Second Year (1972): The Dream is Shattered

March 28, 1972: As we worked on the new house I composed so many joyous letters to you Mother … but today I have to write of pain - yet thanksgiving. We lost our beautiful baby boy last night and I almost lost Elizabeth - but she is now in the Ocotal hospital gaining strength and, in fact, right now teaching the girls on the night shift to sing in English!

I am quite tired and hesitate to write, more for fear of interpreting our experience as idiotic or, worse, heroic - my emotions are rushing, my ideas a mess. We struggled; we did the best we could under the circumstances we created. We lost our baby. We are responsible. But, I'm going to write more.

After a nice, easy day's work on the house, and having evening chocolate on a campfire "in the house," Elizabeth went outside and then called "Gregg, I had a gush down my legs. My water must have broken!" Labor began immediately, hard and with short resting intervals. Five hours later Elizabeth began to push. I had a 100 things ready from coco and pudding, to sterile instruments and antiseptic. When Elizabeth really started to get into it the first sight that appeared was, "God damn, it's a loop of the umbilical cord. God damn, God damn." I dipped my right hand into the antiseptic solution and followed the cord into the vagina. I felt the head an inch or so in pushed hard against the walls. I couldn't maneuver anything and the cord hung back out. I told Elizabeth. She was pushing for all her might. The little hairy scalp appeared. It grew with each push - about 10 minutes and the head popped out - some upward pressure from the rear - I swashed the mouth with gauze - another push - the baby was out - beautiful, long, muscled, well formed. I held him upside down. Elizabeth was sitting. The next hour we worked - mostly with mouth-to-mouth respiration. He was so beautiful, but he just couldn't come to life at all. We sort of forgot about Elizabeth, but her uterus was hard and she was pushing mildly but starting to realize how weak she was. I laid the baby aside and started to help her. The cord was still in but now I realized that large pieces of placenta had followed closely behind the baby. Now I realized my wife was in trouble. She felt she had lost too much blood but was confident she could gather strength and expel the placenta. Pieces came out - the cord stayed in. I was scarred. I didn't know what was happening. We massaged and pushed - drank some heavily sugared coco and pudding. Too long - 3 hours after delivery - a mess of placenta but that cord still intact. Elizabeth said we had to go. We moved fast but she varied between sleepy awareness and unconsciousness. I feel as if I had strong control of my physical and mental selves - but would burst into tears often. We had blown it. I had blown it.

The jeep for ten minutes to the lumber mill. Tom's new pickup truck for maybe 25 - at top speed to Ocotal (our lumberman neighbor). The doctor was here. He moved fast -- drugs, plasma, blood (mine) and removing the placenta. Elizabeth seems to be recovering quickly. So we are now here at the hospital in Ocotal - stunned, sad, happy - hopeful.

Three Months Later: Elizabeth is back to her old self and the farm has never been in better shape. A good rain every night and sun every day. The plants are growing like mad. We probably have three times as much garden as ever before. Our best corn is knee high with cassava, yucca and chaya growing like never before. Latest kitchen creations by Elizabeth include tomato soup, sunflower seed bread, creamed squash, "matasano" jelly and fried platanos (especially on rainy afternoons).

April to August: During this time we expanded the gardens, started raising chickens and rabbits, bought a pregnant sow, fenced our gardens and a piece of pasture, and worked on our new home. The site of our new home was down the hill from our tent-cabin at the end of the tube that carried running water from the well.

We built a hexagonal house, twenty-four feet from corner to corner, with a half loft facing a stone fireplace. Each side of the hexagon had its function - the fireplace side, the kitchen and back door side, the food storage side, the front door side, the workbench side, and the library side. The half-loft (which went up five more feet) was the sleeping and clothes storage area. The frame of the house was made of pine logs with a center pole. The first three feet of the walls was made of adobe and from there on up was rough-cut pine. Four of the sides had glass windows to let in lots of light. The floor was of tile except for the area under a piece of carpet, which covered a trap door to a cellar. A six foot roofed porch encircled the entire house. The roof of the house and the porch was of fired red tiles, which we purchased and hauled from Ocotal.

In these northern mountains of Nicaragua we had the only house with a fireplace, an inside kitchen, a loft, windows of glass and the hexagonal shape. All of the materials were familiar, but we put them together in a strange way.

During these first two years both labors and landowners, who passed by on their way to the coffee farms farther up the mountain, took a friendly and helpful interest in the two Gringos -- suddenly to become six.

August: My children -- Kim, David, Michelle and Jeffrey - came from Austin to the Nicaragua homestead for a visit!

"Dear Grandma, We are now in Nicaragua. Thank you for the letter. Today my Mom left to go back to Austin. Daddy and Liz are fine. How are you? Guess what. They have eight baby rabbits and they just came out of the ground yesterday! Yesterday one of the young chickens laid an egg! Love Kim. P.S. Daddy does the dishes.

"Dear Uncle Gary & Aunt Kathy, If you want to come to the farm we all hope you will. We are all having a fun time and so will you. We have some rabbits. We have some chickens too. There is a pregnant pig here and I take good care of her. We eat lots of beans. We have a big garden. I fell off the loft and then we built a rail for it. And then Jeffrey fell off the stairs! Love, David

September: We hired a young man from San Fernando to keep watch over the homestead, sold the jeep, and flew with my children back to Austin. Then we went to California and worked managing a motel for a month, then at a school for two months, and also made and sold wooden toys on the streets of Berkley.

Last Day of 1972
With cash in our pockets we were on a plane headed back to Nicaragua. An earthquake had just leveled Managua and Elizabeth was seven months pregnant. On the plane we carried an old fashioned scythe (to compare with the machete), a froe for making shingles by hand, a hand grindstone, and lots of baby supplies.