I was a 39-year-old divorceé living in a basement apartment in Saginaw, 145 miles away from family. I had one daughter living with her father and grandparents a few miles away. She was seven.
To break the news to Olivia that she would soon be a big sister, I took her to McDonald’s and gave her a card with Crystal’s ultrasound in it. Underneath the black-and-white photo I’d written, “Hi, Olivia. My name is Crystal, and I’m going to be your little sister. I can’t wait to meet you on April 15th.”
She jumped up from her seat and hugged me. “I’m going to be a big sister!” she cried. Tiny tears shone in her eyes. She couldn’t have smiled any brighter if I’d told her we were moving to Disney World. Every time we eat at that McDonald’s, she points to the table where we ate that day and says, “That’s where you told me I was going to be a big sister.”
Two weeks before my due date, I hired a certified doula named Kim for $500. Actually, my parents hired her, since I could barely afford to pay my rent. Normally, a doula assists a woman through pregnancy, labor and childbirth. Since I hired her so late in my pregnancy, Kim’s job would be to help me through labor and birth.
Olivia startled me when she was born by arriving nearly three weeks early. My water broke at 2:30 a.m. and Olivia’s father drove me to the hospital and never left my side. He had hung back once the doctor got down to business, standing off to one side and tonelessly repeating, “Way to be, Kelly, way to be.” I wanted to hit him with a bedpan. I was giving birth, not hiking a football.
But at least he was there.
The second time around, there would be no father in the delivery room. None of my family or friends could commit to being there, either. I didn’t even have someone to drive me to the hospital once labor began. I never felt so lonely in my life.
"Call an ambulance,” I was told. No way. That was too pathetic, too pitiful. Besides, an ambulance would get me to the hospital, but the ambulance would not guide me and support me in the delivery room. After I came across an article about doulas in a pregnancy magazine I was perusing before an OB appointment, I decided to ask my OB for his advice. He gave me Kim’s number, and I said a prayer as I dialed it in the solitude of my apartment that evening. My prayer was answered.
Kim not only came immediately when I called her on the big day, but she helped me pack last minute items to take to the hospital. I wanted to take my own nightgown and robe, but Kim advised me not to. If I hadn’t taken her advice, the gown and robe would have been ruined.
So many babies were being born on April 14th, 2011 that I was in urgent care playing rummy with Kim while I waited for a delivery room to come available. When a room finally opened up, I walked there. Soon afterward, the contractions came sharp and quick. Kim gently massaged me and talked me through my breathing exercises. My mother managed to arrive before Crystal burst wailing into the world and I was grateful for her presence. I know someday Crystal, too, will be pleased to know her “Mowie” was there from the beginning.
Mom drove Crystal and me back to the basement apartment 48 hours later. She carried Crystal inside, and then she nurtured us for the next three days. She helped me shop for groceries, fed me, and cleaned up. She changed diapers, helped me give the baby her first real bath and completely took over baby care duties for stretches of time when I needed to sleep and shower.
For five months, Crystal and I lived alone together. Now we have a basement apartment in my parents’ house, an apartment far grander than any I’ve ever set foot in elsewhere. With all the love and support we get from Mowie and Yé Yé (Grandpa), Crystal doesn’t need a father. When I come home from work, Crystal cries, “Mama!” and comes running, grinning from ear to ear.
The only time it gets better is when Olivia comes to visit. Then we are complete. We are family.
— By Kelly O'Toole, Tribune community columnist