“Now that you’re living in Bronxville, you know you need to start having more kids right? Everyone here has at least three.” The other first grade mom looked at my seven years flat stomach with one hand on her third trimester belly and a toddler on her hip. I smiled and asked when she was due.
“We have to get started now if we want four kids,” I would tell my husband Doug over warmed up cans of Campbell’s vegetable soup or spaghetti topped with whatever pasta sauce was on sale that week at the Kroger Supermarket.
“Three kids is enough,” he would counter, without looking up from his Feline Anatomy textbook. He was in his second year of vet school at Ohio State, but with five more years of training ahead, there was never going to be a perfect time to have kids. So we went with imperfect.
“If we have three, it’ll always be two against one. We need to have four to even things out.” Sandwiched between two brothers, my husband got that logic.
Always the planner, I had it all mapped out. I would teach and support us while Doug finished school. There would be plenty of time to write that great American novel later. Pregnant with my first at twenty-five, we could have three more kids before we were too old to get down on the floor and play with them.
“Of course your ribs hurt. You’re petite and that baby you’re carrying is getting very big.” My OB with her Mid-Western reserve and no-nonsense haircut make me feel like a hysterical New Yorker. I spent the rest of my third trimester telling myself to suck it up when the searing pain in my right rib cage kept me up at night.
A week past my due date, I was relieved to deliver a healthy eight- and- a -half pound baby girl by C-section. We named her Molly. The next night, my husband’s voice broke through my Oxycodone induced stupor.
“Did you say DIC? Did you just say my wife is in DIC?” Doug whisper yelled at two Labor & Delivery nurses with Molly asleep on his shoulder. The nurses been discussing my case in low toned threads of medical lingo that most other new dads couldn’t have translated.
“Death is coming! That’s what we say when dogs go into DIC at the animal hospital. Death is coming!”
Doug didn’t tell them that the more cynical vets also called it Dog in Cooler.
It turns out the constant and unbearable pain in my rib cage wasn’t from squeezing an eight and a half pound baby into my 5’1” size 0 body. It was from my inflamed liver. I had a whole bucket of maladies at the same time; Toxemia, low blood platelets, DIC, and high liver enzymes, all caused by a life threatening autoimmune disease called HELLP Syndrome that affects a small percentage of pregnant women.
The original plan was for my mom to wait to make the trek to the Midwest till I got home from the hospital, so she could stay and help me take care of Molly while I healed from the C-section. When my husband called her in the morning, she had already started the twelve- hour drive with my sister, after visions of dark hooded figures leaning over my hospital bed had kept her up all night.
I spent the next week in the hospital, while my mother, sister and husband stared at me with worried looks. Six days later when it was clear I wasn’t going by the wayside like the poor dogs in coolers, Doug leaned over my bed and said “One is enough.”
The irony of being a stay at home mom who can’t have more kids wasn’t lost on me when I was too sick to return to teaching. I spent those first few years crawling up the stairs while my daughter learned to walk, and staggering my appointments with specialists in between her pediatrician check ups. I lost a small part of myself each day while I fought to get healthy. There isn’t a lot of dignity in being sick.
When Molly was six months old, my mom bought me a copy of Writer’s Market. I sat down with it heavy in my lap highlighting every magazine that might be interested in an article written by me. I spent the better part of a month typing up one page query letters and printing them with jet -black laser ink.
I was caught completely by surprise when buried between Babies R’ Us coupons and cheap Viagra ads was an email from the editor of PTO Today asking me to write an article about elementary school parent volunteers.
When the magazine arrived, my husband cut my article out and put it in a dark wooden frame. He hung it up over my desk and said it was just the first of many pieces with my byline. When I was commissioned to write another article Doug rushed to Target to buy the matching frame. And in that moment I was still the same girl he used to sit with in the student union, studying for his pre-vet classes while I labored over ten page short stories.
Eileen Palma has an English degree from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and has studied Advanced Novel Writing at Sarah Lawrence College’s The Writing Institute. Her articles have appeared in PTO Today and Our Town.
Eileen’s romantic comedy Worth the Weight placed third in the Wisconsin Romance Writer’s Fab Five contest and is currently a finalist for the Tampa Area Romance Authors contest. She recently signed with literary agent Eric Ruben of The Ruben Agency.
Eileen lives in New York with her husband, daughter and a scrappy Wire Haired Fox Terrier.
Follow Eileen on twitter @EileenEPalma