Spoiler Alert – This is Chapter 1 of My Memoir: Raising Jess: A Story of Hope
(“Rubin writes with clarity and thoughtful introspection, making for a truly enlightening read.” Kirkus Review)
On April 11, 1982, Easter Sunday, I was twenty-four years old and had chickenpox. And I was about to deliver my first child. ( Raising Jess: Did Motherhood really all start with Chickenpox?)
For a week, I complained to my doctor about a rash. For a week, he replied, “The baby is settling. Do not worry;” or, “Just put some lotion on. It must be dry skin.” I was naïve, pregnant, unaware, and truly wanted to believe it was nothing. And then my water broke.
We arrived at the local hospital and I told a few doctors about my rash. Each physician dismissed my concern. Finally, an astute nurse (probably an experienced mother) said that my rash looked like chickenpox. My mind went into overdrive, racing with anxious thoughts. How could this be? I was in labor, and I was twenty-four years old. Didn’t I already have all the childhood diseases?
Welcome to Motherhood
The nurse called in other doctors to confirm the suspected diagnosis. At this point, nobody was sure, so they ordered a biopsy of my rash to verify that I indeed had chickenpox. I clearly remember a labor pain and a scalpel removing a pox happening simultaneously. Welcome to motherhood.
Once the chickenpox diagnosis was confirmed, the local hospital had trouble dealing with the ridiculous news. My husband, Mitch, had the misfortune of a new resident telling him that it was unlikely the baby and I would survive the birth and delivery. Yes, he actually said that. Perhaps in the late 1970s and early ’80s, medical schools didn’t include the class on talking to patients and families. Maybe the resident was so overwhelmed with chickenpox, labor, and a frantic mom-to-be that he just blurted out what he was thinking rather than considering what he should say. I wonder if he is still in medicine and recalls this incident from Easter Sunday in 1982.
Mitch contacted my parents, who were in Florida and could not fly to Buffalo on such short notice on Easter Sunday. They would have to wait until Monday. My in-laws were at the hospital with us, praying for a positive outcome.
What, No Ambulance?
The attending doctor decided to move me to Buffalo Children’s Hospital (now called Oishei Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, Kaleida Health). One would assume that I would be transported by ambulance. Instead, Mitch drove the twenty-five-minute route with me laboring beside him. My labor was at the beginning stages, and since it was my first child, I believe the doctors at the first hospital thought I was not in danger of giving birth on the highway. I think they would not have taken that chance in today’s litigious world.
Meanwhile, my father-in-law was sent on a mission to get what we were told was the last vial of the varicella-zoster vaccine (for chickenpox). The serum would be administered to the baby as soon as she was born. The problem was that on Easter, the only pharmacy that had this drug was Roswell Park Cancer Hospital, and they were closing within the hour. We were told it was the only place to get it in the city.
Again, it’s hard to believe that in 1982 the hospital would send my father-in-law to pick up vital medication. What if something happened to his car? What if he dropped the drug, and it shattered, or he encountered any number of random acts of delay? Buffalo was not a rural town in the 1980s, but the way this day was unfolding, one would think we lived in Mayberry. (A small town in a 1960s sitcom, for you millennials).
Mitch and I arrived safely at Buffalo Children’s Hospital, and to our surprise, the medical staff was not alarmed about my circumstances. They admitted me into an isolation room to not spread chickenpox in the labor and delivery unit or among fellow newborns. My father-in-law was able to get the medicine while I labored for eight more uncomfortable hours at the hospital.
Jessica was born on April 11, 1982, at 8:15 p.m., and our friend Jackie promptly dubbed her our Esther Bunny, her nickname for a Jewish baby girl born on Easter. Jessica did not have chickenpox and was immediately administered the drug my father-in-law had fetched from the cancer hospital. Jess was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for monitoring, and since this was 1982, I could not see my firstborn child.
Polaroid Camara – The Best Techolgy had to Offer
There was no cell phone, FaceTime, texting, Facebook, Instagram—nothing. The 1982 version of instant photos was a Polaroid camera. Mitch bought a camera and showered me with pictures of our newborn; however, I was desperate to hold Jessica in person. My mom hormones were screaming to hold my newborn while the physicians reminded me that I was still contagious.
I was released from the hospital within thirty-six hours. The hospital said I could not see our baby or bring her home until a pediatrician in the community declared that I was chickenpox-free. Fortunately, I found a pediatrician who cleared me and sent me on my way home to motherhood.
Jessica weighed less than five pounds when she was born, although she was not delivered early. In retrospect, it was apparent that Jess had unusual facial features and other anomalies. Still, as first-time parents, we were somewhat clueless, and the doctors did not say anything to us. We had a baby nurse who had been in the profession for over thirty years. The nurse assisted us for the first month. She told us that Jess was the tiniest baby she had cared for, but she didn’t remark on any other differences and as a new member of Motherhood, I had no inkling.
Dr., Please listen to Me!
As the months passed, the pediatrician continued to assure us that Jess was developing typically. I continued to question all her delays. Interestingly, in reexamination, an inexperienced mom like me knew more about her child than an experienced physician. (Beginning steps towards advocacy)
I recently came across a letter written by my father. Dad applauded Mitch and my ability to manage the challenging birth and circumstances. He concluded that this was a brief hiccup of a start and that he looked forward to seeing Jessica develop into a wonderful daughter whom we could be proud of as he was of me. Jessica has grown into a wonderful daughter, and we have much pride, but her story is very different from mine.
Little did we know that chickenpox was the least of our worries.
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Thank you for reading and your encouraging comments, it means the world to me and May You Always Choose Hope- Vickie