It was 50 years ago today…and my mother thought she might be holding me for the last time

Fort Worth, Texas, Easter Sunday, 1958: an excerpt from my mother’s journal that she kept last year when my father was ill. It arrived in the mail yesterday…

When I was first pregnant with John, it was difficult for me to accept that we were going to have a baby so early in our marriage. We’d had two weeks while he was on leave after we got married. Then he was gone seven months and bingo! Pregnant! I was working, had been working before we got married. My salary was needed because as A1/c [Airman, first class. NW] the pay was meager. Benefits with medical, but buying groceries, paying for a car and putting gas in it, plus payments on our ‘palace’ on wheels that measured 8′ x 28′ including the hitch didn’t allow us to run the little oil stove at night. In Texas, there’s nothing to stop the north wind but barbed wire, so we turned it off around nine o’clock, went to bed when it started cooling down. Chuck got up at four a.m., ran on tip-toes and pranced while he lit the stove and got it started again. He’d jump into bed and touch me with his cold feet, wanting help to warm them. THANKS!

Before we knew it, I got up one morning hemorrhaging. Off to the hospital, admitted for three days, baby saved. How weird. This is October 11, 2007 and it was October 11, 1957 when this emergency happened. But, I had to quit work. No housework, not even sweeping. Stay off your feet and lay low. Then in November, I got the Asian Flu which was the first of the many flu bugs that started taking the nation for years. Into bed, racked with chills and fever, sick and afraid I was going to lose the baby I hadn’t thought I was ready for. Chuck said at the time he felt that I really needed him. I had been so darned independent and sure of myself.

John was born April 3rd, three weeks and two days early. He was six pounds, 1/2 ounce. We had some dreadful experiences after he was born. He was put into the incubator and Intensive Care. The pediatrician and obstetrician told me while I was still in a deep fog from being over anesthetized, “Mrs. Stewart, we usually take the mother to see her baby before she goes to her room from recovery. However, we are very concerned. He’s having some difficulty. We aren’t sure if it’s the heart or the brain, but for his sake we can let you see him through the window but you won’t be able to hold him.” So I said, “I understand, better safe than sorry,” and went back to sleep. I did see him through the window. It was hard to believe that this was our baby. But I was still so groggy that I was asleep in the wheelchair before I got back to my room.

The next morning, Chuck was there. “What’s wrong with our baby?” I cried. “He’s fine, Marilyn, he’s fine.” So throughout the day as I awakened more and more I was torn apart by wanting to hold him and not being able to. The girl in the room with me had her baby. She was a minister’s wife and they named him John Paul. The next day, about ten o’clock, a nurse came into the room. She glanced at the chart at the foot of the bed and said, “Stewart. Oh, honey, we nearly lost your baby early this morning. If it hadn’t been for the intern on duty that suctioned him and suctioned him, he wouldn’t be here. In fact, we don’t know if he’ll make it!”

I was terrified, but supposed to act like an adult, I don’t know. I called and called for Chuck. He didn’t answer. Visiting hours came and I was still calling and he wasn’t showing up. Where was he? Didn’t he know our baby was about to die? I was racked with anguish and anger, where was he when he should be here with me? It was Easter Sunday, too. About three o’clock I got out of bed and went to the window and looked out, as if I could see anything. While I was standing there, tears running down my face, I heard, “Marilyn, what are you doing!” I turned around and there was Chuck with my Mom. He had called Mom and Dad in the wee hours of the morning and told them what was happening. Mom got the first plane out of Indianapolis headed for Fort Worth. They were both upset that a nurse would tell me something like that. I bemoaned that I hadn’t even had a chance to hold my baby. And couldn’t they at least let me do that, just for a few minutes? They did arrange it. I held this tiny bundle that looked up with blurry eyes, a very unhealthy baby with jaundice. That scared me, too, but I’m a MOM, and he was the most precious thing I’d ever held, other than his Dad. “John Avery, you will make it, you WILL, do you know that?”

Mom stayed a couple of days after we got out of the hospital. A week after he was born, the pediatrician said, “I can’t believe that this is the baby that was so sick. This is a miracle. We didn’t expect him to survive but we released him to his parents with hope against hope.” Now look at you, John, you big old woolly bear. You still curl your hair with your fingers when you read, just like you did when you were a baby, and guzzling a bottle empty, contented and full.

3 thoughts on “It was 50 years ago today…and my mother thought she might be holding me for the last time

  1. “…just like you did when you were a baby, and guzzling a bottle empty, contented and full.” Except now, it’s a bottle of Guinness.

    I’ll go out on a limb and guess that wasn’t the last time you gave your mom a scare? :-)

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