Today is my birthday. My mother’s due date was June 11th or 12th. She had gone to stay with her mother a few months prior to my delivery since my father was in the National Guard and was away on flood duty. Her due date came and went, and all her mother’s neighbors and well-meaning friends offered her advice. “Eat sauerkraut!” said one. “Take a long car ride over a bumpy road,” said another. Apparently inducing labor pharmaceutically was not a thing yet. Had the doctor calculated the due date incorrectly? My aunts and uncles had a baby pool to guess birthdate, time, weight and all that good stuff, but all of their predictions kept expiring. They had to redo it two or three times over. When I finally appeared on the scene, I looked more like a one-month-old infant than a newborn.
Shortly thereafter my dad arrived to greet his daughter. Why is her hair sticking up like that? Is that normal? Why is her mouth shaped like a triangle? Is that normal? (And I don’t think he has stopped noticing every detail and expressing his concern since. I love him for that.) Mom and Dad were twenty-five and first-time parents when they had me. Mom was trying to allay all of her husband’s fears as well as deal with her own.
I was a very late baby, and then I was a terrible infant. Looking back, Mom now knows I was extremely colicky. At the time, the treatment available for a screaming baby was “Hmm…good luck with that.” If I wasn’t being breast-fed, I was crying, full stop. Extenuating circumstances necessitated a temporary separation from my mom, and she still feels a deep and abiding pity for my grandmother and others who had the sad job of attempting to bottle-feed me. While babysitting, an aunt of mine who shall remain nameless, perhaps twenty or twenty-one at the time, offered her own breast in a last-ditch effort to appease me. I was not fooled. I was also hospitalized at six weeks and then again at six months with pneumonia.
Those are just the highlights–although “highlight” seems a rather inappropriate term for what my parents and grandmothers and aunts and uncles went through with me. I was the first child and first grandchild in the family. When my mother announced her pregnancy with my brother when I was one, a friend was incredulous: “I can’t believe you are having another one after what you’ve been through with your first.”
So today I feel a deep well of gratitude to my parents for persevering through that very rough first year, and for being brave enough to give me a brother and then a sister. To me it is an entertaining secondhand tale, but I am confident the reality was painful and the memories are wince-inducing. But even so, I never tire of hearing about it, and they never mind the re-telling. It feels like these stories and the legacy of love they profess are my gift today.