In the summer of 1976, several things were ‘afloat’ .. the biggest in my life was the baby in my womb growing ever larger and showing no signs of wanting to see the light of day.
My husband, Gentry Lee, was managing all the scientists on the Viking Mission to Mars – and it too, could not seem to decide on a time or a place to land.
The birth of the baby and the touchdown of the Viking Lander had both been scheduled for July 4, 1976 – America’s 200th Birthday Celebration – but neither co-operated. There was a kind of mad frenzy in that Gentry needed to be at JPL to deal with science issues and decisions, and also be present for the birth of his son.
Fortunately, the Lander and I parted ways when it touched down on July 20 – all 1,270 pounds of instrumentation – while baby Lee remained in his human incubator aka – me!
On the 29th, 25 days after the calculated birthdate, my water finally broke and something resembling labor began. Problem was, it was a slow labor – with contractions stuck at 5 minutes apart. A quick trip to the hospital was inconclusive. “Come back when the contractions are 3 minutes apart.” Good thing I lived close by. But the fact that the labor was slow didn’t meant it was any less painful.
We had pre-arranged with Glendale Adventist Hospital to have the first LeBoyer delivery. This meant dim lights, no harsh sounds, and the baby was to slide from my body into a bath of warm water .. a gentle birth .. a non-traumatic beginning. Press had been alerted to something ‘new’ – and were waiting in the wings along with the rest of us.
I checked in again at the hospital – after 24 hours and when the contractions were 3 minutes apart – as instructed. I was given a room and kept on laboring. The 1976 Olympics were being broadcast from Montreal. An avid runner, I was particular interested in the foot races, which took my mind off how slow everything seemed to be going.
24 hours later – still no baby – still insufficient dilation and I was pretty worn down. I’d given up on no pain remedies – and was finally given a shot of Demerol or something like that. Gentry was running back and forth from Glendale to Pasadena – an entire set of science decisions needed to be made at the lab and his damn baby still wasn’t born!
Frank Shorter was running the marathon. I was 7 cm. I was passing out between contractions totally spent in laboring – the contraction would jolt me awake and there would be Mr. Shorter…. still running. I kept saying as long as he was running, I could keep on laboring.
The doctors weren’t so sure. A delivery by Caesarean had been mentioned when I checked in to the hospital the second time – but I was all for a totally natural birth and pooh-poohed the suggestion.
Then the strangest thing happened .. Frank was still running, but my mother and father were suddenly standing in the doorway. They weren’t supposed to come until after the birth. And they had no color. My entire world has lost its color. In it’s place, everyone and everything looked like liquid mercury. Fluid, without form and without skin tones or any tones whatsoever.
The doctor came into the room and told me that my blood pressure was critically low and that the baby was in distress. The choice was now obvious – give up on natural and save both of our lives. The gave me a shot of something … and the next thing I remember, I was in recovery room waiting for the staff to bring me my beautiful baby boy.
Enter into the world, Cooper Gentry Lee – 8lbs, 8oz, 19.5″ long at 11:52pm on the 31st day of July. One glance at his stunning blue eyes and we were hooked for life. His tiny fingers wrapped around mine, he put his small mouth to my breast, and everything that I had previously known in the world was forever transformed by an overwhelming love.
Hard to believe that my “baby” is 38 years old today!