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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

John Is Born

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/23/2024
Occurred: 11/12/1976
Posted: 11/12/2007
Updated: 11/12/2015
Page Views: 4252
Topics: #JohnDavidCilwa
The birth of my only son.
Who:John David Cilwa
Date and time:November 12, 1976 3:00 PM
Father:Paul Sigmund Cilwa
Mother:Mary Ann Steinberg Cilwa

"An accident is something that you wouldn't do over again if you had the chance. A surprise is something you didn't even know you wanted until you got it." So said "Roseanne" to her youngest child and only son, "D. J." on her self-titled TV show.

The conception of my son, John, was certainly no accident, though it seemed like one at the time. It definitely proves, though, that humans cannot thwart the Will of God (no matter what the fundamentalists seem to believe). And, also, that our God-selves know far better what we need and want, than our Earth-selves.

In early 1976, Mary and I had three little girls, the youngest of whom was not yet walking. I loved all three of them dearly. And I loved being a daddy. There is absolutely no feeling in the world that can beat coming home from work and having babies run and crawl in a bee-line to the door so they can hug you and smother you with kisses and giggles. In my heart I knew I would love four babies as much as three. Or forty. Or four hundred. I've never been one of those people who imagines that love has limits.

On the other hand, the wallet does. I had a low-paying job, not as low as some but every month was a struggle to keep up with rent, utilities, and regular food, not to mention baby food and clothes. We were forced to come up with innovative solutions for problems most people solve with money. For example, I couldn't afford a crib so the babies' room contained nothing but mattresses which I had gotten used and on sale. The babies slept in a puppy pile. There were those who thought we were causing irreparable psychological trauma (despite the fact, as I pointed out, that our babies were sleeping in the way most human children have slept for nearly a million years, and their ancestors before that). Fortunately, time has proven me right. My kids, now in their thirties, are still much closer than their friends are to their siblings; and have proved to be amazing sources of support to each other.

But the point is, I was fearful of the future (something I now recommend against). So when my favorite aunt, Lou, died and left me $1200, it meant I had the money to get a vasectomy.

Mary had been taking birth control pills, so she said, when she conceived our first child, Dorothy. It's not that we didn't want children; we just had intended to wait until I had a decent job and we could afford a child. It turned out that she had been taking the pills "when she thought of it" which wasn't, as it turned out, an effective technique.

So, after Dottie's birth, Mary and I went carefully over the directions on the birth control pill packaging. Mary was concerned: She didn't intend to miss a day—but what if she did? The instructions said that if you miss a day, take two the next.

I thought the issue was resolved. I didn't realize that Mary would extrapolate from those instructions, that if she missed two days, take three pills the next. If she missed four days, take five the next. And so on. In fact, why worry? She just waited until the end of the month, and took them all.

Her breasts got bigger, and she got pregnant with our second.

After Karen was born, we decided, since the pills weren't working, to try "astrological birth control". All you have to do is find out, from an ephemeris, exactly what phase the moon was in when the mother was born. Full? Two days past New? Whatever. That is the day the woman ovulates. All you have to do is avoid sex two days before and two days after. Using this technique, Mary avoided pregnancy longer than any time thus far in our marriage.

But then I joined the Navy, and was gone away to Boot Camp for three months. When I returned at Christmas, it never occurred to me to calculate where the Moon was. And, again, Mary again got pregnant.

So, after Jenny was born, I began to seriously consider a vasectomy. It seemed like the right thing to do, both for the planet and for my babies. I knew I would love any future babies, but it seemed wisest to devote what resources I had to the babies who had already been born…even though that meant I would never have a son.

Now, I know that a modern man isn't supposed to be sexist about his children. And I'm not; I do not find my girls to be "less than" boys in any way. They are strong, capable, creative, wonderful people. But, after having been daddy to three girls, I wanted to see, I guess, if it would be different with a boy. And I can guarantee that if I had had three boys, I would have wanted a girl equally. I can't really explain it, other than that there seemed to be a vacuum that only a boy would fill. But I couldn't guarantee that the next baby would be male. We've all heard of people who had 12 or 20 kids "trying for" a boy or a girl. And I couldn't afford any more, I felt. So I made the appointment with Dr. Langston for my vasectomy.

By now, I worked at the Florida State Division of Forestry as a Fire Control Dispatcher. The operation was scheduled for a Friday. I got the day off work, and we dropped the babies off at my Mom's to be watched. We were just about to get in the car to drive the doctor's, when the doctor's office called us. "I'm sorry," the receptionist said, "but Dr. Langston has a terrible cold today and isn't coming in. We'll have to reschedule your surgery for next week."

Which we did. Which left Mary and me at home, with no work, no kids, and nothing to do. By the time I had the vasectomy a week later, Mary was, as it turned out, already pregnant with our fourth child.

When the baby was due, having learned my lesson from previous, less-well-planned deliveries, I was ready. I now had a movie camera (also thanks to Aunt Lou's bequest) and film and fresh batteries. My job included insurance that would pay the hospital bill. The people at my job were supportive. I made no secret of the fact that I was delighted the postponed vasectomy had relieved me of any guilt associated with bringing another baby into this overcrowded world. Clearly, God wanted our new baby to born. All we had to do was care for it and love it.

By now, Mary was an old hand at delivering babies. I was at work (at the top of the fire tower) and she was vacuuming when the labor pains started. She put away the vacuum before calling me. We lived on the tower site; I came down the tower, and got my camera gear in the car while she loaded her overnight bag. My Mom and Gramma were there in fifteen minutes to baby-sit, while I drove Mary to St. Augustine General.

The delivery was fast and simple—so fast it almost took Dr. DeVito by surprise. In the home movie, John suddenly spits out of his mother like a watermelon seed. No muss, no fuss, except for one small streak of stray blood on the baby's forehead. As Karen said, watching the film a few years later, "Oh, isn't that cute—he was eating jelly in there!" (Apparently she had been concerned that babies awaiting birth might be bored while in the womb.)

By 1976, deliveries were far more sophisticated than had previously been the case. Studies had shown that babies born in "quiet birth", with no bright lights or loud noises or wallops-on-the-butt were healthier than those subjected to traditional hospital deliveries. In fact, St. Augustine General had even set up its delivery room for this technique. Unfortunately, it was already in use when we showed up. So John had to be delivered in an operating room, and one that had not yet been cleaned up from what appeared a very messy operation, or possibly an exorcism. The walls were literally smeared with blood. Fortunately, neither Mary nor I were freaked out about that. After his arrival John was immediately placed on his Mommy's tummy and she and I were urged to caress our newborn, which we did. His skin was liberally coated with black hairs, and with a waxy substance. Not having been spanked, he never cried. The doctor didn't recommend putting the baby to breast because Mary did not intend to breast feed. But I let him suck on my knuckle for a bit. He seemed tired, but calm.

After a bit, the nurses cut his umbilical cord and cleaned him up, returning him as quickly as possible to his mother and me. St. Augustine General was a very small (and very new) hospital so there wasn't, right away, any other place for Mary to recover. So they left us in the operating room, even allowing Mary to have visitors there.

Her first visitors were my sister, Mary Joan, and her husband. Mary Joan was, herself, pregnant with her third child and was not looking forward to the ordeal. Mary Joan was the one who had hesitated to get married at all, because she was afraid to take the blood test. And she was the one who, while being made to wait in the hall while in labor, overheard from the delivery room someone shout, "God! Who'd have thought it would splurt like that?!" So you can imagine how difficult it was for Mary Joan to be a pleasant visitor focusing on Mary, when she couldn't keep her eyes off the blood-drenched walls.

In three days, Baby Johnny (named John David, after my best friend) and his mother came home. We'd been given a bassinet which we placed next to our bed.

But, for as peaceful a baby as Johnny had been at the hospital, he was fretful at home. We gave him his little sterilized bottles of carefully-prepared formula, but he always spit them up. He could keep a little water down, but not the formula. Mary took him to our pediatrician, a doctor I did not like. She told Mary nothing was wrong; just be patient.

Meanwhile, Johnny was turning grey. He cried weakly all day and all night. Mary, exhausted after trying to care for him and his sisters while I was at work, had no energy left at night. I took over then. I softly played classical music on the stereo while I rocked my infant son back and forth in our rocking chair. As the weeks passed, and the pediatrician insisted nothing was wrong, and Johnny continued to lose weight—at two weeks old, he weighed less than when he was born!—it began to look as if we were going to lose our baby boy.

As I rocked him at night, with no one else to hear, I cried, my tears spilling onto his tiny body. "Please don't die," I begged him. "Maybe this isn't the life you thought it would be, I've heard of that happening. But it can still be a life worth living! And I promise, no other parents could love you more than we do." Maybe it was my imagination; maybe he really did calm a little. But he still didn't gain weight.

Then, one day, I was at my own doctor's to have a harmless cyst removed from my back. When the doctor remarked how tired I looked, I spilled the whole story to him. "Sounds like the baby's allergic to milk," Dr. Langston remarked casually. "Have you tried soy formula?"

I felt as if the sky had opened up. Could it really be that simple?

I bought soy baby formula on my way home, and mixed it when I got there, and fed the first bottle of it to Johnny myself. And held my breath.

He kept it down.

And stopped crying.

That was it. Johnny had a milk allergy. Dr. Langston was of the opinion it came about because Mary had never breast fed, not one drop. "We need friendly bacteria, lactobacillus acidophilus, to digest milk," he explained. "We aren't born with it; we have to get that bacteria somehow. It may be introduced into the body with the first breast milk, which isn't really milk but something called colostrum. Even mothers who don't intend to breast feed, should let their babies have at least one feeding of colostrum."

Now they tell us!

One day, a few months later, at the store I found sold in a regular half-gallon carton, "acidophilus milk" for the health-conscious. This milk contained "live acidophilus cultures". By now Johnny was healthy and happy, an active and alert infant who was packing on the pounds and making up for lost time. I figured he could tolerate one experiment, so I gave him a bottle of the acidophilus milk. And then another. He kept them all down. Afterwards, I tried giving him regular baby formula and he kept that down, as well. His nearly-fatal milk allergy was a thing of the past.

Johnny smelling a magnolia blossom: 1978 (2 years old)

While his sisters may have sometimes suspected that Johnny was my "favorite", which wasn't true except that he was my favorite Johnny (I also have a favorite Dottie, Karen and Jenny) I can't deny that spending all those nights with him lying on my chest, begging him to hold onto life built up a special bond between us. He also had an advantage in the family line-up in that he was the youngest—the vasectomy put an end to what might have been an endless parade of babies—and so got to be the "baby" of the family for more years than any of the others. I could as validly claim that Johnny, now John, was his sisters' favorite; they certainly devoted a lot of time and attention to him.

John explores a water spigot: 1981 (4 1/2 years) Making friends with a caterpillar: 1984 (8 years)

Today is his 39th birthday. He's a father himself, cruelly separated from his son by a shrewish ex-wife. My heart aches for what he's had to go through. Yet he's managed to hold his head high, do excellent work as a graphic designer, sometimes even worked with me which is always a special pleasure. It's so cool when one's little boy grows and becomes an adult with his own unique contributions and knowledge.

And even cooler when he grows up to become one of the people in the world I most admire.

At Disneyland: 2006 (30 years)