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Reliving a 60-year-old blessed event

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - JoAnn Parsons, left, and her daughter, Betsy Fontenot, celebrated Betsys 60th birthday in Hawaii.

She arrived early ... 18 days before her due date ... and one week after I had quit my secretarial job. My plan for having a month to put finishing touches on the newly painted nursery, shopping for a newborn’s essentials and reading the baby care book I’d recently purchased, had gone awry ... not to mention missing a baby shower in my honor.

On March 3, 1954, at 3 a.m., I was on my way to the hospital with my husband and my mother. Five hours later, daughter Betsy was born, and I became a mother.

Looking back on this blessed event of 60 years ago, I realize how ill prepared I was for motherhood. In 1954, prenatal and parenting classes did not exist, at least not in Waterloo, Iowa. I’d had no baby-sitting jobs — in the 1930s and ’40s, most farm children were left in the care of older siblings or went with their parents. My limited experience with a baby was when my mother occasionally cared for a younger cousin. I’d never changed a baby’s diaper — except for my Betsy-Wetsy doll. Now I had a real live Betsy-Wetsy to change and care for.

To make matters more challenging, Betsy’s birth weight was just 4 pounds, and she was immediately placed in an incubator where she spent her first three days. While other new mothers were getting acquainted with their babies, I was peering in the nursery window watching mine in the incubator. Finally, on Day 3, I was allowed to hold her. In this era, new mothers spent a week in the hospital and babies stayed until they weighed 5 pounds. My doctor, however, was a bit ahead of his time and allowed us to bring her home still weighing less than 5 pounds, so she could be fed on demand — and demand she did ... hourly.

My mother and I pondered what she could wear as even the smallest baby clothes were too large (no preemie baby items then). Thanks to my mom being a saver of things, she retrieved a box of my dolls’ clothes and these, plus the small booties and sweater hastily knitted by my aunt, provided an instant layette.

Then she went shopping for the necessities I’d not had time to get — diapers, bottles and sterilizer (this was also the era of bottle and formula feeding — and cloth diapers). During our first week at home, my parents drove daily from the farm to see their first grandchild, provide help and offer advice — not that they were experts on child care, having had only me. But they were more than helpful, and I now more fully understand and appreciate their concern.

In spite of Betsy’s early and small beginnings in life and her mother’s incompetence, she grew up and had a normal, healthy and happy childhood. Many “mother moments” are embedded in my memory: entrusting her to a nurse for an overnight at the hospital at age 4 1/2 after a tonsillectomy, leaving her in the care of Miss Caines on her first day of kindergarten, holding her baby brother for the first time, proud moments at dance and piano recitals and school programs, leaving her on her own after the move to a college dorm, watching her walk down the aisle with her dad (in my wedding dress), seeing her as a new mother.

She was definitely more qualified in mothering than I had been. She was in great demand as a baby sitter in her teen years, majored in early childhood development in college, and became the director of a child day care facility. Her two sons are the beneficiaries of her experience.

For the past 60 years, Betsy and I have enjoyed a close and loving relationship and have always respected and supported each other’s decisions. For 20 years, from the time she left home for college until our move to Oregon, we wrote to each other every week. She was the reason we moved here — well perhaps a loving son-in-law and two precious grandsons helped in that decision. We have shared so many happy times ... and we’ve been there for each other in some extremely sad ones. She is my trusted confidante and my best friend.

As well as being a loving daughter, wife and mother, she has managed to balance being a homemaker along with her career and still find time for many other interests, including her passion for reading — abetted by her working in libraries during the past 28 years. In retrospect, perhaps my parenting skills, along with much help from her father, weren’t all that bad after all. Thank you, Betsy, for 60 years of wonderful mother-daughter memories. Here’s to many more to come.

JoAnn Parsons is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult community Center.



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