The Treat Bags

For much of my daughters’ early lives I was an at-home mom. Their dad worked overnights and was the low man in seniority, so he didn’t get a lot of nights off. And when he did, he was usually too exhausted to go out and do anything. So our kids rarely had sitters and if they did, those sitters were Grandma or an aunt or a cousin. Our kids grew up with the security of knowing mom and dad would always be home.

Over time I became an elected official and eventually my obligations required that I do some traveling once a month. Usually I was gone one or two days but sometimes I was gone for as long as five nights. With their dad working overnight and me traveling, we had to get an overnight sitter. Again, usually a relative, but still not the usual routine. To kids who were used to having Mom home all the time, that separation caused a lot of anxiety. And for the youngest daughter, she wasn’t old enough to comprehend what it meant that I would be gone two nights or five.

To help the youngest one with her separation anxiety, I began a tradition of putting together small, inexpensive treat bags for each night that I would be away from home. I didn’t spend a lot of money on the contents or the bags. I used the same brown bags we used for school lunches. I bought inexpensive candy or other treats in bulk and divided them up among the bags for each of the four girls for however many nights I’d be gone. Sometimes I bought little puzzles or coloring books to put in the bags. Each bag had one of the girls’ names written on the outside; each bag was stapled shut; and each day’s four bags were clipped together. One bag for each daughter for every night that I was away from home. The girls usually opened their bags after school or at supper. The youngest would watch the pile of treat bags on the kitchen counter grow smaller with each passing day and could quickly discern when I was coming home. When the bags were all gone, she knew we would be reunited the next day. A simple system that eased their anxiety.

I hadn’t thought about those treat bags in years but was reminded of them in recent days as I became aware of separated families, not knowing when, or if, they will be reunited.

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In truth, there are no alternative facts.

I do. Arguably the strongest two-word phrase any of us can ever avow, especially when those words of commitment bind us in marriage. There isn’t any wiggle room that allows for only some days or maybe not when I have a headache or when the other person is being an idiot in the moment. The promise spoken is simply, I do.

Inevitably life is going to come along and throw a challenge in your way. Financial crisis. Medical crisis. Teenager crisis, especially when hormones are involved. Car trouble. Computer trouble. None of it is fun or pretty and for the most part we struggle through and breathe a sigh of relief when it’s over and your vows are intact and you can honestly say your marriage is stronger for having gone through the experience. And the make-up sex is great.

There’s a funny/not funny thing about life. You think you’ve gone through the worst experience of your life, you survived it (eek, just barely), and you take a breath and figure “I got this.” Until.

Along comes Trump. All those months he was campaigning I watched in disbelief when no one, including my husband, called out Trump when he mocked a disabled reporter, lied about history, made impossible promises, and bullied anyone who dared to challenge him. In those early days my husband laughed when I brought up my concerns and told me these things people were saying about Trump were all exaggerations or twisted words. Even when faced with video recordings of the man professing to grab women by the….  My husband asked me, “What happened to your sense of humor? Why can’t you laugh at a joke anymore? Don’t take things so serious.”

I found myself changing in ways I wasn’t proud of. I grew quiet. I was careful who I spoke to. I passed judgment on anyone who was willing to turn a blind eye to Trump and his antics. Pulling on my political beliefs and my limited knowledge of history, I told myself this too shall pass. There’s no way America will elect this man. But America did. Or maybe not.

My husband is a lawyer and lawyers deal in facts. Circumstantial evidence is not fact. Video and audio recordings can be altered. Photographs are even easier to edit. Women lie. But then, so do men and Trump does it every day of his life, often many times a day, and often in public. Direct evidence is the opposite of circumstantial; it is truth. There is no gray matter in truth. It’s all black and white. And for the first time in our married life my husband came to believe that everything is circumstantial; there is no truth unless you see it firsthand. Watching Trump speaking live at an event on the TV is not truth because that’s not firsthand. The news media can doctor the video. Soundbites after the event are definitely not truth even if they are an exact duplication of what you witnessed live, in the moment, on TV. And what about those exaggerations and “proven” lies? Alternative facts.

The problem for me is that I am an editor and I’m trained to look for truth. Some of the companies I’ve worked for even referred to the original or the source document as the “truth document”. In truth there are no alternative facts. There is no gray matter. It’s all black and white.

The struggle becomes real when a lawyer and an editor, both trained to see things only in black and white, are faced with the fact that one of them no longer can see black and white. For that person everything is gray. In fact, even the gray is being pushed out by all the colors. But it’s a weird canvas built on prejudice, bigotry, racism, misogyny, elitism. For my husband, all these colors are floating around in his world that he’s willing to embrace but at the same time he cannot and will not embrace people of color or those with disabilities or those with a lesser education. It is as if these people are circumstantial, alternatives, less than, not truth. And through this experience I’ve come to understand I married a privileged white man.

In talking with a friend, she was persuading me to look at the situation differently. Just because my husband supports Trump, that doesn’t necessarily mean my husband is racist or a misogynist. I have a problem with that because there’s guilt by association. For example, if someone helps another rob a bank, doesn’t that make both people thieves? My husband isn’t “aiding and abetting” Trump but my husband supports Republican dogma. Does a person expressing support for someone who is doing racist or other bad things make the person guilty of those things? No, but it does provide evidence that the person is those things. My husband voted for Trump, knowing Trump had issues with respecting women and knowing Trump had generalized Mexicans as rapists, not to mention all the protocol Trump tossed to the wind such as releasing tax statements. To me it’s the same thing as if my husband were to hand car keys to an intoxicated friend. Down the road when the crash happens and someone is injured or killed, my husband would be complicit in that crime. If you were beaten by a person while his friends cheered him on, would you say those friends would never do such a thing themselves?

“I do.” Two simple words with no wiggle room to add any others. They are the foundation upon which all our burdens and challenges are added. I pray they are strong enough to withstand this moment of babies being taken from their mothers and placed in cages, of children barely out of diapers shuttled a thousand miles away from parents they may never see again. Honestly, I’m on my knees praying those two simple words can hold us together.

If I could turn time back…

…to May 2017, I’d insist my husband get an EKG at the first sign of his upper respiratory infection as a proactive stance to keep the infection out of his heart, possibly preventing perpetual a-fib.

…I’d go back three years and persuade my siblings to gather for one last family portrait while our oldest sister still remembered who we all are.

…to early 2008, I’d move all of our investments into FDIC-insured savings accounts.

…I’d tell myself to follow my gut instinct in 2007 and find another job instead of believing my boss’s empty promise that I won’t lose my job.

…to 1999, I’d tell my then-husband that he sheds tears in the future because he chose not to manage his anger and chose to end our marriage.

…I’d tell myself all the while I was in college that graduation day is not also a deadline to get married, that I need to take time to find my forever match.

…I’d thank some high school teachers for accepting me for me and loudly scold those who saw me only as my brothers’ younger sister.

…I wouldn’t argue with my dad three months before he died.

…I would spend more time talking to my mom and discovering the woman she was when not being a wife and mother to eight kids.

…maybe the most important thing I would do would be to hug my eight-year-old self and reassure me that I am loved and I am strong and everything will be okay.

 

There Are Others

At the beginning of the year, I made a decision to tone down my rhetoric regarding the state of affairs in our country, specifically the current leadership. It was a difficult task, and every day I have been challenged. But I’ve stayed true to my word.

What brought this on was a Facebook post by a friend who is a conservative evangelist. She was publicly railing against our previous president and criticizing his family values and his character while praising our current president for his wholesomeness and good character. It was a final straw for me. I replied to her post with equal animosity and essentially called her a hypocrite and accused her party of having no family values anymore. Literally I threw stones back at hers. And she promptly unfriended me.

Ever since I’ve been nagged by the scenario. I could have turned a blind eye to her post and silently moved on. I could have taken the time to find less inflammatory words and asked her to rethink what she had written. Instead, I stooped to the level of her soapbox. And that’s what bothered me. It stayed with me for days and eventually I reached the decision that the only way to unite our divided country is to seek out truth and call out others when they lie or spread falsehoods, and to show kindness. I’m just one small person in this world, I know. But I’m not alone. There are others.

This week, another friend went off on a rant. He was responding to a post that a mutual friend had put up. That post was undeniably political, but it was not off color. My ranting friend quickly made it full of colorful words. I inserted myself and asked him to be careful with his words. I was proud of the fact that I had taken the high road and hadn’t met him word for word with my own colorful words. But he was still on the low road and quickly responded with even more spite, now aimed at me. I so badly wanted to debate his arguments but instead I called him out for generalizing and throwing me under the bus for no reason at all. I pointed out that he was being disrespectful and attempting to humiliate me when I hadn’t tried to be contrary to his opinion. In fact, I had written we clearly disagreed, but none of that mattered. The words he had used were what mattered. He didn’t come back with more. And shortly after another commenter asked the person who had put up the original post to do us all a favor and delete the thread of comments. I went back now to reread it, to make sure I captured correctly the colorful words. The post is gone.

Divisiveness can only breed bad things. At the end of the day, your words are everything. And you cannot expect to be treated with kindness if you are not kind to others.

Not the Mom I Want to Be

I want to not be a mom anymore. I want my heart to not care anymore. And yet, I am so ashamed that I feel this way. I have friends who have had to bury their children! How despicable I am to even think such things. But it’s true.

I didn’t grow up knowing a mother’s love. The last of eight kids, I was just more work for my mom. Instead my three older sisters took care of me. By the time I turned twelve, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and fought a horrific battle, dying two years later. At the end of her life, we were complete strangers and I had no comprehension of what it means to be a mother.

When I became pregnant for the first time, my heart ached for the mother I never knew. I wanted to ask her questions, to understand what my life would be like as a mom. Holding my newborn in my arms, my heart melted and I was forever changed. I committed myself to my daughter forever. I promised her we would learn together what it means to be a mom. At the time my doctor said two things to me that I’ve carried all these years and at my age now know them to both be true. “You are a dyed-in-the-wool mom.” “You’ll be a mom until the day you die.”

I wish it wasn’t true but it is. I can’t turn off being a mom just as I cannot cause myself to stop breathing. Caring as I do, being a mom is going to kill me someday. My heart will shatter.

My daughters are grown. There are four of them. The oldest is 32 and the youngest is 24. The first three are married, the last one is not. The first has two children. The third is expecting her first. With the exception of the youngest who still lives in my home, I consider them all launched. All four are strong—in intellect, in will, in opinion, in passion. Each one thinks life has tested her but the reality is not one has truly been challenged. Even so, I know them each to be a survivor.

Perhaps it is this strength that causes such a heartache for me. I want them all to lean on me, to share their burdens and their joys, to keep me in their lives. One is very good about that and another is somewhat good about that. The other two are not good about that at all and fight me tooth and nail, in passive-aggressive style, whenever I try to connect or, heaven help us!, try to plan a family gathering, which is the reason for my heartache today.

The last time I saw my two grandchildren was six months ago. They live two hours away. Their mother, my oldest daughter, has given a dozen different reasons why she didn’t want to come to my house to celebrate Christmas. Her three sisters came.

Now I’m trying to plan a get together, free of the emotional tug that happens over the holidays. Despite the fact that I have a large house and could put everyone up for the night, my oldest is again the holdout and is insisting that we all rent hotel rooms for our family gathering. Fine, I can do that! If that’s what it takes, then so be it.

Not so easy. My husband won’t go; he thinks it’s ridiculous to spend so much money to get locked up in a hotel, even if there is a pool. My second daughter’s husband feels the same way and would rather stay home and care for their animals and avoid the inevitable drama. And my youngest can’t afford to spend the night and doesn’t want to share a room with me and besides, she thinks it’s absolutely ridiculous that her older sister won’t come to our house.

I just want to spend time with my daughters! All of them in the same room at the same time! I feel defeated. It’s never going to happen again in my lifetime. How do I tell my heart not to care so much? How do I push aside my disappointment that I can’t be the mom I want to be, that I don’t have the relationships with my daughters that I wanted?

 

Struggling at The End

Our dog Charlee Girl is fourteen and a half years old. She’s a sweet, compassionate personality and adores her family. When she’s been laying down a long time, she struggles to stand up—being the old lady that she is—but she pushes through her arthritic pain anyway just to greet one of us when we arrive home. About a year or so ago she lost her hearing, but she still looks to our faces when we talk to her, trying to read our body language. Dutifully she barks when she realizes someone is at the door, often after the fact since she can’t hear the doorbell. Despite her old age and accompanying health issues, she regularly proves she still has a will to live when she rolls around on her toys or attempts to chase a bunny in the yard.

In the past couple of years Charlee has had a number of ailments, but the most serious were pancreatitis and bladder stones. We thought each would be a fatal blow, but she survived. The pancreatitis was especially troublesome because Charlee is a very finicky eater. Unlike other dogs who will vacuum up anything you put in front of them, Charlee won’t touch most foods. It’s a struggle on a good day to get her to eat. So when she’s sick, it becomes much more complicated. As a result of the pancreatitis, we have to make sure she never goes more than eight hours without eating something. You’d think it would be easy to get a dog to eat. If she’s not in the mood to eat, Charlee will run away when she sees one of us preparing her food. She’s a small dog—something she despises in moments like these—so we’ll go after her and drag her out of her hiding spot and carry her over to her food bowl. Often we hand feed her every bite, sometimes shoving the food into her mouth. It’s not a fun struggle.

Around Thanksgiving Charlee came down with a bladder infection—common in old lady dogs—that just wouldn’t go away. The first antibiotics she was prescribed hurt her stomach. We understood this only by her moans and the fact that no matter what we did she refused to eat. There was a great debate in our house about whether this was Charlee’s last stand. Why force food on the poor old dog if she’s ready to be done with her struggle? But as we argued this, she would go charge into the living room and roll around on her toys and crouch down asking us to play with her. Her will to live is as strong as ever. So we gave up our fight and gave Charlee exactly what she wanted. Chicken and ground beef. It was a relief because she wants to eat it and we no longer have to hand feed her or shove the food down her throat. The vet said to mix in rice with it, but Charlee quickly learned to pick out the meat from the rice. So now we don’t even bother with the rice. She just finished up a second round of antibiotics and got the all clear from the vet.

Our family has agreed that Charlee is at the end of her life and our duty now is to make her last days—whether they be weeks or months—as comfortable and as happy as possible. Even though we know a diet of chicken and hamburger will cause a return of the pancreatitis, that’s what Charlee wants to eat so that’s what she’s getting. And we’re putting her on a doggy anti-anxiety med to help her manage her separation anxiety when we’re at work during the day and her “sundowning” behaviors at night. So long as Charlee continues to roll on her toys and chase bunnies, we’ll do our part to keep her alive. She has a strong will to live.

Life is a struggle. Literally.

On the other hand, in contrast to Charlee, is the daily struggle with my husband who thinks he’s dying and who is on the fence about whether or not he wants to live. Granted he is 73 years old and has a lot of health issues, some of them very serious, but he’s a long way from dying. That doesn’t matter because he has given up. He sits in a chair all day watching TV, smoking cigars, drinking sugar-filled sodas, and eating anything he wants. I stopped buying most of the foods and beverages he likes a long time ago but that only caused him to go to the store and buy those foods on his own. (Hey, at least he got out of his chair and away from the TV.) But it also gave him cause to complain that I no longer love him since I won’t give him what he wants. He has pointed out on numerous occasions that I give the dog what she wants but not my husband.

This last year has been one of the worst for my husband. He came down with an upper respiratory infection in April that turned violent and eventually the infection affected his heart rhythm. All these months later he’s still being doctored for it and has to take several pills each day to prevent a stroke or heart attack. At the time he was prescribed all these medicines he was too sick to manage the details so I did. I bought him two pill boxes—one for morning, one for evening—to make it easier for him. He often forgets to take the meds, even though the pill boxes are always right next to where he eats his meals. If I remind him, he complains that I’m “hen pecking” him. When he does remember, he loudly complains about how he hates to take pills. To me, him taking his pills is a matter of life or death.

It’s obvious he battles depression and he is being treated for that. But what happened this year is he was faced with his mortality for the first time in his life. Amazing given how old he is. But when others slam the door on Death’s face, he seems to have decided to leave the door open and think about how easy it would be to just step across the threshold. I cannot begin to understand the value in contemplating that thought when the truth is there is a lot of life left to live, but it’s going to take a little effort. It’s the effort part that prevents my husband from getting out of his chair.    

Right after Thanksgiving he came down with a chest cold. It was a common cold, nothing near as bad as what he had last spring. But with his heart issues, any sickness can quickly become life threatening. With all the meds that he takes, he’s limited in what he can buy over the counter to treat a cold. I suggested several times that he go see the doctor to get something for his cough but he refused. He did go to his regularly scheduled checkup with his cardiologist and learned his heart was not in a correct rhythm again. His meds were changed and now he’s back in a regular rhythm but he still has this cold. In the evening when we’re watching a movie on TV, he’ll sit in his chair and open his mouth and wheeze loudly to get my attention. I reached a point of having no patience and asked him, “What do you want me to do? Do you want my pity? My sympathy?” He didn’t answer. Later he told me he doesn’t think I love him anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I want him to have a strong will to live. I want him to rise above all his aches and pains just to see another day come. I want him to have the same character that Charlee Girl has. But I can’t force him to go to the doctor and get an inhaler to make it easier to breathe. I can’t make him get out of his chair and exercise. I tried controlling the food brought into this house and that didn’t work. I can’t change his behaviors any more than I can force him to want to live. It breaks my heart that he doesn’t feel motivated to make his life better so he can live longer and we can be together longer.

My parents died when they were young so I’ve never witnessed these end of life issues up close. It’s a daily emotional struggle to watch my dog desperately fighting nature and illness in order to have one more roll around the floor with her toys while my husband sits in his chair whining about how life is unfair and he wants it all to be done so he can feel better.

This last year has given me a new appreciation for caregivers and for people who truly are at the end of their lives. I pray my heart withstands the loss of my Charlee Girl when the time comes. And I pray my patience and love will be strong enough to foster my husband into a better frame of mind so we can have many more years together.

Number Two

It was precisely 4:15 in the morning on Wednesday, December 16, 1987, when I felt a tugging on my hand. I had been deep in sleep and was a bit confused as my brain made the switch from dreams back into the real world. The word surreal defined the moment, as I realized my cat was gently tugging on my hand with her mouth. She had never done this before and I was still too drugged with sleep to wonder what it was all about. I pushed her away and was hit with the overwhelming need to pee that only women pregnant in their ninth month can understand. And just as quickly, I felt as though I was going to vomit. Millie, the cat, jumped back up on my bed and began to meow at me, only it was more of a moan. Something clearly wasn’t right with her, but something clearly wasn’t right with me either. Again I pushed the cat away. I slowly rolled out of the bed and managed to make it to the bathroom and back.

I lay in my bed quietly, completely attentive to every sensation in my body. My two-year-old daughter was asleep in the next room and my husband was finishing up his night shift at work. He’d be home in about an hour or so. Kate was recovering from a bout of the flu, and I wondered if I had caught the bug. Pretty rotten timing on my part. Christmas was a week away, I was due to give birth any day, and the stomach flu comes into the house.

What if? I wondered. No, it didn’t feel like labor at all. But it didn’t feel like the flu either. Millie was once again on my bed, moaning and pacing. “What is your problem?” I asked her. Another wave of nausea hit me and I rolled over onto my side. I stared at the phone on my bedside table and decided to call the hospital and talk to the nurse on duty and get some peace of mind. As it turned out, the on-call nurse was the mother of one of my husband’s friends. She was always so practical and not one to exaggerate. Instantly I was comforted knowing I could trust whatever she told me. We talked through my symptoms and the fact that Kate had the stomach flu. We both agreed I just needed to take it easy, drink lots of fluids, and get some extra rest. As we talked, the cat was having another fit of moaning and I decided she needed to go outside. I stood up at the side of my bed, about to hang up the phone, and with a thud I felt the baby drop and my water broke. The nurse and I laughed. It wasn’t the flu after all! I told her I’d get my stuff together and I’d be headed for the hospital shortly.

My mind was racing like crazy now, wondering how I was going to clean up the mess of “broken water,” who I should call to watch Kate until her dad got home, who could take me to the hospital this early in the morning, and what in the world is going on with the cat, and I need to go pee again. I made it to the doorway of the bathroom when the first contraction hit me like a brick. Down to my knees I fell, out of breath and in complete agony.

Breathe!! My brain screamed to my lungs. On all fours, I breathed and puffed and got through the contraction, but I was exhausted. I rolled over and lay on the bathroom floor to catch my breath. There was still enough oxygen in my brain for me to realize I was in trouble and needed help. Unfortunately, it was 1987 and portable phones were not yet on the scene. The only way I was going to get help was to make it back to the phone in the bedroom or to the phone in the kitchen. I decided the phone in the kitchen was the best one to get to as it had a really long cord and I could probably stretch it down the hall to the bathroom.

I was about to get up and get the phone when another contraction slammed hard and took my breath away again. I puffed and focused as best I could and as soon as the contraction was done, I moved as quickly as I could to get to the kitchen phone. One of my sisters lived five minutes away and she could get to me the fastest. Her husband answered the phone.

“I’m in labor,” I told him. “Dave’s still at work and I need help fast.”

“We’re on our way.”

I hung up the phone and fought through the beginnings of another contraction as I made my way back to the bathroom floor. I lay there, knowing help was on the way, and tried to relax. And then I realized, the front door was locked. It was a steel door and there was no way anyone was getting in the house unless I unlocked it. Another contraction hit and I followed the breathing exercises I had learned when my first baby was born. I focused my thoughts on how long it would take me to get up, get to the split-entry stairs, get down the first flight to unlock the door, and then get back to the bathroom. Contractions had been about two minutes apart and I figured I could do it. As soon as I did my cleansing breath, I was rolling onto my side and making my way to the front door. What I hadn’t figured into my equation was the force of gravity. I made it down the flight of stairs and unlocked the front door, but was knocked to my knees again when another contraction came much sooner than I had predicted. I lay with my feet at the door and my body pressed into the steps, praying to Blessed Virgin Mary to help see me through this.

The contraction wasn’t fully over, but it had lessened enough that I could move and I crawled up the stairs, down the hall, and back into the bathroom. I knew another contraction would be coming and I wasn’t disappointed. I told myself to relax and breathe through it. I can do this! Help is on the way!

(Many years later my brother-in-law told me my sister was in such a hurry to leave her house to get to me that she forgot to put on a shirt. She got outside in the cold winter air and screamed. She ran back in and grabbed a sweatshirt while he got the car started.)

As the contraction ended I heard the front door fly open and hit the wall, then heavy footsteps on the stairs. My sister and her husband stared at me, and what a sight I was. My nightgown was a mess from when my water broke. And I lay half in and half out of the bathroom. My brother-in-law tried to tell me he could take me to the hospital (it was a thirty minute drive on a good day, and this was a bitterly cold and icy winter morning). I looked at my sister and told her to call an ambulance, just as another contraction hit. My sister bolted to the kitchen phone and my brother-in-law gave me his hands to hold onto. I squeezed his thumbs, evidently with super human strength, and he cried out in pain. My sister came running with the long-corded phone. The police dispatcher had put her directly through to the doctor at the hospital. My good luck was extended—the doctor on call that morning was my doctor.

And so we waited. I faithfully did the breathing exercises and the puffing to prevent pushing with each contraction. My brother-in-law sat in the hallway at the side of my head, trying to say soothing things to me but essentially had no idea what he was saying or doing. And my sister stood in the hallway on the long-corded phone giving updates to the doctor at the hospital. Once in a while she would come into the bathroom and look to see if a head was crowning. It was a complete miracle that Kate managed to sleep through all the commotion.

My brother-in-law couldn’t understand what was taking the ambulance so long. And he thought the police should have been there by then. (A couple of days later we learned two police cars had circled the house waiting for the ambulance to arrive first.) My sister was growing nervous that she might have to deliver the baby.

I lay there helpless on the bathroom floor. Another contraction hit and I heard familiar footsteps come up the stairs. My husband was home from work an hour early. That never happened! Another stroke of good luck.

“Thank God!” my brother-in-law shouted. “What are we supposed to do?”

Dave looked at him and shrugged his shoulders. “I haven’t a clue.”

I directed them both to a maternity book (about 600 pages long) that I had on my bedside table and told them to look at the chapter on emergency births. They looked at each other as if I had just spoken in Greek and another contraction hit. My husband knelt at my side and talked me through the breathing. What a relief it was to have him there.

And then the ambulance crew arrived. And right behind them were two police officers. The two EMTs crowded into the small bathroom with me and the two police stood in the hallway with my husband, my brother-in-law, and my sister—who was still on the phone with the doctor.

There wasn’t any time for introductions as another contraction came hard. The EMTs unpacked their bags and tried to create a somewhat sterile environment to welcome the baby.

“Okay, when the next contraction comes I want you to push,” the female EMT instructed me. I obeyed, but nothing happened. We tried it again and still nothing happened. My husband realized I was growing nervous and tried to calm me down. My sister was no longer on the phone. (Unknown to me, when there was no progress after the second push, the doctor hung up the phone and got in his car to come to our house. Except he had no idea where we lived. He had heard an intersection on the police radio and headed for that spot, thinking he would be able to see flashing lights. But we lived another mile away from that intersection, so he couldn’t find us. It was 4:45 in the morning and a friend of ours just happened to be leaving his house headed to work. The doctor flagged him down on the road and asked him if he knew us and where we lived. Our friend recognized the doctor and told him where to find our house.)

“Wait!” The female EMT shouted. “We need to sit her up. She can’t be lying flat.”

My husband and brother-in-law each took one of my shoulders and propped me up. A contraction came and so did the baby’s head.

“Stop! Don’t push!” the EMT cried out. My husband and brother-in-law lowered me back down. The EMT worked her fingers around the baby’s neck to free the umbilical cord. “Okay, go ahead.” I pushed with all my might.

The male EMT exclaimed, “It’s a girl!” and placed the baby on my belly. The female EMT shouted out, “Time of birth, 4:58.” When my first daughter was born, she had been born with the sack stuck to her skin. So they had wiped her down quickly before handing her to me. This newborn was covered in what looked like cottage cheese and her skin was tinted blue. I must have registered shock on my face because the male EMT took my hand and placed it on the baby’s back. “You need to rub her,” he said gently. The whole house grew quiet.

And so I rubbed life into that precious little baby. She turned pink and cried out. Everyone shouted for joy, and baby Kate was finally awakened by all the noise and commotion. My sister went and got Kate and brought her to the scene on the bathroom floor. Little Kate, at two years old, understood exactly what had transpired. “The baby came out!” she said. And then I heard the doctor’s voice. “Looks a little crowded in there,” he said.

“We just made room for one more,” the female EMT said. “We can make room for you too!”

“I can’t believe you’re here,” I said to him.

“Looks like I missed another of your births,” he joked. Yes, my first baby had come while he had taken his supper break and the doctor on call had ended up delivering.

He pushed on my belly and helped me deliver the placenta, then checked out the precious new bundle. (An hour after her birth, Rose weighed in at 9 pounds 4 ounces!) The doctor was satisfied that all was well and the EMTs began to pack up their things and bring in a stretcher to take me out to the ambulance and to the hospital.

My husband carried the newborn out to the ambulance. And as the police carried me down the steps to the front door, Kate yelled at them, “Be careful!” And then when we got outside, they debated if they should walk down the steps or down the front yard. They decided to avoid the steps. They took a few steps into the yard and proceeded to slip and fall, but I was strapped in and okay.

At-home births were pretty rare in our area in 1987, and Rose’s birth made the front page of the county newspaper on Christmas Eve. The whole experience sure proved to us the miracle of birth and the blessings of Christmas.