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funny, isn't it?
by jeanne charters

Nature or nurture…that is the question…

I was 21 when I birthed Corinne Elaine Charters. Married at 20, pregnant on the honeymoon, and scared to death that the coming birth might happen less than 9 months after the ceremony! This was small-town Ohio, after all. Although I was technically pure as the driven snow on my wedding day (yes, we really did that in those days), the phenomenon of pregnancy scared me to death. The wedding to Ed had seemed like a great idea. I loved him, and I really wanted to stop being a virgin…ASAP. Since I was Catholic, I knew that we were supposed to reproduce quickly and often. I just didn’t have a clue as to what was involved in that process.

There was a certain embarrassment to it. My burgeoning middle said to the world, “Look, I’ve ‘done’ it.” It was humiliating being around my parents. In my house, the word “pregnant” had never been uttered. My father considered saying it akin to swearing. The same was true with the word “cancer”.

So, here I was, his perfect daughter growing a belly that belied all he had told me about being a good girl.

At that time, I was working as a secretary at a local insurance agency. My boss, Mr. Carr, told me that once I started to “show”, I would have to leave my job. That was the first time I ever fought authority in the workplace (but not the last). I marched into his office and screamed, “No way! We need that money. We are trying to save for a down payment on our first house. You can’t make me leave here after 4 months.” Poor Mr. Carr. He was a good guy…just following rules. He looked startled, but finally acquiesced. It was agreed that I could work until 6 weeks before my scheduled delivery.

Since little Cori was in a great hurry to be born, she emerged just 3 days after I left that job. Sorry, Mr. Carr.

If I was not prepared to be pregnant, I was less prepared for what delivering a baby was all about. I asked my obstetrician, Dr. Froelich, about something called “natural childbirth”. He said, “You are not a worker in a field, Jeanne. Your body is just not equipped to deliver naturally.” What they offered in lieu of a warm and comforting environment and someone to help a frightened young girl through the process of first birth was a sterile hospital room where she was sequestered alone for hours screaming in pain. Husbands were not allowed in those rooms. After those many hours, they whipped you into a surgical suite, knocked you out and took the baby with forceps.

Cori was 4 weeks premature. She was long and very thin. From birth, she struggled to hold up her head and to be independent. At her 6-week checkup, the pediatrician said, “This girl will be an artist or a neurotic. I have never seen a child with such sensitive reflexes.” He nailed it. Today, Cori is an entrepreneur in California whose sensitivities have made her very successful…and at times, a little tortured. She is also an incredible wife and mom to 2 great kids. She is artistic in every area of her life. Nature wins!

When Cori was 6 months old, I developed a large tumor in my uterus. After surgery, Dr. Froelich predicted that I would never again conceive. When I got the “coast is clear” signal, my husband and I had a second honeymoon of sorts and, guess what, I was pregnant again. Nature ruled.
Where are you going, my little one, little one? Where are you going, my baby, my own?

Cori was 2 when Stacia Jeanne Charters was born. I called Stacy my “sunshine baby”. She was plump and rosy and relaxed. Naturally, she nearly drove Cori crazy with jealousy; and I was not a smart enough woman to understand much about the nature of sibling rivalry. I regret my immaturity and ignorance in those days.
Stacy was and is a loving and laid-back doll. She’s now a family-practice physician in Maine and the mother of 3. She got through medical school and residency simultaneously having her babies because of her ability to relax into life. Again, nature had its way.

Since Stacy was such fun, I decided to have another baby. When Stacy was 15 months old, little Julia was born…and I do mean little. During the first 6 weeks of this pregnancy, I developed a severe flu. Movement came very late with Julie. I tried to tell my Chicago doctor that I thought the flu had slowed the baby’s growth, but he disagreed. After the tumor, I had to deliver by caesarean section. My doctor set the date for the surgery. I entered the hospital knowing that I should stand my ground, but in those days, doctors knew best. Julie was delivered weighing less than 4 pounds. She was in NICU for weeks. She developed hyaline membrane disease, the lung disease that had taken the life of Jacqueline Kennedy’s infant, Patrick. I was told that girls generally survive the disease better than boys.

After several weeks, I was able to take her home. I watched her constantly for signs of oxygen deprivation. The doctors told me that “she’ll either be perfect…or a vegetable.” I swear to God…that’s what they said. We lucked out. She was perfect, but the fight that helped her to live manifest itself into a feisty little creature with a scream louder than any baby I had ever heard. It was ear splitting, and we were living in a walk-up apartment in Chicago. The wife downstairs would knock on the ceiling with her broom each time Julie started one of her rampages. I didn’t care. Those screams sounded like a symphony to me. Her power resonates to this day. She is a successful mortgage broker in Raleigh and mother to 3 fabulous kids. I knew she’d make it from the very beginning. It was nature!

Turn around and you’re 2…turn around and you’re 4…turn around and you’re a young girl going out of my door.

With 3 girls under 4 years old and living in a tiny apartment in Chicago, we decided it was time for birth control…to us that meant “rhythm”. I faithfully took my temperature every morning and charted my fertility carefully. I never cheated once and was sure that our little family was complete. I was 25.

I argued with the doctor. “I can’t be pregnant again. It’s the flu…that’s why I’m throwing up every morning. My periods have never been regular. You’re wrong.”

He wasn’t. Later, when I complained that my back and legs hurt much more than in previous pregnancies, he said, “You’re not as young as you were, Jeanne.”

Caroline Marie Charters was born when I was 27.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?Little dirndls and petticoats, where have you flown?

She was beautiful and big and healthy. She brought joy and a reprieve from worry to me that was so healing…but living in a 2-bedroom apartment with 4 kids under 6 was intolerable…not to mention how angry it made the lady downstairs. When we moved into the little split level house in the suburbs, I kissed the walls. Caroline was more mellow than Julie had been, but she, too, is now a successful mortgage broker like her sister and a “mother tiger” defender of her 2 boys. Her sweet nature early on didn’t prepare me for her strength. Maybe nurture won out on Caroline.

Turn around and you’re tiny…turn around and you’re grown.Turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own.

They are all coming to visit me this month. Cori with her boy and girl from California; Stacy, with 2 boys and a girl from Maine; Julie, with 2 boys and a girl from Raleigh; and Caroline with 2 boys from New York. They will all stay here in my house, turning it into a wall-to-wall sleeping bag. We will laugh and reminisce and I will cry when they leave. I will tell them that I am sorry that I was so young when they were little and that I wish I had been wiser. They will tell me I was a good mom and that they love me. Funny, isn’t it? It’s true.

Turn around, turn around, turn around, And you’re a young wife with babes of your own.

Turn Around from The Kingston Trio's 1964 LP “Time to Think”Words & Music by Harry Belafonte, Alan Greene and Malvina Reynolds

Jeanne Charters is a former V.P. of Marketing for Viacom Television. She started her own award-winning broadcast advertising agency in 1990. Jeanne lives in Fairview with her husband, Matt Restivo.
[ charmkt@juno.com; 828-628-0023 ]

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