An Officer’s Wife (Part 2)

By Circe Woessner, Army Wife

So, I drove myself to St. Elizabeth’s—contractions and all.  We called Chris from the hospital, and she said she’d be there soon.

Because it was 11 PM, Erik was grumpy and fretful. My mother-in-law wanted to go home, Chris was nowhere to be seen. But I couldn’t sort this out—I had more pressing things to attend to.

The midwife on duty checked me out and agreed I was having contractions, but she disagreed that I was having the baby any time soon. I could hear Erik having a tantrum in the waiting room, and my mother-in-law trying to calm him down. Where was Chris?

To this day, I do not know exactly how my mother-in-law got back to our place—if Chris drove her, or if she remembered how to drive a five-speed or what.  All I remember is that I informed the nun at the St. Elizabeth’s clinic that I needed for my own sanity and the wellbeing of my unborn child to stay there at the hospital. Everyone was mad at me for overreacting and I just needed to stay put—and rest.

They checked me in for an overnight and the contractions continued. But…no baby.

The next day the Head Nun and the obstetrician came to inform me, they would keep me at the hospital, but if there was no baby by dinnertime I would have to go home.

The doctor assured me I’d know when the baby was coming—ultrasounds showed he had an enormous head. “He’ll come out like a battering ram,” Dr. Moeller chuckled, “Wait and see.”  That wasn’t a pleasant prospect.

St. Elizabeth’s hospital is built into the side of a large hill—on the Weinberg—I don’t remember seeing grapes, but I do remember climbing the steeply terraced paths…

My phone conversations back to my apartment were unsatisfactory. I knew friends were checking in to see things were all right…still I had an uneasy feeling…

I needed to have this baby now! I continued climbing up and down the steep pathways. Nothing.  Around four PM I waddled back to my room for some cold cuts, rye bread and rosehip tea. After dinner I would do last minute toe touches.

The first toe touch did it. My water broke. Yes! I wandered out to tell the nun in charge. She hustled me to a room to wait for the midwife—(In Germany at that time, everyone had a midwife for part of the birth, and the doctor did the delivery—that’s how it was explained to me.)

Iain, however, didn’t feel like being born right then, and Dr. Moeller informed me that he’d be back after he had supper.  “Don’t drink any beer,” I fussed at him.  He laughed and told me, he’d drink an extra one for me—to keep me calm!

At 20:20, March 8, Iain was born—pretty much ramming his way into the world. Chris had shown up again and was there for me. Bill was shooting his copperhead, and my mother-in-law was on the post, watching Erik.

What I didn’t know is that St Elizabeth’s policy is to keep a mother as an inpatient for a minimum of a week after a baby’s birth, so she can rest and the baby will get onto a schedule.

I really have to leave, I told the Head Nun.  Rules are rules was the answer, so I resigned myself to a lengthy hospital stay.

Because I had both German and military health insurance, I had a private room. I insisted the baby stay with me—another thing the nursing staff frowned upon—but I won a compromise. I could have him part-time—during the day—but at night, absolutely not.

The first time I really saw Iain, he was swaddled very tightly. I waited till the nun left the room to see if he had all his limbs. It was a little tricky, but I got him unbundled.  They had packed some extra diapers between his legs to keep his spine and hips straight, and then swaddled him tightly. (To this day, his posture is really good, so I guess that worked.)

Over the next few days, my friends came to visit, and each brought wine and gifts. My room became a veritable cocktail hour. My friends had stopped by the house to bring me things to do, and so I had canvas and paintbrushes and other things to amuse me.  The nuns kept me busy, too. Since I was restless and not the model patient, and I had paints, could I please touch up the odd chips in the hospital ward walls? So, I spent quite of bit of time painting walls at St. Elizabeth’s.

Bill remained in the field the whole time I was hospitalized. My parents, who worked for the Defense Department in Germany, drove up to visit on the weekend and brought Erik over to see his baby brother.

Bill arrived home from the field the day I came home from the hospital. It was the first time Bill had seen his mother in years, and of course, the first time he’d seen Iain. I handed him Iain and let the three of them bond while I bathed and fed Erik.

It was an interesting time for all of us—Iain was born just after the wall fell in Germany and just prior to the first Gulf War. Europe was in transition, and interesting times lie ahead.

I don’t think it a coincidence that out of our two children, Iain is the one who likes to drink wine—after all, he was born surrounded by vineyards.

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The Officer’s Wife (Part 1)

By Circe Woessner, Army Wife

I was pregnant with our second child, Iain, while we were living in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. My husband, 1 LT William Woessner was a platoon leader with Howitzer Battery 3/11 Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR).  As I understood it, his job was to patrol the East-West German border, and if the Russians came through the Fulda Gap, to live long enough to sound the alarm to the rest of the free world.

The 3/11 ACR was a high-speed duty assignment. The different companies rotated in and out of three border outposts in four week increments—Bill averaged over 250 days a year in the field. If HOW Battery wasn’t at Observation Posts (OP) India, Romeo or Alpha, it was training in Grafenwoehr or with its West German counterparts in Hohenfels. Bill also trained with NATO troops in multinational exercises such as REFORGER. It actually is amazing he was home long enough for me to get pregnant!

At any rate, when I was about 8 months along, the Commander of HOW battery told all of us pregnant wives that our husbands would be excused from any upcoming field exercises during our final few weeks. I was especially happy to hear this, because I had a very active four-year old and was exhausted. When I was six months pregnant, Erik was hospitalized for over a month in Kassel, a city about 32 miles away. I commuted between the two cities for a week or so, and then the hospital put me up in an empty nurses’ dorm room, so I could remain with him. That had helped, but anyone who has had a child hospitalized long-term, knows how mentally draining it is. The eight-story climb up to my dorm room kept me fit but tired. Bill had had a very busy schedule and had not been home much at all. My mother-in-law (stateside) had promised to come stay with us a week before the baby was due. She’d stay a couple of weeks after to help with Erik.

That was still weeks away, and so when the Commander told us our husbands could stay in garrison, I was thrilled.

A couple weeks after the Commander’s announcement, I was sitting in the AAFES snack bar having lunch when one of the enlisted wives sidled into the booth and sat across from me. She, too, was pregnant, and our due dates were about the same date.

She was a tough person, and had very little good to say about Germany, Bad Hersfeld in particular, and officers and their wives. I was polite but wary when I dealt with her. Now Erik and I were trapped in a snack bar booth with her.

She cooed at me as she tousled Erik’s hair, “How are you doing honey?” She made an exaggerated sympathetic face as she whispered, “How’s your son doing? I heard he was in the hospital.”  Erik continued to eat his french fries, ignoring her.

She continued, “Wouldn’t you rather have a dumb, normal, healthy kid, than a smart, sick one? I know I would.” She laughed, and then said, “I bet your husband will be able to stay out of the field longer than our husbands—officers get such better treatment than enlisted.” She gathered up her handbag, and scooted out of the booth. “Enjoy your husband—I’m sure mine will have to go to the field when they go back out next week!”

She left me, speechless, staring after her very angry back. I didn’t know what to think. All I hoped Erik hadn’t heard her nastiness.

At home I told Bill what she’d said.  He was a little concerned, because as a fairly new platoon leader, he didn’t want his troops to think he was expecting or getting special treatment.

That night the phone rang, and the Commander was calling to tell Bill that he didn’t have to go on the next ARTEP—an evaluation that would put the guys in the field for the next couple of weeks.

Bill cleared his throat and said, “No sir—I’m going because I want to be with my guys.”

I understood where he was coming from, but a certain selfish part of me wanted him home with me. I was fat, exhausted, hormonal, and tired of being a strong, independent Army Wife.

I then heard Bill ask if SSG Black was going to get to stay back, too. After some silence, Bill said goodnight and hung up the phone.  It seemed Bill was going to the field and SSG Black was staying home.

A week later, Bill was off to Graf or Hohenfels or wherever, and I was awaiting the arrival of my mother-in-law.  She was flying into Frankfurt and catching the train to Bad Hersfeld.  I’d pick her up at the Bahnhof.

Bill had assured me that if and when I went into labor in his absence, his company had assured him they’d send him back on a helicopter in plenty of time for the birth.  Skeptical, but hopeful, I asked my friend, and the Commander’s wife, Chris, to be a backup for me.

The day that Bill’s mother was supposed to arrive, I received a letter from the German health department, saying that both Erik and I had been exposed to tuberculoses while Erik had been in the hospital. (Apparently the child in the next bed had had a whopping case of TB for weeks before they caught it.) Both he and I needed to get tested.

So…Bill’s mom was arrive at 3:00; I’d go to the local health department and get tested around 1:00, so we could get done and to the train with plenty of time to spare.

We got to the train station right at 3:00. No mother-in-law. We waited for the next train and the next coming from Frankfurt. Nothing. I didn’t know what to do.  Erik was whining, I was hot and worried and had no idea what to do at all. So, I decided to go home.

I arrived at my post-housing unit, to find my mother-in-law sitting on her suitcase in the stairwell. She was not happy. I was horrified. Apparently her plane arrived early and she caught an earlier train. I was not home to get her phone call, and so somehow this was my entire fault.   We were off to a great start.

A couple of days later, I began to have contractions.  I didn’t want to overreact, so I didn’t say much. I didn’t want to call Bill too early and get him spun up.

The contractions continued throughout the day and evening. Because Erik had been induced, I didn’t really know what I was expecting. I wanted to call Bill but I didn’t want to pull him away if it was a false alarm, so I stayed put and fretted.

Bill called that night, and hesitantly I told him, I might be in labor—could he come home? There was a long silence on the end. I waited.

Then I heard, “Um well, we are supposed to shoot a copperhead round tomorrow…”

“What’s a copperhead round?”

“It’s a artillery round, once in flight, you can aim it from the ground. You basically lase the target and …well it’s a tank killer.”

“So?”

“General Abrams is going to be there. It’s our first time to shoot this thing. I can’t leave my team.”

“Really?” I asked frostily. “Fine. Stay there.”

“Well, even if I tell my Commander I want to leave now, they won’t get a helicopter here until morning. If you are really in labor, it will be too late.”

“That’s true. Fine. Stay there. I’ll be fine. I’ve got your mom and Chris here.”

I could hear relief in his voice. “You sure?”

Another contraction hit me. “Yeah, sure.”

I could feel Bill’s mom staring at me.  “As a matter fact, don’t worry about trying to get here at all…just stay with your guys—it’s much more important.”

“Okay.”

I hung up the phone, furious.  The whole thing irritated me. I knew he felt like he should be a good, professional officer—and the Army was doing a major cut of LTs and CPTs, but I also felt betrayed—yeah the whole helicopter thing probably never would’ve happened anyway!

Bill’s mother looked at me, and asked, “Why did you tell him that? Don’t you want him here?”
Suddenly it was too complicated to explain. I was too done. I started making dinner for Erik and getting him ready for bed.

Later, my contractions came closer and closer apart.  They weren’t painful, but they were consistent. I decided to tell my mother-in- law it was time to go to the hospital. That’s when I found out she couldn’t drive a manual transmission car.