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.

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Number Three

The winter of 1991 came early with a three-day blizzard beginning on Halloween dropping nearly thirty inches of snow. As is usually the case after a nasty storm like that, the following days were filled with sunshine and brutal cold. And, as luck would have it, I caught a cold. Given that I was about 34 weeks pregnant, I couldn’t take any serious cold medicine, and so over the course of the next few weeks the cold turned into a cough turned into bronchitis. I had nothing within me to fight it. All I could do was wait for the baby to be born and then hit hard with antibiotics. At least, that was my plan.

My doctor had other ideas. He knew how tired I was from being sick and from getting ready for the holidays and he worried I wouldn’t have the strength to deliver the baby on my own. Ha! I was determined to deliver that baby or die, probably the exact thing the doctor was concerned about. And, the doctor had another concern. The two of us had been patient-doctor for fourteen years and because my previous two babies had come into the world too rapidly for him to attend in person, I think he was defending his pride a little and didn’t want a third strike. So a history of rapid delivery combined with a sick momma and a doctor taking a personal stand resulted in the doctor ordering an inducement for December 9.

On one hand I didn’t want to be induced. It wasn’t natural. I thought we would be messing with both Mother Nature and the Divine and I just wanted no part of that. On the other, I was too sick to care. By December 2, I was not getting any better and so the doctor told me to start taking Sudafed. He also told me his colleagues thought December 9 was too early to induce and they wanted to give me a few more days to feel better, so it was pushed back to December 16. One problem. That day was my second daughter’s birthday and I didn’t choose to have the kids share the same birthday. The doctor consulted with his colleagues and they agreed to change the date, to Friday, December 13, 1991. No! Not on a Friday the Thirteenth! My doctor laughed at me. This man who knew so much about me couldn’t believe I was superstitious. He gave me a lecture combining science and religion and basically delivered the message that I had no choice.

Funny how life likes to throw you a curve ball when you think you’ve outsmarted Mother Nature. With the morning of December 12 came a fever of 101 degrees, sore throat, chills, and a very irritated digestive system. Basically, I had a very nasty cold and stomach flu. I was so afraid that if I didn’t get better fast the doctor would cancel the inducement. My husband had worked the third shift the night before so he was sleeping. I sent my oldest daughter to school and then laid on the couch while my four-year-old played around me. At lunchtime I ate some soup and then woke up my husband to take care of our youngest. I crawled into bed and tried to rest as best I could.

At 1:30 the phone rang and the township needed my husband to go out and plow and sand the roads. Nothing was happening with me, so he left. Ten minutes later the school called to let me know my oldest daughter was now sick. I couldn’t go get her, so I arranged for my in-laws to go pick her up. When she got home, I put her on the couch and told her little sister to play doctor and make her big sister feel better. I went back to bed.

At 3:00 I started to feel some kind of pains. Because there wasn’t any pattern to them, I told myself it was just more false labor. Within a half hour, it was clear these were contractions and they were consistently ten minutes apart. But they just didn’t feel like the real deal, so I wasn’t too concerned.

At 3:45, my husband came home and we talked for a while about what to do. We decided I should call the doctor and let him know what was going on. So at 4:30 I called and left a message and the doctor called back right away. He wanted me to come in as soon as I could get to the clinic. So we tracked down my niece who was going to be our sitter and she came to our house. We headed out at 5:15 but the clinic was now closed so we went to the hospital. The doctor was waiting for us and he checked me right away. By that time my contractions were six minutes apart but still very tolerable. I wasn’t dilated any more than I had been at my previous appointment—about one and a half. He told us to go in the lobby and wait an hour. So we did.

During that time the contractions got closer and closer but I still wasn’t in any pain. I knew I wasn’t in active labor. At 7:00 the doctor came out to check on things and my contractions were staying consistent at three minutes apart. He decided to admit me. That took a while but finally I was in a bed with a fetal monitor, contractions still at three minutes apart and fever still at 101. As I laid there and relaxed, the contractions got weaker. I tried to sit up to keep gravity on my side but that didn’t seem to help. The doctor checked in with me around 10:00 and said he was spending the night in the hospital to be close by. He was convinced I would have the baby by morning.

It was a quiet night but I wasn’t getting any rest. Everyone knows you don’t go to the hospital to sleep. About 3:30 in the morning my fever broke and the contractions stopped completely. I was so disappointed, and so worried that they would call off the inducement.

The doctor came in to see me again in his morning rounds and we talked about how neither one of us got much sleep, and how disappointed we both were that the baby was being so stubborn. The doctor was reluctant to continue with the planned inducement but I argued that my fever had gone and I was already on the schedule for it. He agreed.

I was eager to get the show on the road but it wasn’t until 11:00 when the nursed hooked me up to an IV with Pitocin. Within a half hour contractions started. Things were going well and by 1:30 contractions were again three minutes apart. But at 2:00 things started to slow down and an hour later the nurse discovered the IV pump wasn’t working properly. She consulted with the doctor and he said I needed to start all over with the minimum dose. With the afternoon shift change, the new nurse was determined to bring a baby into the world and she was shocked at the “off the charts” contractions my body was having as shown on the monitor printout, except I wasn’t feeling anything at all. I was as relaxed as one could be given the circumstances. Even though I hadn’t slept, I did feel better from being so well hydrated but the nurses were getting a bit peeved with how often I needed to use the bathroom. With the IV, the contraction monitor, and the baby’s heart monitor, it wasn’t a quick or easy process and not one I could do on my own.

Evening arrived with no baby. I wasn’t progressing—dilated only to a 3—and the nurse was growing concerned about how long I had been receiving the Pitocin. She said I wasn’t uncomfortable enough. At 8:00 the nurse said she would give me one more hour and then turn everything off and send me home. Every fifteen minutes she amped up the dosage but still no progress. I was so depressed and frustrated and tired. Even so, as tired as I was, I quickly discovered I still had energy to fight. The nurse was resigned to the fact that I would be sent home and I refused. I told her I was a walking time bomb now that they had messed with nature and I insisted I was going to stay there until a baby came, if it took a week. The nurse and I argued and she said she’d have to consult with the doctor. I was so disappointed. And frightened. I was convinced the baby would be born at home on the bathroom floor in the middle of the night. We had gotten lucky the first time that had happened. I didn’t think we’d be as lucky a second time.

And then, at 8:55, I felt and heard something pop inside me and I felt the baby fall. Instantly I felt the hormonal switch in my body turn on, just as if someone had entered the room and turned on the lights. I told my husband to call the nurse. He didn’t believe me. I had to ask him a couple of times and finally he went and got the nurse. She came in a few minutes later and I told her to check me. She didn’t believe me either but she checked just the same. As soon as she inserted her fingers, the bag of waters gushed out and the nurse swore.

Immediately I was in hard labor. I was still only dilated to a 3, but I knew things would go very fast now and so I asked the nurse where the doctor was. He had gone home for supper. I told her to trust me and to call the doctor back to the hospital. I was somewhat surprised that she did as I asked.

Another ten minutes passed and the nurse came in to tell me the doctor had arrived and would be in to see me in a few minutes. I was in the middle of a hard contraction. I could see the shock on her face. Twenty minutes later I had an urge to push and breathed through it. Two more times I was able to breathe through the pushing urge but I knew I wouldn’t be able to for much longer. I called the nurse again and told her to check me again. She really didn’t want to but I kept insisting. I knew I had to be at a 10. Whatever I said or did to convince her, she finally checked and she smiled ear to ear. “You are amazing!”

An alert was put out for the room. I was ready but they weren’t. The bed had to be prepared and supplies put in place. All the while I fought the urge to push. I was too tired to stop it. And it was unlike anything I had experienced before. I knew it had to be the effects of the Pitocin. Finally the doctor came in and he told me to go ahead and push. The urge to push was so strong that I couldn’t tell if there was a contraction. It was like my body was in one solid, long contraction. Just when I thought I couldn’t handle any more pain, the baby was born, at 10:04 p.m. on Friday, the Thirteenth of December, 1991.

Another girl. Beautiful. Dark brown hair, almost black. Gorgeous eyes with very long lashes and perfectly formed lips. At seven pounds, nine ounces she was the smallest of my babies. I was so relieved she was born in the hospital, and so grateful everything worked out as it should. She was our second child to be born just before Christmas. As I held her in my arms and welcomed her to the world, I was reminded that there is no greater blessing, no greater connection to the reason for the season.

Are you passionate?

I’ve never thought of myself as a passionate person. I don’t know why not, I just never have. At times in my life people have teased me about “getting my Irish up” but I never made the connection to passion. I always felt it was their way of telling me I needed to be mindful of my frustration and to toe the line.

Yesterday I had a conversation with my daughter Rose. We were talking about my current battle with depression and she rightly pointed out all the things that are out of balance in my life. She brought to mind the ongoing battle I face in keeping communication channels open amongst my four daughters. She honored the love I have for my husband and the nurturing I’ve provided for the last six months as he’s fought heart health issues. She called me a patriot and mentioned how I’ve been upset for nearly a year about the fact that our country elected a man without integrity or morals. And she recognized the stress I carry every day in my quest to dig out of an enormous financial hole that is almost ten years old. She brought to mind many things in my life that I feel passionately about and how nearly all of those things are in a state of weakness or under attack. She called me passionate.

Webster’s declares a passionate person as one who is capable of, affected by, or expressing intense feeling and defines passion as intense, driving, or overmastering of feeling or conviction.

In a sense, it is humbling to be known as someone driven by conviction. For my whole life I’ve thought of such people as heroes. Mother Teresa was a woman of conviction. She was criticized for many things but praised for her service to those with AIDS, leprosy, and tuberculosis and for her life-long devotion to the poorest of the poor. John McCain is a man of conviction. His duty and honor to others outshines anyone else I can think of in recent service to our country. His ability to survive five torturous years as a POW speaks of his courage and character. These are two examples of my heroes. Two people passionate about their beliefs that they took action impacting many.

To be driven by your convictions means you face challenges despite your fears. It means you make a decision for the good of the whole and take action despite a rapidly and ever-changing world around you. It means you are strong despite your weariness and the hardships you face. You are passionate.

It is an honor to have one of my daughters recognize that I am also one driven by my convictions, that I am passionate.

Unfinished Business

For the last several years, the changing colors of the leaves triggers me to ask my four daughters, “When can we get together for Christmas?” Every time I ask that question, no matter how I preface it, how I disguise it, the question becomes a catalyst for a civil war among the daughters. I almost didn’t ask the question this year—it’s been such a godawful year for my husband and me—but duty called. I’d like to report there was a different response this year but I’d be lying. In fact, the ache of disappointment is greater than it has ever been.

Going through this drama each autumn, I’ve come to know that there are a lot of people out there who do not talk to siblings and a few who don’t even talk to their parents. Having spent seventy-five percent (or three quarters, and that’s not an exaggeration) of my life without parents, I would give anything to have my mom and dad back for just one day, or even one hour. I cannot fathom any circumstance that would cause a child to choose not to talk to his or her parents. It is beyond my comprehension even though I know it happens.

Siblings, on the other hand, are different. I am the youngest of eight and there are a couple of my siblings that I do not talk to more than once or twice a year. And when we do talk, the conversation is stilted and awkward. If we were not siblings, there’s not a chance in the world those people would be included in my inner circle of friends.  So as it regards siblings, I have empathy for my four daughters. They did not choose to be related. However, I know without a doubt, if my parents were alive, all of us would be there for Christmas.

In the midst of the civil war that erupted about ten days ago, my daughters Rose and Emily debated the definition of family. Daughter Kate’s husband is allergic to cats and Kate’s house is the only one without a feline. So Kate wants to have Christmas at her house, which happens to be more than two hours away from everyone else. Rose suggested Kate hand out Benadryl and get her family to my house to celebrate the holiday. Emily accused Rose of being insensitive and said “family doesn’t treat family like that.” And so it went.

The thing that is most troubling for me is the fact that all four of my daughters gather at their dad’s house on Christmas Eve and at their grandmother’s house on Christmas Day. “We’ve always done it this way.” So when their dad and I divorced, I compromised and held my Christmas celebration on other days. When really didn’t matter to me. We’ve gathered as early as the first weekend in December and as late as the middle of January. It’s the gathering of my four daughters with me that matters. So why can they gather at other people’s houses but not at mine? Why can they agree to gather as a group with other family but they can’t agree to gather with me? What do I bring or not bring to the equation?

It’s a riddle I’ve been trying to solve for years with no success. The older I get, the greater the disappointment and the deeper the hurt. I have the wisdom of knowing I have fewer years ahead of me than I have behind me. My four daughters can’t comprehend that at their young ages. And since they have yet to lose a parent or a sibling, they have no comprehension of how life turns on a dime, how short our lives actually are.

Oldest daughter Kate is now 32. She’s a mother herself and plenty old enough to understand unconditional love, and yet it’s Kate who is the biggest antagonist. This year she drew a line and will not be celebrating Christmas with me and her sisters, prompting Rose to call her a “self-righteous, self-centered, holier-than-thou bitch.” Like that would help.

Holidays are always so stressful, so filled with emotions. We battle the stress of buying presents, telling ourselves we’ll deal with the overspending in January. We exhaust ourselves by hurrying and scurrying while getting everything ready for the ultimate December 25 deadline. We fight disappointment at not getting something we wanted or frustration and anger when a somewhat inebriated sister-in-law says, “Wow, I didn’t know you were pregnant. When are you due?” With all the noise in the mix, it’s no surprise that we lower priorities with family. Family is loved ones, safe, reliable. If family gets hurt feelings, they’ll still be family a month from now and you can circle back and say, “Hey, sorry about that. I was having a bad day.” But I’m here to tell you that sometimes, you can’t circle back.

Number One

The first time you do something, you don’t have hindsight. You can read every book you can find on the subject and research and study. Or you can talk to others who have done it and ask about their experiences but in the end, you just have to do it. And only then do you know if you can do it.

When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I was both ecstatic and terrified. Most women turn to their mother for guidance but mine had died many years before. So I turned to books for answers. I also asked my sisters and some female friends who had given birth and I quickly learned that everyone has their own journey and they have plenty of advice to give and horror stories to share. I was determined to do it according to the book because that’s who I am.

My pregnancy went well. In fact, I felt better and healthier and happier than I had many years prior. I glowed, inside and out. I am not a tall person, so as the baby grew so did my girth. By the time I was eight months along, my co-workers were concerned I was going to have the baby in the office. I assured them that wouldn’t happen but they weren’t as confident as I was.

I had planned on working right up until the moment of my first contraction but about three weeks before my due date I started getting overly tired. My doctor was concerned that I would go into labor and be too tired to deliver the baby. I hadn’t even thought of that! So I started working half days and that helped. Then my manager (a mother herself) suggested that maybe it was time for me to go on leave. I was making everyone too nervous. So we agreed my last day in the office would be Friday, September 13, even though my due date wasn’t for another week. When that final work day came, I was ready to be done. But the project I was working on still needed a couple more days of work so we agreed I would work two days at home, turning in the last of the work on Wednesday morning. And that’s exactly what I did.

When I stepped into the office to deliver my finished work on Wednesday, September 18, 1985, people were happy to see me but eager to get me out of there before anything happened. Everyone wanted to know how I was feeling. It was a sticky, humid, muggy day and I was miserable being out and about. I felt tired and I was frustrated with a kink in my back that had been pestering me since the night before when I had gone to a meeting and had sat on a very uncomfortable metal chair for a few hours. I knew nothing about back labor, but my coworkers knew all about it. Once I said I had a kink in my back, they practically pushed me out the door.

My husband usually worked the second shift but that day he had to go in earlier for a meeting so when I got back home, there was no one there. I was exhausted, so I laid down to rest. I was watching TV but didn’t fall asleep. At 2:30, the first pain came. I had experienced a lot of false labor so I didn’t get too excited, but I couldn’t overlook the fact that this pain was different from any of the others. This was my first baby and everyone had insisted that I would be in labor for a long time, probably eight hours or more. So I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere and since this was my first, I had no experience (or hindsight) to tell me to hurry along. Fifteen minutes later the pains were intense and paced at five minutes apart. I remember thinking things were going a little faster than I had expected but because of all the false labor I just wasn’t convinced. By 3:00 the contractions were even stronger and three minutes apart. With the consistency, I decided this was the real thing and I called my husband at work. We agreed I would call the clinic to see if I should come in and get checked.

It was Wednesday, my doctor’s day off, so they scheduled me for a 4:00 appointment with another doctor. I called my husband back and gave him the news. He wouldn’t be able to make his commute back home in time to get me to the appointment, so we decided I would call a family friend for a ride. I did and he said he’d pick me up in fifteen minutes. There were several things I wanted to do but it took me all of that time just to get clothes on. I had to stop every time a contraction hit. But I did finally get dressed and our friend arrived and off we went.

The family friend was so nervous. He was driving super fast and I had to tell him to slow down a couple of times because he was making me nervous. When we got to the clinic, the doctor examined me and said I was indeed in labor but I wasn’t dilated very much so it was going to be a while. He suggested I might want to go home and spend a few hours there before being admitted to the hospital, but I didn’t want to do that since I would be home alone. I called my husband again to tell him it was the real deal. He left work and our family friend said he’d stay with me until my husband arrived.

By 4:30 I was prepped and in bed with a fetal monitor wrapped around my belly. The nurse said that even though I was having contractions I wasn’t progressing much and would probably be sent home when my husband arrived. I was so disappointed. At 4:45 my husband walked into my hospital room just as I felt warm liquid between my legs. I thought my water had broke but I had only lost the mucus plug. The nurse said that was progression and they would not be sending me home after all but she insisted it would be several hours of labor before the baby would arrive. I felt nauseous and I felt a little bit of panic. I had been so tired the last few days. Would I have the stamina to go through many hours of labor and deliver this baby?

Around 5:00 the nurse came in and told me she had called my doctor to let him know I was being admitted. He was headed to a church dinner and said he’d come by later when that was over, to check on me. He agreed with the nurse that it would be several hours, so he figured he’d come by about 10:00 and would be around to deliver the baby.

Since everyone was telling me that I was going to be in labor for several hours, I told myself I needed to relax and focus on my breathing exercises. I kept thinking I would need to pace myself since the labor would last most of the night. Basically I had three different breathing techniques and I wanted to stay with the first one for as long as I could, saving the other two for the really bad stuff to come. Contractions stayed steady at two minutes apart and they would last about a minute each. By 7:15 I felt the urge to push. The nurse checked me and again told me I still had a very long way to go. Fifteen minutes later I had to go to the bathroom. My husband and I argued about it. He didn’t want me to get out of the bed. The nurse came in and said it wouldn’t be a problem at all and helped me get to the toilet. As I sat there, I was overcome with an urge to push. I had to groan to keep from pushing and the sound that came out of my mouth was unlike any sound I had ever heard before. The nurse literally pulled me off the toilet and she and my husband carried me back to the bed. She wanted to check to see what was going on and took one look and said, “Oh my God!” and ran out of the room. I had no idea what her panic was all about, but I found out later that the bag of waters had not broken and so the baby was inside it and my body was pushing all of that. The bag was black in color, so the nurse must have seen a frightening sight.

So I was back in the bed and the nurse had run out of the room. I didn’t have time to think or react to being abandoned because the mother of all contractions slammed into me. I had no choice but to move onto my second breathing technique and even that was ugly. I truly was terrified that I wouldn’t endure a full night of labor, especially when another contraction came right on top of the other one. And then another one of those animal-sounding groans came out of my mouth and another doctor, who was a couple doors down checking on one of his patients, heard it and came running. He knew exactly what that sound was and he came into the room yelling at nurses to break down the bed and get ready to deliver a baby. Not a single one of the nurses was ready.

At that point everything became a blur. Relief swept through to my soul that I was not going to have to endure that kind of pain for several more hours. Nurses worked in a flurry getting the doctor what he needed. My husband was curious and he wanted to see the baby being born, but instead he saw the black amniotic sac stuck to the baby’s head as it was coming through the birthing canal. The doctor slit open the amniotic sac and a ton of fluids gushed out and the baby was sucked up into the bag. A baby’s head gets misshapen as it comes through the canal, so all my husband saw was a black lizard head. I couldn’t see anything, but I could see my husband’s expression and it wasn’t good. And my panic went up ten notches when he quickly moved away from watching the baby being born and came and stood right by my shoulders. Then the doctor was yelling at me to not push. I didn’t know what the hell was going on, but then someone said the doctor needed to get the cord free of the baby’s neck, so I did everything I could (which wasn’t much since nature was in control) to stop pushing. And then my first baby, a daughter, was born, at 8:11 p.m.

In the end it wasn’t anything like what I had prepared for and nothing like what I had read in the books. It was a birth none of us would forget. According to the nurse, I dilated from zero to ten in a span of fifteen minutes, something she had never known was possible. From start to finish my labor and delivery lasted less than six hours. We were the talk of everyone in the hospital, including other mothers who hadn’t been so fortunate and who had endured several hours of labor. My doctor arrived about a half hour or so after the baby was born and examined us both, declaring my baby perfect. He had had no idea my labor would go that fast and he told me then that if I had any more children I should expect the labors to be quick. Little did he know…

Later that evening my husband left to go celebrate and spread the good news, so it was just my precious daughter and me. She was wide awake, studying me as I held her, so I began a conversation. I told her of our home and her dad and a little about me. I promised her I would do my best to give her what she needed. And I talked about my hopes and dreams for her, and why I wanted to bring her into this world. I remember the moment clearly. And I get to cherish that memory forever.

Number Four

September 12, 1993. I was the mother to three children (the oldest was one week shy of eight years old), with another baby expected any day. All girls. My husband worked the overnight shift, which caused the majority of parenting responsibilities to fall on me. A normal day saw him getting home from work about five in the morning, so he slept until about one in the afternoon. By then my day was half over and the younger kids were down for naps. Supper was always at six, and my husband headed back to work at seven-thirty. By that time each day I was exhausted. I’d put the kids to bed and go to bed myself. This day had been like all the others before it.

Asleep in my bed, something wakes me up about one-thirty in the morning. I roll over and watch my cat pacing back and forth across the foot of my bed. This is odd. Still getting the sleep out of my brain, I start to ask myself why the cat is doing that and before I can finish the thought I have the answer. I’m in labor. Except I have no pains. There are no signs of imminent birth. I’m just fine. But Millie Cat and I have a history. I know her and she knows me. If she says I’m in labor, I’m not going to stick around to argue the point.

With my husband at work, I pick up the phone and call my sister who lives five minutes away. She asks me how far apart my contractions are. I tell her I don’t have any yet, but to just trust me. (She hates cats and I wasn’t going to tell her the cat is telling me to go to the hospital.) I get out of bed and get dressed, choosing clothes carefully since I know I’ll be taking them off in a bit. About ten minutes later I’m at the front door with my bag, waiting for my sister to arrive. My first contraction hits. It’s not awful, but it has strength and endurance. Silently it’s telling me our time is limited.

My sister’s husband pulls the car up the small hill in our front yard and parks it right outside our front door. My sister’s teenage son comes in the house (he’s the sitter for my three sleeping children), wishes me luck, and I head out. My sister grabs my bag and her husband helps me into the back seat of the car. Immediately I lay down on my left side.

And we’re off. On a normal night it’s a twenty-minute drive to the hospital. My sister asks about my contractions. I tell her they’re regular and strong. She completely understands the silence between my words and knows we cannot waste any time. Laying down, I have no idea what the night is like. So I’m frustrated and unnerved when my sister tells me we’re going to make a stop at the fire hall. Her husband is a volunteer firefighter and he wants to have a radio in the car with us. I don’t understand and want to argue but a contraction slams me into silence. My sister hears my groan, and tells me it’s a super foggy night and we need the radio. I won’t argue.

The stop at the fire hall lasts only a minute or so, but I can hear the ticking of my belly bomb and anxiety sets in. Another contraction slams hard and I’m afraid we aren’t going to make it in time. With my brother-in-law back in the car, we take off again, but at a slower speed than I want. My brain is in full labor fog now and my sister explains the intensity of the fog in the air. I want to shout out to hurry, go faster, but instead I take control of my breathing as another contraction slams me. I barely catch my breath and another one comes.

I hear my brother-in-law call on the radio, informing the sheriff’s department of who he’s bringing to the hospital. It’s a small community. This isn’t my first rodeo and they all know me by name. Police on night patrol position their cars at intersections so that we have clear passage when we come through. Still laying down, I have no sense of where we are and how much longer we’re going to be. I grow impatient with worry that we won’t make it in time. My sister reads my mind, and tells me it’s really hard to tell where we are because of the dense fog. I know the route we’re driving and I tell myself I cannot allow myself any fear about the wildlife that shares the road in the night. We reach a place where there is a farm house and barn right next to the road with a strong flood light. My sister has her bearings now and she tells me where we are. I can picture it in my mind’s eye and my worry becomes real. Contractions are less than two minutes apart now and we have another eight minutes or more to get to the hospital.

I force myself to get into my zone and I focus solely on my breathing. My sister tries to talk to me but I do not answer. I cannot. As we approach the city, more landmarks expose themselves amidst the fog and my sister offers encouragement. The police radio squawks updates of our progress on our journey as different officers report our passing by. My sister tells me the hospital has a gurney in the emergency bay waiting for us. Laying on the seat I begin to see city lights and I get my bearings. We are so close. I can do this!

Our car squeals to a stop in the emergency room bay and both doors to the back seat are thrown open. Good fortune in that very moment puts me between contractions, so I pour myself out of the car and climb aboard the waiting gurney, with no time to spare as another contraction slams into me. A nurse at my head and another at my feet start running, pushing the gurney at break-neck speed through the hospital corridors, and I hang on as best I can as we maneuver around corners, all while working through an intense contraction. The gurney comes to a stop outside the birthing room, and again good fortune gives my belly a pause.

I jump off the gurney and peel off my clothes, uncaring about any witnesses. I climb aboard the birthing bed completely aware that another contraction is coming and I’m not disappointed. A nurse I’ve never met stands at the foot of the bed, patiently waiting for the contraction to end. When it does she tells me that she needs to check me before I can push. Not a chance, I tell her. The contractions have just changed and now nature is taking over and there is no holding back. She begins to argue with me just as a pushing contraction takes hold. I focus on my breathing, trying desperately not to push, and I hear my doctor come in the room. He tells the nurse that there’s no need to check me. If I say I’m ready to push, I’m ready. Relief floods my mind and body. One push and the baby is born. The record shows she came into the world five minutes after our car pulled into the emergency entrance bay, forty minutes after Millie Cat woke me, on Monday, September 13, 1993, at 2:10 in the morning.

My fourth daughter. Healthy. Beautiful. Precious. Still is, twenty-four years later.

Mind Blows

The hits just kept coming during a span of three weeks last November. First I got word that my oldest sister was being treated for beginning stages of Alzheimer’s. She is twelve years older than me. Then I got a call from my oldest brother, that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He is nine years older than me. Another brother happened to mention in passing that he had recently had a physical and there are some issues with his liver. And another sister, ten years older than me, was diagnosed with early signs of Alzheimer’s. There are eight of us siblings and half were dealt major health blows at nearly the same time. It was just days after our country’s tumultuous presidential election. Right before the onset of the holiday season. Smack dab in the middle of our family’s annual unspoken mourning period, when each of us quietly acknowledges the anniversaries of our parents’ deaths and what would have been their nth birthdays. It was all too much for me.

For years my husband has tried to persuade me that Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s run in my father’s bloodline, not my mother’s. And my DNA comes from both of my parents, so I only have a fifty percent chance of getting one of those devastating diagnoses. Try as he did, I never bought into his logic. Thrusting four of my siblings into chaos with their physical health was a cruel reminder of dominant genes. I’m not going to escape the inevitable.

It’s natural to want to pull family close during tough times but when all this stuff went down, I was still reeling from hurt and anger after being slighted by another one of my brothers last August when his son got married and nearly all of my nieces and nephews showed up for the wedding and reception. However, none of my children had been invited. My siblings and their grown children asked where my daughters were. I didn’t lie. “They weren’t invited.” Oh, there had to have been a mistake. I must not have read the invitation correctly. Unfortunately, I had read the invitation exactly as it was addressed and when I had heard many of my nieces and nephews were going to be at the wedding I contacted my brother’s wife. She told me none of my children were invited. There was no slight, no mistake. My children were not invited. How was I supposed to respond to that? My daughters knew all about the wedding, had heard many in the family talking about it, knew there were bridal showers happening. They thought I wasn’t passing on the details. I finally had to tell them, they weren’t invited. Oh. Okay then. Except it wasn’t okay. And once the wedding day arrived and Facebook pages in our extended family lit up with fabulous photos showing all the fun, my daughters were furiously hurt. They had every right to be.

So when news traveled in November about all the different health issues, I tried to put on a good face and thought about gathering with my siblings for our Christmas celebration. Half-heartedly I asked each of my daughters if they were planning to go. Not one. As the day approached, I knew I couldn’t go either. One of my siblings understood why I was hurt. A few tried to tell me it was all a big mistake and I should just let it go. I couldn’t. And by that time I was too far down the rabbit hole, angry and hurt, mourning my parents, mourning the loss of family, of the deep and emotional family bonds that fell apart after my parents had died despite how much effort we had all put toward staying connected physically.

A week after my siblings gathered to celebrate Christmas, my brother (with the liver problems) called me. He and his wife were on the call together and they put down a quilt of guilt, telling me they loved me and I should have been at the family gathering. They couldn’t understand the hurt and anger I felt and they were convinced my children not being invited to the wedding had just been an overblown mistake. They told me I needed to put my feelings aside and be there for the next family get together. Ha! The next family gathering was another wedding, one of my daughters. And she had picked a venue that was limited to only 100 guests. She invited all of my siblings but not one of her cousins. Her mindset was, since she couldn’t invite all of her cousins then she wouldn’t invite any.

My brother and his wife who had intentionally not invited my daughters to their son’s wedding last August have never said a word about what happened even though I know the topic has spent some time on the family grapevine. And when they attended my daughter’s wedding in April, they were very cordial and joking about their daughter’s wedding happening in July, how stressful it is to plan two weddings within a year’s time. I wanted to ask if my daughters would be invited to their daughter’s wedding but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wanted to believe it had been a mistake, that it wasn’t an intentional slight. Surely they wouldn’t do it again.

They did.

Last night my husband and I attended my niece’s wedding. Many of my other nieces and nephews were there. And today, family Facebook pages are filled with fun photos. Again. My husband and I left right after the dinner was done. Not one of my siblings argued with me to try to get me to stay longer. They knew. Aside from an initial “hello” and “congratulations” spoken to my brother, the father of the bride, we had no other exchange of words. Those may have been the last words we’ll say to each other for a very long time.

Hurt and anger in the mind are as devastating as blows to the body. Everything hurts. People say time heals all wounds but the history with this particular brother is long and complicated. He’s logical, cold, calculating. I’m emotional, compassionate, creative. This may have been the final blow.