The gift of grandmothers

Nancy and Susan with Sophie at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)

Nancy sits in a tiny hospital room in New York City, reading to Sophie, her infant granddaughter who is quarantined while she battles a respiratory virus.

She keeps vigil over Sophie so her daughter, Katie, can safely spend time with Sophie’s twin sister, Maddie, and her son-in-law can work to support the family. “There was no one to talk to and nothing to do,” remembers Nancy, “So for days, I just sat with Sophie and read her the A.A. Milne poems my mother used to read to me.”

Nancy with Maddie in 2008

This is a grandmother’s love. It’s putting your own life on hold, so your granddaughter has someone who loves her by her side. It’s taking care of your children, so they can take care of theirs.

A few months earlier, Katie’s husband, Paul, phoned with news that their twins were arriving 13 weeks early. Nancy was just getting into bed when she answered the call. She threw together a bag and drove for hours by herself, arriving at the hospital at 3 a.m., shortly after Maddie and Sophie entered the world at 1 pound, 10 ounces and 1 pound, 15 ounces.

One of the first people Nancy saw when she arrived was Susan, Paul’s mother. She too had driven hours after receiving the call from her son. The two women had both just become grandmothers for the first time.

Offering support and optimism

Nancy and Susan spent the next four and a half months providing ongoing support to the young family.

Being Katie’s mother, Nancy naturally tended to use her intuition more and “took the bull by the horns” when she sensed her daughter needed something. “It wasn’t a good situation,” remembers Nancy. “Katie put on a brave face and seemed outwardly fine, but I could tell she needed me even if she herself wasn’t aware of it at the time.”

As the mother-in-law, Susan took a more reserved approach, respectfully letting Katie tell her when and how she needed help.

The grandmothers alternated visits from their homes in Boston to support their children and grandchildren. On top of spending hours each day with one or both of their granddaughters at the hospital, Nancy and Susan also cooked, cleaned, shopped — anything to relieve the burden of everyday life. At night, they’d sleep on an air mattress in the living room of the couple’s small apartment.

As parents of new parents — especially new parents in crisis — Nancy and Susan provided important moral support and optimism, even in the darkest moments. “It was an incredible journey, at times heartbreaking as a mother and a grandmother,” remembers Susan, “But I focused on being grateful for each day.” Nancy, too, remained positive. “It wasn’t a conscious decision, but I never, ever thought that anything but the best outcome was going to occur.”

Susan and the girls at Brackenbury Beach in Beverly, Massachusetts

A bond that began in the NICU…and continues

Sophie was released from the hospital, and Maddie was finally stable enough to be transferred by ambulance from New York City to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she received care until being released at nine months. The twins’ lives are now full of school, ski trips, play dates and beach time — plus lots of special time with their adoring grandmothers.

Nancy and the girls in 2015

“Katie and Paul are the real heroes in this story,” says Susan. “They do a beautiful job of involving us all. If we have done anything to be helpful, it’s because they allowed it and embraced it.”

Learn more about the NICU at Boston Children’s Hospital.