By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 7/10/2020
Occurred: 1/30/1974
Topics/Keywords: #KarenHopeCilwa
Milestone: #Birth
Page Views: 2434
The birth of my middle daughter, Karen Hope Cilwa.
Who:Karen Hope Cilwa
Date and time:January 30, 1974 3:30 PM
Father:Paul Sigmund Cilwa
Mother:Mary Ann Steinberg Cilwa

The morning of January 30, 1974 dawned with the air of expectation that marks a "special" day…because we knew, even as we awakened, that our second child would be born that day.

In slightly less than a year since the birth of our first child, things had turned around for my then-wife, Mary, and me. Our first child had been a welfare baby. I now had a job at King's Pest Control, and we had a nice garden apartment located near work; and though we didn't have health insurance, I had managed to save up enough money so that, this morning, I had in my possession a cashier's check made out to the hospital in which we planned to have the baby's delivery, in the amount of $1200. (Childbirth was a lot cheaper in those days!)

Mary and I had faithfully attended Lamaze classes; and this time I would be present, and participating in, the birth.

We knew the baby would arrive on this day because the doctor had planned it. Oh, it might have arrived early, but hadn't. And the doctor had an important golf game scheduled for the 31st, so it was decided that if the baby hadn't initiated things on its own beforehand, we would show up at the hospital promptly at 3 PM to have labor induced.

Though it was a Wednesday, I had gotten off work for the occasion. We had heard that making love—gently—was a superior method of "inducing" labor, with the added benefit that it only worked if the baby was truly ripe. So we did that about noon; and, sure enough, about 1:30 pm labor started. By 2:30 the pains were close enough together to warrant making the drive to Margate hospital. Our housemate, Jerry Sumergrad, cut classes to sit with our first baby, Dottie; and we got in our trusty 1966 Plymouth Valiant for the trip.

I was very proud of myself when we walked into the emergency room and I was able to hand the receptionist the check covering the whole procedure.

They certainly treated us differently than we'd been treated when Dottie was born. Of course, this was a different hospital. But when Dottie was born, I wasn't allowed to attend Mary in the delivery room. In fact, I was completely ignored; they didn't even inform me when, more than 24 hours after our arrival, Dottie was finally born.

Here, I was treated with the respect due to the person who had initiated the whole pregnancy…and paid for the delivery. I was allowed to bring a camera as long as neither it nor I got "in the way of the doctor or nurses." I set it up on a tripod in a corner of the delivery room, pre-focused and framed to the action. (But those photos are private; don't expect to see them here!)

Mary's final labor with Dottie lasted nearly two days; so I was surprised to see how quickly things were moving with the new one. I coached Mary with her breathing exercises, such as had been taught by the Lamaze class. However, that didn't seem to be enough; and Mary requested a spinal anesthetic. ("Give me the goddamned shot and I mean now!" was her actual phrasing.)

"The baby's coming!" the doctor warned, so I shifted to the photographer's position and began clicking. I didn't get many shots; the baby was positioned properly and emerged, gently, into the doctor's hands.

For some reason, people who look at these photos generally go, "Yuck! Gross!" And I just don't understand them. There are certain things in this world that are just messy, but that doesn't stop them from being wonderful. A meal of barbecue ribs. A baby's first birthday cake. Whitewater rafting. And there are things that can hurt, and that doesn't stop us from enjoying them, either, like skateboarding and skiing and a good game of volleyball. So I don't understand why people grimace at a photo of a birth, arguably the most miraculous moment humans can achieve, as though it were a picture of a plumber removing a hairball from a stopped-up drain.

Whenever I see those snapshots of her birth, all I see is the miracle that the love her mother and I shared had become an infant, a tiny combination of the two of us that would go on to live an independent life with its own, unique point of view and experiences that would be her own, always.

We had known the baby would probably be a girl, based on her sonograms; but at that time the prediction wasn't considered to be 100% accurate. So we decided to just keep it at "baby" and "it" until we knew for sure. We had names ready for either a girl and a boy. But now we knew: She was a girl, and her name would be Karen Hope Cilwa.

The doctor didn't have to spank her; she started crying immediately on her own, clearing her own lungs. The nurses swept her away, cleaning her up and wrapping her in blankets before presenting her to her mother and me. They rested her on Mary's tummy, and suggested that Mary, who was planning (halfheartedly) to breast feed, to take her to breast. Mary did, but milk didn't immediately come forth, which is not unusual.

Mary had breast-fed Dottie for a few weeks, but it had been painful. We had tried to prepare her for Karen, following the advice of the Lamaze instructor, by softening her nipples with lanoline and toughing them up by sanding them with a dry terrycloth towel. But it didn't actually seem to help.

So, the next morning, when I returned to the hospital to visit Mary and Karen and check up on things, I found Mary in tears. Little Karen, no bigger than a minute, was sucking so desperately that Mary's pain was stressful enough that no milk could possibly produced. When I brought this up to the nurses, they explained that the doctor's instructions were no formula for the baby because she was to be breast-fed. I asked for alternatives; and one nurse suggested giving the baby a bottle of warm water so she wouldn't suck so hard. However—she couldn't do it without doctor's orders, and he was at his golf tournament.

I went ballistic. All I could think of was my unbelievably tiny infant, totally dependent on the adults around her for her every need, being starved so the doctor could play golf. "Get him on the phone!" I ordered, loudly enough that other nurses stopped their work and looked at me as if I might be Causing A Scene. But it worked; in less than an hour—reasonable time in an age before cell phones or even pagers—the word came that baby Karen was to be given warm water in a bottle.

That helped a little, and Karen did get a bit of mother's milk (actually, colostrum, the pre-milk that mammal mothers produce before actual milk, a potent combination of nutrients and natural antibodies that help the newborn fight infection and get a good start on growing) but it never stopped being a painful experience for Mary and we went to the bottle within a week—something I opposed in theory but didn't really mind because I really loved feeding our little one myself.

I brought Mary and Karen home with me the next morning. Jerry was again watching Dottie, and when we came in I couldn't wait to show off the new baby. In fact, I was in such a hurry I tripped over some irregularity in the carpet and lost my balance. Rather than crash Karen headfirst into the wall, I managed to twist and take the brunt of the fall on my shoulder and back. It was painful for me, but Karen never cried—didn't seem to notice it. So I had managed to save her little self from danger, even if it was a danger I had unintentionally put her in.

It made me feel very fatherly.

A couple of weeks later, Mary had a photographer drop by to take "formal" pictures of her and the babies. Here's Karen's first non-birth photo:

While Dottie looks much today as she did when she was six months old, Karen's appearance has been more mutable. Fortunately, she has become just lovelier and lovelier, and has never been prettier than she is now. More importantly, she has blossomed in personality and intelligence, never peaking, always astonishing us with her ability to become more lovely, engaging, and brilliant each day. I'm happy to say she is one of the people I most admire in the world.