As I read my own story, I see that, when I was younger, I was getting into and out of situations haphazardly, with no real plan for where I was going. Life (or an invisible force) seemed to be maneuvering me, and I was instinctively succumbing to my circumstances, not always happily, in order to survive.
I liken my past experiences to playing musical chairs, hoping and praying that, when the music stops, I will be standing in front of an empty seat that has my name on it, a place I can plant myself firmly and stay put. But staying put seemed to elude me, at least when I was young.
This has been the story of my life…
***A safe haven***
It is mid-September 1979 when I move into my first apartment at the age of sixteen. Within a week of my moving into that apartment, I find that my older sister is getting married at a local family-owned bungalow. She is only seventeen but is intent on tying the knot, mainly to get out of the house. The wedding is nice enough, but I don’t care for her new husband or his family, and they don’t care much for anyone from our family either. Regardless, he is now a part of the family. They live fairly close to me, but I don’t see either of them much at all.
My commute to and from work is now an hour drive each way and takes a great deal of my time. The rest of my free time is spent hanging out with my boyfriend. He has turned out to be a very needed and unexpected support and guardian for me – especially considering my situation. He is uncomfortable about spending the night, even though he is almost 19, so I am alone at night in my apartment. My seventeenth birthday is a month away.
As I reflect on this time in my young life, I am surprised by the strength and courage I exhibited all those years ago. Where did that come from? I was a high school dropout, I had no skills (that I was aware of), little-to-no support from my family, and no idea what I was doing. Well, and I had no plan for what to do next!
When I fast-forward through my story to 2015, I find it strange that I was, again, taking action without guidance from a well-thought-out plan. In that year, I left a thirty-year relationship, twenty-eight of those years in a marriage I thought I would be in forever. Yet, there I was, having to find my way out into the world again – on my own. I had become uncomfortably comfortable and did not want to own up to the truth that my second marriage was over – well before I finally left. And when I did leave, I felt crippled and so afraid. I had forgotten how to rely on myself. I had forgotten that I had made it once before and under more dire circumstances. I did not want to do this again, but this was one of those repeating lessons I needed to learn. In that 28-year marriage, I had slipped back into giving up my power. It was easier to be a victim than to take 100 percent responsibility for myself, my emotional state, and my future.
After leaving my marriage, and when considerable time had elapsed, I became stronger and more discerning and have developed an opinion and the ability to know my own mind and speak up about what is in that beautiful mind. I have created work that has sustained me without having to go back to a 9-to-5 job. I have learned that I can, indeed, take care of myself. My power has been restored and so has my freedom.
***The big surprise***
It’s mid-November and one evening my boyfriend and I are playing cards while eating microwaved lasagna out of the container. We must sit on the living room floor because I still have no kitchen table or couch or even a chair. Suddenly, I am not very hungry, and my stomach is abruptly upset. This scenario plays out several more times over the next week. I am really hoping that I have a flu bug or something that might explain this away, but deep inside, I have a sinking feeling…
Although my boyfriend and I have had sex, I still have very little knowledge about it and no experience with birth control or pregnancy. I do know enough to go to the local drugstore and purchase a pregnancy test kit.
Alarmed by the positive results, I feel a wave of anxiety rush through me as I stare unbelieving at the stick I have just urinated on. “What the hell am I going to do now?” Thoughts rain over me, melting me into a puddle of emotional anguish and despair. Just as my life is finally starting to feel more settled…this has to happen! I am pregnant, and I am scared to death!
“How am I ever going to tell my boyfriend?” I wouldn’t necessarily call him super-religious, but his family is, and this is definitely going to upset the apple cart. He will have to reveal to his parents that we had been having sex. I know this is not going to go well for either one of us. My father is going to have a cow and probably disown me…but, then, it feels to me as though he already has. And now my boyfriend’s parents…I don’t even dare to think about it because it makes me even more sick!
Feeling ashamed for having created this situation in their lives, I am already playing out his parents’ reaction to this news in my mind. My fears are mounting every moment I am awake. I am worried sick about what everyone is going to think of me, what his family will think, what my parents will think, what the town will think. How will everyone react to this precarious and sensitive situation? I just want to crawl under a rock and hide.
These thoughts are just a few of those that make my heart sink into my belly as the sense of being shackled sets in. I cannot comprehend the enormity of what has just happened – inside and outside of me, and I have no one I can confide in. And on top of it all, I feel guilty for even thinking about an abortion, and so it isn’t an option. I wouldn’t even know how to initiate one, anyway.
My older sister is newly married – just starting out life with her new husband; besides, we are not very close. My younger sister is too childlike to share this news with. As much as I don’t fully comprehend what is happening to me, she definitely would have no clue. My mother is barely there and has over-reached her capacity to be supportive and nurturing. When I call to tell her of my news, the first words out of her mouth are, “I should have put you on birth control when you moved out.”
These words are neither comforting nor helpful to me now and only make me feel worse about what I have just done. I feel completely responsible for this situation and have no idea how to get myself out of it or through it.
From my mother’s journal:
When I was on the phone with Lynn earlier, she shared the news of her pregnancy. She also mentioned that someone (not sure who) offered to find her herbs that would cause a miscarriage. I know her; if she took that person’s advice, she would regret it for the rest of her life. Lynn tells me that she would not consider an abortion.
My father seems completely overloaded with the responsibilities that have come with his second wife and their substantial clan. And there is the fact that he has been unavailable to me for most of my life, even after I had lived with him for two years. In my mind, I liken talking with him about my predicament to talking with a Catholic priest about one’s first sexual encounter…I cannot even bear the thought of this – just way too embarrassing. He won’t understand, and I just can’t go there with him.
My father has never talked to me about sex except to hint that certain clothing, or lack thereof, would cause adolescent boys to become excited…possibly posing a danger to me. I have never understood this and rebel against it. Maybe he knows a little about this – from his own experience? Maybe he is only trying to protect me in his emotionally detached way?
***My sexual awareness, or lack thereof***
When I lived with my father and his new wife just two years before I found that I was pregnant with my first child, I was never allowed to wear certain clothing. I had not been taught how to have a strong sense of self or to assert myself when I was feeling uncomfortable about something or sensing danger. I had learned to please others and to seek approval from outside of myself – even at the cost of trouble.
If my father had had his way, I would have been draped in a burlap bag and wrapped tightly in twine from neck to ankles until I was old enough to marry. He wanted me pure so that I would be worthy of marrying in the Mormon temple and bearing as many children as was humanly possible. It seemed to me that his top priority was about how high in the kingdom of heaven he would go if this could be pulled off. This was what he had been prepping me for in my younger years. He had what he believed to be his own best interests in the afterlife at heart – not my best interests in this life. And now, it was all backfiring.
I am terrified to tell my boyfriend that I am pregnant, but I know I must muster up the courage to do it sooner, rather than later. It is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
A week after I discover I am pregnant, I go to his workplace, where he fixes cars, at the end of the day. I know he’ll be the only one there at this time of night. I park my Volkswagen near the bay doors, climb out, and walk into the dark garage where he is putting away his tools so he can head home. Before I can run away, I spit the words out and wait for his response. He is stunned! I think he is a little angry, too, not knowing exactly what has hit him or how to take in this shocking news: At 19-years-old, he is going to be a father!
He is painfully quiet at first and starts pacing around the shop’s bay. After a few minutes, he walks toward me and tells me that I should have an abortion. He says that this whole thing can just be our secret and that it will just blow over. No one will ever have to know any of this. I know he is telling me this because he, too, is scared. Scared of what his parents will do and say. He needs time to think it through.
I tell him that I have already thought of this possibility but that I have no idea where to get information about abortion. I have no idea who does these types of procedures or the cost. I tell him that I don’t know how I could live with myself, knowing I had killed an unborn child. My nerves feel frazzled, my stomach is in knots, and coupled with the nausea I am already experiencing, I feel as though I want to throw up. I want to cry. I want someone to take away this horrible nightmare. I want to go to sleep and wake up to find it was only a dream. Oh, God, please help me!
I am naive times 10. The prospect of going to hell has been engrained in me as a very real possibility since I was a kid. Because of this, having an abortion isn’t a choice at all. I don’t think my boyfriend really means what he is saying either. He, too, is in shock and grappling with the enormity of the news I have just shared with him.
Being Lebanese American, my boyfriend has been raised in the Catholic religion. In his culture, respect for parents is a given. Family is at the core of their identity, and loyalty to family supersedes all other obligations. Each member of the family is expected to protect the family’s honor. I had already known, and now he is confirming it by the way he is acting, that telling his parents of my pregnancy is not going to be easy.
Both of his parents are practicing Catholics and have a very strongly held belief that premarital sex is taboo. In comparing both of our upbringings, I see similarities in how we both feel about the possibility of ending up in hell if I were to proceed with an abortion. We both know we have already stepped over the morality line by having sex outside of marriage. We dismiss the abortion idea quickly. We are going to have the baby.
Breaking the news to my father is humiliating and embarrassing, but I know I am no longer under his control and, instead, in a position to make my own choices about how this situation will play out. He and his wife both want to come to my apartment and talk over possible solutions. We set up a time and date.
When we meet, their advice consists of this: “Go live with your step-mother’s sister and her three boys.” They both think it would be best if I live there throughout my pregnancy and continue with my schooling. I am unclear about why they want me to live there because I barely know them. I certainly do not see the benefit!
I am aghast at the idea, and I know immediately that this will never work for me. I have been hopeful that they would come up with a better solution than this, and while I am disappointed, I am also grateful I have a choice in the matter and can’t be forced to go. I tell them, “No, thank you.”
My boyfriend is struggling with the news and stalling on breaking it to his parents. I know he feels ashamed and has no idea how they will react, so he doesn’t tell them right away. By the time he does finally share the news right after Christmas in 1979, I am already two months pregnant and heading into my third month.
He finally does tell them and comes to me, relieved that they have taken the news better than he had thought they would. Both his parents now want to meet with us over dinner to talk about where and how we will all move ahead from here. They are stepping up to help us plan our next steps. They both want to get to know me better. After all, I am carrying their first grandchild. And even though this event is happening prematurely, a child is involved, and this seems to be what is most important to them.
During our dinner conversation, wedding plans emerge.
Once I hear my boyfriend’s parents mention marriage, I am swept up in the romance of this exciting proposition. I have the feeling that, for the first time in a long time, I will be a part of a family – I will be taken care of. I have finally found an open seat, with my name on it. My long-awaited chair!
***The wedding plans***
Plans for this speedy wedding are coming together at lightning speed. My mother in-law-to-be is in full command, barking orders at her husband and my boyfriend’s older brother to do the grunt work and running around. All is in motion as we get closer to a day I see as “blessed”. Urgency forms an umbrella over all the preparations because, while everyone is in full cooperation to keep things moving, everyone realizes that the sooner we are married the better. I am already starting to show! The underlying tone is one of “Don’t tell people any more than they need to know.” And this includes the entire family.
Now, how do you keep this kind of situation under wraps?
Because my Volkswagen Bug is so temperamental in the winter, I have had to call my boyfriend every morning to jump-start my car, so I can get to work. On one cold and snowy morning, I prepare myself for work between waves of intense nausea. It takes all my strength to get up, shower, and get into my car. The temperature is in the low 30’s, and I hold my breath, praying my car starts. It doesn’t, so I have to call for a jump. My boyfriend arrives a short time later, jumps the car, then gets back into his car to return home to ready himself for work.
He heads out of the parking lot of the apartment complex where I live and notices that I am not following. He drives back into the parking lot to find me, driver door wide open, head down, vomiting onto the parking lot pavement. Immediately, he comes rushing to me to hold my head. I don’t think he has really gotten just how bad it has been for me, but now he is seeing it. I pull myself together, wipe my mouth off, and prepare myself for my drive to work.
From my mother’s journal:
I stopped by Lynn’s apartment today to check on her. We had talked earlier that morning, and she had told me that she was really ill with morning sickness…boy, do I know what that feels like!
I brought her crackers and gave her an anti-nausea pill, but it came right back up! It feels as though I can feel her nausea. She was so sick she could not move her head from her pillow. I knew this was just the beginning of a long and difficult road ahead.
I am easily persuaded to leave my waitressing job. I have been traveling about 60+ miles a day to and from work and spending extended periods of time on my feet while beginning to feel the ill effects. I’ve been working through the wretched morning sickness that started about six weeks ago. I have suffered severe nausea along with violent bouts of vomiting bile every morning – then eating like a ravenous beast the rest of the day. I am acutely sensitive to smells, which are difficult to avoid when working in a restaurant. Leaving this job is an enormous relief.
I was not thinking this through. I was not in school and had no friends because they were all in school. I had no idea how bored and penniless I would be for the next seven months, but I soon found out. All I could think of was that I would be encircled with a huge family. I would be the mother with a baby to take care of.
From my mother’s journal:
January 19 and I am 45 minutes from home. I had been out running errands with the Dragon Lady, who now wants me to take her home. I tell her “no” and arrive at Lynn’s soon-to-be-in-laws’ residence just in time for her wedding. The Dragon Lady stays in the car. Lynn is still doing last-minute makeup and hair stuff. She looks so beautiful and so pale. I feel so bad for her. I remember how awful I felt all the time, the first three months of a pregnancy – at least with my first four kids.
LYNN IS GETTING MARRIED. I love her so much, and I want her to be happy. I give her a careful hug. She is doing a very grown-up thing, and, yet, she has such a vulnerable childlike innocence. Every time I think about what she has been through, I tear up and just want to hold her and tell her it will be okay. But will it?
I recall how, when Lynn was just 15 and had decided she didn’t want to finish high school, I could just about see the handwriting on the wall. Dropping out of school like her two older siblings before her, Lynn thought that she didn’t need to finish her schooling because she was going to learn to sing and become a star.
I remember now that that was the reason I had wanted to move my piano and my little organ to Orem. I practiced the piece Lynn wanted to sing over and over, so that she could submit a cassette recording. I am not very good, but Lynn is great…my blessed blue eyes.
Today, January 19, 1980, in a small ceremony attended by family at my boyfriend’s parents’ home in Linden, Utah, we are married. It is quite a remarkable affair, pulled together by his mother and grandmother, and his mother’s three sisters, in just a few short weeks.
My stepmother has made my dress – a long-sleeved, floor-length white dress, an eyelet of lace extending across my chest and up to my neck with matching bands that encircle my wrists, a band of lace at the bottom. I wear my hair up, adorned by a white floppy hat – flowers that match my bouquet sewn around the brim. A white veil of tulle hangs off the back, cascading down over my shoulders and back. I am now almost three months pregnant, barely showing and weighing only 110 pounds.
The groom and all the groomsmen wear burgundy tuxedos with pink ruffled shirts and dark velvet vests with matching lapels. The ceremony takes place upstairs in the home’s stunning formal living room, complete with grand piano and chandeliers. I walk from the far bedroom, located at the end of a long hall, arm and arm with my father – both of us beaming. We make our way toward the entryway and down the two steps to the waiting Justice of the Peace and my soon-to-be husband. I am so nervous and pray my tummy doesn’t decide to do anything that would embarrass me.
I only understand what marriage will be like from the perspective of a 17-year-old. I feel the love and support of my husband-to-be’s family pour over me, even in these sensitive circumstances. A slight struggle ensues with my new husband’s paternal grandmother adjusting to the news of my pregnancy out of wedlock; however, once she meets me in person, this all changes. Four of my siblings attend the wedding, along with my mother. I see the happiness on their faces, acknowledging that I am making the most of this delicate situation. My father’s wife and her younger children are also there. They are all astonished by this stately home where my new in-laws live. We have a huge party afterwards in the expansive family room located at the bottom of a winding staircase.
Lebanese Americans are known for their warm hospitality and elaborate parties. They consider it rude not to offer food and drink, and lots of it! I am completely blown away by the lengths to which this family has gone for the two of us. The green pool table has been adorned with a beautiful tablecloth and covered with a brilliant display of salads, meats, cheeses and breads in between candles and flowers. Everyone is dressed in formal wear and beaming smiles of congratulations. I feel that, because of all the family support, everything is really going to be okay!
***A night of bliss…??***
Once the wedding and reception is over, my new husband and I drive the short distance to my apartment, now our apartment. I sense this new life is disconcerting and strange for him. This is the first time he is spending the whole night in our new home. He awkwardly walks straight to the bathroom, quickly removes his tuxedo, deposits it on the floor, and crawls into bed, throwing a quick “G’ night!” in my general direction. I stand in the bathroom, staring at myself in the mirror, bewildered at his behavior. My expectations of a wedding night of bliss and romance are dashed as the first sounds of his snoring reach my ears. Loud snoring! How am I ever going to be able to sleep through that?
Immediately, I think, “What have I just gotten myself into?” The thought hits me like a freight train. I am not having the romantic wedding night I had seen in movies, and now I am extremely anxious and worried about how it will be moving forward.
***The gun slinger***
A surprise wedding gift from my in-laws is money to take a road trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios. Neither of us has done a trip like this without family, but the drive goes smoothly, and we manage to get to California safe and sound despite it being late January.
The weather is cool, and while I am not up for many of the rides, the energy of Disneyland is a magical experience, no matter my age. There are no lines to speak of – a very good thing for a newly pregnant woman who is feeling the effects of pregnancy.
On our last day in California, I’m sitting in the car outside our hotel in Los Angeles as my new husband finishes carrying out our suitcases and loading them into the car so that we can head for home. He climbs into the driver’s seat, turns to me with a perplexed look on his face, and tells me that he has forgotten to pack his gun into his suitcase (a loaded pistol I knew nothing about) and isn’t sure what to do with it now. He has it lying on the bed in its shoulder holster. Parked next to us is a police car. One of the policemen is standing on the curb, handcuffing a young man who had been staying in a room a couple of doors down from ours, likely a drug bust.
Now I am not super savvy when it comes to things like this, but I am just about to suggest to him that he take one of the suitcase back into the room and pack the gun into it. A minute later, he comes out of the room, gun holster slung over his shoulder, and heads for the car. I am watching him with disbelief and am not at all surprised that he doesn’t get far before another policeman steps out of the passenger side of the police car and asks him if he has a permit to carry his weapon. As I am watching in horror, I am terrified now that we will be taken to jail. I don’t belong in jail…I’m pregnant. I am struck by the feeling that he has just spoiled our honeymoon and has gotten us in some big trouble.
He does not have a permit for the “loaded” gun, and we are both questioned and asked to provide our IDs to show that we are not wanted criminals. We are extremely lucky they let us go and that we aren’t arrested. I am a little angry with myself for not realizing what he has been doing and that I have turned over the decision-making to him, thinking he is better at it than I am. I am being shown by his actions that that is not necessarily the case. He unloads the gun, places the bullets in the glove compartment, and puts the gun in the trunk. We head home to Utah.
***My thoughts now on my first husband***
As I remembered this time, I was stunned at how naïve my first husband was. He didn’t think it was important to tell me that he was carrying a loaded pistol or that it could or would end up being a problem to carry it out in the open. Reflecting on this now is a shocking revelation to me about his lack of maturity and decision-making skill. I can now see why (at least one of the reasons why) things did not work out between us. But I clung to this new family and this life, ignoring the red flags.
The long winter is finally drawing to an end as nature’s first signs of new life begin to assert themselves. Buds protrude on tree branches once bare; flowers pop their heads up and out of a thawing ground, reaching for the warmth of the sun to sustain their growth. Brown grass now turns a multitude of greens as insects begin to perform their part in the procreation of new life.
I have been feeling slight flutters inside my abdomen for a little while now. When I take notice, the fluttering seems to stop. Puzzled, I wonder if this is simply indigestion or gas…or could it be the baby?
As I lie down on the couch today (yes, we finally have a couch, kitchen table and two chairs, thanks to the in-laws) and stare at my very small but finally noticeable bump, I see slight movements, like tiny fingers poking me from inside. These first signs of life are captivating, and I stare at this phenomenon for hours.
This becomes my daily ritual for the next few weeks as the episodes become more pronounced and forceful. I am mesmerized by the life growing inside me. It is as if this child who is developing inside me is following along the same path as the spring season.
As the months go by, visible imprints of a foot, a hand, press on my now protruding belly as this baby stretches within its small boundaries. My husband’s grandmothers, aunts and cousins watch me closely with great care and support – not wanting me to do anything physical, even turn too much in my chair. When I am with them, they wait on me hand and foot. I am not used to this treatment but am getting to like it – a lot! I feel as though I am the star of the family.
While I am immensely grateful for my new, doting, and loving family, I feel separated from the outside world and confined to what has become my very small world. Because I am no longer working, my days are filled with sleep, television, and boredom. Instead of going shopping or to the movies, playing games or attending dances with girlfriends, I have taken food as my new companion and pastime. Other adolescents’ lives are in such contrast to mine now.
Teen pregnancy and my approaching motherhood separate me even more from my youth – ushering me into an adult existence that, ready or not, I have no choice but to embrace. I am fearful of what is coming, but I don’t fully understand what it all means or how this will affect me for the rest of my life. The only one I can confide in now is my new mother-in-law. I am quite sure I drive her crazy with my constant visits to her house and many episodes of tears and terror as I move closer to my due date.
***My thoughts on my marriage and pregnancy all these years later***
Looking back now on my pregnancy so many years ago, I often think about how my life may have turned out if I had had an abortion. Would I have stayed with my then boyfriend? How did this event change the course of his life? Would we have ever married? Would he still be alive? (More on this in a later blog article!)
At that time, I really had no idea where I was meant to be or what I was meant to be. Life took me down a path; I was not proactively choosing the path. An invisible force seemed to be ushering me into adulthood, well before the time I would have become an adult in the natural course of things. Everything in my life seemed to happen way too early, way out of sync with the world I had been connected to up to my marriage. Now, however, I know that, as hard as it was, it was all meant to be exactly as it happened.
***A sweet new place***
It is now April 1980, and spring is in full bloom. My in-laws have found us a charming cottage-style home located behind a small family-owned construction business. It has a private, cozy feel to it with a shrub-lined walkway on the right side of the house that leads to the front door. Past the front door, the walkway opens into a small, landscaped backyard that is completely private, fenced in and covered in flowering vines, an apple tree for shade. It is perfect for our soon-to-be new arrival.
Right inside the front door, a small living room is on the right and a kitchen on the left. The bedroom is off the living room, and down a short hallway, a bathroom is on the left and a laundry room at the end. It is everything we need with the bonus of being closer to the soon-to-be grandparents. We settle in, instantly feeling this place is perfectly suited to bringing a new baby home – and very soon!
***The custody battle is on***
My father has petitioned for full custody of my youngest brother and sister, and the fight is getting heated and about to get very ugly as a court date draws near.
I have had very little contact with my mother since the beginning of my pregnancy. Her coming out as a lesbian has been difficult and confusing for me, and I am unsure how to respond to her strange lifestyle.
When I was 15, and she had just found out my father was taking her to court, she told my oldest sister about her sexual preference. My sister then told me. We had lived with the Dragon Lady for quite some time but always hoped that this did not mean our mother was a lesbian. Well, our mother’s admission confirmed what we had suspected all along, and that admission placed a wedge between us.
Now that I am married and with child, I am sad to discover that I distrust her at a time when I need her most. I don’t know how or if I will ever be able to allow her back into my life, and this hurts me deeply.
When I was in my early teens and living with my father, the living conditions in my father’s home were not much better than at my mom’s house, but at least he was married to a woman – which seemed “normal” to me.
Again, now that I am married woman, I find I must choose “normal” over strange.
I feel as though my parents are pulling me in two diametrically opposed directions. My father is asking me to testify against my mother; my mother is asking me to testify against my father. I don’t want to be involved in their battle, and I don’t want to have to take sides. I am seven months pregnant when the court date arrives. I am sick inside when I must testify against my mother as she sits opposite me in the courtroom. This turns out to be a very hard and emotional day – no one is coming out on top!
From my mother’s journal:
I have divorced my husband on January 14, 1974. For the next five years, we have struggled in a series of interviews, home studies through Child Services, court hearings, and every-other-week visitations: The three younger children going to their father’s home in the canyon where he lives. My younger daughter is just eight years old; my boy is twelve and the older daughter is fifteen. The final custody hearing takes place in April of 1980 – a month before Mount St. Helen’s erupted. My husband is awarded custody of the three younger children.
I believe my ex-husband is not behaving appropriately or kindly toward them when they go to his and his new wife’s house. I can’t even imagine allowing him to keep them because of the things the kids have told me about their home life there.
After constant worry and prayer just before the final hearing, I talk with my attorney, and he advises me about what I must do and that I shouldn’t even think about going off with the kids somewhere. I talk with my friend, Rosalyn, and she suggests that we take them to Mexico or Canada. She offers to help me, and I agree. I pack up my three children with all we can load into suitcases and backpacks and leave immediately – heading toward Canada – leaving everything else behind.
***Close to giving birth***
It’s early July, and the heat exceeds 90 degrees. Just a week away from giving birth, I am at one of my last doctor appointments and am asked to get on the scale. Reluctantly, I kick off the only shoes that fit my expanding feet, which are flip flops…good thing it’s summer. I tip the scales at almost 165 pounds; I am quite swollen with all the excess fluid and blood I am carrying. I have only one dress that still fits around my huge belly and expanding derriere and wear it over and over. My blood pressure is slightly elevated; however, this doesn’t seem to alarm the doctor too much, considering the combination of my weight, fluid retention, and the heat.
My appointment today contrasts with the routine exams I have grown accustomed to for the past eight months. The doctor examines me internally, for what, I am not sure. No one explains anything to me, and I am too embarrassed and unsure about what to ask. The exam is painful and leaves me feeling rattled and shaken, frightened at the prospect of what I know is drawing near. When I get up from the exam, a small amount of blood appears on the tissue paper that covers the exam table. This alarms me, adding to the trepidation I am already feeling. This is where a visit from my mother would be very much welcomed, but she is, at this moment, on the run from the authorities.
I leave the doctor’s office feeling mistreated and judged, yet not having any idea what I could have said or done that might make me feel more at ease with all that is happening to my body. I get into my hot car and drive straight over to my mother in-law’s house. I need comforting, someone to understand what I am feeling, and she is the only one I know who can help me now.
When she opens the door, I burst out crying – blurting out through tears the events of my morning. She embraces me with loving arms of understanding and comfort. She reminds me that she has been through this three times herself and that she will be there to help me through this monumental event. I am clingy and lean on her for support, but she’s all I have.
A few days later, I notice fluid leaking into my panties. I am not quite sure what this is, so I call my doctor’s office, letting the staff know what has been happening. A nurse from the office tells me that the pressure from the baby’s head is pressing on my bladder, causing it to leak. Without question, I accept this explanation without hesitation and hang up the phone. I have an appointment in a few days and will wait until then to see the doctor.
At this appointment, my husband comes with me. As I am telling the doctor what has been happening with the leaking of fluid, his brow becomes furrowed, and he squints his eyes and cocks his head to the side, asking me who told me not to come in sooner. I shared with him what I was told, and in a heated voice, he tells me to go straight to the hospital, now! Slightly enraged, he tells me that this liquid is not urine but amniotic fluid. This means a hole has formed in the sack that houses the fetus, thus posing a danger of infection to the unborn baby.
My husband freaks out and tells me he will take me directly to the hospital now and get my suitcase later. While we are both quite anxious and want to follow the doctor’s orders, I talk him into taking me home first to collect my already packed bag. We call his mother to let her know where we are and head to the hospital, not fully knowing if we will be returning home with or without a baby. I am not even in labor.
We arrive and are checked in and swiftly ushered upstairs to Labor and Delivery. It is Thursday, July 10, at 11 a.m. The room I am taken to is not private and has a young woman in the bed next to what will be my bed. She is groaning with pain, and I am grateful that she is taken away a short time later to the delivery room because her writhing and moaning seems a bit dramatic to me.
Nurses come and go, and I feel more like an object they are working on than a young girl who has no idea what is happening and what to expect. No one explains what is coming, so I am not prepared (which is probably a good thing).
After I don a “lovely” hospital gown, one of the nurses checks me, confirming that the leaking fluid is indeed amniotic fluid. I am not in labor at this point, so she gives me an enema to “get things moving”. This gets my contractions started and within two hours, I am in full-on labor. At this point, I feel as though I can handle the pain and am relieved it won’t be so bad, after all. Just as I am getting back into bed from my third trip to the bathroom, my water breaks – the warm fluid seeming to cover the entire bed. It’s hard to believe that that was all inside of me, and the baby hasn’t even arrived.
The nurse who has been attending to me starts an IV in my arm and administers a medication. I think it’s for pain, but suddenly the room starts to spin, and the pain seems noticeably sharper, the contractions much stronger. Things seem to be moving along very quickly; the contractions are coming almost on top of one another and now I am writhing in pain – my reaction to the woman in the next bed now feeling quite a bit like naivete. Now I understand why she was writhing!
My husband is a nuisance to me, and I don’t have the energy or patience to talk to him, so he and his mother leave to get food.
Nurses and doctors are rushing around outside my room; I hear groans in the distance. No one seems to have time to stop and explain what is happening, and now my pain is so intense, it takes all my focus to breathe. I have never experienced pain like this before – it feels as though I am being cut in two. No one is around when I suddenly have an uncontrollable urge to push. It’s as if an invisible force has control over my body, and I have none. I am barely able to get the words out, “I NEED HELP!” and I pray someone hears me before I end up pushing this baby out alone.
After what seems like an eternity to me, a nurse comes in, immediately telling me to stop pushing. I think she is kidding – doesn’t she understand that my body is on automatic pilot, and I have lost all control over it? It doesn’t feel to me as though she understands what I am really experiencing; doesn’t she know that I am dying from this pain? I need help!
Help arrives, a doctor wearing a blue gown and holding a covered tray. He lays it down on my bed table and tells me to roll into a tight ball as he peels back the covering and dons a pair of gloves. I don’t understand why he is asking me to do this; doesn’t he understand what I am going through? Doesn’t anyone understand?
A nurse appears at the other side of my bed and helps me to bring my knees up as far as they will go without hitting my belly. The doctor presses on my back and shoulders to straighten them as much as possible. Then he firmly directs me not to move. In my peripheral vision, I can see the needle, as long as a ruler, as he slides it into my spine. Thank God I am in such pain because I do not even feel the tiny prick.
Within minutes, the pain is completely gone, and I feel my body unwinding as my muscles and my mind begin to relax. I no longer feel anything from my waist down; even my arms and hands don’t seem to want to move. I don’t care much because I am now floating; I smile; I even laugh. It feels so good not to be in such agonizing pain. I knew my husband had left because I was so cross with him, and his presence had been disrupting my focus and concentration. Now, I am relieved to see him walk back into the room as my bed is being wheeled toward the door and to the delivery room. We are having this baby!
The delivery room is full of bright lights and trays of instruments and several nurses standing in gowns and masks, waiting for me. One of them instructs me to scoot myself over to the delivery table. Confused, I ask what they mean…I am numb from my waist down, so numb, I can’t even use my hands to scoot.
With the assistance of two nurses and the doctor, I am gently rolled onto the table and positioned to give birth – feet in the stirrups, arms to my sides. My husband and his mother are standing near my head throughout the delivery. I watch in a tiny mirror above my bed. As my doctor asks me to push as hard as I can on the count of three, I am once again confused. I have no feeling from my waist down! But I focus all my attention on what I know pushing feels like and do it with all my might. A few seconds later, he tells me to push again, and so I do.
Finally, after I push a few more times and get assistance from the doctor’s steel forceps, our baby son, weighing in at 6 pounds, 14 ounces, arrives at 5:30 p.m. His misshapen head bears a full crown of wavy black hair. His big brown eyes are swollen slits, searching the room in confusion before he lets out a powerful scream – telling us that he is okay. All 10 toes and fingers are intact. He is perfect!
As the doctor turns his attention back to me for sutures, one of the nurses whisks my baby away to be cleaned up, checked over, and wrapped in a warm receiving blanket – he is not laid on my chest. When one of the nurses is finished doing her thorough check, she passes the baby onto his father, who is sheepishly holding out his arms. He brings the baby down to my level so that I can see this tiny child I have held inside of me for so very long. My mother-in-law is crying at the miracle she has just witnessed – the birth of her first grandson.
Once my wounds have been sutured, I am wheeled into a recovery room for a short time of observation, then taken to a semi-private room that I share with another new mother. Overwhelmed and exhausted, I feel a sense of detachment from this baby I have carried under my heart for the past nine months. It seems strange to have to think about this baby being somewhere else besides right here, beneath my ribs.
Confusion floods my brain, and I am suddenly aware of just how scared I am of my responsibility and doubtful of my ability to care for this child. How am I going to manage? How will I ever be able to do this when I get home? These questions buzz around in my head like bees. I don’t know anything about how to care for a new baby. I have had no classes, no real training, except for some babysitting and caring for my younger siblings. This is different; this is my own child, and no one is above me but me. This is surreal!
My escape is to hide from these feelings in sleep for the time being. “I will deal with these feelings later,” I think as I drift off. For now, my baby is in the nursery being completely cared for.
My husband arrives later that evening after taking a short break at home. Together, we decide to walk down to the nursery to peek at our new bundle. I have not yet been out of bed, and when I step down, my knees buckle, and I am suddenly on the floor. My husband grabs me and helps me back up, both of us laughing. It seems the anesthesia has not yet worn off completely.
I walk gingerly, with my husband’s help, down the hall to the nursery where our tiny child is asleep in his bed. We both feel gratitude and fear at the prospect of taking this tiny being home. I sense that we are unprepared to be parents but have no choice but to step into the role.
Through the night, the anesthesia’s effects wear off, and the pain creeps in, growing stronger by the minute. By morning, sitting up in my bed is excruciating, and I am begging for something for the pain. Sutures from the incision made to widen the birth canal during delivery are tugging, swollen, and throbbing now with full intensity. One of the nurses suggests that I get into a sitz bath. I don’t really know what this is but slowly crawl out of bed and walk across the hall to a door the nurse is pointing to. The bath is in a tiny room that looks like a closet. The room contains two baths. Because the private one is being used, I take the one in front of the door, praying to God no one comes in. I strip off my nightgown and lower myself down into the warm water feeling instant relief.
As I look down, I notice for the first time in quite a while the now distorted shape of my belly. The skin is stretched out of proportion and no longer holds a baby within; the folds hang over my lower abdomen. My bare breasts are swollen and leaking clear fluid – I know very little about what this fluid is. Stretch marks that had been hidden all these months are now visible. I start to cry, the physical pain a sharp stinging, the emotional pain (at the loss of my once concave stomach), a crushing in my shoulders and chest as the pain burrows deep into my heart. What has happened to my body?
My thoughts are suddenly interrupted by a nurse coming through the door. I try to grab for my towel but can’t quite reach it without causing myself pain. Humiliated and ashamed of what a sight I must be, I quickly cover myself with my arms putting my head down. The nurse apologizes and leaves as I slowly stand to towel myself off and slide back into my nightgown, heading back to my room.
From my mother’s journal:
July 12. I hear from Lynn today. She had given birth the day before yesterday. Tears are running down my face, and I can see her holding her little baby, my grandson. I am thrilled, excited, and worried. Is she going to have help? Is someone going to be there to show her how to fold a diaper, how to put one on without sticking the baby, how to give her baby a bath?
All the little things to watch for: his first little smiles, his changing expressions, his first words, and his first steps. I am going to miss all those things.
I can feel thousands of miles between us and wish I could somehow go back to when Lynn was little. I want to hold her. I want to praise her for her courage. I want to be there, so she will have someone to talk to about her feelings. So that, as mother and daughter, we can figure things out together. Instead, I am standing in horse poop, tears running down my face, and I can do nothing. And suddenly, I want to go home. But where is home?
I guess I feel that I don’t have the right to feel these things. To tell her how I feel. She certainly has enough on her plate – especially now.
I start to realize that, in my time with my three younger kids, I have had a chance to make up for the way I have been with the four older children. Maybe things will turn out different for them. Different from how things worked out for Lynn.
I know in my heart that, for a mother to fail a child, she would have to completely walk away, completely duck out of her child’s life. By the same token, every little bit I can give to my child – my time, my emotional outflow, what I am feeling, and my interest in how she feels – all of this is golden. Every precious bit of attention I give to my child is like giving her a treasure.
The important thing to me is that she has called me to share with me what is happening. Maybe I haven’t lost contact. Maybe there is hope for both of us. I know how strong she is even if she doesn’t know it yet. She will be this little baby’s mother and everything that that means. And she will be able to become whatever it is she dreams of becoming.
When I made that phone call to my mother that she referred to in her journal, I hadn’t even known where my mother was or how to get a hold of her. My second oldest brother reached out to me and gave me the phone number that I could call her on…if I wanted to…turns out, I did want to!
***Leaving the hospital…and now what? ***
Nothing can prepare you for the sleepless nights after you bring a newborn home from the hospital. My baby boy is on a schedule completely different from his father’s and mine. The first night home, he is up most of the night, not wanting to go down – at all!
I am not nursing, so that means I must boil bottles and nipples to sterilize them, then mix up the formula and heat it in the bottle on the stove each time I feed him. We do not own a microwave because they have just come on the market and are way too expensive for us to afford.
As a new mother, I am terrified of falling asleep and not hearing my new baby fussing or crying. Every tiny noise he makes, I am up checking that he is okay and still breathing. I have heard many stories on the news about babies dying in their sleep, and I don’t want my baby to be one of them.
Right off the bat, my baby is projectile vomiting after almost every feeding. He is always hungry, and I am constantly cleaning up the floor, couch, bedding, clothing – mine and his, as well as his father’s.
Finally, after six weeks of this and countless trips to the pediatrician, my baby is diagnosed with Pyloric Stenosis, a condition in which the muscle in the lower part of the stomach, called the Pylorus, builds up and blocks the flow of food into the small intestine. While surgery is sometimes recommended, in my baby’s case, the doctor advises me to start feeding him a mixture of cereal and formula to make it heavier. After my son eats, I must keep him propped up as much as possible to allow the food to digest. This takes a lot of extra patience, something I am extremely deficient in. Thank God he eventually grows out of this condition, and I am so grateful…and then colic sets in…Argh!
My husband must go back to work immediately…nothing like being baptized in fire. I quicky learn how to bathe and feed my baby while also doing countless loads of laundry, cleaning, and cooking for three. My freedom to sleep late, watch TV, and come and go as I please is completely gone now, and, at times, I am resistant and frustrated with my new responsibilities. I still want very much to do the things I had done before I had given birth; however, it just isn’t going to be possible, and this is really a hard truth for me to swallow.
Late in the summer, we arrive home one evening to discover that our little cottage is being robbed, the young thief caught as he is making his getaway. I can see his feet underneath our neighbors’ large motor home when we pull up into the driveway. Once I speak out, he runs toward the walkway and into the backyard, not realizing there is no way out. My husband chases after him, grabbing him off the fence and holding him to the ground until the police arrive.
We end up getting all our stolen items returned, but we don’t feel safe staying here with a new baby. After spending a few nights with my in-laws, we find another place to live – our new place, not nearly as nice but within our very modest price range. We aren’t in this new place long before we move again and then again.
***Moving, a repeating theme***
Writing about my past has shown me just how much moving has been a repeating pattern in my life. As much as I hate it, I seem to do it often. Why and what does this mean?
Each time I moved with my young family, I felt frustration at the repetitive nature of it all, but I didn’t see the significance. I didn’t understand what it was all about or what I was feeling because I didn’t know how to acknowledge or honor my feelings. I had simply been trained to follow.
Much later in my life, I began to see how much I craved stability, and, yet, it seemed to slip through my fingers time after time. To me, home was supposed to be a place of comfort and warmth, a place to feel secure and protected. I never seemed to find what I was looking for in a home, never had that feeling of being settled in. I was always waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me.
I didn’t understand that the feeling of being settled and at peace would never materialize from the experience of living in a house. I did not understand, back then, that “home” is to be felt within. The universe was holding up a mirror to show me over and over how I was feeling inside. I never felt I belonged or that I had a place, and what was happening in my world outside of me was reflecting the turmoil within.
This awareness was not revealed to me for a long time, but when I finally understood it, I experienced a revolution in my very soul. Now, I understand what I did not understand back then – I am meant to be something of a nomad, moving to the places where I am needed.
But back then, I had no idea who I was – other than that I was a wife and mother…and not happy. One would have thought that I had it made and that I should have just sucked it up, but, for some reason, I just couldn’t do it.
***Struggles and money***
Money and time are a constant struggle. Most of the time we are short on rent and groceries, so my husband’s parents are always making up the difference. It doesn’t make sense for me to work because the cost of daycare has eaten up any small paycheck I receive. My mother-in-law doesn’t want to commit her schedule to watching her grandson. She enjoys her freedom too much and likes to come and go as she pleases and has made this clear on several occasions.
We have only one car, so when my husband is working or out with the boys, I am marooned at home, completely isolated from the outside world. My social life consists of pushing the stroller through the mall and window shopping with my mother in-law. She loves to shop, and we go often, but I rarely have money to buy anything. And while she is very loving and caring with her grandson, she also has her own life to live. I know I lean on her for support too much, but she is all I have. My own mother, well…
As my baby grows, so does my disillusionment with marriage and romance. At my age, I have not had the opportunity to think about or plan out what I want my life to be or what I want in a partner. For that matter, I have never had the chance to develop my own identity – apart from what has been projected onto me by my upbringing, my environment, and my need to survive.
As young parents, we both resent having missed out on all the things our peers are doing. The day-to-day struggles are increasing, causing a huge strain on our relationship and separating us in many ways; our unrealistic expectations of being happy are fading fast. The responsibilities of adult life continue to pile up on us, creating a situation that is truly far beyond what we are prepared to handle.
Our comprehension of what it means to be parents, providers, partners, lovers, or even just friends is just too limited. And it isn’t our fault; we have not had enough time and experience for us to even know what we want nor what we can handle. Neither of us has the capacity to be patient as we develop these vital attributes.
The more time I observe the outside world, the more I hunger for freedom. I thirst for a different kind of stimulation, just not sure what it is. I want to explore, to engage with people my own age. I am attracted to other men but feel that acting out on this attraction can never be. My reality is tugging at me; my current existence is suffocating me.
I am now almost twenty-one years old. My responsibilities impede my movement; my relationship with my husband is stagnating. I watch him night after night lying on his side, head cradled in his hand on the floor with a bowl of corn flakes, watching sports, completely ignoring me. I can’t do this!
I try my best to stay, telling myself things will eventually shift. I lie to myself for as long as I can; but in the end, I know, I must leave. I have only a tenth grade education, although I have received my GED. I have nominal job skills, very little income, no place to go, and a 4-year-old to consider. And on top of it all, I will be leaving the only stability I have had in many years and a family that has taken me in as one of their own.
Despite my reservations about doing so, and without full understanding of all the odds that are stacked against me, I make the decision to leave.
***My thoughts now on my marriage back then***
I am not sure if I would have left when I did with the understanding I have now, but something within me was driving me to act. I know many young mothers and fathers who have felt trapped in a relationship because of a child or money issues or feeling alone or too scared to strike out on their own. I can’t say whether leaving or staying is an easy fix. The decision is difficult and complicated any way you look at it.
What I can say is that I wasn’t always forthright with how I was feeling because, deep down, I was terrified of having to take full responsibility for my life, my actions, and my decisions. Since that time, I have stayed in relationships way too long, not wanting to end them because of my fears – and I have learned from them things I wouldn’t have learned had I left. Was it that I wasn’t strong enough to stand on my own two feet, or was it that I didn’t trust myself to be able to carry my own weight?
I had many thoughts of suicide. I am grateful that I never acted on them. I have a strong sense that the powers that be knew I needed something to keep me anchored to earth. And that anchor was my child. He doesn’t know it, but he saved my life.
Most of us don’t have the awareness as we grow up that we have Angels all around us, real people who show up in our lives to teach us, to urge us on, and to support us through the many challenges we all face.
Having trust and faith in the Divine is one thing, but we must also learn to trust ourselves.
If you are or someone you know is ill or in need of Divine intervention and support, you can join my Sunday Group Healing Call. The Sunday Group Call is free and an opportunity to share in the healing power of the Angels in a group setting
I hope that you will comment on this blog and get the conversation going. Building a platform for sharing the thread of your story, your understanding and experience, is what my blog is intended for. When you share, you invite others to do the same.