Thirty-three years ago today, I drank a bottle of Castor oil and got sicker than a yard dog with scours. This after I’d eaten half a watermelon. This after I’d gone nearly four weeks overdue with my firstborn.
It’s not just some old wives tale.
Or if it is, it worked for me.
Within hours of supping that nasty oily stuff down, I was puking it all back up.
Mama told me to do it. Handed the bottle over to me. “Take this,” she said. Mama was tired of waiting on me to deliver that grandbaby.
We didn’t know then if it was a boy or a girl. We only knew that whatever their gender, they weren’t inclined to move out of a comfortable spot.
The Castor oil, Mama assured me, would move things along.
People laugh when I tell them I gave birth to my firstborn child in a trailer on my mama’s bed but it’s not a joke. It’s the gosh-honest truth.
Tim and I had just graduated from Oregon State University that June. Jimmy Carter was president. Nobody was hiring. Neither one of us had jobs or health insurance. Mama paid for her grandbaby to be born. She’s never let me forget that. I’ve offered to give him back a few times but she has rejected my generous nature.
Tim says all along he knew it was going to be a boy. I think that’s just because he wanted one. His clairvoyant powers usually go backwards, not forwards. He wanted to name our boy Stephanos Zacharias but I put my foot down over that. Way too ethnic a name for a girl who’d just been a couple of years out of Georgia.
How about Beau or Bubba? I suggested.
We settled on Stephan, with the wonky spelling that made everyone want to call him Ste-Vaughn. I hate when parents give kids wonky names. I should have insisted on Bubba. Nobody ever pronounces that name wrong and besides our boy grew up to be a Bubba if there ever was one.
I blame it on the fact that he was born in a trailer on his grandmama’s bed.
This was the late 70s and it was Oregon, afterall. Hippies of every shape and size roamed the countryside. One of them lived on a piece of property outside Hillsboro, Oregon, where they built a bunch of little KOA type cabins. For a few dollars more a woman could go to those cabins and give birth if she wanted.
I should have done that.
Instead, I had the hippie doctor and his midwife mate come to Mama’s trailer to deliver my firstborn. Did I mention that even though I had a college education I didn’t have a lick of sense?
I didn’t have the good sense to be afraid of all the things that can go wrong with a delivery. I’d learn those things later when I worked for a pediatric office. I wouldn’t have a baby at home now if the Holy Spirit himself left me great with child, which is the only way I could possibly get pregnant now anyway. Do what you want but there won’t be any birthing of no babies on this grandma’s feather bed.
If I had known then that my firstborn’s birth would be the easiest of all the births to follow I might have enjoyed it a little more but as it was I was too busy puking my guts out. Thank you for that Castor oil, Mama.
Tim, he was holding the trash can into which I was now dry heaving, and singing me stupid songs. Mostly he sang to me the only song he knew all the words to — The Battle of New Orleans. I have absolutely no idea why a boy raised up on the mission field in the remote hinterlands of Ecuador would know that song at all. How come he wasn’t singing Woody Guthrie’s Roll on Columbia? Either way his singing was getting on my one last good nerve and my puking was getting on his.
Mama, who happened to be a nurse, kept coming to the back of the trailer to check on me. At one point she mustered up all the compassion deep within the cold-heart of Nurse Ratched and remarked, “I don’t think you are handling this very well.”
I soooo wanted to respond, “Would you like to trade places?”
Because I have to tell you I would have rather been held hostage by the Iranians at that moment than dealing with all that.
By all that I mean, Mama and Tim.
And then the firemen.
And the policemen.
Seems Mama, who lived in a mobile home retirement community, hadn’t bothered to tell her neighbors that I might be giving birth on her bed anytime soon. The trailers, all owned by people 50 and over, were wedged in together like slices of pie. Plenty of wide space on the front end, but only feet between them on the back-end, where Mama’s bedroom was and where I was making a bunch of racket during what somebody, likely a man in academia, has wrongly labeled “transition”.
What they meant to say is purgatory. That place where all the gnashing of teeth goes on.
Our labor coach had hinted that sometimes a woman will feel a gentle urge to push, but she never mentioned that it felt more like trying to stop the Mississippi River from flooding through a front door peephole. Try as I might the forces of nature were working against me and I was growing more aggravated by the minute.
Neither Mama nor Tim had yet called the midwife or the doctor. I think they both figured it was going to be an all-night and next-day affair.
Finally when I mentioned that my water had broke, Mama told Tim to make the call.
Our boy was born 20 minutes after the hippie doctor arrived.
While the fireman and the police and EMTs were standing on the front porch pounding at the door, and trying their best to muscle their way past my sister’s rather beefy boyfriend, who was doing his best to assure the EMTs and police that nobody was butchering anybody in the back bedroom.
Apparently, they didn’t know about the hippie doctor from Hillsboro.
I think the neighbors told them Mama was killing me.
Stephan Paul came into this world in dramatic fashion and has lived his life that way ever since. Nobody in this family is funnier or as quick-witted as him. He has all of his daddy’s best qualities and all of my worst ones. Poor thing.
Tim nor I slept a wink the night he was born.
When I had him to myself that next afternoon, I held him close and wept.
If miracles aren’t worth weeping over, what is?
In one of those God poetry moments, it turns out that our daughter is pregnant with our first grandchild at the same time that I was 33 years ago. It’d be okay with me if she went into labor and delivered that baby boy on her brother’s birthday, but rest assured I am not giving her any watermelon or Castor oil or a combination of the two.
We are all content to wait until the scheduled C-Section on Friday.
But I do want to take a moment to say, Happy Birthday Bubba Stephan. We love and miss you.
We will all celebrate you and your new nephew when you come back to the lower 48.
Meanwhile, here’s a little birthday diddy for you: