was pregnant with the tiny bundle in his arms, and she feels the weight of her mother’s absence shift just slightly, enough to feel the warmth of her new family, the one she’s making all on her own, and she’s hopeful, for the first time in a long time, that someday, she can keep that promise.
With Henry’s help, and her mother’s heart, and the joy of her new daughter, she thinks that maybe, just maybe, she can do this, and she’s not alone.