“I almost lost you before you were born – twice.” How do you respond to something like that from your own mother? Especially when you’re only 9 or 10 years old? I don’t recall what started the conversation. My parents never held back when it came to subjects like babies and sex. I don’t know what brought us into that discussion, but my parents were incredibly forthright about such things. They figured I should find out from them, rather than from kids at school, television, or anywhere else. I certainly wouldn’t learn the truth about babies and sex from the Catholic parochial school I attended in the 1970s. Deep down inside the Catholic hierarchy knows that sex is pretty much how humans have reproduced for millennia, but openly hates it.
Once, when I was about 10 or 11, I asked my parents what happened in X-rated movies, and they told me “people run around naked” and use dirty words. Which, if you think about it, pretty much sums up an X-rated film. At some point, I’d asked my dad what an orgasm meant, and he flat out told me. He’d even told me – before my teens – what a condom was and how to put on one.
So it only made sense that my mother would point out bluntly that she’d come close to losing me in utero. The first episode occurred in August of 1963, when she was about seven months pregnant and was at the funeral of her beloved maternal grandmother. My mother had become faint as she stood at the grave site, beneath the scorching Texas sun. At the time my parents lived in a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment above the garage behind the house owned my father’s oldest sister, Amparo, and her husband – a place where we’d stay until my parents bought a house in suburban Dallas in 1972. Amparo had told my father that my mother didn’t look good and decided to accompany them to the funeral. Already expecting her own child, my aunt sat waiting in the limousine with a jar of cold water. After returning home, my mother began bleeding profusely. My father rushed her to the hospital where they saved her – saved both of us.
The second episode happened just two months later. One fall afternoon, my mother developed a fever, and inexplicably wondered outside into a rainstorm. Amparo was startled to see her and ordered her husband to retrieve my mother from their driveway. He brought her inside, and my aunt put her into a bed and watched over her until my father returned home from work.
Perhaps it’s because what my mother told – describing every excruciating moment of her pregnancy and my birth – that I understood, from a very young age, how fragile life is. Aside from my seemingly inborn shyness, it may explain why I wasn’t aggressive like my parents; why I never liked to fight; why I always tried to negotiate and compromise instead. It’s why I appreciate the smaller things in life – like the sound of rain or my dog’s breathing when he’s sleeping.
In the mid-1990s, when I worked at a major bank in downtown Dallas, one of my female colleagues, Felicia*, often lamented how her two younger sons seemed to take her for granted. Her older son was the model child: married with children and an active duty member of the U.S. Navy. But, her other sons, both teens at the time, were always doing something stupid. One day, at lunch, Felicia* mentioned that she’d almost miscarried her second son in a women’s room of that very building some seventeen years earlier. She’d become light-headed, she recalled, as I and a few others sat with rapt attention. Another woman escorted her to the ladies’ room where Felicia dropped onto a toilet and was certain she was about to lose that pregnancy; she was only about six or seven weeks along. The other woman ran out to tell their male supervisor about the dilemma. He called paramedics who rushed Felicia to a nearby hospital. Somehow, she and her unborn child – that second son who would later metamorphose into a conceited teenage brat – survived.
I asked Felicia if she’d ever told him about that. She said no; that she didn’t want to upset him with something so traumatic. I scoffed at the notion. “You need to tell him about that,” I implored. Describe how she’d collapsed in pain and managed to stagger into the women’s room; tell him that he almost ended up in the toilet of a downtown Dallas building. That, I assured her, would put his life into perspective.
A few weeks later, she pulled me aside to say she’d done just that recently; she told her son everything that happened that one afternoon; that she’d almost lost him in a women’s room of the bank – lost him before she even knew his gender, or had given him a name. She reveled in the sight of the light bulbs going off in his eyes.
And, that’s when life comes into perspective. That’s when you understand how delicate everything is.