At midnight, the grandfather clock announced the time. It was old, worn and grossly out-of-tune, but never missed a beat.
Ding, dong — clang. It repeated itself twelve times, representing each hour.
Trying to compete with the noise, the young mother’s wailing cries echoed throughout the house.
“Curtis! Wake up! My water broke!”
Startled, her husband woke from a deep, restful sleep. The sound of the clock with its irritating melody, combined with yells from his wife, confused him in his state of absolute tranquility. In the near dark, he tried to untangle himself from the covers to rescue whatever was in distress. Instead, he fell to the floor with a heavy thunk.
She’d been awake for a while and spent the time cleaning herself, then gathered a few toiletries from the bathroom.
With the continued dinging, donging and clanging, she yelled again.
“Curtis! Did you hear me?”
Unscathed, other than his pride, he mumbled, “Dammit to hell. Again? What? What is it? Another false alarm?”
He conjured a deep, surprised response while lying on the floor.
“What do you mean your water broke?”
Panicked, she flipped on the glaring bedroom light and packed a small leather suitcase.
“The baby’s coming. We have to get to the hospital… now!”
Cinderella thought she had it tough, this was no match.
The clock went silent, and Curtis lifted himself from the floor, jumping on one foot attempting to put on his pants… hiding and stifling a yawn so she wouldn’t see. Curtis scratched his head in confusion, though he shouldn’t be —it had been this way the entire length of the pregnancy; one problem after another. Groggy, he staggered around to find a shirt, socks, and shoes.
Digging through the dresser, he said, “I thought you weren’t due until July.”
Worried and concerned, she reached for her husband’s hand. Swollen with a baby and in pain, took a moment and dropped to her knees. Curtis stood by his wife. She let go of his hand, clasped hers together and prayed.
“Please, Lord, don’t let the baby come too early.”
Ignoring her prayers, he blurted out, “Have you seen my tie?”
Forgoing her sincere prayer, she went from the holiness of a saint to a woman from the underworld in two seconds flat.
“Forget the damn tie!”
She reached for the dresser and pulled herself up from the floor and returned to her small suitcase, snapped it shut and waddled toward the door.
“We have to go.”
This whole ordeal seemed like a sign of things to come for the yet unborn child.
They arrived at the hospital within minutes and rushed her to delivery. Her husband was at her side but whisked away and ordered to the waiting room.
In those days, women’s rights were not a topic, and the hospital delivery room was a metaphor for that sentiment. It was cruel at best, barbaric at worst. Fathers were never allowed in or near the delivery room. Any communication about the progress was only back and forth communication with an orderly or nurse. The doctors were gods and never questioned, and the patient intuitively remained subservient.
All the humiliation and embarrassment young women went through to have a baby, almost made motherhood not worth the trade. At most hospitals, there is a psych ward somewhere around, and I’m convinced many of these new mothers got to spend a few days there.
After several hours of labor, it was time. The baby was as eager to come out as much as the mother was to keep it in.
The doctor was in position and gave the final order.
She strained and screamed so loud that her husband heard the cries all the way down in the waiting room. He paced back and forth and was biting his fingernails down to the nub. The screaming stopped, and all he heard was an unnerving silence —followed with more nail-biting.
The baby saw its first ray of light, but lifeless.
“We have a blue baby!” cried a nurse.
The doctor cut the cord and took the infant over to a nearby warmer and did a quick assessment, swept the mouth, and suctioned the nostrils. He removed his surgical gloves, and like rubber bands, shot them into a wastebasket.
“That’s all I can do. Nurse, call me if anything changes.”
“Yes, doctor. We will get the mother ready to move.”
“Good. And you,” — pointing to an orderly — “clean up this mess.”
The doctor glared at him.
“Sorry. Yes, doctor.”
As soon as the doctor left, a nurse muttered, “What an asshole.”
After some tense moments, the baby’s skin tone returned to normal, then the nurse offered comforting news.
“Don’t worry, everything is fine. The cord may have gotten tangled around the neck.”
An aide leaned in close to the new mother and added, “He may be a jerk, but he wouldn’t have left if there was a problem.”
Another nurse finished cleaning the newborn, and the mother asked, “May I hold my baby?”
“In a few minutes. I need to dress and wrap her.”
“Yes, Mrs. Reynolds, you had a little girl.”
That was the first time she got the news the baby was a female.
The smell of ether lingered, and Mrs. Reynolds was still woozy from its effect and laid flat on blood-stained bedding. The nurse fluffed her pillow, then placed the baby on her chest.
“Be careful, she’s delicate and weak. You can have a few minutes, then we have to take her away.”
She cradled and gently stroked her hair, then whispered, “Hello, Clair. Happy birthday.”
Two of the nurses were mothers themselves and shared a moment of joy with Mrs. Reynolds, but that joy was soon interrupted. While the nurses were celebrating, a tech entered the delivery room with some test results, and it revealed the baby was Rh incompatible, meaning the newborn’s blood type was positive; the mother’s, negative. It can be a lethal cocktail.
Everyone was quick into action, including the doctor who returned to handle this emergency. Treatment options were limited in those days, and many newborns died because of it. Clair showed symptoms of anemia and was becoming jaundice. To avoid further damage, the doctor ordered a blood transfusion and took Clair away from her mother. Two hours later, they sent Clair to another room for the procedure. Not a pleasant way to start day one.
With the transfusion complete, all that remained was an empty bottle of blood still hanging above the young patient. The IV needle was removed, leaving a few drops of blood behind on her tiny arm.
Clair got introduced to the world with little fanfare, but came a few weeks early, and by all standards in Nineteen-fifty-seven was premature.
She remained in critical condition for several days, and her chances of making it out of the hospital remained thin. The troubles she endured, literally began at birth, but fought and won her first of many battles to come. She learned as an infant the skills to survive, and it would be those skills Clair employed for the years that lie ahead.
The best picture, “Around the World in Eighty Days” got the Hollywood nod, and Elvis Presley was “all shook up” the year Clair was born. The best picture and top song seemed symbolic for what was to become her life. She was shaken emotionally, and instead of an eighty-day trip; her resolve took many years.