My first pregnancy went smoothly. No morning sickness, no back problems except for some sciatica, and low weight gain.

And then I gave birth too soon. Way too soon. Eight and a half weeks too soon. My water broke at the end of my seventh month. I thought that the doctors would refill my uterus and send me home. I was naïve and uninformed.

Two weeks before David was born

Once the amniotic fluid is gone, the baby is susceptible to infection. Plus, the doctors tested my fluid and the baby had Hyaline Membrane Disease. His lungs were not developed so he could not breathe on his own yet. Because of this, they had to get the baby out quickly. So they gave me a drug called Pitocin to speed up the labor.

I was totally unprepared. I hadn’t even brought a toothbrush to the hospital. And my Lamaze class was scheduled to start THE NEXT DAY. I knew nothing about the birth process, breathing, labor, nothing.

To top things off, I barely made it into the delivery room . And my husband, Larry, had just gone out for coffee when the baby’s head started crowning. I kept yelling for someone to go find my husband ASAP! Larry made it into the delivery room just as David came flying out into the world.

Within a few minutes the baby was in respiratory distress and had to be rushed to the Premie Unit to be put on oxygen. Larry went with the baby and I was left in the recovery room alone to try to wrap my head around what was happening. We had not definitively picked a name for our son yet. But I wanted him to be named David, so that’s what I wrote on the birth certificate. I later realized that the name resonated with me because my Mom had had a stillborn son at the age of nineteen and had named him David. I grew up being told that I would have had a brother named David.

David was 4 lbs. 2 oz. at birth so he wasn’t tiny as far as premies go. But he was on oxygen, which is always dangerous. Both too much OR too little oxygen can cause brain damage. At 36 hours old, Larry and I went to visit our son and all the alarms in the premie unit started to go off. Doctors started rushing to OUR BABY.

David at five weeks old in the Premie Unit

David’s lung had collapsed. We were taken out of the room as they did emergency surgery to inflate David’s little lung. David still has that scar, at age 37.

We watched our son’s eyelashes and eyebrows grow in. We went through many scares – he might be blind in one eye or he might have an intestinal disease or malfunction. He stayed in an incubator for five weeks and spent his sixth week in the hospital in a bassinet. He came home at 4 lbs.15 oz. I had expressed my milk for him for six weeks so when he got home, we started breast-feeding. We were very lucky that that went normally, despite his use of bottles in the hospital.

At the time, there were no clothes or diapers especially made for premies. So we had to put clothes repeatedly through a hot dryer and hope they would shrink enough. But fortunately that was the extent of our problems once we got him home.

We knew we wanted another child, but first I had to find out why David had been so premature. It was a scary experience that could have gone south in so many ways. It took a few years to finally discover that I had a Bi-Corniate Uterus, a uterus that is divided into two sections. I could have another child but the pregnancy would have to be monitored closely to avoid another premature birth.

I got pregnant again when David was four years old. At the end of my seventh month, I started to efface and dilate. So I was put on total bed rest for the next six weeks. I could get out of bed to go to the bathroom and to shower three times a week. That was it! The problem was that I had a four and a half-year old to take care of.

Eight months pregnant with Sarah and still on bed rest, with David

I had to figure out how to do everything by phone or by surrogate. My bed became command central. I had a housekeeper who was helping me during the day. She picked David up at school, watched him, did the shopping and made dinner. One day, she got sick and left me in the middle of the day. She insisted that she had to go to her own home to be sick. I was frantic! I got a friend to pick David up at school. Next I called an au pair agency to try to find someone to live-in, immediately. Did I mention that it was the week before Christmas?

I got lucky. A 19-year-old German girl named Daniella walked in for an interview. I hired her on the spot and she moved in that night. She got me through to the beginning of my ninth month, when it was safe to get out of bed because the baby was close enough to full term. My daughter, Sarah, wasn’t born for two more weeks. During that time, I could barely walk. I was carrying so low, it felt like I had a football between my legs.

Daniella with David and Sarah the day Sarah came home from the hospital

When my water finally broke, we checked into a birthing room in the hospital. That was a regular hospital room, complete with a TV and a phone. The OB-GYN would deliver the baby in theses relatively comfortable surroundings because it was expected to be a complications free birth and because I had agreed to forgo all anesthesia. I expected a quick delivery and I was right. I remember that we had the Today Show on the TV, to distract me. Teddy Kennedy was a guest, but I can’t recall the topic of conversation.

The only irregularity occurred after the birth, in the naming process. I wanted to name a girl after my grandmother, Sarah, and after Larry’s Aunt, Blanche. We were going to name her Sarah Beth. But there was a local bakery/restaurant down the street called Sarabeth’s Kitchen. So we decided not to name a daughter after a local business.

But holding our new daughter in the delivery room, we realized that it was important to name our child what we both really wanted to name her. It was silly to worry about who else out there might share her name. So we went with our original choice, Sarah Beth.

Sarah and David, the day she came home from the hospital

Unfortunately, we had already told our son that his sister would be named Rachel. So he went to school talking about his new sister, Rachel. When he told his class the next day that his sister was named Sarah, the kids teased him and said that he didn’t really have a sister at all. Apparently that traumatized our son because we still get grief about that Snafu to this day!

So I had issues with both my pregnancies, one on the back-end and the other in the middle. But I was very lucky in that I ended up with beautiful and healthy babies. I may have gotten a few grey hairs along the way, but all’s well that ends well. As someone once said.


lifelessons – a blog by Judy Dykstra-Brown

The poem I’ve written below is based on the “Five Principles for Getting through the Trump Years,” given by Alice Walker in her speech at a reading in La Manzanilla, Mexico two nights ago on February 20, 2017. I was fortunate enough to be at that reading where she and four other excellent writers also talked about subjugation, prejudice, inequality, poverty and the importance of kindness, open-mindedness, acceptance and education in bringing our country to a better level of fairness to all.

I’ll talk about some of the other poets and storytellers who told their tales in a later post; but for today, and since it fit in with today’s prompt, here is my take on Ms. Walker’s wonderful talk.


Rhythm Method

You’ve got to listen to the beat.
Shake your booty, pound your feet.
If you want to survive the day,
the rhythm method is the way.
It’s been said by smarter folks than I
that it’s the way that we’ll get by
in times we think we won’t survive—
the way we stay fully alive
in spite of voters who were hazy
and voted in a man who’s crazy.

Instead of listening to his bleat,
until the time of his defeat,
first and foremost, kindness will
help us to swallow this bitter pill.
A close connection with nature might
help us stay strong in the fight.
Respect for all those elders who
just might be another hue:

native tribes or Africans
brought unwillingly as hands
to shore up our economy
and build a country for you and me
while they paid the awful fee
in poverty and slavery.
It’s time to set our people free!

Gratitude for human life,
both theirs and ours, will allay strife.
In times like these, less than enhancing,
“Hard times demand furious dancing!”
One wiser and more in the groove
than I am, says that we must “Move!”
James Cleveland sang “This too shall pass,”
Turn on his music and move your ass.

Thousands of people dance along
this wonderful old gospel song
in her mind’s eye and I agree.
While we are waiting, you and me,
for enough others to see the light
and step in line to wage the fight,
we have to keep the joy in us
in spite of this unholy fuss
that seeks to keep us frightened and
prisoners in our native land.

Instead of knives and swords and guns,
defeat the tyrant with jokes and puns.
Comedians will save the day
and keep us laughing on the way.
But in the mean time, move your feet.
Feel the rhythm. Feel the beat.
If this nation has a chance,
perhaps we’ll find it in the dance.

The quotations above are all from Alice Walker’s talk. In prose form, here again are her five principles for getting through the Trump years (or hopefully, months.)

1. Kindness, which can keep us going through these unkind times.

2. A close connection with nature.

3. Respect for our oldest biological ancestors including native Americans (specifically those at Standing Rock), Africans  (who survived the fierce physical brutality of slavery) and Europeans such as John Brown and Susan B. Anthony.

4.  ‘Move!  Hard times demand furious dancing.’ Reverend James Cleveland sang, “This too shall pass.”  Get a recording of it and dance to it! She has an image of thousands of people dancing to this wonderful gospel song.

5. Maintain gratitude for human life.

She ended by relating the importance of meditation, which she described as a means “to rediscover the blue sky that is our mind,” and by stating that one way we can overcome the constant bad news with which our oppressors drug us is to learn the bad news first from comedians. This, perhaps, is one way for us to get through this dark period in our history.

The prompt today was rhythmic.

Please read the original post on Judy Dykstra’s brilliant site: Rhythm Method


I keep hearing that “age is just a number.” If that’s true, then youth is also just a number.

The whole “number” part of aging applies only to the years you’ve (so far) survived. The remainder of the equation has to do with how your body is doing. Whether you still have mostly original equipment or have had to install after-market replacements. Those whose DNA or good luck have allowed them to feel young tend to ascribe their well-being to a positive attitude. It’s easy to believe that when all the parts are in good working order.

After that, life isn’t about your attitude. It’s about what works, what doesn’t. And what you do about it.

96-Me Young in MaineI had a great attitude when I discovered I had cancer in both breasts. A positive approach was not going to make the cancer vanish. I figured it would be pretty clear sailing after that, but much to my surprised (dismayed) chagrin, a few years later I discovered I had a failing heart. Which I’d dismissed as “something else.” Maybe psychological.

Reality crashed in and I had to face it or I would die. A positive attitude wasn’t nearly enough. I wanted so badly for it to be untrue. A medical error. How could I be that sick?

I learned a positive attitude works best in conjunction with good doctors, appropriate care, and commonsense. Sometimes, you have to let your body take the lead. If you want to live, that is.

Mind-over-matter and “age is just a number” are overused platitudes. Being cheerful won’t fix a non-working heart valve, remove cancer, or replace your knees or hips. People who believe a bright smile and a positive attitude are the same as youth and good health are in for a rude awakening. Sooner or later, it comes to all.

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

On the day when reality crashes in, that is when you need to be positive. Life doesn’t begin and end with youth. Accepting the real limitations life imposes requires guts, determination, and an ability to roll with the punches. Courage is accepting that you can’t do all the stuff you used to do while finding stuff to do you never considered. Or figure out how to do old things in a new way.

72-SAVE YOUR SOUL-080416_007

It doesn’t take much courage to face the day if you feel great and your body works. If fate decrees otherwise, you need plan B. That’s when you find out what you’re made of.

Unless you die early, youth ends. For everyone. During most of life, we aren’t young. That’s okay. If youth were the only thing worth having, we’d all be dead before 30.

There is life after youth. I think that’s when the real fun begins.



We were watching a rerun of NCIS, an episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”

My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic. Fun and I don’t regret it, but there’s nothing heroic about riding the Cyclone — at least not these days since they repaired it.

Maybe it was braver — more like stupider — when I was a kid. Back then, pieces of it would fly off while you rode the rickety rails at 70 mph. But I digress.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived cancer and heart problems and a myriad other life-threatening ailments (so far, so good). As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all of that and have a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always a trip to the Cyclone and doesn’t require years of recovery and rehab.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship still alive but hardly deserving a medal. No one gives medals for surviving. Nor should they. Saving your own life (and occasionally, dragging others with you to safety) is your survival instinct at work. It’s not valor. N0t bravery.

Staying alive is hard-wired into the DNA of all living things. Otherwise, life on earth would have long since vanished. It may yet.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You make a willing and conscious choice to put yourself in peril for the sake of others. There must be a choice involved. Taking risks for fun, to make money, or because your imminent demise is the only other option isn’t courageous. It’s what we do to keep alive. Some of us are better at it than others, but that doesn’t change the essence of the experience.

Medal of honor from Obama

If you do it for fun, it’s entertainment. If you’re doing it for profit? It’s shrewd business sense.  If it’s choosing to live rather than die? That’s your survival instinct at work.

I have never done anything I would define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. I’ve gotten myself into tight corners — accidentally — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve occasionally put others ahead of me to help when I could. Never did I put myself in harm’s way to save another.

The best I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t the easiest choice. You don’t get medals for that, either.



It was a rerun of an NCIS episode from a couple of years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”

My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much any more. We communicate via the Internet, not in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic.


Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived. As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all that and lead a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s the Cyclone. I could have lived with that.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship alive but I don’t deserve a medal. You don’t get medals for surviving or shouldn’t. Saving ones own life (and occasionally as collateral anti-damage, other people’s too) is instinct, not valor.

Staying alive is hard-wired into our DNA. Birds do it. Bees do it. Even educated fleas do it.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You have to make a willing choice. There has to be a choice! Taking risks for the fun of it, to make a killing in the stock market, or because your only other option is death isn’t courage.

If it’s fun, it’s entertainment. I love roller coasters. I probably would have liked sky diving had my back not been so bad. A personal passion or hobby involving doing dangerous stuff is not brave. Maybe it’s not even intelligent.

Taking a risk for profit? Shrewd, not brave.

Saving your own life? Finding a way by hook or crook to keep a roof over your head and food on your table? That’s instinct.

I’ve never done anything I define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. Some of these adventures proved disastrous. Others worked out okay. I’ve occasionally been selfless in helping others when I could. But I never voluntarily put myself in harm’s way to save someone else.

The most I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t easy. I don’t think you get medals for that, either.

Anyway, that’s what I think.


His paintings tell an all-too-familiar story. It’s our world, where the world is full of plenty yet countless millions struggle to survive even though they work full-time, sometimes more than full-time. Because America’s minimum wage is so low, no one can live on those earnings.


Jack Keough’s Work Series are paintings without faces. He says he doesn’t want this to be about one-dimensional or race issues. This is an issue that cuts across race, ethnicity, culture, education.

Says Keough “This is a ‘bottom of America’ issue. It’s about the minimum wage and making it possible for working people to support themselves and a family.” It affects every working man and woman in this richest country in the world.


He feels he’s a prime example of what happens. His business went under. 2008 was a bad year for a lot of people.

He figured out what working for a full year at $9/hour minimum wage would look like: A full year of hard labor would yield just over $18,700. Before taxes. After taxes and insurance deductions, take home would come to just over $9,70. Not enough to house and feed a single man, much less a family.

Jack Keough’s paintings ask, “Can anybody look at those numbers and tell me that’s fair?”


The 56-year-old Keough talks — and paints — about the harsh realities of life for working people. College graduate and father of two grown children, he’s a guy who saw his graphic design business which he built and grew for 24 years, go belly up when the economy tanked in 2008.

Scrabbling to survive in a hard economy, Jack paints while holding down 4 jobs — just to make ends meet.

His “Work Series” makes it clear Jack Keough isn’t going to waste time ranting on social media. He’s on a mission, using art to stimulate discussion about the minimum wage. About raising it so that it will be enough to live on.

He has a quest. Jack Keough hopes people will listen — and then work to make change happen.

Jack Keough’s paintings do a lot of talking.

72-Jack-Keough_Labor Day Show Poster


You can see Jack Keough’s work at a one day, one man show on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, 2015. At Boston City Hall Plaza. Bring the family and your friends. 


I know a lot of things, most of them ultimately unimportant. What I’m best at is surviving. I’ve been nearly dead four times. Talked with an unknown voice from somewhere. Twice rescued from imminent demise, wherein he (definitely a male whatever-he-was) told me it wasn’t my time, to go back and live. Experiences like this make it difficult for me to proclaim the absence of God … but it doesn’t make me a follower of any religion.

It forces me — reluctantly — to acknowledge there’s something for which I cannot logically account. So I hedge my bets. I’m convinced no deity with which I’m willing to have a relationship cares if I am involved in any organized worship. I’m not sure deities need or want worship. They have reasons for doing what they do, but not human reasons.

It would be hard for me to ignore that I’ve been touched and not just once.

icicles ice dams

Against all odds, I’m alive. The physical problems are daunting. I have conditions on my conditions, interlocking disabilities and ailments that make normal functioning a joke. Getting older hasn’t made it easier. I had almost every kind of heart surgery available 11 months ago. When people ask me if “it was worth it,” I’m hard put to give them a sensible answer. On a simple “live or die” level, it was obviously worth it. If I hadn’t done the surgery, I would not be alive. I didn’t know how close to shutting down my body had gotten. It had been a gradual process, crept up on me.

Then there is that black well of depression. I have a tendency to get depressed. Very depressed. To the point where it feels as if I cannot breathe and I’m not sure I want to. Part of it is physical. Constant pain, cancer, massive spinal arthritis (and other things), hips that don’t work, asthma — and a failing heart — can sap the will to live.Poverty adds another layer of fear.

I can’t take antidepressants. None of the serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRs) are safe for me. The chances that they will cause a stroke are high. Given the other crap I’ve gone through, that’s one experience I’d rather skip. I’ve had to develop other coping mechanisms. Maybe there will be something useful for you in this. Because the one thing I have practiced long and hard is surviving.

1) When you find yourself in a black pit, seek distraction. Anything. Reading (if you can focus), audiobooks (easier for me and the more unreal and fantastic, the better), movies, music, reruns of “The Golden Girls.” Anything to get your mind out of that pit, even briefly.

2) Don’t lay it all on your partner. If you are lucky enough to have a partner, he or she has his/her own issues and taking care of (and worrying about) you is only one of them. Dumping your pain and suffering in his or her lap is unfair. Tell them where you are at and why you aren’t being communicative, but give your mate a break. They really do feel your pain.

3) If you have a shrink, go there and talk, talk, talk. (If you don’t have a shrink, why not?) If you are able to take medication and it helps, do it. If you can’t take meds, talk more. If you’re a writer, write more. If you are an artist, do whatever you do as much as you can. It’s not only art. It’s therapy.

4) Certain physical illnesses —  heart surgery and cancer are two biggies — are notorious for causing depression. Bad depression even in people who are not normally prone to it. The assault of surgery and drugs on your body throws everything out of whack. Nothing feels right. For months you’re helpless and that’s terrifying for most of us. Asking for help is humiliating. Getting a mate (and friends and family) to understand why you are having so much trouble expressing your needs is even more difficult. They don’t always understand what you mean, either. Be patient with them. Until we perfect the Vulcan mind meld, words can be hard to find.

5) You can’t do it alone. You need help. Professional and personal. Depending on your age, you may or may not get back to being the person you used to be. Regardless, the impact of major health issues is profound, deep, permanent. Your best choice is to cope with one day at a time. Don’t brace all the issues at the same time. The gremlins, goblins, beasts of darkness will consume you if you try.

6) If you have a hobby — knitting, drawing, photography, writing, whatever — do it. As much as you can. Being able to do something, accomplish something will remind you of who you are, that the darkness will not engulf you forever. Write a book, start a new blog, crochet a sweater. Paint a picture. Take pictures of your backyard and the birds who feed there. Play with your dogs and cats. When you can, take a walk and remember the world still exists.

7) Be patient.

8) Don’t brood on injustice. Don’t look for scapegoats — not a malevolent god,  your mother, husband, or ungrateful kids. Shit happens. Maybe more happens to you, but you’re not alone. There are plenty of others who feel the same way or worse.

One day, you will feel better. Maybe not good, but better. You’ll realize you are sort of normal. You can breathe. The pain has backed off. You laugh more than you used to. You want to do stuff again, want to see people. Life beckons.

You’ve survived.

Daily Prompt: (Your Thing) for Dummies