Thirty-two years ago, on Halloween night in 1990, I was a college student going to night school while I worked a full-time job during the day. I was also pregnant. Very pregnant. Overdue pregnant.
I had been dating Rob on and off for about 3 years and didn’t know if our relationship was going anywhere. A year before I’d had a serious discussion with him about it. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get married, but I did want to have kids. Even though single moms were still few and far between at the time, I was ready to have a baby, even if I wasn’t married. He said he wanted to have kids too. In January there was a time when he was on vacation with his friends, we saw each other once, then didn’t see each other for another month. This is important because there was only one night I could have gotten pregnant.
And I did.
I went to the doctor to confirm it. At the time, my ob/gyn was a nice, old Jewish man. I didn’t have regular cycles and I’d had more than one scare that turned out not to be anything. When he confirmed that I was pregnant, I was half thrilled and half scared. It was what I wanted, but it was scary too.
Of course, as soon as I knew for sure, Rob changed his tune. At that point he decided we never really had a relationship. Because, of course he did. I could tell he hadn’t thought I’d actually go through with it, but I did. Still, I had a good job, good health insurance, and I still lived at home with my parents. I could do this.
I was also still going to college at night. I had two more semesters left of part-time study to graduate. The only drawback was this pregnancy took a lot out of me. First, I had a weird reaction to the changes in my body. My private area got insanely red and itchy and painful. No one was sure what was causing it. After about two weeks of agony, it finally went away. Next was morning sickness. This was the only pregnancy I ever had morning sickness with, and it wasn’t confined to the morning despite the name. I never knew what was going to trigger it and I often had no idea it was about to happen. I went to Florida to visit friends, and after breakfast one morning we went back to her house where my breakfast started to come up. She only had one bathroom and was using it, so I headed toward the kitchen sink, holding my hands over my mouth to stop it. By the time I reached the sink, I had puke coming out of my nose. You don’t forget something like that.
I was in Florida, staying with friends and visiting Disney World for the first time since I was 7. I had a blast. However, probably at some point during that vacation, I came in contact with someone who had chicken pox. I’d never had it as a child and the vaccine wasn’t out yet. The day after I flew home, I wasn’t feeling well so I called out of work. That afternoon, my whole chest started blistering. I went to my regular doctor for a diagnosis, and yes, I had chicken pox. They couldn’t do anything to make me more comfortable since I was pregnant. I spent the next four days taking oatmeal baths and crying a lot. I had it from the top of my head all the way down to my knees – blisters all over the place. It was awful. Finally, after the fourth day, I stopped breaking out and the itching ceased. Now all I had to do was heal, and I looked a mess. I’d missed more than three weeks of work. They were begging me to come back, so I finally did. Once my boss saw me, though, he sent me home until I’d healed more. It was that bad.
Rob and I didn’t see much of each other during the rest of my pregnancy. I’d call him or he’d call me to see how things were going, but he wasn’t interested in being a partner, never mind a father. I started the fall semester, knowing my due date would interrupt it. I talked to my professors, most of whom were very impressed with my dedication. I stopped working the beginning of October and looked forward to the due date, October 16th.
It came and went.
If you’ve never had an overdue pregnancy, I can’t impress on you what goes through someone’s mind, or at least my mind. I was scared that something was going to happen. I knew my baby was okay inside me, but I wanted them o get her out so she could be okay outside of me. I kept being scared that something was going to happen, especially after all of the problems early in the pregnancy. I’d read about chronic varicella syndrome which can happen to babies when their mother contracts chicken pox while pregnant.
So there I was on October 31st, still attending college. I’d gone to class that night then drove back home. When I got home, I realized I’d left my purse at school. That had everything in it, and back then it was everything. Not just cash and credit cards, but my checkbook, health insurance cards, appointment book, all of the information about the pregnancy – just everything I needed to function. It was late so when I called the school, no one answered. I didn’t know if it was in the classroom or if someone had grabbed it. My mother jumped in the car with me and we rode back to school.
Everything there was locked up tight, so I had to go to security. They took me to the classroom, and there was my purse, right where I left it. I breathed a sigh of relief and we went back home. It was after midnight at this point.
I don’t know if it was this upset or if the natural course of events was already taking place, but I woke up three hours later with labor pains. Finally! I’d been going to appointments twice a week and nothing had been happening, nor had the baby dropped against my cervix. Finally, though, something was happening. I lay awake and timed them and they were already 15 minutes apart. I waited a few more hours, then got my parents up and called the doctor.
I was told to go to the hospital. When I arrived, they checked and I was just 2cm dilated. I’d been having pretty strong contractions. The labor and delivery nurse was ready to send me home to wait a while longer, but the doctor said “No.” I was overdue enough that I was going to have this baby today one way or another.
They shot me up with pitocin in an effort to speed things up. Let me tell you, the labor pains after that were insane. I’d never experienced anything like that in my life. They wouldn’t give me any medication because they were afraid that would slow things down. My best friend, Allison, who had gone to the childbirth classes with me, arrived and tried to coach me through the pain but I wasn’t interested in this breathing shit. Finally, after 4 hours of this, I said I was going to go out of the hospital and down the road to find my own damn painkillers if they didn’t give me something. They gave me something that allowed me to sleep a little (I’d gotten only 2 or 3 hours the night before.) Allison said even in my sleep I was moaning in pain every time a contraction hit. This did not encourage her to want to have kids!
After 4 more hours, they finally said enough was enough. I was only 4cm dilated, despite all the encouragement. They prepared to do a c-section.
Melinda Mary came into the world a short time later. She was such a beautiful baby. People who saw the pictures of her right after birth thought it was a doll. And despite everything, she was absolutely perfect.
Rob saw her once after she was born. I tried to encourage him, but then decided to let him go if that was his decision. I could take care of her myself. My mother watched her while I went to school and then when I went back to work. That last semester after I went back to work was the hardest thing, being away from her all day at work and then again two nights a week while I finished the last two classes I needed to graduate. But graduate I did! I’d graduated with a degree in data programming and had also taken all the accounting classes they had except for classes on taxes. If I’d taken those, I could have been a CPA and it probably would have been better in the long run. All of the computer languages I learned back then weren’t in use a few years later.
Melinda was a great baby. She slept through the night at 10 days, much to my shock and disbelief. She had outright refused to nurse in the hospital; the nurses had never seen a baby do that. I tried to pump and give her the bottle that she preferred, but it was too difficult with the breast pumps they had at the time. She was happy and healthy and had a family that loved her. About six months after she was born, I met Marc, who I would marry and who would adopt her as his own.
Melinda was smart. We could see that at a young age. At 2, I put her in a Nursery School two days a week so she would get exposure to kids her own age. She did so well there and thrived. To move up to the 3 year old class, they had to be potty trained. She was struggling with that, so I sat her down and told her that if she wanted to keep going to school, she had to use the potty. That was all it took!
I was married and had moved to a new home by the time she entered kindergarten. It was a bit of a challenge since it wasn’t an all-day kindergarten at the time. Both Marc and I were working, which meant we depended on my parents a lot to help out with getting her to and from school at times. My company had been sold and had dissolved the office I worked at. At first, they fired the entire accounting staff. They later found out that wasn’t a good idea and hired a few of us back. I negotiated a full salary for three 10-hour days at the new offices in New Jersey, plus money for gas and tolls. It was worth it, because the first day there I found a $20,000 mistake someone had made. Freight accounting is not something you can just plop someone into.
This meant I was only gone Monday-Wednesday each week. Marc was off Tuesday & Wednesday so the only day that was on my parents was Monday. I also became pregnant at this time. My easiest pregnancy was with my second daughter, Janine. Melinda was a great big sister right from the start. I think it helped to have 4 1/2 years between them. There wasn’t much rivalry.
Melinda liked reading best of all, although she tried just about everything along the way. I had her in dance class at an early age. She also did twirling for a season and soccer. She enjoyed all of it and I tried to let her experience as many different things as possible. Reading, though, was by far her favorite thing to do. She took after her mother that way. She once got a “nose stuck in a book” award at school. Her teacher told me that when the class had free time, most of the kids would be running around and making noise, talking, socializing, etc. Not Melinda. She usually pulled out a book and was reading.
Maybe that was part of the problem and I didn’t see it then. Was she more on the outside than I realized? She had friends, good friends who she hung around with at school. I encouraged play dates. Some of those friends were on her soccer team as well. There was a bit of a bone of contention with the girl next door who was two years behind her in school (but they were only a little over a year apart due to the cutoff dates for school), but in general they got on well and were very close for a time. It’s just what happens when kids spend so much time together.
We did lots of things with our kids. Disney World was initially every other year and included a stay with my father-in-law and his wife in Pompano Beach, FL. Every summer I’d rent a cabin in New Hampshire with some of my cousins. Our family had been traveling to the same cottage colony on Lake Winnepesaukee since 1949. The kids loved going there. Every year we got season passes to Six Flags in New Jersey and went at least once a month. We did all the things people do with their kids and thought everything was good.
Her brother, Danny, came along just before Melinda turned 10. She had been angling for her own room, rather than sharing with her sister, but when I had a boy that went out the window. She took it in stride. I can still hear her voice saying “Danny!” the way she used to say it.
No one in life sets out to be a drug addict. No one wants to raise a drug addict. We did everything for our kids. Did we yell when we got frazzled? Yeah. Doesn’t every parent? It’s hard once you’ve lost someone not to look back over your life together and pick everything apart. Should we have done some things differently? Maybe, but who knows if that would have made a difference? I tried to balance giving my kids all the opportunities I could with letting them be responsible and respectful as they got older. I remember when Melinda started working in the water park at the same hotel I worked at. She said to me once “I used to hate it that you were so hard on us when we were younger. Now I know why.” Dealing with the public taught her a lesson about behavior and helped her appreciate what her parents put her through.
She went away to college, and it seems like at that point the real trouble began. Her grades were good, which was why we didn’t pick up on anything at first. I had a bad feeling about things a couple of times. If there’s one thing I would tell parents, it’s trust your instincts. If you think something is wrong, press your kids. I wish I had followed my gut more, but I had four other kids at home (we’d taken on two other kids that I was pretty much responsible for) and had to juggle everything.
There had been a few signs of trouble before, but a lot could be written off to being a typical teenager, especially in this new electronic world. I tried to email her a couple of times a week to keep up. I remembered being that age and how the last thing I would have wanted was my parents calling me all the time. Maybe I should have been pushing a little harder? I don’t know. I don’t know if anything would have made a difference.
I miss her something terrible. At the time she died, she had a heroin habit that she managed to hide from us. We thought there was something going on, but she had a 3.62 GPA in nursing school and was working full-time in the hotel water park. Hey, you couldn’t be that bad off if you could manage all that, right? But she was. It came to a head, and when confronted with the ramifications of her addiction, instead of getting help, she chose suicide. I can reason that she’s not in pain and she’s not battling the demons anymore. I still think of her life as the potential that was there from such a young age. She had so much going for her. She was more beautiful than I ever was. She was smart. She was caring and had a good heart.
Every year on November 1st, I remember holding that baby. I wish I could go back and start again. I wanted that baby so much and I loved her so much. Happy birthday in heaven.
Last photo of Melinda, taken on her brother’s birthday, eight days before she committed suicide.
Categories: Personal Stories