On September 5th, 1979, I gave birth to my daughter Avaryl Jayne Buzbee Arvelo. It didn’t realize it at the moment, but it was one of those moments in life when you thought you were going in a direction and then there is this major change of plans. Although the circumstances around us the day she was born also made it something to remember, I remember more because how this little child changed my life and gave me a reason for living.
Hurricane David hit the Dominican Republic 5 days before I gave birth. It was an absolute mess. With winds of 156 mph, the island had been ravaged. There were a lot of deaths, millions of dollars in damage, food shortages, no electricity, no gas, no telephones, total chaos. The government had declared a state of emergency and instituted a curfew. Not the best of circumstances for someone as big as a hippo and ready to pop. My mother spent the hurricane with me in case I went into labor. We had been moving to a new house got caught with some of the stuff in one house and some in the other. Then the water became contaminated–one more problem.
The US sent food shipments to help the situation–food that was for sale in every supermarket the next day–huge American chickens. And a watermelon! The only craving I had the whole pregnancy. I saw that watermelon in the supermarket and I had to have it. I went home, sat in a rocking chair in a terrace and proceeded to eat most of it. My mother has always said it was the watermelon that made me go into labor. Considering that I was 2 weeks late, anything would have done the job at this point.
The spirit of the Dominican people will never be crushed. In spite of the curfew, everyone figured out how to keep on having fun. So people would go to each other’s houses before the curfew began at 6pm and spend the night. That way we could still party. That is what my friends did the night I went into labor. My dearest friends Karen and Peter Thomas had come over to spend the night. We had a great dinner with Buz, my father in law and a man known for his splendid table, then played cards until very late. I went to bed around 1 because I was very tired by then and left everyone having fun.
At around 3:00 a.m. I woke up. I was dreaming that I was going into labor, only to find that I was in labor. My doctor had told me to call her when the contractions were 15 minutes apart. Well, they were 5 minutes apart. We were freaking out having never given birth before. I thought I had slept through the other contractions and the baby was about to come out. Boy, was I wrong! Tommy went to the neighbor’s to use the phone since theirs was working. He called the doctor and my mother. He also called the police since there was a curfew and we could get shot on the way to the hospital. My mother came over and we formed a caravan to the hospital with all the cars shining their emergency flashers just in case. The roads were still completely covered in debris from hurricane David so it was like an obstacle course. Some of the roads we tried to take were closed due to fallen trees and we had to turn around a few times. We managed to get to the hospital around 5 a.m.
I got admitted and prepped... I was not really dilated enough yet. In fact, Avaryl wasn’t born until 4:30 p.m. that afternoon. All the hope of having a natural childbirth went out the window after doing Lamaze breathing for 10 hours. My contractions had been 3 minutes apart since 9:00 a.m. I had not slept. I had not eaten. I was exhausted! At that point I begged for drugs: “Just give me anything. I don’t care!” followed by some exclamations, in Spanish and English, that I can't repeat now. I was given a pelvis block. As soon as I felt no pain, I fell asleep. I slept until around 4 when I was in full labor and the baby was ready to come out. When the baby’s head started crowning I thought it would be over soon and then she got stuck. She wouldn’t come out. So they had to use forceps. If someone had described to me, when I first got pregnant, the pain that I was about to feel at that time, I would have opted for any drug or to not ever get pregnant in the first place. It was excruciating. At this point, I was given twilight gas. This is probably the funniest part of the whole experience. Having done acid in the early 70’s a couple of times explains what happened next. Apparently, I loved the gas and told Tommy in front of the doctors and everyone that was in the delivery room: “This is so cool! It is better than acid!”. Yes I am an ex-hippy... so what? This was around the time that Tommy also almost fainted. He had to go and lie down in another bed for a few of minutes. A couple of minutes later I was awakened by a crying baby. I looked over and there she was. Weighing in at 7 pound 6 ounces. Avaryl had arrived.
When I went to my hospital room I found my mother and her maids had come in and totally sterilized my room from top to bottom, and had brought sheets, towels, and everything else I could have needed. I knew of women who had died giving birth because of the lack of sanitation in the Dominican Hospitals of that time, which was the reason I opted for the brand new women's hospital which only did births, etc Didn’t deal with diseased. All the patients there were giving birth. But still, my mother found it necessary to clean. I will always thank her for it.
Avaryl had a totally different cry and I could tell her cry from all the other babies in the hospital. If they took her away for any reason, I knew when she cried. Instinct is an amazing thing. You can identify your child from all the other children just minutes after they are born. Amazing.
My daughter has been an individual from the moment she was born. She has been exotic, smart, funny, witty, and very strong since birth. As much strife as life has thrown her way, she has survived it. She has faced muscular dystrophy and diabetes with the will and attitude that few people have. I have always known that I didn’t have to worry about her. She would make it. That is who she is. The women of my family are very strong. But our girls, are a lot stronger than my generation. Avaryl and my nieces, Aurora and Atibel, the three As, are totally individual women full of determination and guts. I love that about all three. We gave them the choice to be whoever they wanted to be, without having to compromise just because they were women. They have taken that freedom and run with it! More power to them. What they are achieving is a testament of the way we raised them.