I suppose I can cut myself a little slack about not remembering every single detail about 1986. I do recall Reagan being in the midst of his second vacuous term, an altogether exhausting experience. January was burned in my brain because of watching the Challenger explode scant seconds after launching. As with most of the big terrible events, I watched it happen over and over on television, all the while thinking of Christa McAuliffe, the teacher who was setting a precedent as the first one to ever go to space. I grieved for her family, as well as the families of the others who’d died. Our daughter was approaching four and a half years old. She was the queen of ear infections and was wan during the winter months. Michael and I were trying for kid number two. He was approaching his 37th birthday while I was hitting 35. As with our first attempt, things were crawling along. I do remember thinking that it seemed unfair that people who didn’t want to have kids got pregnant so easily while we took so long. Then I’d remember people who could never become pregnant and felt guilty.
We had some big events coming up that year. Our school district had decided to offer a full-time kindergarten program instead of just a half day. There was to be a lottery for the limited number of slots. We were hopeful about getting one as even back then, day care costs took a big bite out of our income. On top of that change, my parents had made the decision to move to our community after finally realizing that neither me nor my younger sister were ever planning on moving back to Chicago. Because of my job in property assessment, I was tasked with finding them a comfortable place to live. I was pretty stressed. I’d always taken on a lot of responsibility regarding my mom and dad, and this time, was most anxious about ensuring that they’d be pleased with their surroundings. Moving away from the city where they were born and had spent most of their lives was a big deal. I was edgy, had taken on too much and was pretty cranky. My folks came to see the duplex I’d found early in the year and thankfully, were more than satisfied. They returned home to prepare for their move while I started acquiring the little items to make them feel homey. In their mid-sixties, they’d never lived in a place with their own washer and dryer. This new place would forever end the miserable trips to the laundromat.
At some point in the first two weeks of February, I finally got pregnant. Back then there weren’t accurate pregnancy tests for early detection so we didn’t know we were having a baby. I was somewhat suspicious but was waiting until more time had passed before trying to get confirmation. Meanwhile E. developed chickenpox. I remember her bouncing into our bedroom early in the morning, oblivious to the fact that spots were popping out all over her body and that she was broiling with fever. Good times. Actually we thought her delirium was quite entertaining as she chattered away in her own stream of consciousness. She was always a relatively uncomplaining patient.
Every March, I attended a professional conference where I took one of the two classes required annually to maintain my designation as a certified assessment official for the state. I’d bought a pregnancy test to take with me as I was fairly certain I’d conceived. The night before I left, Michael and I had a “date night” as I’d be gone for several days. I no longer remember the topic which wound up enraging both of us, Michael to the point where he hopped out of the car to stalk back home. We could do tempestuous fighting like nobody else. I woke early the next morning to drive the few hours to the conference where I was busy all day. In that pre-cell phone time, I didn’t call home the first night away. But the next morning I used my pregnancy test, got a positive result and called Michael to inform him in a snotty way that he was going to be a father again. I guess I can blame hormones for my behavior. I recall that I was staying in a Hilton hotel, ostensibly a nice one, and that a cockroach crawled up the bathroom wall as I was sharing my exciting news.
Back home, I started seeing my obstetrician. I enjoyed being pregnant, I suppose primarily because I never experienced nausea. Meanwhile, we were busy helping our daughter grow, participating in all the events at her day care center, continuing to prepare for my parents’ arrival in late spring and working on our own house, which we’d now taken over completely from apartment dwellers so each kid could have a room. We were busy but in a good way.
May arrived. A big month for us, we celebrated our fourteenth year of living together as well as our tenth wedding anniversary. My birthday, on the 24th, was followed by Hands Across America, a charitable fundraising event which took place on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. Between 5 to 6 million participated coast to coast. I think it was the first public service event or demonstration to which we brought our kid.
In June, we took a short trip to the Indiana Dunes. Any time in Lake Michigan was always restorative for both Michael and me. E. hadn’t been too fond of water during her first couple of years but by four she was coming around. We’d dropped swimming lessons when she was three. With a styrofoam “egg” strapped around her middle, I’d been bringing her to the pool where I got to listen to her screaming “get me out of here!” as she paddled along. Michael said we shouldn’t let her be a quitter until he came with me one day and realized we were wasting time and money. After the summer of ‘86 we tried again with more positive results. Back home, we reached the end of June when my parents finally moved into their duplex, less than five minutes from our house.
I also had a sonogram around that time when I was estimated to be around seventeen weeks pregnant. That was my first and only sonogram, quite different from all the snazzy photos that are available in today’s technologically advanced times. We had no idea whether anyone could determine the baby’s sex from that blurry image but in any case, we wanted to be surprised.
Having extended family nearby was a good thing for everyone. We’d made a family of friends but there truly is no substitute for grandparents. My parents adored my daughter who was so lucky to have the extra attention and company, especially with a sibling arriving in a few months. We spent the 4th of July together and took E. to the County Fair for fun rides and delicious awful food. My cousin and her husband, who had previously lived in California but had moved to Ohio, were glad to have our side of the family within driving distance, beginning a visiting tradition that would last decades.
When August came we got the good news that E. had gotten into the full-time kindergarten program. She would be starting school at the end of the month on her fifth birthday. She would be one of the youngest kids in her class but she was tall, smart and mature for her age. We were delighted. That month brought her the first bicycle of her life, a hand-me-down from one of my brother’s daughters. Michael gave it a thorough tune-up before teaching her to ride. Naturally athletic, for her that process was brief. Out main problem was controlling her impulsive tendencies which led her to cross a really busy street without our permission. And so began the years of hearts in our mouths and punishments that fit the crimes. Life was never dull.
The end of August brought me into pregnancy anxiety. E. was a big baby, almost 11 pounds which meant I was at risk for gestational diabetes. I had a wretched glucose tolerance test which involved drinking what tasted like sugared orange sludge, followed by a blood draw every hour for four hours. Bequeathed the tiny invisible veins of my mom by genetic chance, it took 13 pokes to get four tubes of blood. My arms looked like banana peels gone rotten. The end result indicated an elevation in my blood sugar. I didn’t have to take any medication because my levels weren’t severe but I was unnerved. I’d planned a natural delivery after having E. by caesarean but wasn’t sure how a long labor might affect me or the baby. I vacillated for weeks. In September, I remember that Michael and I attended an annual broom corn festival we’d always enjoyed. He got angry because I ate a homemade taffy apple there, as I’d done in previous years. He was alarmed that I was endangering my health. Nobody’s perfect, even a worried mom-to-be. That month flew by, topped by an unexpected, impulsive addition to our lives, initiated by him.
In my eighth month of pregnancy he surprised me by bringing home a springer spaniel puppy, despite the fact that we had our mature border collie Ribeye. We’d always had two dogs but had lost his Irish setter, Harpo, months earlier. Manfred was named after a cartoon character from our childhood. I couldn’t believe he’d just showed up with this new dog, but he was irresistible. Our family was burgeoning. October zoomed by. E. had a monarch butterfly costume for Halloween and I was thrown a baby shower by good friends. Also memorable was a strep skin infection that E. developed which required damp medicated dressings. I picked up strep throat while treating her and started a course of antibiotics. In my eighth day of treatment, I developed a rash all over my body and was declared allergic to penicillin. I’d had enough body issues. After consulting with my doctor, I scheduled a caesarean for slightly a week earlier than my due date. The baby was a good size and I was eager to get this kid born healthy.
On Sunday afternoon, November 2nd, I was admitted to Burnham City Hospital. Our daughter was born at Mercy, a Catholic hospital, but I was planning to have a tubal ligation after delivery which couldn’t be performed there. Michael and E. stayed with me for awhile but had to go home so she could get up for school the next morning. So I was alone, feeling my Braxton-Hicks contractions and chatting with the experienced maternity nurses. They were periodically monitoring the baby’s heartbeat and confidently predicted that I would deliver a boy as the heart rate was lower than the typical girl’s rate. I lay there wondering if they were right, trying to figure out what I could do to raise the kind of male child I’d be able to like later in life. The next morning, Michael arrived and joined me in the surgical theater. This experience was quite different from the hurried preparations after my 44 hour labor with E. When the anesthesiologist injected my spinal block and then quickly lay me back on the flat hard table, I felt like my stomach was in my throat. He perceived my discomfort immediately and correctly said it would pass quickly. At 8:19 am, I delivered an 8 pound, 15 ounces baby boy. I called out to our pediatrician to find out his Apgar scores. The doctor said he got two 9’s and I said, “why not 10’s?” He replied, “ everything can’t be perfect.” With a healthy baby out, we gave the go-ahead for the tubal ligation. No more birth control for us. I didn’t want to spend too much time in recovery apart from the baby, so I refused pain medication. As my gurney jounced along the hallways, my pain was intense. When I got to my room, the nurse told Michael to wait outside as they were really going to hurt me. And they did. But at last I was in my bed from where I promptly requested my baby and my drugs.
Michael brought E. to meet the baby after school. She was sick and wore a mask. Years later, she said that when we weren’t looking, she pulled it down to blow her germs on him. He didn’t get sick but I did. I was in the hospital for days with a fever and a terrible cough. Our little guy got jaundice but he was gaining lots of weight for a newborn. The doctor thought my milk had a high cream content. Meanwhile I had a nerve caught in one of the staples sealing my incision. I wouldn’t say that was the greatest week of my life but eventually it ended as all trials do. Here’s the photo of little H on the day we brought him home from the hospital.
We had a quiet Thanksgiving with family. Michael sent me off to parties with the baby in tow because of all my hard work during the pregnancy.
I had three months maternity leave. I was hyper-focused on this little baby as I knew he was my last. The additional attention-getter was understanding and working with our daughter who wasn’t thrilled to have lost her status as “the only one.” Parenting is intense and endless.
My boss,who was also my dear friend, told me I could bring my newbie to work for another month after the first three ended. From there he’d stay with my parents for whose presence I was beyond grateful.
The last photos of 1986 are all of this sweet boy, born with the angelic disposition. We felt lucky. We were.