Tomorrow my oldest will be 34 years old. My first boy. The one I remember thinking wasn’t real when I found out I was pregnant. I was unmarried, and not quite 22.
As much as some may think that in the 70’s, respectable young women just didn’t find themselves in that particular condition, I remember thinking it was fascinating. There was no embarrassment or need to hide from the fact, as if I’d done something inappropriate. I was a good person who worked hard and was responsible with her obligations. I loved the baby’s father and we were living together at the time. I’d blissfully given up on the relentless boredom of college and was enjoying the freedom of not having to worry about what lay in my future beyond earning my weekly paycheck. We had very little of anything to call our own and looked forward to time off together when we could spend it sleeping in late, making breakfast together, then taking a drive somewhere just to enjoy the day.
I was uncertain about how a baby would fit into my relatively newly unstructured life because I’d never had a reason to think about it before then. I knew I’d get married some day and have children, but spent no time around babies as a child so they were somewhat mysterious and belonged to others — like the girl in high school named Jackie whom everyone whispered about until she disappeared. Or my best friend’s sister who fell in love with the minister’s son and got pregnant when she was 15. Not me. Yet I could feel excitement growing about the possibility and even when I told my doctor I hadn’t planned on a baby and probably would not keep it, left his office knowing there was no reason I couldn’t keep it.
I told the baby’s father that if we decided to marry, I didn’t want to look as if I was pregnant — not because I was vain, but that people could be harsh in their judgment of others. I could imagine their thoughts of oh, so they had to get married, silly kids, heads shaking, tongues clucking righteously. I would rather remain unmarried than to have to withstand that scrutiny, as nothing would have changed the way I felt about the baby’s father, and I told him so.
A girlfriend sent me a plush white teddy bear wrapped beautifully in paper printed in soft pastels and I remember crying as I held it, the reality of my decision finally settling in. I bought books on what to expect during pregnancy and on caring for a baby. I spent the summer in nauseous misery, throwing up every morning and on afternoons off, sewing gathered wrap-around cotton skirts I could loosen as my abdomen grew. We were married in September in a quiet civil ceremony with friends and family gathered closely around us and not one with a raised eyebrow in sight.
We lived our simple newly married lives, worked our grocery store shifts, and moved to the house I’d grown up in. My mother was tired of being stuck in suburbia and the burden of caring for the house by herself, so asked us to rent it and keep an eye on my sister who still lived there. I was glad to be home again, and remember enjoying putting my things in rooms now empty of the furniture my mother had always owned. I hung inexpensive prints and photographs and painted an old wooden cradle an aunt loaned me– one her children had slept in. I sewed simple curtains to hang in the bedroom my sister and I used to share and pieced together a small, matching quilt with scraps of fabric kept from other projects. I scheduled prenatal appointments, took my vitamins, read voraciously about the baby’s development each week, and we waited.
It was cold that winter — enough to cause us to worry about whether we could afford the heating bill. We wore layers and bundled up on the couch watching reruns of early 70s television shows, laughing because our breath condensed in the living room’s chilly air. We attended Lamaze classes and stopped after each on the way home to appease my craving for a Taco Bell bean and cheese burrito with green sauce. I think I could have lived on them I loved them so much.
On the morning of February 28, long before I was ready to be awake, I remember feeling a wetness spread on the sheet beneath me, but none of the signs I’d read about or listened carefully to the Lamaze instructor describe were present. I wondered whether something was wrong and called my mother who tried to tell me what she remembered labor feeling like and as I listened, felt the first sensation of pressure traveling up from my tailbone. It was a little after 7am.
I don’t remember what time we went to the hospital, but I know it was soon after. The room was small, but we were alone. A television mounted high on one wall was on, but I don’t recall what was playing. There were ice chips to help quench my raging thirst, bouts of nausea, exhaustion, and some concern about the baby’s blood pressure fluctuating erratically as contractions came and went. Someone mentioned the umbilical cord might be pressed against the baby’s neck. The sensation to push was the most difficult to manage and I remember wanting to let go, but had to stay focused. At some point when it was time to leave the small room, I had been pushing for some time. My arms had no energy left, my legs were heavy, and I swore that if one more person put their face in front of mine to tell me anything I was going to scream. But I never did.
They rolled my bed into the delivery room while I was in mid-push for all those in the hallway to behold, and quite soon after that — 10 hours after labor had begun — my son was born. We named him Craig, after his father’s youngest brother who died when he was eight.
When I think of this now, much of it is easy to remember, while bits and pieces I haven’t thought of in years have surfaced — none of which belong on this page at this moment. For now, the only thing that matters is that all those years ago, a naive and self-absorbed young woman realized she wanted to have a baby.
I can’t imagine what life would have been like if I hadn’t.
Happy Birthday to you, my dear Craig.