My Qualifying Experiences for Mother's Day

(Note: I was going to write something specifically about my mother, but I found that I needed to take some more time to do that. I've read Isabel Wilkerson's phenomenal book, The Warmth of Other Suns, and it has given me new insights into the life my mother had to live in Leesburg, Lake County, Florida. I need more time put my thoughts together about all this.)

I had been having Braxton Hicks contractions since the beginning of April. They were pretty uncomfortable, but not debilitating. I kept doing the breath exercises I had learned in Lamaze classes. The baby was due June 1, 1981, but I had been to the hospital three times, thinking I was going into labor. I walked around the grounds of the University of California at Davis Hospital, breathing and wondering how I could tell "real" labor from "false" labor. "No, Mother, it's too early," the RN told me. "You're only 2 centimeters dilated".  I was sent home to rest with a sleeping pill. I remember going to sleep, then waking up feeling like someone was twisting my back into a pretzel. I tried to go back to sleep, but the sensation became worse. Oh, no, I thought. This must be it! I woke up my then-husband and told him it's time to go. I was admitted to labor and delivery around 7 am on May 15, 1981. By 1:33 that afternoon, I delivered my first child--a 6 pound, 2 ounce baby girl.  After she came out, she stretched her arms out wide, clenched her hands into tight little fists, and let out several very loud screams of protestation, as if to say, "Hey! It's cold out here; what's WRONG with you people? And turn those lights down! Are you trying to blind me?" Thus, my daughter Clarissa came into the world. In hurry to get here, but had serious issues with everything once she arrived. And that has been the template of her life: hurry, hurry (except in the morning), rush, rush; no, that's not good enough, everything sucks!  Well, not all the time. I would say about 70% of the time.

When I was almost five months pregnant with my next child, I was in a car accident. I didn't think I was hurt too badly, but the next day I could hardly move. My lower back hurt so bad that I had to fight off tears. Since I was pregnant, I couldn't take any pain medication. On top of that, Sacramento was in the midst of drought, and there were many days when the temperature soared over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I was hot, in pain, miserable, and exhausted.  This time, when I began having contractions, I knew they weren't "false". They hurt, and they were getting stronger. The problem was that I wasn't dilating. Again, I was sent home. My now ex-husband and I went to my parents' house, and my brother Ricky took one look at me and said, " need to sit down!" I sat down at the kitchen and he fixed me a bowl of cereal. (In the Shortt family, eating a bowl of cereal was what us kids did when we couldn't figure out what else to do in difficult situations.)  I ate two spoonfuls and stopped. My stomach felt like it was trying to lurch up into my throat. "Man, what's the matter?" Ricky was looking at me anxiously, but I didn't want him to be concerned. He was my little brother, and I had always taken care of him, at least that's how it seemed in my mind. So I told him, "Nothing, I think I just need to go to the bathroom."  I did, but what I was expecting to take place didn't happen. I sat on the toilet, waiting for the very uncomfortable roller coaster in my stomach to choose one of two pathways out of my body, preferably not both at the same time.  Then I swore someone had jammed a dagger into my spine. I must've been making some funny sounding noises, because Ricky kept pacing back and forth in hallway, saying things like, "Man, Angie...what's going on? You aren't having the baby now, are you?" "No!" I shouted. "I just need to go to bathroom!" He left me alone for a few minutes, but then I heard the familiar quick footsteps of my mother.  She pounded on the bathroom door. "Angie, are you having the baby?" "No!" But I could barely talk. My mother flung the door open and her eyes went wide and round. "Get off the toilet," she ordered. "We're taking you to the hospital!"  I did what she said, quickly.  No one but my father ever argued with my mother when she was in "The Commander and Chief" mode. And he never won any of those arguments, either.

There was no question that I was in labor. The emergency room doctors admitted me, and I spent the next 6 and 1/2 half hours in the most agonizing pain that I had ever experienced at that point in my life. (I didn't know it at the time, but years later I would discover that the body is capable of creating pain that is quite comparable to hard labor.) At approximately 3 in the morning on August 17, 1982, my son Marc came into the world. My OB-GYN doctors calculated that he would be born on that day, and true to form, he entered the world on time. He's the only one of my three children who has a great love for punctuality. He also had a sense of structure to his life from the very beginning: the first thing he did was let off a long arc of pee that nearly sprayed the attending nurse, after that, he began looking around for food. When he had his fill of colostrum, he went to sleep in my arms. He's still like that. After he's taken care of his physical needs, he's ready to deal with the world--logically, methodically, and with determination.

My last child was a complete surprise. I argued with my doctor when he told me I was pregnant. The only reason why I went to see him in the first place was because I was convinced that I had uterine cancer.  "But I can't be; I've been taking one little blue pill everyday without fail, and then I take the white ones when there's no more blue ones! How did this happen?" The doctor sounded amused when he said, "Well, I shouldn't have to explain to you how it happened!" I didn't have a response to that one. I was pregnant, in spite of the blue and white pills. That's one determined zygote, I thought. A strange thing happened when I went into labor, however. My father was the only person with me. He got off work early when someone, I don't remember who, called to tell him I was having pains.  There was no false stuff this time, either. I'd been to the dance twice before; I knew the steps. I wasn't hurting like I was with my son, thankfully. My father sat beside me in the labor room, asking me annoying questions, like "Are you okay? Do you need anything, like some water?" He meant well, but he hadn't been through the labor and delivery process before. Men weren't allowed in the rooms when my siblings and I were born, and he left when I started going into hard labor with Clarissa and Marc. My poor father. Anyway, I could feel the baby beginning to move into the birth canal, and I didn't want him to get freaked out.  I told him one of those little lies to get him out of the room. "This will probably take all night, Dad, so why don't you go and have a cigarette?" As soon as he left, I started feverishly pressing the button for a nurse. No one came.

Finally I gave up, and decided that I would deliver the baby by myself. I'd done it twice before; and women had been doing it for centuries. No big deal. I was beginning to push when I heard someone yell, "Oh, my God, the baby's head is crowning!"  The voice belonged to a doctor, a podiatrist, who was coming to see his girlfriend who was a nurse on the maternity ward. That podiatrist delivered my third child, a little girl who slid out effortlessly into his arms. She was cleaned up and taken to another room for meconium treatment (for an explanation, see ) before my father came back. "Angie," he said, "Some guy came outside and told me told me that you already had the baby. I didn't even have a chance to finish my cigarette!" I named my daughter Chenelle, and she was born on October 3, 1985, two weeks after she was due. My father was the first of my family besides me to hold her. She became "his baby". My mother was working in the evenings in those days, and she arrived one hour after her birth. She took Chenelle out of my father's arms and said, "You just couldn't wait until Grandmother got off work, could you?" That's my baby girl for you--she takes a while to make a decision, but once she does, she turns on the jets.

I was 23 years old when Clarissa was born, 24 with Marc, and 27 with Chenelle. I wasn't real young when I had my first child like a friend of mine did back in junior high school. She was 14. (Whoa, I just realized that her child is now 40!) And I've met women who had children in their late 30s and early 40s, which would have been unheard of back in my mother's day. Personally, I think I had them at a time that was right for me, at least chronologically. Financially, it was disastrous, but that's a whole 'nuther story. But looking back, I don't regret having them. They have motivated me to keep moving through life in spite of numerous obstacles. The strange part is, I never even considered being a mother. Not for one second did I ever think it would happen. I was such a tomboy that I never touched the dolls that my parents bought me. But I treasured my baseball mitt, which Chenelle now has placed on her bookshelf. How does a tomboy who loved playing sports and hated being a "girlie girl" end up being a mom to three kids? To this day, I'm amazed by the strange gyrations that has been my life. But I'm also very, very grateful that I now have my three adult children whom love passionately, and have made Mother's Day a reality for me!

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