By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 12/11/2018
Occurred: 9/5/2007
Topics/Keywords: #JenniferAnnCilwaRizzo
Milestone: #Birth
Page Views: 1368
The birth of my youngest daughter.
USS Yosemite

In 1975 I was in the Navy, stationed on the Yosemite which was docked in Jacksonville's Mayport. My wife, Mary, and our two little girls, Dottie and Karen, lived in a beach apartment called El Patio at St. Augustine Beach. I had to sleep on my ship weeknights, but could go home for weekends.

Although Mary was certainly lonely during those weekdays I was gone, the summer days allowed her to walk outside and take the little girls to the beach every day. It was only a few steps so even though she was increasingly great with our third child, it wasn't too uncomfortable for her.

However, she didn't like the apartment. The good news was, it was very near the beach. The bad news was, it was an older building and infested with mice. We were concerned the new baby might be attacked, not to mention that lying in bed listening to hoards of mice rifle through our belongings wasn't conducive to idyllic living. So, on my weekends, we began hunting for somewhere else to live. The search wasn't easy, because we had to find a compromise between a place that would be big enough for a family of five, yet inexpensive enough for my E-4 Navy salary—and not be infested with mice.

It was during this period that I had a disturbing dream about the new baby. In the dream, I knew she would be a girl. I and the rest of the family were in a cavern, something like Luray. I looked around but couldn't find the baby. Finally I spotted her up on a ledge near the ceiling, crawling innocently around. Panicky, I climbed up by the shortest route I could find, desperate to reach her before she fell. But I failed. Just as I reached the ledge, she slipped and I couldn't catch her. I watched her drop and smash into the cavern floor fifty feet below, wriggling in pain. I awoke crying, with no idea of how to interpret the dream.

We finally settled on a trailer in a park called Breezy Brae in the area called St. Augustine South. Coincidentally, Mary and I had lived in the very same trailer park for half a year, shortly after we were married. The place was vermin-free, but in an undeveloped area so there was really nothing there to do. Still, Mary seemed to prefer it to the "mouse house" as she called it. And it did have one major benefit: It was no more than four miles down the road from the hospital at which Mary was to have the baby.

Because I was in the Navy, Mary was entitled to free and complete medical care. That was a definite plus. They weren't so precise in those days; the doctor—DeVito, our old family doctor (for both Mary's family and mine)—wouldn't pin down the delivery date closer than a week or so. I was able to get a few days off from work so I could be home for the delivery.

But as the weekend of September 6th approached, Mary showed no signs of imminent labor. So we began to think maybe it would be nice to invite my sister, Mary Joan, and her husband Joe over for an early Friday dinner, to celebrate the upcoming birth.

Of course, I didn't expect Mary to cook or anything. She was enormous and could barely move. I set her up comfortably in our bedroom to rest while I browned a mess of hamburger for my new favorite dish (I had made it once before for Mary and me), beef sukiyaki. This took somewhat longer than I expected, as I was not yet certain at what temperature to brown hamburger, plus I had never cooked for more than two people before. So our planned dinner time of 3 pm came and went as I continued to stir the crumbled hamburger meat. Looking forward to dinner, I had skipped lunch. So I was starving, and there was nothing else in the house to snack on. Plus, I didn't want to spoil my enjoyment of probably our last fancy dinner before the new baby's arrival.

By now, Mary wasn't feeling at all well and begged off dinner or even visiting with our guests. She wasn't having labor pains, she said; it was just that between the weight and size of her belly and the September heat, she didn't feel up to socializing. My sister, having had a couple of children of her own, fully sympathized. So we left Mary to rest while I attempted to get the beef sukiyaki completed.

Finally, I judged it done. I stood over the pot, ladle in hand, as Mary burst out of the bedroom. "My water broke," she announced. "I'm having the baby."

"Wonderful!" I enthused. "Let me just grab a bite of this beef sukiyaki and we'll go to the hospital."

She stared daggers at me. "I have to go now!" she insisted.

"But we live four minutes from the hospital," I pointed out. "If we still lived at the beach, it would be a twenty minute trip. So why not use a couple of those minutes we've saved so I can eat something so I don't starve to death while you're having the baby?" This made perfect sense to me.

Mary grabbed the car keys from the counter. "I'm going now if I have to drive myself!"

Joe intervened. "Why don't you bring your food on a plate, Paul, and I'll drive you both?" That made sense. Mary Joan would watch the little girls. Mary was already packed for her impending visit, so she and Joe and I hopped into Joe's car, me giving Mary a supportive left arm, while holding my plateful of beef sukiyaki in my right hand. Then Joe tore off for the hospital, covering the four miles in about two minutes, barely giving me time to swallow my excellent dinner.

In fact, I wasn't quite finished when we arrived. I didn't want to leave the paper plate with a few remaining spoonfuls of beef sukiyaki in Joe's car, so I took it with me into the emergency room. As we entered the door, a labor pain hit Mary and she bent over double; I struggled to support her and not drop the plate on the floor. A nurse swooped in and took the plate from me, which I gratefully surrendered. It was a small hospital and therefore quite efficient. They were ready for Mary; the doctor was on his way; she was brought into a room where she could rest until the delivery actually began.

"See?" I pointed out. "We would have had plenty of time to eat!"

I just got a sour look in return.

Then I realized I had a) forgotten my camera, and b) had no film in it anyway, because c) I had intended to buy a roll the next day. I wanted to take birth photos, as I had with Karen; but the opportunity had passed. (I found out years later that I could have bought a roll of film at the hospital gift shop. It didn't occur to me at the time, probably because I was still hungry.)

This being Mary's third child, the delivery was quite brief, and marred only by this exchange between Mary and Doctor DeVito, who was also Catholic and had known both Mary and me since we were kids:

Mary: "What's that?"

Nurse: "An enema."

Mary: "Shit!"

Doctor: "Mary! Watch your language."

Mary: "But I just did! —All over the table."

Jenny's first picture, with maternal grandfather Herbert Steinberg.

I held Mary's hand and coached her, as we'd been taught in Lamaze class (and practiced during Karen's delivery before this). There was a flash of pink, and I got an all-too-brief look at our new little one before she was scooped away by a nurse to be "cleaned". (How dirty can a baby get in a womb?) We were told in passing that it was a girl and she was healthy. We named her Jennifer Ann—Jennifer because Mary liked the name, and I suggested Ann after Mary's middle name. It was several hours before I got to hold her. Even then, she had an alert if mischievous gaze.


When Jenny was three months old, I had another dream concerning her. Her health was fine; she was growing and thriving and her older sisters loved her and loved playing with her, though we had to supervise since to them she was just a big, heavy doll. By then I was working for the Florida State Division of Forestry as a Fire Control Dispatcher, and we lived in a home on the fire tower site. In my dream, baby Jenny got away from us and crawled up the stairs to the top of the tower before we realized it. I raced up to the top platform and found she had crawled through a hole in the chain link fence guard. Before I could get to her, she slipped off the platform to the ground 100 feet below, and lay there writhing.

Again, I awoke in tears. Obviously my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Was Jenny destined to get into some kind of trouble that I couldn't save her from? If so, I would have to be all right with that. I clung to the awareness that, in the dream, the fall didn't actually kill her.

Jenny in June 1976, about 9 months old

Through the next ten years, Jenny exhibited a sensitivity to sugar and artificial food color. I worried about it, but couldn't convince Mary that we should withhold candy and hot dogs from all the kids.

By the time she was fifteen, she was using drugs.

The story of the drug use, shoplifting, jail time (some in Federal prison) is for another time and is really Jenny's to tell. The outcome, though, is that late last year Jenny went into a recovery home after her most recent release from jail. This is an intensive 12-step program. At its beginning, Jenny showed no more progress than any average resident there. But, somehow, that changed. The program worked. By the time of her graduation on December 31, 2006, Jenny was working in the office. As of this writing she is Program Manager, and on her way to her first year-and-a-half clean and sober since she was a teenager.

Some people come into this life with the intention of following a more difficult path. In Jenny's case, she is now able to help women in a way she could not have, had she not had the rocky experiences of the past twenty years. With an understanding of reincarnation, one can see the nobility, not only of assisting others, but also in living a drug-filled life in order to assist others. This is why one must never judge. That a person is on a path may be obvious, but it is never obvious where that path will ultimately lead. As I told Jenny on her graduation night, I always knew that day would come. But I didn't say why. It was because I clung to the hope derived from (what turned out to be) my prophetic dreams: Jenny would fall, but she would survive. And, as in my dreams, there was nothing I could do to help—she did it all on her own.

Because of that (and many other things), I'm happy to say that Jenny is one of the people in the world I most admire.

Blowing out her own candles.

Unfortunately, my dreams didn't warn about the unexpected (and expensive) line item on Mary's hospital bill: for analysis of my plate of beef sukiyaki for food poisoning, which was how the emergency room interpreted our entrance, with a doubled-over Mary on one side of me, and a paper plate of food on the other.

At least, the tests came out negative. But I haven't eaten beef sukiyaki since.