Monday, June 18, 2012

Grateful I am here to write this post - Happy Birthday to me.

42 years ago, I was born. Nearly on Father's Day, as a matter of fact. I came a smidge early though. Mom had a relatively uncomplicated birth with me. Hospitals weren't baby-friendly in those days, though, and they whisked me off to the nursery. When Dad (a doctor) came to visit mom, she hadn't seen me yet. The hospital was really full, and she was in a side-room on a different floor. They wouldn't let her go see me and wouldn't bring me to her. Dad took care of THAT situation and went and retrieved me from the nursery.

All was well that ended well.

But it didn't start off well.

Shortly after Mom discovered she was pregnant, apparently she was exposed to Rubella. Rubella, also known as German Measles, is a relatively mild childhood illness, but is very dangerous to a pregnant woman.

Rubella in a pregnant woman can cause congenital rubella syndrome, with potentially devastating consequences for the developing fetus. Children who are infected with rubella before birth are at risk for growth retardation; mental retardation; malformations of the heart and eyes; deafness; and liver, spleen, and bone marrow problems.

Rubella is especially dangerous to the unborn child when the mother is exposed in the early part of her pregnancy. When Mom's OB got the results of a blood test that indicated that she had been exposed to Rubella, mom was about four months along. He sent them off to a colleague who was an expert in Rubella to get a better read on the results. That expert said that the test results indicated that she had probably been exposed to the disease during the most critical time in her pregnancy.

Mom was doing her PhD work in physiology and animal behavior at Johns Hopkins University. Her obstetricians were also there. Dad was working on a post-doc degree there. Let me be clear, Mom has her PhD in biology, specifically physiology, specializing in primates. Dad is a medical doctor. Both were working at a leading teaching hospital. Both had (and continue to have) intimate knowledge about how the human body works. They knew exactly what could happen to their unborn baby because of the Rubella.

Mom's thesis adviser strongly encouraged her to have an abortion. "You are young, why would you risk it? You can have more babies!"  Mom's obstetrician advised her of the option of medical abortion because of the danger to the baby. Although this was in 1970 and before Roe, abortion was legal in Maryland. However, mom and dad did need to make a decision quickly, as she was five months pregnant.

Mom said no. Mom had a relatively new faith, but was perfectly confident that there would be nothing wrong with me. She is a bit of a worrier (a little bit of an understatement) and so the real miracle was that she wasn't worried in the slightest.

But everybody else was. For some reason, the news about the pregnancy and the rubella complications had gotten around the hospital. Dad's colleagues talked to him about it, Mom's colleagues knew.

Dad was a bit more worried. He spoke to his father about it. My paternal grandfather was a United Church of Christ minister and my grandmother was a woman of faith, but they also knew the struggles of dealing with a debilitating illness. At the time, my grandmother was completely paralyzed with Multiple Sclerosis and they lived together in a nursing home so that my grandfather could have some help taking care of my grandmother.

My grandfather told my dad that he and my grandmother would pray about it. When my dad next talked to them, my grandfather reminded him of a scripture that said that once you have put your hand to the plow, you don't look back. He said that the child was from God and that he and my grandmother would be very supportive of Mom and Dad. That gave Dad a sense of peace about it.

Mom spent a part of her pregnancy out of the country working on her thesis research. While she was gone, her church prayed for her, and the baby. In fact, attending the church was a young doctor. Although he didn't know mom, when the group explained the situation, he was very concerned. He placed himself at the center of the group and asked them to pray over him as if he were mom. He prostrated himself on the floor before God and prayed that the baby would be "perfect in every way." My mother did not find out about this prayer until several years later.*

Aside from the rubella issue, my mother had a completely uneventful pregnancy. She continued to be unworried about the potential problems. In fact, more than one person commented on how peaceful she seemed to be.

After I was born and the pediatrician examined me, he reported to mom that, "She's perfect!" Mom, in the throes of post-labor euphoria, said, "Of COURSE she is!" The doctor looked at her to get her attention and said, "No. I mean, She. Is. Perfect. There is not one thing wrong with her."** Mom realized at that moment how very worried even the pediatrician had been.

I am very glad that my parents agreed to continue the pregnancy and not end it. I am thankful that Mom had such an assurance that she didn't have the authority to make a different decision when God had seen fit to allow the pregnancy. I am grateful to God for giving Mom the grace of complete Peace. I am thankful for my Dad's parents who gave him words of comfort and assurance. I am grateful for the many people who prayed to my parents and for me. We will never know for sure if Mom did have Rubella. She tried at least one more time to have her blood tested and was never given a satisfactory answer. I don't know if the miracle that occurred was that I was protected from the damaging effects of a dangerous virus, or if it was the more "mundane" miracles of peace in the face of a dangerous diagnosis, assurance when everyone else was questioning, and the prayers of many people occurring for one little baby. Nevertheless, miracles occurred in the spring of 1970. And then I was born.

* Mom and Dad ran into that doctor about five years ago at a medical conference. When reminded, he recalled the situation and was happy that his one act of faith had had such far reaching consequences.

** The pediatrician had no idea that the words he was saying to my mom were a direct answer to that prayer prayed on Mom's behalf. It was that much more meaningful to Mom, when she heard about the prayer several years later, and was a huge blessing for her.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Prayer in the Outland

My great-grandmother, Margarete Kayser, was born in 1883 in Boerrstadt, a little farming town in the Donnersbergkreis area of the Rhineland-Pfalz region in Germany. She was the second youngest of a family of eleven children. Her father died when she was 12 and her mother died just before she turned 19. She went to work for her father's cousin's family in Frankfurt. They had a bakery and an apartment building there. While she was there, she met my great-grandfather, Fritz (Friederich), one of the family's younger sons, who was home doing his required military service. They fell in love.

Fritz (hereafter known as Great Grampa) returned to the United States (he had come to the US earlier and returned to Germany to fulfill his compulsive service) and Gretel (his name for her) followed a year later and they were married in Springfield, Massachusetts where they settled and lived out most of their lives. They visited Germany a few times, but never stayed for long. They operated a bakery until fairly late in their lives. My great-grampa died when I was 18 mos old, and she died about a year later.

My great-grandmother inherited some of her mother's books, prayer books and hymnals and the like. Lovely little books printed in the heavy gothic German script of the late 1800s. She also kept a Book of Days (my term), a beautiful little printed book with a poem/verse for every day of the year. In it she recorded births and deaths in the family. In the back there were pages for notes, and she wrote in it. Her mother wrote in her books too. Unfortunately, even native German speakers are having a terrible time deciphering my Gr Gr Grandmother's writing. The books were not expensive, and the cheap paper and ink has deteriorated significantly. And the writing is in the old German style, which is very hard for even native speakers to read. However, my Great-Grandmother's day book had clear writing.

I asked one of my son's preschool teachers if she could translate it since she is from Germany. And she gave it to me this morning. It was a poem.

Prayer in the Outland
By Julius Sturm 1816-1896

Oh, it must be so sad, if you have to die so lonely (alone)
If no eye greets us to sweeten the pain

No one fluffs our pillow
No one squeezes our hand
When strangers stand around us
Who look at us coldly while we are dying.

For this I am praying to you, God
Oh, don't call me earlier from here to come to you.

Until I find again my dear Homeland
Where love is greeting me
sweetens every pain
And loving hands (from a friend) lower me into the grave.

There, where my cross is standing on a (little) tower
In a golden shine
Where also my brothers' coffins are
A green hill (hold "the coffins")
Not far from my sister,
There I want to be buried.

I read it to my mom this afternoon. Apparently Great-Gramma had talked about going back home, eventually, but she never did. And although my grandmother was able to find a Catholic priest to give her last rights as she was dying, and she became more peaceful as she was able to recite the familiar words in German, she did die alone.

But she isn't forgotten.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Just when you think they are little terrors....

I have realized that the problem with "blogging" is that I write for different reasons. I can't really make this an on-line journal, as that would have to be anonymous, for obvious reasons. I don't really want to make this anything controversial, so I refrain from writing what I really think about politics, or religion, or whether Virginia is, indeed, God's Country.

I started this blog because I wanted to jot down memories in a forum that I would be more apt to keep up with than scrapbooking. Because even though I am kinda crafty, I don't have the organization for that. Or the desire, really.

And so, I am here sporadically. And much MORE sporadically since I have gotten interested in Genealogy. When I have time to sit down at the computer and actually type, I am more apt to dig into some ancestor's birth record.

However, there are some things that are worth creating a specific blog post for, and this is one.

You might know that my church has been in the midst of a legal battle with the Episcopal Church. After two trials and one appeal, we have lost the church property. Long story. Ask if you want LOTS of details. Anyway, we have had to find a new place to worship, new offices, etc. Even though we know that "church" is more than a building, and even though our warehouse of a building was not special, it was special to us.

The second to last Sunday we worshiped there, our Rector asked the Children what was something special that they would remember about the place.

My 5yo raised his hand straight up, not tentatively at all. I whispered to him to find out what he was going to say, worried, as you might imagine, what would come out of his mouth. Before I could get a good answer out of him, Fr. Harper approached with a microphone.

"Jonathan," he said, "What will you remember most about this building."

And my precious five year old, who is currently obsessed with all things Star Wars and super heroes, said, "Love. I have felt loved here."

Oh. My. Heart.

Yes, son, so have I. So have I.