The story of my mother’s pregnancy with me and my birth is, I believe, a fitting prelude to the rest of my life, and is both a source of happiness and pain.
In August of 1964, my parents had a daughter out of wedlock, a girl born with a cleft palate to a 30 year old divorcee and a 19 year old truck driver. They gave her up for adoption directly after her birth, perhaps sparing her some of the more painful times of my childhood. This sister is someone whom I’ve only a tiny bit of information on, whom is still a mystery to me nearly a half a century after her birth.
It was the summer of 1966, and my mother was married to my father, her second husband, a man 11 years her junior, and she was already the mother to two boys ages 8 and 10. It was at this time, about the 6 month mark in her pregnancy, that it was discovered she had a cancerous tumor of the uterus. The pregnancy was already a difficult one when my parents found out that my mother was fighting cancer, and that the baby she was carrying was sure to be a stillborn. It seems no wonder she (admittedly) hated me, hated this dead thing inside her.
My mother was due to deliver me on Christmas Day, 1966. However, she was too ill to try to deliver and was scheduled for a full hysterectomy once she was strong enough to survive the delivery and surgery. For the better part of the last months of her pregnancy, my mother believed she was carrying a lifeless child, and was counting down the days until she could expel it. My parents relationship was strained and falling apart. Though she had many doctors appointments, a heartbeat was never heard, and no movement, no butterfly flutters or tiny hiccups were felt.
So it was a complete surprise when, on January 26th, in the elevator of the hospital on the way to surgery, a screaming Dawnfelice was born. A tiny, sickly baby, scarcely as large as my father’s hand, born live and fighting for every breath. My mother was rushed to surgery, where she underwent a full hysterectomy and cancer treatments, spending weeks in the hospital. My dad ended up at some point bringing me home, long before my mother made it back to our domicile. And, since they had not planned on bringing home a child, they had only a few provisions for a baby, making my first “bed” a shoebox.
Due to the tumor (which consequently weighed 9 pounds to my minuscule 4.5 pound frame) crowding me and feeding on the placenta like the stronger being it was, I was born quite ill and fragile. I remember even as a small child hearing the doctors tell my mother that I would be lucky to see my next birthday. Born with severe anemia, a hole in my heart, underweight and malnourished, the prognosis wasn’t good. I probably wouldn’t speak, walk, or live to see my 5th birthday.
So many times during those early years, I could be found in the hospital, suffering through complications of anemia, or yet another case of pneumonia. On one such rainy afternoon in Los Angeles General Hospital in the Spring of 1971, I had been admitted to the Children’s ward for treatment of an acute bout of pneumonia. I was running a fever so high that I was hallucinating. I was truly quite ill, in grave peril. My mother (my parents had been divorced for three years by this time, making her a single, working mother of 3 children) asked me if I wanted anything, and all I could cough out was the word “daisies”.
My mother went down to the gift shop to bring me a bouquet, but there were no daisies to be had. So, in an act of kindness and desperation, she ventured out into the rain to a floral shop near the hospital. Still, no daisies. At a small drugstore blocks away from the hospital, my mother found a small brown basket filled with white and yellow plastic daisies and an adorably large lady bug on the handle.
Rushing back to the hospital to bring the basket to me before my dreaded appointment for an x-ray (I believed when they explained to me that an x-ray was a test where they could “see your bones”, my fevered brain believed that the large apparatus that loomed above the table was actually going to crush me so they could “look at my bones”) my mother slipped on the rain-slicked entry to the hospital, falling and breaking her ankle.
Imagine the surprise when, instead of the 4 year old Dawnfelice Ruger coming in for a chest xray, the technicians see my mother Felicia Ruger being wheeled in for an xray of of her ankle. I don’t think it helped that in my fever-crazed fear that I got away from the nurses and ran screaming down the halls of the hospital, being chased by nurses and orderlies until they returned me to the xray room securely strapped down to a gurney.
That little basket of daisies was a prized-possession for many years, reminding me that there was some level on which my mother actually did love me. It also became the cornerstone of one of my first collections as a child, a collection of daisies. To this day, they are my favorite flowers, eternally optimistic in their simple elegance.
For more information on daisies, their meanings and historical significance – check out http://www.whats-your-sign.com/symbolic-meaning-of-daisy.html