My Mother – Mary Ann Hamilton
When fall begins I have mixed feelings. Everywhere are reminders of the changing seasons’ sights, smells and football games and getting ready for Thanksgiving. However, on October 23, 1983 that all changed for me.
My mother had been hospitalized with severe abdominal pain. The doctor had decided it was caused by her gall bladder and scheduled her for surgery to remove it. My dad, my brother, my aunt & uncle were all there in the surgical waiting room. But I was at home with 1 year old, John Warren waiting by the phone. I put the baby down for a nap. Then I got a tense call from my husband’s secretary saying he was on his way home! I asked her why and confused she told me my brother, John, had called his wife, Tami, who worked for the same company, upset and asking her to come to the hospital! They thought surely I knew what had happened! I rushed to get dressed & get the baby dressed! When Carl arrived, we drove hurriedly to the hospital not knowing what had happened. When I found my dad he told me that when the doctor opened her, the gall bladder was fine, but, he found what he believed was cancer on the liver and pancreas. He took a biopsy on the liver and closed. He told my dad he believed it was pancreatic cancer that had spread and she probably only had a few months to live! We were stunned! I later learned that Aunt Daisy and Uncle Bill had been on the way to my house to tell me and take care of the baby, but, we were already on our way to the hospital and Carl just kept the baby in the lobby.
We spread the word and prayers from all of our family and friends began in earnest! An oncologist was referred and he examined the biopsy results and told us it was breast cancer! At 47, my mother had a mammogram the year before and a doctor’s manual exam 2 months before, but, nothing had been found. The oncologist examined her and found a tiny tumor by a nipple and performed a lumpectomy. We already knew it had spread to her liver, but, now they ran a comprehensive scan. The great news, an answer to prayer, was that nothing was ever found on her pancreas, but, it had spread to her lungs & bones. However, the doctor told us she had a 90% chance of beating it. Eight days later we celebrated John Warren’s 1st birthday celebrating too that we had every reason to be optimistic for the future.
Chemotherapy began and in time successfully arrested all areas and she had been doing great! In May, 1984 my parents and my dad’s sister & her husband, Daisy & Bill, took a wonderful vacation to Hawaii. At Christmas that year her hair had grown back and they had a special catered Christmas party.
Unfortunately, by the end of January, 1985 it had spread to her brain, but, radiation arrested the growth of that tumor. Sadly, her symptoms persisted and it was discovered it had spread to the meninges of her brain. This was the one area that didn’t respond to treatment.
After the radiation treatment she had been put on steroids to keep her brain from swelling. As a result, during the last 4 months of her life, she had been confused and increasingly agitated and paranoid that the nurses were trying to poison her. Once when I was visiting, when I told her I was leaving as Carl had baby John and was picking me up, she grabbed me in a strong grip and said I shouldn’t have let him take him and we had to figure out how to get the baby back! I couldn’t get free! A few minutes later, my dad walked in and calmed & distracted her so I could get free. After that he told me that I should only stay about 15 minutes and never tell her goodbye, but, wait till her attention wandered and slip out of the room. It hurt so much never even being able to say goodbye. Her eyes looked so tortured. This was especially hard for me, as when I looked in the mirror, I would see ‘her’ eyes. I had begun praying and speaking Philippians 4:7 to her that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (her) heart and (her) mind in Christ Jesus.”
I was blessed and grateful that the last time I spent time with her, I could see she was at peace, because her eyes, the windows of your soul, were crystal clear and peaceful. She was sitting by the window of her hospital room looking out at a sunny day and Viney, the special nurse’s aide who cared for her for the last 6 months of her life, even after she was hospitalized, was feeding her ice cream. I took over feeding her and told her that her eyes looked so beautiful. Viney said she thought my eyes looked like hers and my mom nodded in agreement. That was an incredible comfort. The next day she went to sleep and continued sleeping for the next 3 days.
On Saturday morning, November 9, 1985, my dad called to tell me he had decided to take a break and ride down to Stockdale to see my Grandparents. Carl, left to do some programming for a friend’s office and I got a burst of energy to clean my house. Viney called and told me she was trying to reach my Dad. Although she didn’t work on Saturdays, she felt compelled to check on my Mom and from experience she knew her breathing indicated she did not have long to live and she knew my Dad would want to be there. I called my Grandparents and found out that my Dad had a sense he needed to get back to the hospital and had already headed back to town. About 30 minutes later, Daddy called to tell me that my Mom had passed away. He told me he had stopped to help a family putting their elderly mother in the car to take her home. By the time he got upstairs and walked into her room, he said she was looking up at the ceiling, as if she was seeing a bright light and then she passed away.
Friends and family gathered at my parent’s house. Those who come to comfort and care for you at such a time, mean everything to you. One cousin asked me if I was mad at God for not answering my prayers and healing my mother. I said, “He did heal her! She’s not sick anymore!” I truly believe that, but, it was a special gift that God gave me those words at that moment. What a comfort it was to be surrounded by the loving company of close family and friends. It felt so comfortable, as if my mom was just in another room visiting with friends. It was especially nice to be free of the worry and anguish we had endured when we were so constantly aware of her suffering.
We had celebrated John Warren’s 3rd birthday a week earlier. We had celebrated his 1st birthday one week after her diagnosis and I had prayed that she would not pass on his birthday and she passed one week after his 3rd birthday. I was 26 weeks pregnant at the time. Everyone kept commenting on how big I was and speculating that maybe I was going to have twins. Even a family friend who had given birth to twins, told me people were always telling her they wondered if they were having twins. But, she said, they really don’t know how big you get with twins! However, she said I was big for only 6½ months!
We decided to have the funeral Monday afternoon, on Veteran’s Day, when people would likely be able to come. I was scheduled for my monthly OB visit that morning. I decided to keep the appointment since the funeral was not until 1:00 pm that afternoon, so I could touch base with the doctor. When the doctor examined me, he told me that I had grown 10 centimeters in a month instead of the usual 4 centimeters! He told me that he didn’t think I was having twins, but, that the baby had probably just had a growth spurt. However, he said we needed to do a sonogram to see what was going on. At that time sonograms were not routine and I had never had one before. He told me that we didn’t necessarily need to do it this week, as he knew I had a lot going on, but, we were anxious to know what was going on, so an appointment was set up for Thursday.
We had a lovely service for Mother that afternoon at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church with Reverend John Platte. It was a blessing to have someone speaking who knew Mom. He had visited our homes and had warmly welcomed her & Daddy in church when she asked him to bring her when she was able to come. He had also visited her faithfully after she was hospitalized. We went through the rest of the week wondering if perhaps the Lord was going to ease our grief by blessing us with twins.
Three Days later, we had the sonogram in Dr. Paine’s office and the first thing we learned was that we were not having twins. However, the doctor told us that the baby had a growth on her tailbone and he wanted me to have a high-resolution sonogram with a specialist at the hospital, to get more information. He said he was concerned about the baby’s ability to move her legs, but, emphasized this was not cancer.
An hour later we went to the hospital next door for this sonogram. It was uncomfortable because it was a lengthy process and the specialist pressed down firmly, all over my abdomen, in order to get the best views of the baby. The Specialist told us the baby was a girl and told us her brain and heart looked perfect and the organs in her abdomen appeared to be functioning well in utero. She didn’t give us much more information and told us Dr. Paine would be calling me after he received the report on the sonogram. As we were leaving the lab I made the comment, “She didn’t say anything about the baby’s lungs.”
My Dad was already back at work and anxiously waiting to hear from us, so, we drove over to his office to tell him what we had learned. We were dreading to tell him something was wrong, just days after we had buried my mother. In the office with all his salesmen, we just told them it wasn’t twins but a baby girl which he was thrilled to hear, since we already had a little son. Then we took him to lunch and after we ate we told him what the doctor had told us. We tried to stay positive, especially after all the family had been through, and stressed it was not cancer. We told him we would hear more from the doctor later that evening. I was feeling sick, from all the pressure on my uterus during the sonogram, and came home to rest and wait to hear from the doctor. My emotions and body were exhausted.
The doctor called me that evening and told me they were familiar with this type of large benign tumor that was almost as large as the baby. He said the tumor was a teratoma which has every type of tissue as a baby. He said it was attached at the tailbone and, from the sonogram report, he had every reason to be optimistic that it could be safely removed after the baby was born. He said I also had polyhydramnios which means there was excessive amniotic fluid and this combined with the tumor made me full term size at 27 weeks. He told me,as a result, I would have to be watched very closely for premature labor and would have to have a c-section delivery. All our other family and friends were anxiously waiting to hear if we were having twins. We didn’t want to talk about everything, at this point, as I still had 13 weeks to go, so we decided to just tell everyone that it was a baby girl. I knew I could not hold it together calling all these people and Carl kindly made all the calls, so I could rest. It was a hard day for both of us.
Saturday morning, I got in the shower to get ready to go pick up the sympathy notes so I could begin thanking people for all the flowers, food and remembrances. However, when I was showering, the mucous plug came out! I panicked because when John was born, my water broke 45 minutes after this happened! I rushed to tell Carl and call the doctor. Dr. Paine was not on call for the weekend, but, the high-risk doctor in the practice was and he told me to come to the hospital immediately. Then the phone rang and it was my Dad and I didn’t want to worry him, at this point, so I told him we were taking it easy. We called my brother, John, and his wife, Tami, and asked them if they could meet us at the hospital so they could take care of 3 year old, John Warren.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was placed in labor & delivery and the doctor put me on terbutaline to stop my labor. I had not started dilating, but, I was having contractions. Late that night, I started having severe chest pains. Sunday this continued and it was determined I had gone into pneumonia. We decided to call my Dad and tell him what was happening. He came to the hospital and said the most memorable thing.
He said, “It’s as if your Mom is our guardian angel and when she got up to heaven she could see what was happening and she went straight to the ‘Head Man’ and said, “We’ve got to do something and we’ve got to do something now!!!”
On Monday morning, November 18, 1985, when Dr. Paine was back on duty, he told me my system couldn’t handle the terbutaline and he would have to take me off of it and check me at the end of the day. He said he was not writing this baby off, but, sometimes nature knows best. A Neo-natal nurse came in and told me that a 27-week baby had a 90% chance of survival, so not to give up hope. At the end of the day, I was dilated 3 cm, so, Dr. Paine scheduled an emergency c-section.
I told Dr. Paine I wanted to be awake and he said an epidural was better anyway because of the pneumonia. He performed the c-section. A Neonatologist was present. I could hear him saying he couldn’t get the tube down. They told me they were taking the baby for an x-ray. The x-ray showed that the baby had no lungs. Her esophagus came down and ended, which is why the doctor couldn’t get the tube down to ventilate her. There was nothing they could do for her.
They asked us if we wanted her to be baptized and in faith and a desire to validate her presence on the earth we said yes. We had always planned to name a girl, Ann Marie, so Carl asked me if I wanted to name her ‘Ann Marie.’ I said, “No, there was no way I could lose Mary Ann (my mother) and Ann Marie ten days apart! I told Carl that my mother told me once that she had wanted to name me Catherine, so, “Let’s name her Catherine.”
She ‘lived’ or at least her tiny heart kept beating for 2 hours due to the oxygenation of her blood from my placenta. They tried to take me to see her, but, I was still in the recovery room after the c-section. They tried to roll me over to see her, but, the gurney wouldn’t fit through the door to the Neo-natal nursery. I was only able to look at her from 15 feet across the room from her little NICU Isolette. But the sweet nurses dressed her in a little gown and took a Polaroid picture of her for me to cherish, along with her birth certificate with her tiny footprints.
All through the next day, Tuesday, I slept and I have no memory of that time. Carl slept in a chair in my room and on Wednesday, he woke up to see me sitting up and he heard my half of a conversation with my mother! It scared him, but, I believe the Lord allowed her to come and comfort me somewhere between time and eternity. I was very sick and I often wonder if I experienced a small taste of heaven during that time as I healed. Valium was one of the drugs they gave me to calm me and I’ve heard it can cause retrograde amnesia. Makes me wonder what happened that I just don’t remember.
Since I was recovering from surgery, pneumonia and the complications of the pregnancy we decided to have a memorial service for Baby Catherine in the Methodist Hospital chapel and Carl, his parents and my Dad had a small graveside service with a tiny white coffin at Mission Park South Cemetery where my mother and both of my uncles were buried. We placed an engraved Bronze heart as the grave marker in Babyland right next to the San Antonio River on the southside.
Ironically, this was just downstream from where I had lived as a child for a few years. Our property behind San Jose Mission on Symphony Lane backed up to the river (really more of a creek than a river in that area) and we fished in it and rode horses on it when I was in 1st – 3rd grades. It was a happy time for me then and it has always given me great peace that she’s buried there next to that peaceful stream of my childhood, not far from my mother’s grave.
In another evidence of God’s Amazing Grace, after I got home from the hospital, I learned that my sweet neighbor and friend, Paula, who lived 4 doors away on my street, although, I knew she was a nurse, was in fact a Neo-Natal nurse who worked in the same NICU with the nurses who cared for Baby Catherine! She wasn’t on duty that night, but, was able to share information and reassurance directly from the same nurses. When I cried because I didn’t get to hold her, she told me that ‘(I) held Catherine in my womb closer than anyone could and she was perfectly healthy and safe while she was there.’ My Mother had ordered some things from Sears for Christmas before she passed and evidently she had an intuition that my baby was a girl as one gift that arrived after she passed, was a china baby doll! Apparently, She anticipated a granddaughter and now Catherine is in heaven with her!
‘Footprints Experience – I remember how unexplainedly joyful I felt in the first few weeks after I got home from the hospital. It was Paula, who took me to a Bible Study the day after I got home from the hospital and I was eager to testify how I felt the Lord had saved my life and how I had never felt more loved by Him! I knew it was the Joy of the Lord, but, I remember reading the poem ‘Footprints’ with new eyes and realizing that was why I felt joyful! Joy is different than happiness, which is related to circumstance. Jesus was carrying me through this. It’s not that I didn’t grieve the losses of my Mother and my Baby, Catherine, intensely at times, but, the Father is so faithful and in the hardest times I learned more about His Grace than any other time.
After I got home, I read endlessly about prenatal development and I discovered that a baby’s lungs develop at 11 weeks. I read that if something interrupts the development at a certain point that it doesn’t go back and make up for it later. I remembered having the flu and a fever at that point in my pregnancy and was convinced that is what must have happened. When I went to the doctor for a follow-up, I told Dr. Paine about this and he explained something to me. He told me that lungs need space and nutrition to develop and the tumor interfered in both ways. I remembered my comment that the specialist had not said anything about the baby’s lungs after the sonogram. Was that something in my intuition that sensed there was something wrong with her lungs? I asked him why they didn’t know from the sonogram. He told me that in utero the lungs are fluid filled so they are not visible on a sonogram.
I asked him if my severe chest pains were caused by the pneumonia and he told me I was suffering from severe cardiac insufficiency caused by the stress of the pregnancy and with the terbutaline, my heart was working overtime trying to stop the labor that really needed to proceed. Clearly, my life was threatened by what was taking place. Then he shared something with me that showed me just how much the Lord was protecting me and guiding the circumstances.
He told me that every obstetrician fears delivering half a baby. He said, if we had not learned of the tumor and the necessity of the c-section, I would have gone into labor, as I did, and as labor progressed the baby would have gotten stuck in the birth canal. Unable to see what was wrong, they would have watched the baby die in the birth canal. The doctor would have been forced to cut the cervix in order to save my life if he had even been able to save me! It made me realize that it was the Lord that prompted me to keep my appointment the morning of the funeral. It would have been all too easy to decide to re-schedule my appointment in the middle of the overwhelming grief of losing my Mother! Whatsmore, it was God’s plan that I proceed with the sonogram only 2 days before I went into labor. The doctor had even suggested we could wait to do the sonogram till the next week! However, in God’s economy, it was necessary for it to happen exactly as it did. He made sure the doctors knew exactly what they needed to know exactly when they needed to know!
As time has passed I see God’s protection and plan even more clearly. If it hadn’t happened just that way, as sad as it was, I never would have been able to have more children if I had even survived at all! But 13 months later I gave birth to Christopher Damon and 4 years later I gave birth to Ann Marie.
Dr. Paine changed his practice too. When I was pregnant with my firstborn, John, I never had a sonogram as they weren’t common. I remembered asking about them and he said they didn’t yet know the long-term effects of them. However, after my situation he began routinely scheduling a sonogram for all his patients at 12 weeks of pregnancy. I’m grateful to God that Dr. Paine was present for all 4 of my deliveries!
I learned I can trust God even in the middle of tragedy and heartache because He can see further down the road and He truly does have our well-being and blessing in mind!
Dr. Mark Paine, with John, Chris & Ann Marie