As my neighbor ran in the house to get the phone, I held myself like most little girls do when they have to go, but don’t want to stop what they are doing. Bouncing a little on the bench, I didn’t care about decorum in front of the three unusually quite children staring at me. I did attempt to retain some dignity when my neighbor returned with the phone, however, by quickly moving my hand up to my swollen belly. This awkward movement was apparently not as successful as I would have liked, because she immediately asked me if I wanted a pad, “just in case?” So much for my feeble attempt to remain dignified.
Taking deep, calming breaths, I called my husband, Duane, and tried to explain to him why he had to come home early from work. He took this news as he takes all shocking, potentially dangerous life-changing news - with disbelief!
I know my husband’s reactions well, because during our 27 years of marriage I have given him cause to display them all. Nothing in our lives together has taken what could be considered a “normal” path, so he should not have been surprised. In fact, one of my favorite pieces of literature is The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost, because I consider my life’s journey to always be on the path that “was grassy and wanted wear”. Duane describes our marriage as, “What would have happened had Romeo and Juliet lived”, but the youthful, forbidden love story has been lived and told so many times that I’ll leave it out of this one. If we do represent the non-tragic Shakespeare, the mythical Mr. and Mrs. Montague missed an amazing adventure!
Seven years after we were married, we split up.
Not because of any seven year itch, (although the words “seven year” and “itch” together have quite bizarre connotations), but because we went to different Universities to finish our undergraduate education. He went off to UC Santa Barbara, and I ventured off to UC Berkeley. We saw each other about once every 6 weeks when he flew home for a weekend. Those weekends were intense since we passionately studied each other in addition to the books. I would cry my eyes out Sunday night after dropping him off at the airport, and then prepare for life without him for another six weeks. I was not your typical UC Berkeley student . . . if there is such a thing. I was about six years older than 99% of my fellow undergrad’s, I didn’t party on weekends, I wore a wedding ring and I shaved my legs and armpits regularly.
The first frantic phone call for help Duane received from me was when we were on summer break during college in 1986. I was privileged enough to get a ride to the ER from the local Volunteer Fire Department Ambulance for this incident. I had sustained a concussion, many bruises and possible facial disfigurement when I was thrown from a horse, and kicked in the face by another horse during my summer job as a wrangler on a ranch in the small Northern California coastal town where we lived. I am VERY lucky in that the only lasting effect from this particular incident is slight nerve damage on the right side of my face. I only feel it when I get my teeth cleaned, something I hate more than anything else in life. I would rather experience advanced labor pains for 10 hours than walk into a dentist’s office. But, if I want to chew anything harder than pudding for the next 30 years, I clench my bicuspids, and step into the torture chamber with my iPod connected head held high.
Speaking of labor, my first pregnancy ended at 8 weeks gestation with another frantic trip to the ER and a misdiagnosed Ectopic Pregnancy, but a miscarriage all the same. Again, my poor husband received an unexpected phone call from me, only this time I was already in the Emergency Room. My second pregnancy ended with another miscarriage at 12 weeks gestation almost a year to the day after my first. I found out I was pregnant with my first son, Evan, less than three months after this pregnancy ended. (Duane says he will never trust me again when I say ‘We’re safe’!) Every other woman in my family has had her first pregnancy before the age of 18, so I was almost convinced that since I started almost 20 years later my genetics dictated that I was too late, and my eggs and uterus gave up a long time ago. Thank God I was wrong, and genetics didn’t dictate having kids before I was 18, family dysfunction did. Fortunately, I could overcome generations of family dysfunction easier than genetics.
Frantic trips to the hospital during pregnancy had become a pattern, and this third pregnancy didn’t disappoint. I went into early labor, and was hospitalized for a week on drugs to stop it.
At my 32 week OB appointment, my doctor told me that I was in active labor, and she immediately hospitalized me. All I was feeling were period-like cramps, and with all the horror stories I had heard I thought, “This can’t be labor!” It was, apparently, and I was unbelievably blessed that those cramps were all I felt until a month later when I was 6cm, and the Doctor broke my water to get labor moving along again. When the real labor hit, I realized that those labor horror stories were really sugar coated fantasies designed to lure stupid naive’ first timers like me into thinking that labor couldn’t be that bad!
That phone call to both my boss and my husband while I was drugged up to stop the labor was interesting to say the least. My boss at the time took the news in stride - just give someone else my responsibilities. My husband, however, went home and shoveled bark for 10 hours a day for the next four days. He would of course visit me every morning and evening, but the way he handles stress is unique - distraction rather than food. I was extremely hurt at first that he wasn’t tearfully wringing his hands at my bedside all day as I lay in a drugged stupor trying not to have a baby. After all, that is what I would be doing if our roles were reversed. (Yeah right, like he would survive morning sickness, let alone labor!) It took me five years of sulking to realize that he did not shovel bark all day because he didn’t love me. Quite the contrary, his bark shoveling was caused by his love for me, concern for our unborn child and his inability to control the situation and ensure our safety. He had to take control of SOMETHING, and the 20 yards of bark he had delivered the day before I went into the hospital was going to be shoveled into submission even if it killed him.
The poor man should have been prepared for this fall when I was 8 months along with my second son given my track record during pregnancy. Now that I write this all down, I am either extremely stupid, extremely lucky, or I’m doing penance for my youthful Juliet impression. I bet my mother would agree with the latter.
Even though this fall down my neighbor’s front steps was scary, I was not at all alarmed about the health of the baby. I felt no tenderness, bruising or cramping around my abdomen. Since I knew my body very well during all my previous pregnancies, I knew that the baby was okay, and previous experience taught me that I certainly did not need an ambulance for my rapidly swelling foot and ankle.
After I had finally convinced my husband that he did indeed need to come home to take me to the ER, because I was not prone to any kind of site specific water retention that would cause only one ankle and one foot to swell to three times its usual size, I then had to call my boss and cancel my meeting. Oh My God! I had to call another boss!
This was actually much more difficult! As I said, this was a new job, and I had been employed only one month. This might be enough to instill fear for my job, but there is more. If you have been paying attention, you have deduced that this company hired me when I was already 7 months pregnant! The American’s with Disabilities Act aside, I held out no hope of being hired by anyone while I was so obviously pregnant that I couldn’t have hidden my huge bump with the most stealthily conceived camouflage maternity wear.
~Mary Kathryn Johnson
Author ~ Entrepreneur ~ Mom
Say Bump and Take a Left
[Next installment tomorrow. All interested parties meet back here to join me in some Starbucks Coffee Ice cream cravings!]