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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 13, 2001

A Mother's Day to celebrate

By Katie Doyle-Hummel
Special to The Advertiser

Editor's note: Kane'ohe resident Katie Doyle-Hummel was asked by The Advertiser to write about her remarkable journey to motherhood.

In 1981, at the end of my junior year at college, the meaning of Mother's Day changed for me and my two sisters. Forever. Actually, that's when everything changed forever. It was the year my Mom lost her battle with cancer.

Forty-year-old Katie Doyle-Hummel enjoys spending time with her nearly 7-month-old baby, Connor. Her husband is 53, and after 16 years of marriage and several miscarriages, they see Connor as their "miracle baby."

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

My mom was always the one who made sure we stayed connected with our huge extended family. We lived in New York, but everyone else on both sides lived in the Boston area. Sometimes it felt as though we spent half our lives in the car driving up Route 95. I knew every exit that led to a Howard Johnson's.

At one reunion, 85 people showed up, and that was just part of the group. I guess that's not so unusual for an Irish Catholic family. I remember thinking my Aunt Mary was one of the coolest moms of all. She had 11 kids, and they always seemed to be doing the most fun stuff, like going for swimming lessons every Monday and Wednesday at the local YMCA. Just about a month ago, I asked my aunt how she managed to make sure all her children were bathed at night. She asked me: For what reason did I think they all took swimming lessons twice a week?

I now understand the incredible effort it takes to keep family ties strong, especially when there is distance involved. Soon after my mom died, the trips to Boston and the Cape became less frequent. At first it was because we were all adjusting to life without her, and then I think it became too sad for my dad to be home without her.

My older sister finished graduate school and took a high-profile position at a New York hospital, and I deferred from law school to pursue the acting career I had started as a child. My little sister married her high-school sweetheart and gave birth to my first nephew 13 years ago. Mother's Day was a lot less painful for her that year.

As for me, life as a struggling actress in New York doesn't leave much time for dwelling on the past. I missed feeling like a part of a family but didn't know what to do about it. So, in 1982, I hooked up with my childhood commercial agent and started going on auditions for commercials, movies, print ads and stunt work.

My dad was pretty cool about it when I came to him in a panic about my co-op payments. He asked me if I was sure I really wanted to be an actress. When I said yes, he replied, "Good. Now you'd better learn how to wait on tables." He actually meant it, and took me down to a little restaurant where he knew one of the owners.

I do believe that everything happens for a reason. There was a guy behind the bar named Billy. I found out that he was taking a break from his social work career, and after about 20 minutes, I knew we would be married. It sounds corny, but I really did know. It took him just a little bit longer to understand this kismet, but eventually he came around, and we got married in 1985 after a three-year courtship.

We talked about kids, and we both wanted them, so everything was great. I remember sitting in the kitchen talking to my very Italian mother-in law about how important I thought it was to be financially secure before starting a family. That's why we decided to open a small restaurant and bar of our own before having children. She just smiled and shook her head.

In retrospect, I am embarrassed by my insensitivity and stupidity. This remarkable woman had raised four children while living with her husband, mother and sister in a railroad apartment on the lower East side of Manhattan. And after losing her husband, she worked hard enough to support them all, buy a house in Queens and put each of her children through college. I'm not sure if I ever let her know how much I really respected and loved her before she passed away in 1989. That's when Mother's Day changed for Billy.

Moving to paradise

Billy ran the restaurant with his brother while I did commercial work and played a character on one of the daily soap operas that shot in New York. Things seemed wonderful, but there was definitely something missing.

My little sister had given birth to a second son, and all the relatives kept asking me when I was going to have kids. We'd laugh it off and say something about our jobs, but secretly, I wondered too. Billy and I didn't talk about it too much anymore.

Soon my college roommates started sending Christmas cards with pictures of their kids, and my little sister had her third boy.

We eventually sold the restaurant and moved to California.

I went for a check-up and found out that I had pretty bad endometriosis. Over the next five years, I had several surgeries to remove (excess tissue) and suffered a number of miscarriages. Our families stopped asking us when we were going to have children.

Neither of us liked Los Angeles too much. We actually lived in the South Bay, which was great, but all the work I got was in Burbank or North Hollywood, so the commute was awful. We both missed our families. Ê

Everything suddenly changed the day in 1988 when a friend from Hawai'i called. We talked about the quality of life, our dreams and families. One thing led to another and before I knew it, our furniture and car were being loaded into a Matson container, and Billy and I were off to a new life in Paradise.

It took a little while, but we have come to think of this as our home. Billy has enjoyed success in the field of social work and as a teacher while I have thrived working in public relations. Things haven't always been perfect. We hit a real rocky patch in our relationship about 2 1/2 years ago and almost didn't make it through the mess. Ironically, we reconciled on Mother's Day. But, even after making it over that hurdle, there was still a void.

Crossing our fingers

In late February of 2000, I got what seemed like a bad stomach flu. The doctor couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.

At the end of March, something made me get one of those home pregnancy tests. I took the tests — there are two in each box — and promptly went back to Longs to buy another one. Within minutes I was on the phone to Billy who, naturally, was out of town on a business trip!

We were both so afraid to get our hopes up. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of what was to be the most incredible journey of our lives.

I was thrilled to know that my "stomach flu" was actually morning sickness, and I soon began to wonder who the heck had given it that name. Morning, noon and nighttime was more like it.

Because of my history, we were monitored weekly. Along the way we had a few scares, including a blood-sugar problem that contributed to my gaining 85 pounds, a mysterious loss of vision and speech (they still don't know what that was all about), and a problem with the amniotic fluid.

By the time my final trimester began, I knew quite a lot about this baby. He was a little boy who hated any foods with peppers. He preferred my sleeping on my left side, and had no qualms about kicking me until he got comfortable. He was somewhat scheduled, because his aerobic exercises began at about 3 every morning, and if he got too excited, a little Verdi or Pachabel would usually quiet him down.

Through it all I went to work and tried not to focus on my swelling ankles and growing bust line while meeting with clients. Boy, what a lesson in humility pregnancy is. I was obsessed with a delivery date and had a time line for everything. Like any good Vassar girl, I assumed that I would work up until the day I was due, have the baby, take a short maternity leave and get back to work.

Unforgettable ordeal

On Friday, Oct. 13, my weekly stress test showed that my amnio fluid had dropped below an acceptable level. It was pouring rain, and, because I was still several weeks away from my due date, I had taken my overnight bag out of the trunk to run errands later that day. Besides, my doctor was out of town. So I simply couldn't have the baby yet.

Katie plays Irish music for baby Conner while she and Husband Billy sing along and interact with him.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

A "substitute" ob-gyn asked to speak to me after the results of my test came back. On the phone, he was obviously trying his best to be calm but firm about the fact that my baby would need to come out soon. He instructed the nurse to admit me, and I was told that there would be a two-hour wait for a bed. Billy left the hospital to go get my bag while I waited in the reception area, making calls on my cell phone to clients and my sisters in New York.

Twenty minutes later, a nurse came out to let me know that there was actually going to be a four-hour wait for my bed. The doctor did not want to keep me waiting that long and asked how I felt about delivering at Queen's. It was still pouring and, although nobody knew it yet, I was in labor.

With Billy gone and nobody going out of their way to help me, I ended up getting my own cab. Here was this enormous pregnant woman, juggling papers, a laptop and phone, leaving one hospital to go to another. The cab driver was near hysteria when I started to cry halfway there, and he kept saying, "Lady, please don't have your baby in my car!" I am sure my panicked phone call to my dad in New York did a lot for his peace of mind, too.

Poor Billy was halfway through the Wilson Tunnel when I reached him on his cell to tell him about the change of venue. To this day I'm amazed that he didn't just drive off the cliff.

Well, after 27 hours of labor, two really big scares (my blood pressure began to soar, and the baby's heartbeat stopped) and not enough drugs (I did yell out for an understudy at one point), my miracle baby son, Connor, was born at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2000.

I know women have been doing this for millions of years, but I still can't believe how it all works. How did this perfect little creature survive the whole ordeal? Who was I to be entrusted with his life, and how would I ever know what to do?

I don't care how many books you've read or classes you've taken. When they hand you a tiny, naked baby with huge eyes and a hungry wail that shakes the building, it's really hard not to panic.

Miracle baby

I did try to go back to work, but knew within two weeks that I needed to be at home with my son.

Most of my friends were surprised by my choice, but I know it was the right one. And I understand how lucky I am to have this option.

Sure, things are going to be tight around here and we'll be eating more pasta, but I can't even imagine missing those morning giggles or our long walks on the beach or the messy meal times. I actually love changing his poopy diapers and giving him a bath. I would have been devastated to miss his first crawl or first few sounds.

Maybe it's because we waited so long for this, or because we're older and have a better understanding of how precious every day is. Almost every mother I've talked to tells me how they regret not taking the time to really enjoy their children when they were little. To all those women: I hope that I have learned from your regrets.

I am trying to memorize each facial expression and every sound Connor makes. I love to smell him.

Some critics think I pick him up too much. They say that I really should let him cry himself to sleep. Well, you know what? Connor goes to bed nicely (as long as we read "Good Night Moon" to him), sleeps through the night and usually lets me put him down for at least one nap during the day. And I pick him up whenever he cries. Yes, sometimes I even rock him to sleep.

Some of you may be thinking that I am in for real trouble when he gets a bit older, but we'll see. Connor will grow up knowing that he can count on us and our unconditional love. Hopefully, he will love us back. I certainly don't knock the choices others make, because all first-time parents need to find their own way through things. We know there's the issue of discipline, too. That will come in time.

In the meantime, you can see how Mother's Day at our house will be very different this year. It's all because of a miracle boy named Connor.