I was visiting with my mother in the hospital the other day after she had some successful surgery and wanted to lighten the mood. I figured a good way to pass the time was to ask her to describe in detail the circumstances around my birth. I had heard a few stories surrounding my birth over the years, but they had seemed veiled for some reason, and I quickly figured out why.
"I was pregnant and I was going on my honeymoon ..." my mom began when I asked her about the circumstances around my birth.
This was not really a shock to me, as I was aware that my parents were married the month before I was born. I was born in 1958 and I certainly understand that it was a different time: Having a child out of wedlock, especially for my Catholic parents, was not acceptable -- to put it mildly -- so they got married in the summer before I was due in the fall.
They disguised this fact fairly well during my childhood, but when I was age 10, they flubbed up one year when I asked them what anniversary number it would for them and they said "10". Then I said, “but I'm 10!” They quickly, and in harmony, corrected themselves: "No, it's our 11th anniversary (wink, wink to each other).”
I was told this truth (which I had suspected) while in college, but I wasn't aware that a month after my parents were married in August 1958, they decided to go on a brief “honeymoon” when my mother was 8 months pregnant.
They took a five-hour ride in my father's old 1951 Cadillac DeVille from their hometown of Rochester, N.Y., to New York City. My mom says it was a rough ride – the car was "rickety" and the roads in New York City were "rough" back then, she says.
They arrived in Brooklyn, N.Y., where my dad stopped off to visit an old Army buddy. Somewhat amazingly, my mother's water broke soon after arriving. "Right after we walked in, my water broke," my mom says. My dad (who I asked later on) says it happened a little later during dinner at the friend’s house: “She was ready to have the baby (me) on the kitchen floor … you wanted to come out!”
My mom was rushed to a local hospital in Brooklyn, and the doctor recommended that she stay there and have the baby. "But I wanted to have the baby (me) in Rochester – not in Brooklyn!” my mom says. So my mom checked out of the hospital in Brooklyn AMA (against medical advice). "I've never been to Brooklyn since," she says, confirming her strong desire to have her first baby in her hometown of Rochester.
My dad says that the doctor asked where Rochester was and did not recommend that my mom travel in her condition. Nonetheless, my father consequently drove back to Rochester at some 90 mph, and somewhat recklessly, intentionally speeding so the police would notice. "We wanted the police to escort us to the hospital," my mom says. "But no cop stopped us." They made the return trip back to Rochester on a newly opened New York highway one hour faster than usual. Upon reaching Northside Hospital (aka Stromberg Hospital) in Rochester in the mad rush, my mother did not promptly go into labor. In fact, she showed no signs whatsoever of beginning labor, so she was sent home. “They were expecting you (again, me), but nothing happened,” my dad says.
My mother spent the next four days at the house of her mother (my grandmother Mary), when on a Thursday, her water again broke (how it broke twice is a mystery to her), and she was again rushed to Northside Hospital (of course, in Rochester), where she proceeded to go into labor for a whopping 28 hours.
I was born premature, a little over one month early, at 3:37 pm on Thursday, Sept. 18, 1958. My weight was 5 pounds, 4 ounces, according to my mom, and since I wasn't under 5 pounds, I was not put in an incubator. My mother stayed in the hospital for four days. I was put on a "build-up diet" but actually lost weight – I was 4 pounds, 14 ounces when my mother took me home. On my first night home, my mother says she got up three times because "you wanted a lot of food." Within in only a month, I was at the proper weight for my age and size.
After my mother told me my own intriguing birth story (I had never really heard it from beginning to end so cohesively), I pulled out a copy of my aged birth certificate to inspect with my mother (which I had brought with me apparently for this reason).
It was actually a copy of my birth certificate that my mother had gotten in 1979 (the original was lost). It had some notable items on it starting with the address of my mother at 153 Mosely Road, Rochester 16, N.Y." (the 16 being the "zone" at the time, since the zip code in the United States had not been invented yet). My birth certificate also listed the profession of my father as a licensed cosmetologist (hairstylist) but didn't ask the profession of my mother – a sign of the times that men were the head of the household and women had a more secondary role in the eyes of society. Also, my birth certificate lists the time of my birth at "35 weeks", which is five weeks before the normal 40-month (9-month) pregnancy term.
My birth certificate was signed by the doctor who delivered me – identified by just his last name. My mother thinks it was a Dr. Richardson, but the scribble at the bottom looks more like the unknown name of Dr. "Radick" – I guess you can't know everything about your birth, but now I know a lot more. Thanks, mom!
Prologue: My mother and father did eventually take an official honeymoon, at Niagara Falls, after my birth. Without me this time. (Their trip to Brooklyn where I was almost born was actually a weekend getaway before their official honeymoon). Even though I was almost born out of wedlock (which is normal in many parts of the world today), in reality my father and mother had lived with each other for some time and always intended to get married before I was born.
Soon after my birth, my dad drove by himself from New York to Los Angeles, Calif. (with little money in his pocket), where he would start a successful career as a hairstylist and owner of hair salons. A couple of months later, my mother, with me in tow, flew to California and our family was reunited in Los Angeles. Then three years later, our family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where I spent my entire childhood.
“I took you to Fort Lauderdale, not freezing cold Rochester. What a life you had then!” my father says. Then he adds after I tell him the title of this story, Born Under Unusual Circumstances: “That’s why you are unusual.”