Of all the things for which I have to be grateful, my son ranks number one.
I very nearly missed out on motherhood all together. Even when I finally stumbled into a viable pregnancy, catastrophe threatened. I went into labor at the oddest times and places.
I sent a Louisiana state court judge into a panic by announcing that I needed to sit through a contraction while cross-examining a witness. Coming back from that hearing, the part-time pilot called his full-time boss, Sam Walton.
“I’ve got one of the Arens lawyers in my plane,” he said into the headset. “We’ve got lightening on our tail and she’s in labor.” Mr. Walton sent an ambulance to haul my skinny butt to the hospital from the Springdale airport.
I walked off contractions two or three more times over the next month. My friend Paula Fulcher twinkled her eyes in my direction whenever I called for help. She came with herbal tea and cartons of fruit. She brushed my hair and talked in the most soothing voice about fairies and other flights of fancy.
My doctor had promised to consider natural childbirth. At my twenty-eight week check-up, she raised her head from beneath the drapes and stared intently at my eager face.
“Who are we trying to fool,” she sighed. “You miscarried a twin and your hips spontaneously dislocate at a moment’s notice. It’s going to be a primary section, and I’m keeping you in-patient as long as your insurance allows.” We both knew that the Clinton governorship had made certain that she could order anything she deemed medically necessary and it had to be covered.
She booked an OR for July 08th. On the morning of the sixth, I woke in a dead sweat, shivering. I called Paula. “I feel funny,” I confided. “Like I want to scream only I can’t.”
“I’ll be right over,” she responded. “It sounds like contractions.”
By the time she got there, I had paced back and forth in the small living room about fifty times. She made me sit while she dabbed my forehead with a cool cloth and looked at her watch. “Corinne, the contractions are six minutes apart, we’d better call the doctor.”
Paula drove me to Washington Regional Medical Center, talking all the time in the calmest sweetest tones. I wanted to slap her. She offered to let me but I looked out the window. I could never do that, I replied. She laughed and squeezed my hand.
The Irish midwife met us at the emergency room and whisked us beyond all barriers and up to Labor and Delivery. There I could pace to my hearts content as long as I took the blood pressure monitor with me. Morag, the midwife, checked on me every twenty minutes or so, including taking “just a wee peek” to see whether my pains had been “productive”. I gathered she meant whether or not I had dilated, which I had not done by the time they brought the dinner trays around.
I lowered myself onto the bed and pulled the rolling tray toward me. I lifted the lid, staring at the mush on the plate. Liquid diet. Just in case they had to suddenly wheel me into surgery.
Then I caught sight of the meal order ticket and the printed date. 07/06/91. The next day would be July 07th. I felt panic rise. I rang the buzzer and Morag flew into the room.
“I am not having this baby tomorrow,” I announced. “Tomorrow is the birthday of my baby’s absent father, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go through life celebrating that day.” I must have been crying. My voice shook. Morag put her arms around me and patted my back.
“It’s all right, love,” she assured me. “If you haven’t dilated by midnight, we’ll be stopping that labor anyway.”
They let me go home on Sunday. When I got there, I took the longest shower possible considering I had a bowling ball strapped to the front of my torso. I laid out the nightgowns which I wanted to take for my hospital stay, and the books on breastfeeding that I had collected in case I needed guidance. I stood for an eternity in the doorway of the green and yellow nursery which my friends had put together for me. When I finally went to sleep, I dreamed of little children turning circles and singing a song with no words.
My friends Laura and Ron Barclay came to drive me to the hospital on Monday. Laura scrubbed and gowned; she would sit beside me in the delivery room. The contractions had completely subsided. The floor had me scheduled for ten o’clock. Word came that the doctor would be delayed. I went over to the OR at noon.
Dr. Walker and Morag met me as the nurse wheeled me into the cold, bright cavern where my child would be born. “I’m sorry I’m late,” the doctor murmured from behind her mask. “My sewer backed up and I had to wait for the Roto Rooter guy.” I shook my head. What could I say to that?
Fifty minutes later, they had me open and I felt a great tug on my belly. “He’s out,” Morag told me over my knees. Laura made a funny comment about the baby that I promised her I would never repeat in public. Then I heard a small laugh, and Dr. Walker said, “He’s a cheerful little guy,” and handed him over to me.
I’d like to say that my first utterance upon seeing my baby carried profound meaning, but it didn’t, and it, too, does not bear recording here. But my second thought, oh, that I can claim! “What a wonderful thing,” I said to Laura. “What a wonderful thing!” Laura tugged the mask from her face and grinned. For some reason, my own face had not been covered. I lifted the baby to my cheek and breathed the magnificent and singular fragrance of new life.
They took him from me, then; and recorded all the measurements that signify what follows from a birth. He weighed a bruising 7 pounds, 10 ounces, which for a six-week premature infant meant a lot. He measured twenty-one inches long. I don’t remember his Apgar score, but it sufficed.
I heard all this in a haze, as Dr. Walker and the midwife stitched the many layers of my body back to some semblance of their original shape. Then the gurney started to move, and I flailed my arms toward the pediatric nurse. “My baby!” I cried. “Don’t worry, love,” she assured me, over one shoulder, “you’ll get enough of him soon as we’re finished here.”
And I have, too — gotten enough of him. Through the first days, the next years, the ensuing decades. I’ve watched him grow from a scrawny thing to a calm and comfortable man. I’ve done my best to stand by him when everything went to hell, and he has done the same for me.
When I told a friend of mine that I was pregnant and the father had decamped, she grimaced and said, “Oh, single motherhood! Your life is going to be very difficult!”
I snapped back, “Good, then; the first thirty-six years have been sheer hell! Very difficult will be a vast improvement!”
I was half-right in my prediction. Life as the birth-giver of Patrick Charles Corley has been a vast improvement over life prior to his arrival on earth. He has taught me much; and given me plenty, including worries and joys. When I have needed a shoulder on which to cry, he has provided one without hesitation. I have tried to do the same for him. We’ve climbed mountains together. We’ve launched contests, like the Best Park in Johnson County, Kansas; and the Best Fish and Chips Anywhere, Ever. We’ve driven cross-country. We’ve skidded through a blizzard. We’ve gone to funerals. He’s been the kind of son that any mother would be lucky to have.
Oh, he’s pursued the usual odd assortment of missteps. But those got handled, one way or the other, and we managed to get through them all. I did the same, to be sure, and yet he’s still willing to claim me.
I haven’t gotten to see my son on his birthday for quite a few years now. He has created an entire world which I do not occupy on anything other than an occasional basis. But that is as it should be. What he does in that world makes me immeasurably proud. I could not ask for a better son. Nor would I want a different one. There might, in truth, be things that I would do differently with benefit of hind-sight, but none of them would entail forgoing the enormous gift of being Patrick Corley’s mother. It truly has been a wonderful thing.
It’s the eighth day of the sixty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.