“That I Am Now Alive Is The Greatest Miracle Of All”
Shirley Jones set her teeth, pushed a second pillow against her back to support a spine no more firm than satin ribbon and sat up in the hospital bed. From the nearby stand she drew a vivid blue chiffon scarf and, with trembling hands, banded it around her hair and tied it. . . .
That done, she rested, breathing heavily. Then she opened her eyes and studied her reflection in the dressing table mirror across the room. The usually round cheeks were pallid and drawn; great lavender hollows beneath her eyes gave her the look of an unseeing mask; her lips were colorless. . .
She thought, “It’s a miracle that I’m alive—but yet, I’m going to die. No matter what they say, I’m going to die.” If she had the strength, she’d have cried. As it was, there was only the slow, agonized trickle within her heart. Inside, she wept—for all her lost dreams. . . . The hospital door opened and in came a brisk nurse, a smiling doctor and an orderly. They rigged up the transfusion equipment and prepared Shirley’s arm. And then a miracle took place. As Shirley watched herself in the mirror, she saw color flow into her cheeks; the hollows disappeared from beneath eyes that began to sparkle; her lips turned bright.
Without intending to, she began to chuckle.
It was a wonderful world, a glorious world.
And Shirley Jones was going to live in it for scores and scores of years to come. . .
Because nothing was wrong. . . . She wasn’t the first woman to give birth by Caesarean section and she wouldn’t be the last. And if she hadn’t been so plain scared, she’d have known all along that she was in no danger of dying. In the corridor she heard the quick step of her husband. Now she could allow the tears of happiness to well in her eyes. “I’ve never been so glad to see anyone in my life,” she told Jack as he bent to kiss her. . . . “Have you seen the sprout yet today?” he asked in wonder. “Gosh, three days old, and you think any minute that baby’s going to crawl out of the basket and walk! ” . . . She gave a deep sigh. That was the real miracle—the baby! Everything about that baby. . . . Shirley had been in the midst of starring in the Warner Brothers production of “The Music Man” when she discovered that she was pregnant, with her second child. And she had been ecstatic. Shortly after she and Jack Cassidy were married, Shirley had told him, “I hope we can have at least three children. A boy and two girls. Or two boys and a girl.” . . . Her plan had been complicated by an emergency making it necessary for their firstborn, Shaun, to be delivered by Caesarean section. When the doctor explained that a subsequent child would have to be ushered into the world in the same way, and that the number of such deliveries should not exceed three. Jack Cassidy had announced positively, “We’ll settle for this one. Shirley is never to go through that again.” . . . However, Shirley is an only child. Like most singleton children, she yearned for brothers and sisters. She said, “I don’t want Shaun to grow up without the companionship of other children and the discipline of sharing. Actually, a Caesarean isn’t much more complicated than normal birth, and look how I’ve recovered—like magic!”
When Shaun, weighing nine pounds, eight ounces—and measuring twenty-three inches long, had arrived on September 27, 1958, Shirley had been given a spinal block. She had been able to watch her son enter the world, and she had spent days in a state of awed exaltation.
Now, during the first months of her second pregnancy, some of that wonder at the miracle of birth walked with Shirley. Her complexion bloomed, her hair glistened, she awakened each morning vaguely aware that she was in the midst of a precious secret. Then the full import of that secret would return with consciousness and she would bound out of bed, buoyant as thistledown, happy as Christmas.
The wardrobe mistress at Warner Brothers asked her, “What are you eating?”
Shirley moistened her lips, remembering her most recent meal with relish while anticipating her next with leaping taste buds. “Last night I had spaghetti with meat balls, hot French bread and a baked potato slathered with sour cream. Today for luncheon I’m going to have a pizza, au gratin potatoes, and French pastry. For dinner, I’m going to have . . .”
“You do, and you’ll have to play the rest of your scenes behind a Chinese screen,” was the warning.
Shirley was four months pregnant at the picture’s close. “And not a baked potato too soon,” grinned Robert Preston, who played the title role in the film as he had in the Broadway production. He added, “I bet it’s going to be twins.”
The doctor disagreed. One baby, and one only, he said, and stuck to it.
Perhaps it was then that the first faint cloud darkened Shirley’s bright day. She thought, I’m carrying a daughter; I’m almost positive. And if it is a girl, Jack won’t want me to have another child. But I still want a family of three. I still do.
Now if only this child were a boy, there was always the chance that Jack might consent to another try—for a daughter. But this one was a daughter—she was practically sure. The pregnancy was totally different from her first. Even the maternity clothes she’d saved from last time were all wrong: too big through the shoulders, too big around the waist, but not ample enough across the tummy. She was carrying differently. It must be a girl.
In October, 1961, Jack and Shirley moved into their new home—a handsome, comfortable, rambling house with enough bedrooms for Shaun to have his own quarters, and for the new little sister to have her private nursery next to a bedroom for her nurse.
The wonderful Swiss lady who had cared for Shaun during his first year, Mrs. Martha Blattner, agreed to care for the new baby. As far as Shaun was concerned, it was Old Home Week.
During the moving, Shirley passed Shaun’s room—with its bunk beds awry, and the floor covered with scattered toys—and was troubled by sight of a stuffed dog, faded, ragged, but well-loved by an active child. It had been abandoned in a corner.
Through her mind ran a fragment of poetry, recalled from grade school days. Something about, “The little toy dog is covered with dust . . Something about, “. . . little toy soldier, red with rust . . “when our Little Boy Blue kissed them. . . .”
How did it go?
Shirley looked it up in a volume of Eugene Field’s poems, and read the poem through for the first time in years. Two lines struck at her heart: “. . . Awaiting the touch of a little hand. The smile of a little face. . . .”
The lines in the poem were sad. But their meaning for Shirley was happy . . . weren’t they? Then why, for no reason at all, did the tears well into her eyes in a flash flood and spill down her cheeks?
The mood lasted only a moment; it was gone as swiftly as it had come. “Every expectant mother has these megrims,” she told herself. “Why be so silly!”
There were moments of pure surprise. pure delight, in the midst of periods of apprehension. One of her best friends, Mrs. Sari Elliot, asked Shirley to join her for luncheon one day. “I’ll pick you up around 11:30.” Sari said. “We’ll stop for Jane, then go on to Beverly Wilshire.”
But it seemed that Jane wasn’t quite ready when the giriş arrived. Her mother was entertaining a few ladies at bridge; would Shirley please come say “Hello.”
Shirley said, “Oh dear! I really don’t look my best . . . but, then, I imagine they won’t really mind. Probably most of them are mothers. . . .”
When she entered the room she glanced around, blinked, studied the familiar faces, and performed the most Oscar-worthy, unrehearsed double-take in the history of surprise parties. The twenty guests, howling with laughter and triumph over Shirley’s amazement were her friends, not the friends of her friend’s mother.
After luncheon Shirley opened the shower gifts. Most of them were pink. Frilly pink dresses. embroidered pink sweaters, ruffled pink panties. There were a few yellow items for the new baby, a few white, and two blue. Outnumbered, the donors of the blue presents claimed extrasensory perception. “It’ll be a boy!”
Wistfully Shirley admitted, “I hope you’re right . . . but I’m afraid that . . . I think it will be a girl.”
In November, Shirley managed a trip to Pittsburgh to visit her parents. The baby was due in eight weeks, but the doctor had been so pleased with Shirley’s general condition that he saw no reason for her to remain in Los Angeles. “Seeing your mother will be good for your morale,” he said, dispelling all doubts.
And off she happily went.
In Pittsburgh. however, Shirley suffered a kidney infection and had to be hospitalized for four days. She told herself (and the Pennsylvania doctor reinforced the opinion) that the ailment was not at all rare among expectant mothers. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. The baby was lusty, kicking vigorously whenever “she” was awake; also, Shirley responded swiftly to medication.
Still, a nagging uneasiness troubled her leisure moments. It was not a full-blown fear, but more like a fine sliver in the mind that a vagrant thought disturbed, just as an invisible rose thorn in the finger will complain when touched.
Home in Los Angeles again, in mid-December, Shirley asked her doctor—tossing it off—“What’s the mortality rate for Caesarean section?”
The waiting room was filled with other expectant mothers, but the doctor told Shirley, “Sit down for a moment, Mrs. Cassidy. This is something we should discuss. Twenty years ago, performing a Caesarean section was a hazardous surgical procedure. Nowadays, however, we know so much more about techniques, about anesthesia and post-operative care that I can assure you—the danger is minimal. You’ll come through in excellent condition with a fine, healthy baby. Don’t worry: you have an excellent constitution and your present health is everything a doctor could desire. Any other questions?”
Shirley swallowed hard and assumed a jaunty grin. “No, thank you. I just thought I’d ask. . . .”
She tried to talk to jack. “In case anything should happen. . . .”
“Don’t even say it, Shirley. Not one word. I won’t listen.”
“But I think we should discuss what should be done about Shaun, in case . . . well, just in case. . . .”
“Don’t be silly,” he said, taking her in his arms and holding her firmly, his lips against her forehead. He repeated. “I refuse to listen.”
“Well, all right. But l do think we should settle on a name for the baby.” “That’s constructive.” Jack agreed. “If she’s a girl, I’m for ‘Erin.’ If he’s a boy, how about ‘Patrick William?’”
“I think she’s a girl,” Shirley mused. “Hooray!”
Shirley sighed . . . and sighed again. . . .
The afternoon Shirley went to the hospital, preparatory to surgery the following morning, she observed to Jack in a small voice, “We don’t even have our wills made . . . I mean . . . nothing’s settled.”
“Don’t need them,” Jack said with finality.
Shirley slept fitfully through the night, and was downright thankful for the 5 A.M. arrival of the nurses who were to prepare her for surgery. She was dimly aware of Jack’s goodbye kiss as she was wheeled from her room.
“Now my daughter is to be born.” she murmured to elevate her spirits. “I’ll see her the instant she comes into the world.” But the odor of the ether used as surface anesthesia nauseated her. “I’m going to be sick,” she warned the doctor.
“No you aren’t,” he answered, as the anesthetist began to introduce sodium pentathol intravenously.
A long time later she sensed that she was being moved.
“Darling . . .” Jack’s voice said.
“Where are they taking me?” she wanted to know.
“From surgery to the recovery room. The doctor says you’re doing fine.”
“But what did we have?”
Jack’s face shone like the morning sun. “We have a perfectly beautiful little boy. Seven pounds, eleven ounces, and twenty and one-half inches tall.”
She caught her breath in a spasm of bliss. She thought, my new son! My second son!
Thinking of Jack’s reaction, she managed to ask, “Are you disappointed?”
“Disappointed! Ha! He looks exactly like me.” Patting her shoulder tenderly he added. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. We can always try again.”
In the midst of pain that was washing over her body like a fierce and icy sea, her spirit responded joyfully. “You mean we really can?”
Jack tried to laugh, but the sound was unsteady. “What a girl,” he said.
That afternoon was the worst Shirley had ever experienced. Pain-killers gave her no relief. Toward evening she was given morphine, and sank into thankful sleep.
The next day. she had a steep hill to climb to full recovery—but there were those three blood transfusions, and finally Shirley awakened on the morning of January 6, 1962, feeling amazingly like herself again. She knew, as surely as if the Good Lord himself had come down and told her that she wasn’t going to die—that there’d never even been an outside chance of her dying. She wasn’t alive by a miracle—she’d never come that close! But yet. there was a miracle. Because life is a miracle, and to give birth to a child is the greatest miracle of all. For the first time in a long time, she was deliciously happy about everything.
Beside her bed was a bouquet of forty-eight roses. The card read, “You always get your way—Dearest Love, Jack.”
Later, Patrick William was brought to her arms. She looked him over carefully. He had big fists that he tried to stuff into his mouth. His nose was delicately formed, his ears lay flat against his head, and the back of his neck was like a summer peach. When he opened his eyes to stare fixedly at her. Shirley could see that he was, in truth, his father’s image.
Well content, Shirley thought, “Now in five or six years—Erin! ”
—FREDDA DUDLEY BALLING
See Shirley in “Music Man,” Warners.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MAY 1962