My husband, Dave, and I graduated from K-State in Manhattan, Kansas in June 1967. We married that same month. Dave had been a member of the ROTC program at KSU and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Dave finished graduate school in 1968. He got a 1-year deferment from Uncle Sam. We moved to Kansas City so Dave could accept a marketing position with IBM. One year later, Dave received his papers to report for active duty.
At the outset of our marriage, we wanted children. I knew from the beginning, conception might be difficult because I suffered from endometriosis. Each month, another disappointment. We consulted an infertility doctor. He used every avenue available in those early days of infertility treatment. When those efforts failed, we looked ahead at the prospect of two or more years in the Army. There was a very probable chance that Dave would serve a tour of duty in Vietnam. We decided to begin adoption proceedings as soon as possible while Dave was still in the States.
After short-term assignments in Oklahoma and Georgia, we received a permanent duty assignment to Ft. Lewis in Tacoma, Washington. We had three weeks to travel to our new home. We stopped in Hugoton, Kansas, for Thanksgiving with my folks. The day after, we traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, to visit my sister and her husband.
I hadn’t felt well during the Thanksgiving festivities. I had no relief in Phoenix, either. Did I have food poisoning? There was no fever so it wasn’t the flu. But Dave wasn’t sick. He’d eaten the same food I had.
The next morning, my sister and I shopped. That was the last thing I wanted to do. I thought I might feel better when I got out of the house. We stopped for lunch. The smell of food made me want to head straight for the bathroom.
My sister glanced at me over her menu and said, “Are you alright? You look kind of sick.”
I swallowed hard, trying to keep my mind off the bathroom door. “Must have food poisoning. I really don’t feel well.”
Sis tilted her head and gave me a lingering second look. She put down her menu and grabbed me by the hand. “Come on. We’re going to the doctor. Now.”
When we saw the doctor, she looked into my eyes with a flashlight and announced, “You’re pregnant.”
Had I heard her right? How could this be after all these months and years of disappointment? How could she tell by looking in my eyes? Well, maybe that’s why she had the title doctor and I didn’t.
The doctor continued, “We’ll do a rabbit test just to make sure.”
As we left the office, unbelief and joy took turns ruling my heart. How could this be? Did this doctor really know what she was talking about? I wanted to believe, but feared disappointment again.
The rabbit did die. I really was pregnant. Finally! We were going to be parents of our own child!
We moved into our apartment in Washington and settled in to await the birth of our little one. The day I received the final confirmation of pregnancy, Dave received those dreaded orders for Vietnam. His departure date, in June, one month before the baby was due. He was not scheduled to return until February—if he would return at all.
We began to attend a small church in late 1970. Raised in the church, Dave and I had a genuine love and awe for the Lord. On a Sunday just after he received his orders, the Holy Spirit tapped us both on the shoulder. We entered into a deeper walk. It was a daily relationship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus became a more meaningful reality in our every-day lives.
As I advanced through the pregnancy, nausea plagued me morning, noon, and night. I had times of spotting and feared losing the baby.
Doctors had a new tool. Amniocentesis. They didn’t hesitate to use it. I underwent numerous needle pricks to draw amniotic fluid from my uterus. They examined the fluid sample to monitor my health and the baby’s health. I knew when my due date, July 7th 1971, rolled around, all this illness would be over. I could hardly wait to cradle our baby in my arms.
Each time I went to the doctor, I’d report his words to Dave in the evening. The news didn’t seem to faze him. With each bleeding incident, we kept on believing everything would be all right. We didn’t tell our parents of the difficulties. In the evenings, Dave continued to construct a cabinet and changing table for the nursery.
Because this pregnancy was high risk for both our baby and me, Dave received a revision of his orders. Now he wasn’t scheduled to leave until after the baby was due.
On my due date, I had an appointment with the Army doctor. In the military, you see a different doctor on every visit—whoever is available.
I told him, “This baby is so quiet all of a sudden. Do they do this when they’re getting ready to be born?”
The doctor checked my belly with his stethoscope. He found no heartbeat. “I’m ordering another amniocentesis.” This must have been nearing the tenth time I underwent this painful procedure.
The doctor’s report came back. “Dead baby.”
My doctor for that day explained, “We won’t induce labor. We’re going to let nature take its course. Your body will go into labor. You’ll deliver this child in due time.”
The weight of the doctor’s words hit me like a bomb blast. After all these years of waiting and prayer. Now, when our heart’s desire was so near, this. My vision blurred with tears. I slid off the exam table and drove home.
Dave and I hardly spoke of the doctor’s news. How could this be? Surely they were wrong. My ears had heard the words, but my heart refused to believe them. I had absolutely no reason to disbelieve the doctor’s report. The baby never moved again. In faith, Dave continued his work on the baby’s furniture.
Because the doctors expected me to go into labor with a dead baby at any time, Dave received another deferment to leave for Vietnam. At least we would be together during this tragic time.
A week passed. Then two. Then three. Then four.
On August 10, the doctor ordered another amniocentesis test. The fluid they drew out was a murky green color.
The doctor explained, “Your baby died because it had a bowel movement in the amniotic fluid, then aspirated the contamination. We’ll wait. It shouldn’t be long before this is over.”
That night, I watched TV beside Dave who was asleep on our pullout orange hide-a-bed couch. What sounded like an explosion filled the bed with the amniotic fluid. I woke Dave.
“It’s time to go!”
We drove to Madigan Army Hospital in silence. Hope and grief raged within me. This nightmare would soon be over. Yet I would be bereft of this little child I had now carried for over ten months.
Because I would deliver a dead baby, the doctor assigned me to the surgical wing of this huge hospital. Not the maternity ward. I endured twenty-four hours of intense labor with no result. The doctor ordered an operating room to do a cesarean section. Dave sat alone in the maternity waiting room until it was over. He fell into an exhausted sleep.
He awoke when he heard, “Lieutenant David Unruh,” over the intercom. He was at the other end of the hospital and didn’t know where they had taken me for the operation. His frustration grew, knowing I was alone without his support in that recovery room. When he finally found me, I was still under anesthetic.
Dave told me later, “I finally located the doctor. He greeted me with a concerned look. He said, ‘Lieutenant Unruh, You wife delivered a live son.’
“I said, ‘A live son? But you said . . .’
“‘I know. I know. Even though he weighs over eight pounds, he’s very sick.’
“I asked, ‘Where is he? Can I see him?’
“He said, ‘No. We rushed the baby to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with a fecal infection.’ Before the doctor turned to leave he said, ‘We’ll monitor him there until he dies.’”
Even though the doctor’s words should have brought devastation, Dave was filled with a quiet assurance. Since God had given us a live birth, Dave felt He would also cause our son to thrive, despite the dire predictions.
I didn’t learn about Darren until several hours after his birth. I had been heavily sedated. According to doctor’s orders, I wasn’t allowed to see our son until day three when Dave wheeled me to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
On the fourth day I finally got to hold Darren. When the nurse laid him in my arms, I wept tears of joy. Here was our son. Not dead. Alive. My heart overflowed with gratitude to God. Before I thought about it, I began to sing him nursery rhymes.
To the doctor’s amazement, he continued to gain in strength. On the eighth day, doctors permitted both of us to go home.
I knew the minute we left the hospital, Dave’s deferment would be over. Soon I would wave my precious husband good-bye for the deadly rice paddies of Vietnam. A hurricane of emotions stormed within me.
My mother-in-law came to help with the baby.
With all that had gone on in our lives, Dave had a hard time sleeping when we got home. One night he picked up an Army Regulations Manuel and thumbed through it. He noticed an asterisk on the bottom of a page that read, “If a soldier is to be deployed shorter than 180 days, he is exempt from deployment.”
He counted the days before his scheduled released from the Army. He shouted to me from the living room, “Carolyn! Look at this! They can’t send me to Vietnam! Today it’s 178 days before I’m slated to get out of the service!”
I couldn’t believe my ears! Could this really be possible?
The next morning he checked with his commanding officer. It was indeed true.
That following February, Dave completed his term of service to the military. We moved our little family back to Kansas City; the place where we lived before life delivered its curve balls.
Today, Darren is six-foot, four inches tall and has been in excellent health his whole life. He is an entrepreneur in the financial realm and a leader in his church. He and his wife, Teri, and their four children live on fifteen acres where they raise cattle, chickens, and Mastiff show dogs.
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