February 24, 2013

Evanell Ator Davis

Flying thirty thousand feet above Mississippi last summer, sitting by the window, I was at once startled and thrilled to view on the cottony fluff far below a perfect shadow of our jet. It was encircled by a rainbow-like halo. I now envision myself as the jet peering at the shadow below, a shadow inside and followed by a halo-like spotlight. Inside that spotlight is one image of my life, a single electrifying instant when nothing was ever the same again.

At sixty-four, looking back to those instants when everything changed can be daunting, for there were many. But my favorite, the time that changed me into a different person, occurred when I was forty years old. Although my first marriage was an often grim twenty years, two years after it ended in divorce, I married again in October, 1980. I was in love, crazy in love, with a man who seemed as different from my first husband as night from day. We both worked at demanding jobs, his more than mine, but we treasured every hour spent together. Within months, to my great surprise since I had not had a child in twenty-one years, I was pregnant. As circulation manager for two smalltown newspapers, a weekly and a daily, especially with a baby on the way (As much as I loved my husband, I felt the burden of responsibility for raising this child.), I decided that I must continue working throughout the pregnancy, work which was too strenuous for me, and caused hypertension for the first time in my life. My Dr. Ramsey, after he determined I was not in favor of abortion, no matter how many risks an elderly prima para ran of delivering a Down’s Syndrome child or one with other serious health concerns, begged me to take a leave of absence. I just did not feel that I could. No one else knew how to do my job, a job I loved, and I believed the efficient operation of the circulation department was essential to the continued success of the newspapers. Dr. Ramsey then engaged a second doctor, an obstetrician,  to look after the pregnancy, Dr. Hoeffelman, who was alarmed that I, often too tired to eat by suppertime, had lost weight. Despite these concerns, this was my happiest pregnancy. I talked with the baby, played classical music, and both delighted in the thought of having a baby and despaired of having to endure labor.

I worked until the morning of January 11, 1982. The doctor’s office called me (at work) to go to the hospital immediately. The tests I had had early the previous morning indicated that the placenta was dying. The baby had to be delivered or risk dying of malnutrition. My doctor had already told me, with my age and the non-elasticity of my muscles and veins, the labor would be induced with a pitocin drip.

Of course, my excitement ran high, as did everyone’s. This was before sonograms were widely used to identify gender. My doctor guessed that the baby was a boy because of the rapid heart rate, but, feeling that he might be wrong or that the delivery might go wrong, I had purchased neither boy nor girl clothes. The office started a lively pool to guess the gender. Meanwhile, I was miserable with the discomfort of back pain after several hours flat on my back strapped to a baby’s heart monitor and dealing with a contrary IV. I was tired. Finally, the doctor ordered the pit drip discontinued and told me to get some rest in the privacy of my hospital room. My husband, at my request and with the doctor’s approval, brought in cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes. I was hungry! I felt the baby was hungry as well. We shared, the three of us.

Early the next morning, Wednesday, the pit drip routine began again. I tried to be cheerful, but by noon, I was near tears. All day, I experienced labor pains, but none of them were strong enough to signify real labor. Again, the doctor ordered bedrest. This time, I had no appetite for outside food. I wasn’t in the mood for visitors and I was weary from hearing the same old question. Late that evening, one of my doctors came in and broke the water. He said the baby would have to be delivered within twenty-four hours to avoid risk of infection. I believed him—I would be a new mother on January 13. Thursday was a repeat of Wednesday except the pit drip continued. No baby after all. But both my doctors were in the building, catching up on their reading, just in case. I was worried.

Then, nearly midnight, a different nurse came to take care of me. Her name was Jackie. “You’ll never have this baby if you don’t turn over on your side!” she told me rather brusquely. She ripped off the monitor, which would work only if I lay flat on my back, and helped me roll over on my side. By then I was not only apprehensive about the delivery, but also emotionally exhausted, in tears, in pain, and wanted nothing more than just to get the whole thing over. One doctor insisted that the delivery would be vaginal (which I preferred—thinking less down time); the other was sharpening his knife for a C-section.

Luckily for me, the labor began rather quickly after my change of position, and went rather quickly. They moved me from the labor bed to a bed in the delivery room. I remember hearing the doctor tell me to scoot over to the new bed. I complied, too tired, too much in pain, probably dripping snot from all the crying. I begged for pain medication, but it was too late. The doctor injected a little Lidocaine into the area which he would soon cut to avoid a tear from the delivery. Actually, by then, I would have done anything to end the pain. When they told me to push, push hard, as if for a really difficult bowel movement, I did. It happened so fast then. The next thing I knew, Dr. Ramsey delivered a healthy baby girl at 1:14 A. M., Friday, January 15, four days after my initial entry to the maternity section. Unlike my first two deliveries so many years earlier, I was fully awake when this child was born and delighted to see her come through the birth canal face up, looking around as if to see who everyone was, not even crying, which I suppose was not a good sign except for her calmness.  Her APGAR was lowered somewhat for that, maybe to an 8.9. I don’t remember exactly. The nurse weighed her, cleaned her, and wrapped her snuggly in a pink flannel blanket. The doctor would not let anyone tell the people outside. He said that was my job.

My faithful sitters, my sister Maureen, my artist friend Anita Powell, and my husband were still there, looking worried and tired, but infinitely relieved to see that we were both fine. They oohed and aahed over the baby and hugged me, but soon left to get some sleep. It had been an extended ordeal for all of us. I was surprised that anyone except my husband was still there so late. Bob, who had been reluctant to accept the pregnancy initially, left in a state of exhilaration, intent on thinking of a suitable name for our baby daughter. As soon as everyone cleared out and the nurse took the baby back to the nursery, my excitement began to well inside until I could be still no longer. I practically jumped out of bed without ringing for the nurse. Suddenly I was bursting with energy and plans. The IV still in my arm, I maneuvered my way to the shower, washed my hair and the rest of me.

I returned to bed, still dragging the IV pole, sat down and blew my hair dry, rolled it on heated curlers, brushed and sprayed it, applied makeup, found a pretty gown and called the nurse to help me, finally. My, how she grumbled! But no harm was done and I was glad that I was clean and fresh and ready for daylight.

I finally settled down to a few hours of sleep before the company came. My room was filled with flowers because we had many friends and relatives, co-workers, and well-wishers. I had also worked at the hospital previous to my newspaper job and many of the employees, hearing that I was there, came by to see me. My blood pressure spun out of control and the doctor, at the urging of the nurses, ordered a no visitors sign for the door. Of course, not one of my friends, family, or co-workers believed that sign was meant to keep them away. But I was not in any pain. I was simply floating on a cloud of happiness and elation, the same way I felt after being baptized at twelve, when I was born again, a new babe in Christ, and now I had given birth to a daughter, Rebecca Diane, who changed my life. After the moment of her birth, nothing was ever the same again.

That’s not the end of the story though. A most peculiar transformation occurred, one that I never expected and that still surprises me to this day. Although I returned to work when Becky was three days old, while my parents kept her, I continued to nurse her and felt an overwhelming pull, an emotional wrench, when lunchtime came and my replacement was late to relieve me. When she was a week old, Becky developed jaundice and had to return to the hospital for three days. I was beside myself not only because of her being in the hospital in Mineral Wells, but also because her father was in Fort Worth at Harris Hospital with a possibly malignant cyst on his kidney. My tears, my fatigue, swept over me. I felt deserted, torn between two places fifty or sixty miles apart. When I finally left the hospital and my daughter to go home for a shower and a few hours sleep, and opened the front door to our home, I was overcome with emotion again. Everywhere I looked were signs of the new baby. I wondered how anything so tiny could so quickly have taken over our house and our lives.

The cyst was benign and not large enough for surgery. Becky’s color pinkened. I quit going home for lunch everyday because leaving upset Becky and me too much. Soon Becky plumped up, crawled, walked, cut teeth, talked. In hardly any time, she was telling me things like “I love you, Mama.” I’d ask, “Why?” She’d say, “You’re so good to me.” She was only two or three. I don’t know where those words came from. Then, at five, observing our hectic schedule, she carefully advised me to lay my clothes out the night before to avoid such a rush early in the mornings. I was startled, but admitted the wisdom of her advice. Having a daughter (my first two children are boys) is different from having sons. I had lost touch with myself, with my femininity, with my goals for my life. Here was a new life that deserved careful shaping. We read stories, talked, played games, saw movies together, went to the park, and, with her father, often traveled. I was amazed anew at the quickness of her mind, her seemingly casual perusal of a room, a business, or a situation followed by her astute comments later. Nothing seemed to escape her notice or her memory. Yet she was amazingly easy to handle. I never spanked her, though her father did. He is the only person I’ve ever seen her fight and that only after his teasing or irrational requests. I enrolled her in art classes, ballet, gymnastics, tap, and swimming; then a private kindergarten because she was too young for public school. I wanted her to have every opportunity to develop her abilities. My mother often said I was re-living my life through hers.

When Becky was eleven, we moved to Abilene, just the two of us. Her father and I divorced and he returned to Oklahoma to get his life in order. Abilene afforded numerous challenges—ALPS, music, foreign language, diversity. Becky thrived; I worked at the Texas Department of Human Services, a job I did not love but endured because I had to. Becky graduated high school in the top fifty for Abilene and enrolled at Abilene Christian University in the fall of 2000. She begged me to do the same. She told me I needed to finish my education, too, beyond the associate degree I received in 1991 from Weatherford College. I was scared; I didn’t think I could attend classes and work. She encouraged me, helped me when I was confused, showed me how to do e-mail, and reminded me of other college requirements. Then she asked me to take a nighttime poetry workshop class with her. This was another turning point, a point that would never have happened without her and the encouragement she offered. We each excelled in the class and wrote several poems that were both published and also won contests. Even as Becky did later, I went on to take more creative writing classes. We both graduated summa cum laude in May, 2004, and we both entered graduate school the next fall—she at UTSA in San Antonio and I, at ACU.

This is what I see from this distant vantage point, following that haloed spotlight from my jet-looking-down-from-above persona: I raised Becky even as she raised me. I gave birth to her; she gave birth to me, the  me that didn’t have her opportunities or her dreams. How, I wonder, could a child forty years younger do so much for her mother?

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