Singer-songwriter and new mother Alanis Morissette, on her website, is asking her fans this month to tell her the story of oneʼs birth. As a (not-at-all-youthful) fan, thatʼs an interesting challenge. I believe I mentioned sometime last year that I used to either bore or inspire (probably bore) the students in speech class with my expansive (and apparently unending) personal saga of my own birth. So if you are a veteran of AHS public speaking coursework, particularly early in the semester, when students were being prepared to deliver personal anecdotes (usually just into September, but barely, sometimes as early as the final week of August), you can skip this one.
My family is Iowan, for several generations back. My fatherʼs clan farmed (that would be my paternal grandfather and then my Uncle Bill, my dadʼs brother, who did the farming) north in Bremer County. My mother was raised in Iowa City, where her father died during her youth in an underground explosion, an accident. My folks met at college, the University of Iowa (SUI in those days) in the years before my father volunteered for service (in the Pacific) in World War II. I believe he proposed by letter (maybe?) while in training. They wrote to each other the whole time he was overseas, and they married upon his return to the States. He became a science teacher (at a miserly couple thousand dollars a year), and in 1947 they had a daughter, my sister Margaret Susan (and I have always wondered if they really thought they would call her Peggy Sue, a nickname she despises). They wanted more children, but somehow (miscarriages being the most traumatic) things never worked out for a long, long time (Margaret is six years older than me). Finally, they decided to adopt and endured the whole, long, torturous procedure until the end was in sight — they had a little boy possibly to be assigned to become theirs.
Then my mother realized one day that she was pregnant again. That delicate condition put them (and probably little Peggy Sue) in a quandary. What if this baby came to term? What should they do about their potential adoption? Apparently there was a long process of decision, particularly because of my motherʼs history of uncompleted pregnancies, that ended early in the summer of 1953 with my folks determining to let go of the adoption and see what happened with this fetus.
That summer my dad returned to Iowa for some summer schooling, and a little adventure occurred. He always liked to tinker with automobiles (and considering his paltry salary as a public school teacher, had to do so), and one afternoon he was outdoors underneath the family car, working on the engine. Storm clouds had been building in from the west during that afternoon, and as the day grew dark with threatening weather, my mother noticed a flash a lightning followed fast with a roll of dramatic thunder. She hastened to the front door, throwing open the screen to stand on the porch and call my dad to get himself safely indoors. Suddenly, as he told my sister sometime later (and who eventually repeated this family legend to me), my father saw a flash of crackling light descend or burst brilliantly on my mom, standing beside the iron railing on their little stoop, accompanied with an instantaneous crash of sound. He leaped from under the car, stunned first, then running, certain he had just witnessed his wife and unborn child struck by lightning.
His science-teacher knowledge of meteorological physics made him shudder. However, as he raced across the yard, the air buzzing with ozone, he could see she was standing there, coughing, a little uncertain, possibly dazed, but unharmed — their best guess later being that the immense electrical charge had grounded itself through the porch railing that my mother had been an instant from grasping. Barely, but definitely, we had escaped, although as I have told generations of students, perhaps the lightning left its mark by singeing away the future growth of hair on my now long-bald head.
At the end of the summer session, my family moved to California, my father having taken a job in the Barstow school district, where, as the birth of this hoped-for baby had been predicted for the end of October, my folks quickly sought out a maternity physician and facility. The result was only somewhat local, Onofrioʼs Maternity (and Old Folks) Home in Victorville, about a dozen miles from home, but Dr. Onofrio became my motherʼs obstetrician. (I suppose he enjoyed covering both ends of lifeʼs spectrum, babies and the elderly.)
I believe the rest of her pregnancy into the fall went all right, much to the familyʼs gratification — perhaps this one would come to term. At least I donʼt know any family lore about further incidents demonstrating Natureʼs abhorrence of my arrival. However, as October waxed, and the doctor had stipulated this particular child should arrive appropriately on Halloween, my mother attempted to take it very easy. Unfortunately the end of the month arrived with no quiver from the unborn kid that it wanted out yet. In fact, a week of November transpired with no sign of impending birth pangs. Of course, sister Margaret had been something of a laggard about departing from the womb, too (as were my three younger brothers, each in his own turn, later on, as well), so neither of my parents was overly worried about my belated birth. The mother-to-be just kept to her minimal activity schedule and regular visits to Dr. Onofrio and his nurse.
Visiting with the doctor that next week, my mother and he determined that if I had not arrived by Thursday, November 12, he would induce labor Friday morning. The good doctor was a Seventh Day Adventist, taking literally the Biblical injunction to celebrate the seventh day as the Sabbath and keep it holy by resting from work. If this baby arrived on its own on Saturday, thereʼd be no doctor to deliver it. Both my father and mother were deeply devout people themselves and respectful of othersʼ differing beliefs, so she naturally agreed. I didnʼt arrive on Thursday, so early on the next morning my folks drove over to Victorville, where Dr. Onofrio injected the appropriate medications to induce contractions. Everyone assumed that in an hour, a baby would be arriving.
An hour later, nothing had occurred. No contractions, nothing. Another hour still left nothing happening. My father had to get to work at school, so with the doctorʼs permission, dismissing my mother, the two parents drove back to Barstow. My mom was left at home, and my father walked to school to begin his (I assume belated) day of teaching. The rest of the morning passed quietly, as did the afternoon, until about 2:30 or 3:00 PM (sometime late in the school day but well before classes concluded for the week), when my mother first felt a contraction. Although everyone had, once the induction of labor had apparently failed, hoped the fetus would lie quiescent until Monday, I evidently had other plans suddenly.
And there was my mother, at home alone, entering labor, with the doctor and the delivery room about fifteen or twenty minutes distant. In those days, apparently, school administrators didnʼt call teachers out of class, even for a birth. What was this mother-to-be going to do?
Enjoy the dramatic cliffhanger? (I never was a big fan of that technique myself, but here I am using it on my faithful readers. At 1300 words for today, however, I had better quit where we are, regardless of literary manipulation or your desire to learn the outcome.) Next Sunday, I will provide the thrilling conclusion. (Although the clever consumer of this blog should have figured out that all worked out well or I wouldnʼt be writing these words right now… Correct?).