All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.
The quote above, from the fictional Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation by Vida Winters, one of the heroines of The Thirteenth Tale set me to thinking about my own birth. What do I know of it? Is my telling of it actually “telling” as is claimed? Since my birthday is approaching rather quickly, I thought this might be the time to actually write my birth story as I know it.
I was born in my mother’s home town. My parents travelled there shortly before my mother’s due date because my father was on leave and was scheduled to be deployed to Vietnam the day before I was due. My mother and I would live with my grandparents until he finished his tour of duty and left the army, ready to put to good use the law degree he had already earned while fulfilling his military contract. He was not to be in the JAG corps, however, but was to continue his assignment in Army intelligence, a more dangerous tour than serving as an attorney to the troops.
When my mother arrived home and went to a local doctor, one whom we later ran into in town ironically while I was pregnant with my own first child, he told her he believed that the army doctors had been mistaken about her due date, and that he thought she had at least another month to go, rather than the two weeks she had thought. She was understandably quite upset about this because she was hoping that I would be born a bit early so that my dad could see me before he left. The additional time the local doctor was predicting would surely prevent this.
A few days later, my mother was very uncomfortable all through the afternoon and evening. That night, she was up most of the night, and, by the morning, she had decided that she must be in labor. My father promptly told her that the doctor had said it was going to be another month, and that he was sure she wasn’t really in labor. When she insisted that she thought they should go to the hospital, he agreed but asked her to have my grandmother make him breakfast first. My mother sat and waited while he ate. They went to the hospital. I was born four hours later.
This being the days of fathers in the waiting room rather than the delivery room, the hospital where I was born had a system for letting the expectant dad know the sex of their newborns (it also being the pre-ultrasound days). My grandmother and father were in the waiting room when the pink light lit up. My grandmother exclaimed, “Oh, you have a girl!” My father calmly explained to her that no, they were having a boy. My grandmother pointed out that my mother was the only one currently in the delivery room. My father still insisted the baby would be a boy. The nurse arrived and informed him that his daughter, his first child, had been born. It evidently still took him a few minutes to come to grips with this new, unexpected piece of information. My mother says she doesn’t know why they were both so convinced I would be a boy, but they were.
There are pictures of me, swaddled tightly, being held up to the nursery window by one of the nurses. No one was allowed to visit my mother while I was in her room. Finally, my mother absolutely insisted that my father be able to see me and hold me. She also insisted that she was not staying in the hospital the full week that the doctors wanted her to since she was breastfeeding, something considered rather strange at the time for a women of her socio-economic status. After all, she could afford to bottle feed. Leaving early violated hospital policy, as they wanted to be sure feeding was going well, but she convinced them that she didn’t have the week to spare. That week was critical because six days after my birth, my father did, indeed, ship out for Vietnam. By that time, I’m told, he was quite enamoured with his unexpected little girl, and I’m always thankful that he survived to return home to us.
My mother doesn’t tell a lot of stories about my infanthood other than that I was colicky and that her mother was little real help to her in dealing with her new single-parent status. She was thankful for the paregoric that would finally knock me out at the end of a long colicky period. May I note that they no longer prescribe this opium-based narcotic to babies?! She later told me that she was thankful for the distraction her work in the public school as a speech pathologist provided her. She never strongly considered staying home with me because she thought she’d lose her mind worrying about my dad if she had all day home alone with an infant.
Okay, so what have I revealed about myself in the telling of this tale? I take it, of course, only from what others have told me. The “pink light vs. blue light” story was told often in my childhood, particularly by my grandmother. Am I still trying to live up to my father’s hope for a first-born son, rather than a first-born daughter? I’ve always attributed my drive for accomplishments to my first-born status in general rather than to this. My father did go on to have a son, and I never particularly felt that my brother was favored over my sister and me, and I know that my siblings at times felt I was favored as the first-born. What about my father’s refusal to take my mother to the hospital before having his breakfast made for him? I’m willing to go out on a limb and state that it’s actions like this witnessed over the course of my childhood that convinced me that I was never going to be the kind of wife who put up with such nonsense. Let’s just say that Adventure Guy often wonders where things went wrong for him upon witnessing the way my mother waits on my dad!
I’m interested also in the accounts of my infanthood. My mother claims I was an excellent baby once the colic passed. She blames herself, by the way, for being stressed out about her situation and “passing that on” somehow to me. I’ve never really thought about how her admission that working outside the home at that time was a good thing for her affected my own choice to continue working when my children were born. She eventually stayed at home for a time and then resumed her career, so I experienced both a mom who was at home full-time and a mom who worked outside the home while I was a child. I also credit my mother with responding differently than her own mother did when faced with becoming a grandmother. When my children were young, she was very supportive and willing to provide a break when I needed it. Granted, we weren’t even living in the same town, much less the same home, but I always knew she was there for me if I needed her. To my grandmother’s credit, I should say that she was wonderful once we were responsive to her. She’s just not a person who gets all that excited about infants.
I’ve rambled on now all about me, me, me. Did I reveal anything about myself that you didn’t know? Does my story reflect who I am? And, what is your birth story? Do you know the details? Do you really know? And what does your story say about you?