Inspire – Women of Dartmouth Stories

Life Happens

Gayle Gilman ’85 shares how she became a mother of four.

When I was in high school, my senior superlative could have been “least likely to be the mother of four.” Much to my Mom’s chagrin, on my fifth birthday, I told her I didn’t want any more dolls. In high school, I flat out refused to babysit when my aunt adopted a baby boy. No one saw motherhood in my future, least of all me. If you’d asked me if I was going to have a family, I would’ve laughed. I’d actually never thought about it.

But the ideas you have about your future as a young adult have a way of changing by the time a decade (or so) passes. Life after Dartmouth led me to a career in television and I found myself moving around quite a bit. I was just shy of my 35th birthday when my first child arrived. I remember sitting in my NYC apartment looking at old photos as tears streamed down my face. Becoming a mother was such a profound change. I was mourning the loss of my former self while crying tears of joy for the beautiful baby girl I held in my arms. My mom came to live on my futon for a few weeks to help me figure out how this baby thing worked. And when my son arrived three years later my mom showed up the morning after I arrived home from the hospital – this time traveling to London, where I had recently relocated. I felt so grateful to have her help. Two young children and a job were keeping me on my toes!

You can imagine the surprise when, six months later, my very healthy and active mother was suddenly stricken with rheumatoid arthritis. And it was even more shocking when, less than three years later, she was gone. This time I cried tears of pure despair. She was the hub of our family wheel. She was my role model for mothering. She had raised three children and she finally had grandkids. She had been so happy to see me become a mother. I was as sad for her as I was for myself.

But my grief would quickly be set aside for what was to come next. Just three months after my mom’s death I was overcome with nausea. The kind that felt very familiar. I was pregnant. And not to overshare, but I had needed fertility assistance to get pregnant with my first two children. Having another child had been the last thing on my mind during the blur of those past few months. I was excited, but at the same time I felt uncertain. I was about to fly back home to bury my mom (which was postponed ‘til the ground thawed in northern Maine). The timing felt awkward to start telling everyone I was pregnant. So I struggled through the visit eating sleeves of saltines and fighting an overwhelming desire to nap every afternoon.

My first ultrasound appointment was scheduled for the week after I got back to California. It was a late August afternoon. My husband decided to join me and we took the kids along to get a look at their new baby sibling. As the image came up on the screen, my husband asked the doctor if it was in 3-D. She paused and then looked directly at him. “No,” she said, “that’s two heartbeats. You’re having twins.” All the blood drained from his face and we nearly had to push him out of that doctor’s office in a wheelchair.

If things had been a blur before, they quickly became blind chaos. How did this happen? Twins don’t run in my family. Who has four kids these days? Neither our car (a Passat) nor our home (a two bedroom) would fit a family of six. But, a few months later, while my husband was out of the country working (I’ll save that story for another day) Colin and Juliet arrived.

The immediate shock of learning that I was going to be a mother of four has never really worn off. Things went from busy to busier for the next 18 years. I hope all the kids got what they needed and will recall their childhood as a happy one. I know my husband and I remember it that way. And if my mom had been here to see it all, I think she’d be happy with the way things worked out, too.

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