Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland

All I really needed to know

I certainly had no idea what pregnancy would be like and without a partner to share it with, I was at a loss. I wasn't so young - nearly 33 - but I was single and scared. Husband Jerome had died five months before and I wasn't sure what to do with my life, much less a baby.

To make matters worse, I hadn't had much experience with children. I had babysat only a handful of times and that was with toddlers and older children, not newborns.

But nature doesn't always wait until a person is prepared for things. So I did a lot of research. I read What to Expect When You're Expecting from cover to cover. I found a friend who was willing to go to Lamaze classes with me. I heeded every piece of advice my obstetrician gave me. And I listened to words of wisdom from my mother, mother-in-law and other women who were mothers.

When I went into labor, sister Gaila and friend Becky were at my side. Jerome's brother Kenny joined us 12 hours later for the last six hours. Always the joker, he made me laugh in spite of the pain.

Twenty-five years ago this month, daughter Mariya appeared. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was overjoyed to see her perfect nose, toes and fingers, yet sad to know that Jerome - who was thrilled at the thought of being a father - would never get to see or hold her.

Mother-in-law Rita voiced the bittersweet ache we all felt, describing Mariya's birth as "the happiest and saddest day" of her life.

But we couldn't let the feelings overtake us. A newborn has a way of making us focus on the present, and the knowledge that I was responsible for this little person jolted me.

Gaila stayed with me when I first took Mariya home from the hospital. But she hadn't had babysitting experience either so we both just sort of floundered along.

One day, Mariya cried and we didn't know what the problem was. I fed her. She cried. We rocked her. She cried. I changed her diaper, we walked with her, we passed her back and forth. Still, she wailed.

"Here, you take her," I said.

"No, no, you keep her, " Gaila said. "I don't know what to do either."

That went on awhile until we were both so exhausted that I put Mariya on my bed. Almost as soon as she hit the cool comforter, she fell fast asleep. Ah, so that was it! She was exhausted, too!

Part of the exhaustion came from the fact that Mariya and I traveled nearly 600 miles in her first 10 days because I wanted and needed the support of relatives.

But soon I realized that I needed to establish a routine for us in our own home. Once we did that, I discovered she liked to snuggle in my arms - or anyone's arms, for that matter - after I nursed her. It wasn't long before I knew what her various cries meant. And I finally learned that it wouldn't kill her to let her "fuss" a bit at bedtime until she went to sleep. That meant I could sleep, too.

Family and friends were still my advisers. And Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care was my constant companion.

Jerome had given me that book the day before the brain aneurysm struck him down. His inscription on the first page also served as my guide:

"My darling Gloria,

Thank you for being my wife. I love you so very much, and I'm so proud that we are having our first child. Although you don't really need this book, I offer it to you in the spirit of mutual love for ourselves and for our new child.

I love you my darling.

Jerome Johanning
Christmas Day 1985"

What his words told me, in effect, was that love is the important part of being a mother.

That's all I really needed to know.

And, 25 years later, that pretty much sums it up.

Jerome holding our "Joy" Christmas decoration in 1984.
Mariya and I minutes after she was born.

Mariya with "Joy" as a youngster and today.

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