Over three weeks had passed since I had been to the O.B. clinic and the night the doctors at Martin Army Hospital were supposed to induce my labor. I shudder to think what might have become of my unborn child, and me, had I not run into the kind colonel, chief of O.B. services, just by chance. Billy no longer wanted me to drive as it had become practically impossible for me to reach the pedals and turn the steering wheel, so commissary shopping had become our routine chore on Saturday morning, while either Trish or Major Mac watched Michael.
Hard as he tried, Billy could not get me to go back to the clinic. My ‘stubborn gear’, now fully engaged, was not about to budge, and I thought clinic a waste of my time. However, this one fateful Saturday, the colonel saw me, obviously still quite pregnant, and approached us in the commissary and asked why I had not had my baby yet. I briefly relayed the long saga of the afternoon and evening after he sent me to labor and delivery, where I was hooked up to plain saline while the doctors decided whether they had time to deliver another baby. I told him it was my belief the coin was tossed, and it came up heads, so the doctor in charge sent me home. To say the Colonel was angry is an understatement, he was livid to the point of becoming quite red in the face, and Billy knew then the physicians had ignored their chief’s orders and played ‘God’ while putting both his baby and his wife at risk.
Outrage in his voice the colonel almost shouted, “This cannot go on. You MUST have that baby - NOW! You come into the hospital first thing on Monday morning.”
He then turned to Billy and asked if he could take some leave, and Billy assured him that it would be no problem at all since he was so ‘short’, in other words was leaving his present position soon. The colonel told him if there were any problems, he would write an emergency leave for him.
“You, young lady,” and once again he looked at me. “You report to the O.B. floor as soon as you can get there on Monday, and I, personally, will start your labor. I will also be in touch with the doctors throughout the day regarding your progress. You know you cannot keep that baby in there forever, it is not good for either of you, and eventually the baby will die.”
I explained to him that I had no idea the baby could die, rather thought I would just go into labor when ready, but he frightened me and said sometimes babies just do not want to be born. On the other hand, perhaps I was overly tense about a situation, and ‘nerves’ could stall labor. Certainly, I had not been the latter since all I wanted was to have this baby and begin our trip, but then again, perhaps I was, since time was not on our side. Kindly he explained that with my husband in Ranger School when the due date arrived, the excitement of his homecoming, and all the plans we had made, my body was not ‘in gear’ to go into labor, but like it or not, it would go into labor on Monday!
I was elated! Fate had to put the colonel there at the same time and place, and finally we had a date. Our baby would be born on ‘The Ides of March’, March 15, 1965, over four weeks after he had been due. The doctors had tried to tell me I miscalculated my date and had not become pregnant until a month later, but they were wrong. I was practically positive I knew exactly the night it happened, and women do know these things. Obviously, the colonel agreed with me, and now was most anxious for me to deliver this now month old baby.
We finished our shopping and went straight home, and as usual, when we pulled up in the parking lot in front of our apartment, a little red tricycle came wheeling around the corner with our precocious son pedaling for all he was worth.
“Mommy, Daddy!” he said with delight, “what did you bring me?”
We had bought him a box of animal crackers and some M&Ms for special treats after we found out I would be in the hospital on Monday. Billy would use Michael’s favorite candy to win his son’s admiration, and I knew within hours this little ‘mommy’s boy’ would be a ‘daddy’s boy’ too. I had just spent so much time alone with our son he now seemed overly attached to me and we both knew the new baby would be a problem for our firstborn who was accustomed to all the attention. Now he would have competition and we were both anticipating a lot of resentment and jealousy. I remembered how I felt when my own brother was born after I had been an only child for five years, and to make matters worse, my devoted grandmother lived with us! I had actually tried to put our cat in the bassinet with my baby brother after I had heard my other grandmother say that cats would suck a baby’s breath! I certainly hoped Michael did not inherit my homicidal tendencies!
Sunday, while I rewashed the tiny clothes for the new baby, Billy carried the basket outside and helped me hang them on the line. Since he had returned from Ranger School, he had taken over all the housework saying I had done more than my share. I had done a lot of work getting the apartment ready to transfer over to Bill and Snookie while he was gone, but what else was there to do? The weather, for the most part, had been awful, so home was the only place to be, and now the apartment sparkled inside and out and Billy even cleaned the windows while he was on leave right after he graduated. Freshly washed, ironed curtains were hanging on the sparkling windows; the floor looked like glass, and the walls, from baseboard to ceiling, scrubbed clean. There was nothing left for Snookie to do unless she wanted to reline the cabinets and drawers, but our cozy home was cleaner than it had ever been.
The new baby would not even be three weeks old when we had to leave for our long journey. Now I had to anticipate sitting on a ‘doughnut’ for the entire trip, especially if this little one weighed more than Michael, and there was every indication he would weigh even more, after all, Michael was only two weeks late!
Monday morning was cool with a hint of spring in the air, and I knew that by noon it would be a glorious day. Hopefully by then, I would also be cradling our newborn son in my arms and ‘Mark’ would become a reality, not just a huge jumping tummy, although the last two weeks, the baby had not been nearly as active, but when he kicked, I knew it! I guess he was running out of room as we were running out of time!
Once again, Trish came to the rescue and took Michael while Billy drove me out to the hospital. I hoped we would live close enough in Hawaii for me to return the favors when her baby was born. Since now, we knew Billy could not stay during my labor and delivery; he would return home and wait by the telephone so I could call him as soon as the baby was finally born. That seems inordinately cruel by today’s standards when the father’s are so much a part of the entire pregnancy and even the delivery, and I knew it would be an even longer day for Billy than for me as he tried to win over his small son, and waited anxiously by the telephone. He could not even accompany me upstairs, but had to kiss me good-bye in the lobby where he told me he loved me more than life itself, and to call him just as soon as I could. The wait would be far harder than the actual delivery, or so I thought.
Once again upstairs in the labor and delivery suite, after I undressed and put on one of the dreadful hospital gowns, again I was weighed, measured, had blood drawn to type and cross-match, and my temperature was taken, and when I had been sent upstairs the first time to be induced, none of this had been done. This left me to believe the doctor in charge had no intention to induce my labor that night, rather let me lie there and think it was my fault I was not dilating.
After the nurses settled me in the bed and started a saline I.V., the colonel came in to exam me himself. He had clinic all day and could not be with me, but he promised to keep in touch. Amazingly I was not dilated at all, and he said this baby did not want to be born it was so warm and comfortable in my womb, but like it or not, today was to be his birthday. After my benefactor wrote the orders for induction medication, he wished me good luck, and was gone. It never dawned on me I would never see him again.
For any of you women reading this memoir who have had induced labor, you know the preliminary pains are bypassed and when labor begins, it is hard labor. No little twinges in the back, no time to count between contractions, just constant, unrelenting pain that grabs your body from head to toe. While it took several hours for this to begin and for my uterus to begin dilating, after that, I lost all track of time and place, as the pain was unceasing.
“Can’t give you anything?” I asked the doctor monitoring me.
He looked at me as if I had asked for morphine or some illegal drug and nonchalantly said, “You might just quit labor if we do that, and I am under orders to deliver your baby today no matter what. Just as soon as the baby crowns, we can give you a spinal, and then you won’t have this pain.”
I screamed and I hollered; I cried and I moaned; I tossed and I turned, but nothing seemed to help. I felt as if my body were in a vise that some giant hand was continually squeezing, tighter, and tighter. Most of the nurses, probably mothers themselves, were kind and understanding while they dabbed my dry mouth with chipped ice and told me it would not be long now, but I was not dilating rapidly. Of course, there is always one spoiler in the group, and when this one walked by my room, she told me to be quiet that I was scaring the other women in labor, and after all this was not my first baby.
“It’s the first one I have ever had this way!” I replied to her insensitivity. “I never knew what happened when my son was born!”
However, this was the Army, this was how the Army did it, and not all my moans, groans, and complaints were going to change their way of thinking. So all alone, I endured the worst pain I had ever experienced in a small bare room at Martin Army Hospital. This was without doubt an excellent reason not to have any more children!
My labor kept up with continuously increasing contractions, and by the time the afternoon shift arrived and had been briefed, it had been three hours since the baby’s head crowned, and I had not been given so much as an aspirin. Finally, some ‘expert’ concluded I could not have this baby by myself, so it could do no harm to give me a spinal block. Due to the intense pain, it was with some difficulty I finally managed to ‘arch my back like an angry cat’ and the needle slipped into the spinal cavity, and I felt relief. Numb from the waist down, I no longer felt the excruciating pain while wheeled into the delivery room.
The arrogant young doctor who had been monitoring my progress all day was leaning on the nurse’s stand, and as I passed by, I asked if he was going to deliver my baby. Dr. Philip Phillips just looked at me with contempt and said, “No, I only deliver boys, and you want a girl, we are waiting for one of my colleagues to arrive who delivers girls.”
I could not believe this! My baby’s head had crowned hours ago and I still could not push him out! What was happening to my baby? In retrospect I think Dr. Phillips anticipated problems because, unknown to me at the time, I was having a forceps delivery since the baby was simply too large for me to deliver on my own, and it was far too late for a caesarian. He did not want to be involved in a tricky delivery where the outcome might not be good, so he opted to stand at the nurse’s station talking with the nurses while I, alone except for one kind black LPN, lay in the delivery room unable to push my baby out of my womb. I lay there for an hour at least, nauseated, and in a cold sweat. These were the first signs I was going into shock, but there was no doctor there to see this. The nurse held a pan under my head, since now I was throwing up, although there was nothing but bile because I had not eaten in almost 24 hours. She never left my side, and wiped my brow with a cool wet cloth, and told me to ask God to help my baby and me, and we would be fine. I did pray, I prayed for a doctor, any doctor to show up and deliver my baby!
Finally, the double door of the delivery room abruptly swung open and another young doctor in combat boots and fatigues with a white gown flying open over his field uniform, rushed into the room.
“Well, what have we here, a little mother who can’t seem to have her baby?”
The nurse tried to tell him I was beginning to go into shock, but he ignored her, reached for the scalpel, and began to cut. He cut, then he pulled, he cut some more, then pulled again, four separate times that I counted, but still no baby. As a last resort, reaching for the forceps, I watched as he put his boot on the table for leverage, leaned back, reached inside my womb, and pulled with all his might.
“It’s a girl!” he exclaimed, as I waited to hear a lusty cry, but there was none!
“What is wrong with my baby?” I asked as he placed my newborn daughter on my stomach. “She’s so heavy,” I exclaimed, “why doesn’t she cry?”
“Oh she’s just sleepy, she will be fine, Just a normal size baby,” the doctor, whose name I never knew, said, as he turned back to the table to begin repairing my lacerations.
The nurse, whose kindness and prayers I have never forgotten, and probably helped to save my daughter’s life, finally left my side and gathered up the baby in a warm blanket. Then she put one hand on her hip, turned to the doctor, and said as arrogantly as she dared, “This is a one big baby!” She then turned to me and kindly said, “She is fine, breathing on her own, healthy color, and she is as fat as a little butterball. I am going to take her to the nursery now where I can weigh her, and then I will come right back to tell you her weight so you can tell your husband when you call him.” With that statement, she gathered my newborn in her capable arms and bustled out of the room, swinging doors flying in her wake.
With nothing else to do while the doctor worked diligently to repair my torn and lacerated labia, I watched the clock, and I knew it had been about 45 minutes since the baby had been born, and the doctor was still working. Just about then, the kind nurse reappeared, and said as much to the doctor as to me, “Hah! She weighs nine pounds ten and one-half ounces! She is nineteen inches long and the biggest baby in the nursery!”
While the doctor did not comment or even look up from his stitching, I said, “Oh my! That is huge! My son was only eight pounds, two ounces, but then again he was only two weeks late, not a month late like this one.”
Still the doctor was silent as if he was the only one in the room, while the little nurse assured me our daughter was healthy and normal in every way – just a bit large for a newborn. Once again addressing only me, before she left to go back to the nursery, she again said all was well with the baby, then added, “You will have to feed this little one when you get her home since she really is a month old, and I doubt if breast milk will be enough to keep her happy.”
All of a sudden, now that I was no longer concerned about the baby, it dawned on me! A girl! I could not believe it; I had given birth to a girl! Oh, how pleased, and shocked Billy would be, and once again, he had done something his father could not do, he had fathered a daughter! I thought about Helen then and her longing for a baby girl, and how perhaps if she had been a kinder person, God would have allowed her to live to enjoy this little miracle. Nevertheless, He had been good to us, to Billy and to me; we had the perfect family, an older son, and a not so tiny newborn daughter. I could hardly wait to call him!
It must have been about thirty minutes later, with all the repairs finally completed; the doctor wheeled me to the telephone at the nurse’s station right outside the delivery room so I could call Billy. Astonished, I found Dr. Phillips still standing right where I last saw him before the doors of the delivery room closed behind me. I was incensed that he would allow me to lie there for over an hour and not come in to deliver my baby.
While the nurse dialed our home phone number, he said to me, “See I told you I didn’t deliver girls, but I sure did win a lot of money on her weight!”
It then occurred to me that the doctors had realized I would be having a large baby, and had a betting pool on her weight! I was infuriated! He could not come and deliver my baby, instead he made me wait, nauseated, and chilled, for over an hour for this nameless doctor to arrive, but he had won money betting on my daughter’s weight! For sure, I would not allow him to touch me again, not now, not ever!
Billy picked up the phone on the first ring, and the only word I could get out of my mouth was “Honey”, before obviously so worried he was running his words together, he said, “Oh my God it has been so long! Are you all right? Have you had the baby? Is the baby OK?”
I tired my best to assure him that I was fine, and then measuring my words carefully since I knew he would remember forever what I was about to say, I asked him if he was sitting down.
“No, but I can. Why, is there something wrong?” he asked, his voice quivering. “I’m sitting down now, what’s wrong with the baby?”
Wanting to add levity to what I knew Billy considered an ominous situation, I said, “Oh my darling, Billy, there is nothing wrong with our baby except she has no exterior plumbing - we have a daughter, and she is huge - the largest baby in the nursery!” I then relayed her height and weight and he just whistled between his teeth unbelievingly.
“You stay right there, I will be right out,” he said, as if I were actually going somewhere! A girl! A girl!” he said repeatedly, and then to me, “I hope they will take these ‘It’s a Boy’ cigars back!”
When I hung up, I thought now that all the pain had been worth Billy’s absolute amazement and delight, but I had wanted to see his face, and now, because of Army regulations, I would always have to imagine how he looked when he heard this most remarkable news. As for me, I could not wait to hold her in my arms, much less to watch him hold her for the very first time. Whom would she look like? Oh, my I hoped she looked like her father, in a more feminine way, of course. Would she be a huge girl? After all, she was huge now, or was it just the out of proportion weight of a very overdue baby? My questions were innumerable, but I knew I would not find anyone willing to answer them all, at least not here, so when Billy arrived, I would ask him to make an appointment with Dr. Rivers for the very day we took her home!
For now, as they wheeled me into recovery, all the long hard labor caught up with me and I began to go into full shock. First, my arms and legs became frigid, and I shivered as my teeth began to click softly one against the other, I had never felt such cold! Next, I started to perspire, although the deep cold only seemed to intensify, and I began to lose consciousness although I was aware there were now several nurses and doctors in the tiny room working on me. The next thing I remember was Billy standing over my bed, while the nurses were still frantically rubbing my arms and legs, and without missing a beat, they told him he had to leave. Not one to be denied, my darling husband looked down at me, a huge smile, perhaps the largest I had ever seen, stretched across his handsome face as he leaned over my bed and kissed my forehead. With concern, but happiness in his voice at the same time he said, “You look awful! Where is my daughter?”
The nurses gladly directed him to the nursery and turned back to me as they continued to rub my arms and legs. It was not until late that night, still in recovery, that I was finally able to hold my precious newborn, the new girl in my darling Billy’s life. Could I bear to share him? All I could do was stare at her on that first visit since I was far too weak even to hold her on my own, but the nurse kindly peeled the soft pink blanket back so I could count each tiny toe and each tiny finger. She was indeed perfect and absolutely beautiful!
The next morning, finally out of recovery, although still weak, when they brought my pink-cheeked, chubby newborn to me, I held her to my breast and she latched on immediately as if she had been nursing for weeks. There was not a wrinkle on her except for rolls of fat covering her wrists, ankles, and under her chin; her eyes were wide open and deep blue, like her father’s eyes, but Michael’s eyes too had been this blue when he was born and had gradually changed. Certainly, her eyes would do the same, but for now, they were such a clear and perfect blue, and I hoped they would stay that way. She had a little round face with my stubborn chin, like her big brother, and her tiny nose and ears were absolutely perfect, as were her ten little toes and ten tiny fingers that I counted over again, just in case I had missed something when I was so weak. Other than a dusting of fine blond hair, she was practically bald, but the nurses had taped a tiny bow on her head – green for St. Patrick’s Day. Although she did have a red mark from the forceps on one temple, which I hoped would disappear in a few days, she certainly did not look like any newborn I had ever seen, more like a month old infant. Covering her skin in places was a cheesecloth looking film, and when I asked the nurses what was wrong with her skin, one explained that this condition was called ‘parchment skin’ and a sure indication she had been in the womb too long. Not to alarm me, and possibly throw me back into shock, she promised me it would soon flake off, and I would never know it had been there. Then she remarked that the nurses had been talking among themselves about my baby and me, and all agreed that I had most certainly been right about my date, since my baby had been long overdue.
As I marveled over this new perfect creation of God, and of the love Billy and I shared, I could not help but start to cry, not from sadness, but sheer joy and relief that the long wait was over, and in spite of so many odds against us, all was well.
After our daughter was taken back to the nursery, the doctors made their morning rounds, and when Dr. Phillips stepped up to my bed to examine me, I glared at him and told him since he would not deliver my baby; he could not examine me now. He gave a chuckle since he obviously thought I was joking with him, but I glared at him again and thought about that interminable wait for the nameless doctor to appear, with only the kind nurse to bathe my brow and hold the container for my vomit.
“If you so much as touch me, I will scream,” I promised as Dr. Phillips once again approached my bed.
Quickly, he backed up, since he could see I was dead serious, and he noted to the other doctors that I had a difficult, induced labor, a forceps delivery with ‘multiple
vaginal tears’, and had been ‘shocky’ in recovery. Then he politely asked one of the other doctors to perform the examination. I had thought I was in pain after Michael’s birth, but nothing prepared me for the searing pain I felt in my vaginal area now. I could not believe this! The burning reminded me of the crude catheter when Michael was born, but this time it did not go away but was continuous. All I could think about was that we had to leave for California in just a matter of days! I knew now that the already purchased foam rubber ‘doughnut’ would be a necessity, and it would be a long time before I would be able to walk normal again. At this time, I had no idea the birth should have been caesarian, that the doctors allowed me to labor too long and the baby had dropped too far into the birth canal before they realized I would never give birth on my own. Instead, they had to cut me multiple times, and used both high and low forceps to release the baby from her prison. We were both fortunate though, the ending could have been tragic, instead it was jubilation, and it would be many, many years before the permanent damage would become obvious. As the doctors turned to leave, I warned Dr. Phillips not to set foot in my room again, and the other doctors looked puzzled by my venomous dislike of their chief resident. Had I been older and wiser, I would have called the colonel, and relayed the information about the birth, but I was just relieved to have a healthy baby and looked forward to going home to show her off, and to begin our journey.
Late that morning, a vase of a dozen pink roses arrived with a note from Billy that read, “A miracle, you have given me a miracle! I love you ‘more than life itself’”, Billy. My handsome soldier was still quite the romantic, and I knew he always would be, and for that, too I was grateful.
He must have been the first in line when the doors were opened for visitors, and although he stopped by the nursery to take another peek at his daughter, he then came to the room with still more flowers! These were from Headquarters Company and were mostly pink baby roses with some white baby’s breath and blue cornflowers for contrast, all arranged in a white wicker baby carriage festooned with a large pink bow. Added to the flowers I had been receiving all afternoon from the family in Atlanta, and the sun streaming through the open window, my room was bright and cheerful, and matched Billy’s demeanor.
He could not have been more pleased with his daughter, just as he had been with his firstborn son, and he even said, “She looks like a Margie.”
He had been able to exchange his ‘It’s a Boy’ cigars for those banded in pink, and although he never smoked one, he was handing them out to everyone! Gingerly he sat down on the side of my bed, and he held my hand while he said the nurses had told him about how hard it had been for me, and that they had almost ‘lost me’ after the delivery.
With tears rolling down his cheeks, he held me close and said, “Darling wife, I don’t ever want anything to happen like that again! Even if we have to pay, you will never have another baby in an Army hospital! I don’t know if I could live without you, but for our children I would try, but I would not be living, just existing. Neither of them deserves to have the kind of parents we had, and I would never allow that to happen even if I had to get out of the Army. But you can be sure of one thing; I would work digging ditches before I would take them back to Griffin!”
Tears began rolling down my cheeks, partially from seeing his tears, and partially from the overwhelming tiredness that seemed to permeate every bone in my body. He held me in his strong arms while I cried and told him I would never die and leave him, “I love you too much, and I would never let anyone else have you, or raise our babies.”
He stroked my hair while we whispered words of tenderness to each other, and made so many promises it would have been impossible for any two people to keep them. Most of all, I felt as if his strength rushed into my body, and I knew with my Billy by my side, I could do anything! I don’t know how long we sat there and held each other, but with the announcement over the loud speaker that visiting hours were over, he was the last to leave, and even then, he seemed reluctant. I knew, without a doubt, he would spoil me unmercifully when he got me home, and I knew I would need it. My legs were still shaky and I could barely manage to climb out of the bed to go to the bathroom. The pain was unrelenting and I felt like I had a thousand needles pushing through my incisions, although I did not seem to be bleeding abnormally. I could not help but wonder if I would ever be able to have sex without pain, and, frankly, it was the last thing I ever wanted to do again! Obviously, something was not right, but I knew that I would not share this with Billy, not now, maybe not ever. He would just worry, and he did not need to have worries if he was going to Vietnam, but to know that all was perfectly well with the children and with me.
Remembering the pain from the student nurse’s uncertain jabs as she inserted her first catheter after Michael’s birth, I vowed then that it would never happen again! Not here where they almost killed my baby and me, so with that in mind, I called for the bedpan and asked the nurse to leave the room and I would call her when done. I then reached for the full pitcher of water beside my bed, and pouring the ice-cold liquid over my burning vagina, I began to urinate! Yes, just as I thought, the shock, and the comfort, of the water released my urine, and now I would not need to suffer a catheter! This was something to remember when and if I ever needed to do it again!
The next time the nurse brought my daughter to me, wrapped in a soft pink receiving blanket, I whispered to her just as I had her brother, “Marjorie Diane McConnell, welcome to the world, to a daddy and a mommy who adore you, and a big brother who will learn to do the same. You are our miracle, a gift from God, and you have made your daddy the happiest man on Earth, and your mommy, the happiest mommy. We both will love you with all of our hearts, forever, and I am certain your daddy would slay dragons to keep you safe from harm. You will never have to feel the sting of hatred and neglect, and at times we might seem overprotective, but it will be only because we love you and your brother, more than anything else on earth.”
Yes, God had been good to us, and now we were about to embark on our most remarkable adventure, culminating in paradise. There was very little else that I could ask, except for God to keep my Billy safe from harm.
The stay at Martin Army Hospital was short, for even then, and I was home before Margie was forty-eight hours old in spite of the scare following her delivery. If anything, the Army never wasted time or allowed for a slow recuperation. A healthy mother, or so they thought, and a healthy baby, it was time to go home. While I slowly dressed myself, nothing could possibly have prepared me for the pain and the weakness I felt, and the exhaustion was debilitating. How would I ever be able to take care of Michael, the new baby, and myself since I did not even have enough energy to put on my own clothes? Billy had taken more leave, and now would not report to Headquarters Company again since we would be on our way before his leave was over. He promised that he was going to spoil me, just as I suspected, and for once, I really needed to be spoiled – never had I felt so washed out, so very, very tired. He had already been talking to Michael about the new baby, but he did not think Michael quite understood, and since I knew it would not be easy for him to share me, I asked Billy to buy some more M&Ms as a ‘gift’ for Michael from his new baby sister. My worse fear was that he would revert to wetting his pants and his bed again, and I was simply too tired to cope with all the resulting soiled linens.
We had found some ‘disposable’ diapers through Sears & Roebuck’s catalog for the trip, but this was not an everyday item available in all the stores as they are now. Just as when Michael was born, our only choices for a diaper were cloth, one square that I folded into a triangular shape, and the other more oblong with a padded center that I used for a ‘burp’ cloth. One baby uses a huge amount of diapers each day, so I hoped Michael would associate this surely unwelcome baby with wet and soiled diapers, and he would continue to use his potty.
After Billy arrived at the hospital, the nurse brought the baby in from the nursery so I could dress her for the trip home. In my weary state, I had forgotten about the tiny pink dress intended for the occasion, and had asked Billy to bring the white nightgown with pink trim, which was about all we had in the way of attire for a baby girl. She would definitely need some clothes since we had never in our wildest imagination dreamt we would have this healthy little girl, and now that she was already a month old she needed some suitable clothing, preferably in pink, according to Billy! Hopefully we would receive a few gifts from family and friends, and most knew we had been prepared for another boy, and surely they would try and make up for our lack of proper feminine attire and give her clothing, all pink and lacy! I knew my grandmother would be thrilled since she had always been so very partial to little girls. She used to say she did not know anything about little boys having only two daughters of her own, and while she loved them, she definitely favored the girls in the family. I wondered if Billy had thought about his mother, and how excited she would have been if she were living, but he never said a word about her and I did not ask. Wearily, I dressed Margie in the soft white gown with pink trim that Bubba had made when I was pregnant with Michael, and that his father had never allowed him to wear, so at least it was new. I then wrapped her in a soft pink receiving blanket Billy had bought at the P.X. the day after she was born, just to have something pink to wrap around her to bring her home. She looked like an angel swaddled in the soft color that matched her cheeks, and the nurses had once again taped a green bow in her fine downy hair since this was St. Patrick’s Day and all thought it appropriate for a lass with the last name of McConnell, although it was Scotch and not Irish. Looking at Billy’s face, I knew my husband had already lost his heart to this tiny girl, and now I had to learn to share him.
On the ride home, not once did Margie let go of her father’s finger grasped tightly in her tiny fist. “You cannot imagine how much I love you for the gift of our daughter,” he said to me. “I promise I will always take care of both of you, now and forever.”
Billy was almost beside himself with the joy of this miracle, and had temporarily forgotten the man determined the sex, but I would take the credit as long as he wanted to give it to me! He had been excited when Michael was born, adamant we have a son first; a ‘man’ thing I had thought at the time. Lately, I had seen him watching Elizabeth with her golden curls, and I knew he was wondering what it would be like to have a daughter, but never did I visualize the sheer magnitude of his joy. I knew I would not have to ask him to hold the baby if she cried, or change her because if he was home, unless nursing, I probably would not get to care for her at all. He had been wonderful to help with Michael, and I knew he would be even more so with his tiny baby girl who “looks like a Margie.”
When we reached the parking lot at the apartments, Billy held the baby in one arm and helped me out of the car with the other. “You are in a lot of pain,” he observed, and all I could do was nod in agreement.
“You try giving birth to a ten pound watermelon,” I said teasing him, but he just looked at me with compassion and said, “No thanks!”
As expected Michael was watching for our car, and abandoning his red tricycle, he came running up the sidewalk to greet us. As he lunged at me, Billy caught him and said, “Be careful big boy, your mommy is tired and sore.” Bending down with the baby in his arms, he said, “Come look at what we brought you!”
At first, Michael shied away, and then slowly he came closer more out of curiosity than interest. Suddenly his little face just dropped, his eyes welled up with tears, and his chin quivered as he half sobbed, “But I wanted a puppy! I don’t want that, take it back where you got it and don’t ever bring it back again!” With that final statement, he wheeled away from his baby sister and ran back towards the apartment, as if he thought we would leave right away and return ‘it’!
Oh, my we were going to have our hands full giving our son the attention he would surely demand while also caring for our daughter at the same time. How would he accept my nursing Margie when he did not even like his father to hug me! This was not going to be simple, not at all.
Billy then handed the baby to me and ran after our son. Catching him, he scooped him up, threw him in the air as he always did, and then he hugged him and assured him that our hearts were big enough to love many children. Just as he loved Mommy and Daddy, and Major Mac, Dickie, David, and Charles, and his Aunt Helen and Uncle Homer, his cousin, Ginny and his Aunt Lynne, his Mommy and Daddy loved both him and his new baby sister.
By the look on his angelic face, I could tell Michael was not buying any of this and he squirmed out of Billy’s arms, ran back to me, flung himself at my feet, and grabbed me around the legs. “My Mommy,” he wailed and looking at his father said, “You take it, I want my Mommy.” From that point on, the baby was referred to as “it.” “It’s crying. It’s a baby because it wets its pants. It’s biting my Mommy” - Michael’s reaction to my nursing the baby.
Finally, Billy managed to bring Michael under control and gave him the M&M’s from his ‘baby sister’, but he threw them on the sidewalk and stomped on them. Billy refused to pick them up since we both knew Michael would not leave them there, and as we suspected once we began to walk slowly to our apartment he retrieved his favorite candy. Before we reached our door, the neighbors came out to see our new baby, and Elizabeth was especially awed. “I’m going to have a baby,” she said pointing to her tummy, and then pointing to her mommy’s tummy, she said, “Mommy’s going to have a kitten.”
She tried to get Michael to come play with her, but probably for the only time in his life, he resisted those big eyes and blond curls and would not let go of my skirt. Of course, everyone “oohed” and “aahed” over the baby, and she was beautiful, with none of the wrinkled or bloated features of a newborn. After all, she was a month old already! After Billy settled me on the couch with my ‘doughnut’ under me so Michael could sit beside me and I could give him some attention, he gently took the baby from my arms, and said he would see if she was wet and if so he would change her, just like he had always done with Michael. Except this time, as he headed to the bedroom, he said, he just had to keep checking to make sure he really had a girl!
I asked if he had called his father and what, if anything, he had to say, but silence followed my question. Perhaps he had not heard me since he was in the bedroom changing the baby on our bed. When he came back into the living room, I repeated myself, and Billy said he had heard me, but he did not know what to say since his father had seemed not to care at all, boy or girl – he was that wrapped up in Ruth and Stuart. However, the boys had been very excited finally to have a little girl in the family and they could not wait to see her, and since we would be leaving in less than two weeks, they would get to see their new niece very soon.
Realizing how tired and sore I really was, Billy took over the cooking, and I think we had fried shrimp every other night! Well, perhaps that is a bit of an exaggeration, but only due to the cost, did we have anything else. Thank goodness, for neighbors who brought some casseroles or I would have starved. The nausea I felt when eating fried foods during my pregnancy had not dissipated with the birth of the baby, and even the smell of the shrimp cooking made me ill. Thinking certainly this too would pass and that I was just overly tired, I thanked my proud husband for every meal, and wished we had a dog to feed the shrimp to under the table, while choking down just a few. Between father and son, none of them would go to waste, and I would excuse my not eating by saying I was sore or tired, but never did I blame his cooking! If my darling Billy wanted to cook for me, I was not about to criticize what he prepared since I needed all the help I could get. Never did I remember feeling this tired after Michael was born, rather more tired before his birth, but this time I felt wiped out, exhausted. How would I manage a long car trip, staying in a different motel each night, bathing the baby in the sink, and day after day riding for hours in the car? I just knew I had to get strong, and quickly, because we had no choice, we had leave and soon. The ship would not wait for us. Right about then I wished we had chosen to fly, and I am sure we could have had the orders changed with a newborn, but Billy was so excited about the trip out west and the cruise, that I could never have suggested we change our plans. His excitement over the forthcoming trip was contagious and it flowed out of every pore as he went over our plans repeatedly while he told me again all of the wonderful sights he would show me. No, I could never have put a damper on his enthusiasm, and I had never seen him so happy, even with a six-week wait for sex!
Margie was such a good baby, and she never cried unless hungry or wet, but I started her right away on rice cereal and applesauce to supplement my breast milk, and because she was already a month old. I seemed to have plenty of milk, my breasts were huge with the bounty to Billy’s delight, and Margie nursed well. Billy’s greatest pleasure was to watch as I nursed her, and he would lie on the bed with us, his head propped in his hands and gaze at both of us with love flowing from his eyes. After she drained the first breast, it was his turn, and he would burp her, and then hand her back to me for more. I remembered how nursing Michael had been very difficult as he seemed to fuss and squirm the entire time, but of course, he was not getting enough milk to satisfy him. This little one seemed perfectly happy though, and after her second burp and another diaper change, she would soon be asleep on her daddy’s broad shoulder as he walked her around the room humming lullabies in her ear, just as he had done with her big brother.
Fortunately Michael did not start wetting his pants again, which was a blessing, but he did begin to act out. He began kicking the footrest on the highchair again just to see how far he could push us, but Billy only had to warn him once and he would stop.
One afternoon we got a phone call from Margaret, and Billy answered the phone, since I still could not get up from a sitting position without pain, and as I watched the horrified expression on his face, I heard him say, “He did what?”
Quickly, Billy hung up the phone and without saying a word, he rushed out the door. Frightened, although I knew my son was playing next door with Elizabeth, I struggled to get off the couch, but before I managed, Billy was back in the door mumbling, “He really did it, he really did!”
Unable to abide not knowing any longer, I asked him who did what and where? However, I certainly was not expecting the answer I received from a horrified father, who amazingly, by now, was laughing heartily.
Michael, so proud of his ability not to dirty or wet his pants, and with the trauma of having a new baby in the house, told all his friends at the playground that only babies went “pooh-pooh” in their pants or wore diapers. He then pulled his own pants down around his ankles and proceeded to show his friends how big boys went to the bathroom, right on top of the picnic table behind Margaret’s apartment! Naturally, Margaret was keeping one eye on the children, and one eye on her own small son, but she did witness Michael’s performance. By the time she got outside, Michael had disappeared on his little red tricycle and ridden home to play with Elizabeth, so she called us. That was where Billy had gone. He had rushed down to the playground to see for himself his son’s excrement in this most inappropriate place, then borrowing some paper towels, soap, and water from Margaret, he scrubbed the table clean. How could we punish him? He had only been showing his friends what he so recently had learned. He was making the point that while his sister was a baby and “pooh-poohed” in her pants, he was a big boy and did not. After all, he would not be three for another two months, and was still very much a baby himself. This little boy had definitely shown us this past year what the person who first came up with the expression ‘terrible twos’ meant! If curiosity and imagination were any signs of how intelligent a child was, then Michael would be at the head of his class!
Saturday, following Margie’s birth, Billy drove us all out to the P.X. to buy some clothing for the trip. I would need at least two nice dresses since we would be expected to ‘dress’ for dinner. Nothing formal since the first seating was for families, and those more casually attired, but definitely a suit for the men and a dress and hose for the ladies. I was so sore and of course still quite swollen from the birth, and I knew it would be months before I had a flat stomach again, if ever. I finally found two loose fitting dresses that would be suitable, although I would have liked to buy one more. Using Billy’s Ranger School per-diem pay for our purchases, we bought our small son six pairs of long cotton/polyester pants with t-shirts to match and a light jacket, then a suit that comprised of short blue pants with straps for over his shoulders, a plaid jacket, white shirt, a bow tie, and a cap to match. This would not only be his Easter finery, since we would be in Atlanta on that Holy Sunday, but his outfit for our evening meals aboard the ship. Now that our little man was well dressed, Margie was the one who really needed clothing, according to her father, and we bought her about a dozen stretch suits, mostly pink or white with pink flowers, pale green and pale blue with pink embroidery. Billy wanted everyone to know this baby was a girl just as much as he had wanted everyone to know Michael was a boy. Although she had almost no hair, not even enough for a tiny bow, just soft blond peach fuzz, she looked like a girl, and her features were very delicate although she was robust and hardy with her large birth weight, and she had not lost an ounce! It was a chore to bathe her with all the tiny folds of fat under her chin, around her wrists and ankles, but she looked liked an angel, and for the most part, she was just that. She slept when she was supposed to sleep, she ate when she was supposed to eat, and she rarely cried. I just hoped she would be as good a traveler as her big brother always had been. The shopping trip exhausted me, and while I slept, once again Billy fixed dinner, cooking hamburgers on our old grill that we would definitely be leaving behind.
Sunday, we had quite a surprise when Gene and Ruth knocked on our door. Gene wanted to see his new granddaughter, his only granddaughter, and why Ruth came with him was a mystery since I am sure she did not care a thing in the world about our baby. She just did not want Gene out of her sight! Nor did she want him talking to Billy without her right there! As usual, one could almost see their breath in the chill of the air in our small apartment during their brief stay. There was little doubt in my mind I would always be uncomfortable around this woman, but soon we would be far enough away not to even give her a thought, except for her treatment of the boys, of course. Her attitude was one of superiority, and she seemed to look down her nose on everyone in her presence.
Not realizing the last thing that I needed was candy, Gene had brought me a box of Whitman’s assorted chocolates, but nothing for the baby. Not even an insurance policy as he had given us for Michael, although we had been making the payments since Billy received his commission. I do not think Gene knew what to do with a little girl anymore than Billy had, but while he sat in the rocking chair, Billy handed the baby to him. I knew from the expression on his face, which was the softest I had ever seen, that if Ruth would allow it, he would love this little girl like no other, but that would never happen now. Ruth’s delight was that we were leaving soon, and it was obvious no one could have been happier about the long distance we were putting between Gene and his only granddaughter than she was. Before they left, I thanked them for the candy, which I intended to give to Major Mac, and Billy told his father we would see them on Good Friday afternoon so we could say good-bye to the boys, and for them to meet their newborn niece. Ruth looked surprised and taken aback by this statement but I was not to know why until later, and it is probably a good thing we did not. Surely, she did not expect Billy to leave for Hawaii, then Vietnam, without first saying goodbye to his adored little brothers!
That evening, with Margie asleep on Billy’s chest while he was resting on the couch, his heartbeat, and the warmth of his body having lulled her, I snapped their photo, which became one of my most precious possessions. Now it sits in a small gold frame on Margie’s bedside table since I gave it to her when she gave birth to her first son, Matthew William. Father and daughter, how handsome he was, even with his shaved head, and how peaceful the two of them look sleeping so soundly, while even in her slumber she knows her father by his heartbeat. This tiny little girl resting so comfortably in her father’s strong arms, what would the future hold for her, for him, for all of us?
Tuesday, Billy insisted I needed a break, and I knew I needed a change, so disgusted I was by my still large stomach; I made an appointment to go to the beauty shop at the Officers’ Club and have my hair frosted. This was all the newest ‘rage’, and with a heavy frosting, I could look ‘almost’ blonde without the constant touch up for dark roots. I had watched as my own mother continued to bleach her hair, not questioning her right to ‘splurge’ and feed her ego, although often there was very little food in the house for us to eat. She had also assured us she was really a blonde, and my only question had been if she was a blonde, then why did she need to bleach her hair? A question that always remained unanswered to her dying day. Billy had always preferred blondes, but with each pregnancy my dark blond hair had turned darker and darker until now it was a medium brown with few highlights. I was not blessed with even the gray that was beginning to show at Billy’s temples whenever he needed a haircut, which was nothing more than a ‘shave’. We now had even more extra money after Bill paid us for the furniture, and Billy’s per diem from Ranger School was not gone yet either, so he drove me to the beauty shop and then took both of the children home. He agreed if I were not finished by 3 pm he would bring Margie back to the shop so I could nurse her and by then my breasts would be fully engorged and throbbing, and she would be very hungry. I was not nearly finished by 3:00 p.m., and when he arrived, my hair was in the frosting stage where half the hair is pulled through holes in a rubber cap, and mine had first turned a bright orange as it bleached to blond.
I could not help but wish I had a camera to capture the expression on his face as he stared horrified at my ‘Clara belle Orange’ mop, and with an anxious tone in his voice, said “I hope you’re not even close to being finished!” I played along for a while and asked him what was wrong with my new color, and did he not like it, but then I could no longer keep a straight face and assured him I was just in the first stage of the color change while the beautician laughed aloud.
“See what we women go through just to keep ourselves attractive for our man?” she said.
I could tell though that Billy was still quite dubious about the outcome. After I finished nursing the baby, both to my relief and to Billy’s, since he did not have any emergency bottles like we had with Michael, he took the children home again and said he would be back at 5pm, the time the beautician assured him I would be a ‘new woman’. I will have to admit, at that time in the process, I had my own doubts, but the finished product was pretty. I was now more blond than brunette, and my handsome husband was very, very pleased.
“I love your hair this way!” he exclaimed when he saw the ‘new’ me, and he asked me always to keep it frosted. At least I now looked better than I felt, since I was still so sore that my ‘doughnut cushion’ was my constant companion, and I had threatened to tie it onto my bottom!
Thursday afternoon Billy asked me to get dressed since he just HAD to take his daughter to Headquarters Company and show her off. We had already received a silver cup as a gift from the O.C.S. School, in addition to the flowers, so Billy wanted his fellow officers and the N.C.O. personnel to meet his new pride and joy. I was still too sore to walk very far, and I felt so bloated and fat that I told him I would go if I could stay in the car while he took both Michael and Margie inside with him, and reluctantly he agreed. Every moment I could, I would close my eyes for a catnap, so I did not mind waiting, and the longer he stayed, the better, for me. We would be in Hawaii before time for my six-week check-up, and we had a long way to go to get there. I certainly had not felt this much pain for this long after Michael was born, and I just hoped everything was all right and I would be able to tolerate the long trip ahead of us.
Billy changed and dressed Margie into one of her lacy pink dresses, with ruffled rubber pants covering her diapers and tiny white socks with pink lace. He seemed thoroughly to enjoy dressing her in her feminine finery, so while he took care of her, I dressed Michael in one of his new outfits, and Billy wore a pair of khaki pants and a long-sleeve plaid shirt I had given him for Christmas. About the only casual clothes I could wear comfortably was a wrap-a-round skirt and a white blouse that buttoned down the front for ease of nursing. Billy had repeated his earlier request that he did not want me to nurse in the car when we were in the city in case a truck stopped beside us and the driver could see inside of our car. “Those breasts are still mine,” he said, “and just on loan to our daughter.”
While I sat in the car and watched my family go inside the building, I thought what a handsome husband and children I had, that God had very been good to me. There was little doubt our marriage was now stronger than it ever had been, and was becoming more so with each passing day. It was a rarity, rather than a ‘given’, that we exchanged angry words with each other, and both of us had learned how to be ‘kind’ and to respect one another’s thoughts and feelings. Then I thought back to how quickly Billy and I had fallen in love. He had always said the first time he saw me he fell in love with me, and he knew right away I was the girl he was going to marry, and it had taken just one date and a hundred kisses for me to fall head over heels in love with him too. We were both still very much in love with each other, and I was sure we always would be. For all the hardships and the problems we had come through, we had wound up on top and made our marriage work, and life could not get much better than this. Oh, we still had our disagreements and we always would. We were two headstrong, yet very different personalities, but in spite of our differences, love had always held us together, and I knew that in the end that was what counted.
Like the teasing verse from younger days, I thought, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Billy wheeling a baby carriage!” Indeed, we both had wheeled our small son in his stroller, and now it was our daughter’s turn. I watched Billy as he walked back to the car with his infant daughter in his arms and his handsome son holding his hand, and my love poured out to all of them while I just hoped I could protect them from hurt and from harm forever.
Billy was in great spirits by the time he reached the car and said everyone had to hold the baby, and that Sgt. Tuttle, especially, had been awed with this tiny girl. Pride obvious on his face and in his voice, he handed her to me, got into the car, and for the last time we left Ft. Benning. We passed the jump towers and the student classrooms, and headed for the first leg of our great adventure. As I watched the familiar scenery pass my window, I could not help but wonder what was in store for our little family around the next long bend in the river and when would we once again be together here at Ft. Benning.
As Billy drove through the front gate for the last time, the M.P. saluted my handsome Airborne Ranger. I thought back to our very first trip to Ft. Benning, and how Billy had driven around and around for the honor of receiving and returning the guard’s salute. Oh, how far we had come since then – Billy had fulfilled his dreams, so far, and we both had grown up. Obviously, we were still very much in love with each other, but only Billy and I would ever know just how much – that was our secret, but we knew it would always be ‘more than life itself’.