Come along with me on a little trip down Memory Lane, as I jump back forty-two years ago to February 10th, 1971, when, in the middle of major aftershocks from the previous day’s 6.6 earthquake centered near where I lived, I gave birth, on the day he was due, to my son, Mark.
But first, a little bit about the day before: I will always remember the 60-second earthquake that rattled our tiny one-bedroom unit in the middle of the six-plex on February 9, 1971. It was 6:00 AM. The alarm had just gone off for Mark’s father to get up to go to work; I’d had to leave my job two months before because, back in those days, pregnant women were not allowed to work once they were seven months along in their pregnancy. The bed rocked and rolled around, pitching like someone was standing at the foot of the bed, shaking it on purpose, moving it across the floor sideways before it came to rest up against the wall. The cupboard doors in the kitchen flew open and dishes jumped out, crashing onto the floor with a racket loud enough to wake the dead. The ceiling light fixtures fell out of their housings with a thud and hung by their wires, swinging crazily. We sat looking at each other for a very long moment before getting up – Mark’s father jumping up, me kind of moving like a tortoise that’s trying to right itself after being turned over upside down. When we ventured out of the bedroom to see what other damage had happened in our small place, we discovered things like the little figurines on the shelf in the living room had all been “pushed” back against the wall, and kitchen drawers were standing open as if someone had gotten a fork or napkin out and had forgotten to close the drawer.
I don’t recall the specifics of the rest of the day – did Mark’s father go to work? Did I just sit around the little apartment? Did I speak with the others in our six-plex or other neighbors on the street? Did I even make lunch? Did we have dinner that night? I don’t know. The rest of that day seems completely lost in my head. However, beginning around midnight, the next day is branded into my brain with the heat of a red-hot iron.
I will never forget going into labor that night – waking up in the dark, lying there in bed wondering if what was happening was really happening, if these pains were really the labor pains I had read about, finally waking Mark’s father and telling him I thought I was having contractions. I had to wake him several times; after all, it was the middle of the night and it had been a fairly stressful day for all of us, what with a major earthquake and all, and he was sound asleep. I remember him driving me to the hospital; I remember walking into the hospital and asking, during a huge aftershock, if this hospital was going to fall down just like those other two hospitals had the day before. I remember being assured that no, it wasn’t going to fall down, but not feeling totally convinced every time an aftershock rocked the building.
I remember another woman in the labor room area who was a screamer. Boy, did she scream! And then she screamed some more! She apologized to me later, telling me that the nurses had tried to caution her to be quieter because there was a young woman in the next room; they told her that the screaming might be scaring me. (It’s truly a small world – we discovered in later conversations that she actually lived only a few doors down the street from me!)
I remember being told the doctor was not going to be able to make it to the hospital on time because of the chaotic traffic jamming the streets with people trying to get to nearby Santa Anita Racetrack, snarling roads for miles around. I remember the nurses showing me how to “slow down” the process of labor so “we” could give the doctor more time to get there. I remember my body not wanting to do the things they were having me do – I was ready to have that baby, with or without my doctor! I remember a nurse telling me that a different doctor was coming in to deliver my baby so I could “go ahead and have it,” and then my own doctor running into the delivery room at the last minute, getting there just in time. I remember he commented about not even having time to scrub up before he positioned himself to grab the baby as it came out. I remember not having my glasses (I was legally blind without them) – they were back in the labor room – and not being able to see in the mirror they had positioned for me to see the delivery.
I remember my son’s father leaving the hospital “for a break” while I was in labor. It was during his “break” that my labor turned “serious” and I was ready to deliver. It turned out his “break” consisted of going back home, getting all the money we’d saved for a crib and other assorted baby things, and spending it on marijuana to smoke with all his friends in celebration of becoming a new father. (We ended up borrowing a crib from his sister.)
I remember my mother refusing to come to the hospital; she was having lunch with some friends at a Christian Women’s Club luncheon just up the street. We’d never been particularly close, but I was young and knew nothing about birthing babies; for some reason I still don’t understand to this day, I would have liked to have had her there with me – perhaps it was because she’d had babies and knew what I was going through. I don’t know. (It was almost 30 years later when she told me the reason for her choice that day and for the many days/weeks/months/years that followed: When she confided to a friend that she really didn’t want to be a grandmother and didn’t want me to have the baby, her friend advised her to stay away from me and my new baby. She took the friend’s advice.)
I remember when the nurses came into the four-person room, they buzzed with excitement because Mark had been born on the day he was due; they commented about it every time I saw them. He was also the only boy born that day – the rooms were full of baby girls and their mothers. Besides the frequent after-shocks from the earthquake, the talk was all about that lone baby boy who had been born on the day he was due.
I remember letting him nurse for much longer than I was “supposed to” because no one came to get him and take him back to the nursery. (Back in those days, babies didn’t stay in the room with you; in fact, the fathers weren’t even allowed in the room at the same time as the babies were there. Things have sure changed in that respect!) I just kept letting him nurse as long as he wanted to, and boy, did I end up with some really sore nipples!
I remember being discharged after a couple of days and wanting to walk out through the hospital doors under my own power, carrying my baby boy. The staff insisted that I had to be wheeled out in a wheelchair, and as I was rolling down the hallway, I made a conscious decision, right then and there, that this boy would not be raised as I had been – he was going to know that I loved him and cared about him, no matter what. That decision was to become my mantra many times over during his “growing-up,” through many adventures and one or two challenges. I think it was a good decision.
Now, forty-two wild, crazy, amazing years later, that baby is a creative, kind, caring, inspiring, experiential, inventive (I could add more adjectives but you get the point!) adult and I love him more than I could have ever imagined as an eighteen-year-old first-time mother giving birth to a tiny human being while the earth rocked and rolled from an earthquake and its aftershocks.
Happy birthday, Mark! Here’s to how many ever years we have left together on this fantastic planet called Earth! I love you!
I’ve been taking an online course in writing from Tammy Strobel at rowdykittens.com and this blog post is the result of a writing prompt in one of the lessons. Throughout this course, I’ve been encouraged, uplifted, inspired, energized, and yes, emboldened (got that word from thesaurus.com!) to write more, post more, listen to my spirit more, and in my writing, to just be me, more often. Besides all that, I’m thoroughly enjoying myself! Whee!