How Karen and I Really Became Friends, Part 3 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

Now it is 1975. I’ve known Karen for a few years and we have battled just as often as we have gotten along. It is a very tenuous friendship but we do seem to like each other deep down. Sometimes you would just never know it.

When warm weather hit in 1975 I was halfway through my second pregnancy and Karen had gotten engaged to Jim Wohrer. I said I would like to have a wedding shower for her and arranged to have it at my dad’s house on Sixth Avenue. My family had a bluegrass band that played a lot of local functions and they agreed to do a gig for this party.

Karen and Jim2The shower went well. All the Tiptons and all the Daubenmires and all the Wohrers were there. The band played and there was plenty of food and gifts on hand. But Karen was a bit green around the gills. I have photos of her and Jim that night and Karen is looking pretty miserable. Later we found out why… she was pregnant and feeling nauseous.

Once Karen revealed her “secret,” we got together and were happy that we were going to have babies within a few months of each other. I was due in November and she in March. But that’s not what went down.

When early November rolled around I was big as a house and had no signs of a baby coming. Also, I wanted a girl so bad I was manic about it. Through my whole pregnancy my husband and I had fought – he wanted this to be our last baby no matter what. We had twin sons already and I pretty much figured we were having another boy. It just felt like it to me. But Bill didn’t care. He said 3 boys was a perfect family and enough was enough. I said if it was a boy I would try one more time for a girl and probably end up with 4 boys. He said no. I held my breath.

My due date came and went. I was miserable. Then, on Friday, November 7th, Karen was leaving work and went into some sort of spasms on the street corner while waiting for the light to change. She was taken to the hospital where they gave her medication to keep her from going into full-fledged labor. All I could think was “Lordy, why isn’t this me, not her?”

A couple days went by. Early Sunday morning Karen called me from the hospital. “I think I’m dying,” she said.

“No you’re not!” I cried. “Why would you say that?”

But the sad fact was she had been in slow labor for almost 48 hours and things weren’t going well. She was feeling her life slip away and she was scared.

“Please,” she pleaded with me. “Take care of Beth Anne and don’t let her dad take her.”

“Don’t talk like that, Karen,” I demanded. “I’m leaving now to come out there.” We hung up.

I drove across town in a blur. I prayed all the way that I would be allowed to see her and that things would work out all right.

I walked up to the maternity floor and nearly caused a panic. Since I was 9+ months myself, the first nurse who saw me said, “why aren’t you in a wheelchair?”

“Because I’m not in labor,” I replied. “I’m here for Karen Wohrer. She’s my sister-in law.”

The nurses all looked from one to another. Then they looked at me. Finally one of them exclaimed, “Thank GOD!!!” and rushed me to her room. Turns out Karen had been quite a handful over the past couple days and they were glad for some help!

Karen and I embraced and she immediately calmed down. I began to talk soothingly to her and told her I would coach her since I had just finished my Lamaze classes that she hadn’t had a chance to take. And at that point I think we both thought things would turn out ok.

As the day went on Karen and I were able to sit and talk about intimate things. In between, Jim would come in the room and take over to give me a break. But it wouldn’t be long before Jim would come and get me again. “She wants you,” he would say.

By happenstance, Karen’s labor nurse was a friend of mine from high school named Linda who filled me in on the situation. “Don’t let her push,” said Linda. “The baby is very small and will probably be stillborn. Karen has a systemic infection that we need to treat but she won’t let us put in an IV. We’re hoping you can help us with that.”

I went back in the room and told Karen she needed medicine that would have to be put in her veins. When I explained that they would put an IV in her elbow she immediately flexed both her arms tight to her chest. But I got her calmed enough to get the IV inserted. Karen looked at me with a pained expression like I had betrayed her. I told her it was necessary to keep her and the baby from dying.

Eventually Linda came back in and said they were going into delivery with another patient and again I should not let Karen push if she felt the urge. I was left alone in the room with my sister-in-law. We talked for a couple minutes and then I began to explain that she might feel like she wants to bear down when the baby is ready to come but she shouldn’t do that.

All of a sudden, Karen looked at me in alarm and said “here it comes!”

“NO!” I shouted. “I’m just telling you about it… it isn’t really happening!”

“Yes, it is,” she screamed! And again I said NO! And again she said YES!

Crap! I rang the nurse’s button and then ran down the hall to get Jim. Both descended on the room and I ducked into the waiting room with my mother-in-law Betty.

Sure enough, when I stuck my head back out the door of the waiting room, Karen’s bed was being wheeled into delivery with Jim racing along behind it. Betty and I were breathless.

A little while later Jim arrived at the waiting room door. “The baby is here,” he said. Betty and I looked at him in anticipation. He seemed to be in shock.

About that time, Dr. Lifer stepped in the room with a swaddled bundle in his arms. We all looked at him in alarm.

“What we have here…” he said… and his voice trailed off as he began to unwrap and unwrap and unwrap a tiny preemie, “is a….”

I put my hands over my ears and closed my eyes. All I could see was the drops of blood on his shoe covers and I was horrified at what he must be about to show us. I sank down onto the couch for fear I would faint.

I didn’t hear the rest of what he said but later I remembered it being “… a 26 week baby… about 1 pound 12 ounces… less than 12 inches long…”

Dr. Lifer turned on his heel and headed for the nursery. Jim and Betty and I were left standing in a daze.

“What was it?” I asked when I took my hands off my ears. “A boy,” said Betty. “No, a girl,” said Jim. We exchanged glances and Jim took off down the hall after Dr. Lifer. Betty and I dropped into nearby chairs. I could barely get my breath.

Soon Jim was back. “It’s a girl,” he said. “They’re putting her in the nursery and they say she won’t live but a few minutes.” And I think he mentioned something about a priest coming (or having been there) to administer last rites.

All the air went out of me. I didn’t know what to think. We all sat in stunned silence.

squadAt some length we were told that the baby was still alive so a team was being sent down from Children’s Hospital in Columbus to transport her there. Jim and our father-in-law Bill followed the ambulance and Betty and I went home exhausted. Karen was taken to the maternity floor to start to recover.

A couple hours later, Jim was at my front door. “Guess what!” he cried jubilantly. “Children’s says she is still breathing on her own and has a 50/50 chance of making it!” And at that he picked me up and swung me in a full circle – despite the fact that I was the size of a barn! I laughed in delight and was overjoyed with him.

Even though I was exhausted, I went back out to the hospital to see Karen. When I walked into the lobby, my father-in-law Bill was sitting there waiting for me. “Sit,” he demanded, and patted the seat next to him.

“I just want you to know,” he said, “that I’ve talked to Karen and she says you saved her life today. And she is so sorry for anything she ever said or did to hurt you and she wants you to know that.” And I knew those words came straight from Karen’s heart and my father-in-law was thrilled to relay the message.

From then on, Karen and I were the best of friends. Not that we didn’t still have differences from time to time. But nothing ever came between us again. And I am so happy for that.



Karen and Jim’s first daughter, Tara Nicole Wohrer, born the evening of Sunday November 9th, 1975, only lived for a couple days. We’ll never know if she would have made it had she gotten immediate care and not been allowed to breathe on her own for several hours before the trauma team at Children’s was called to come and get her. Babies that size routinely live today but she was just a bit ahead of the medical technology of the day.

After Tara died, Karen and Jim shopped for doll clothes to dress her for the open casket. Preemie things weren’t widely available then. They also went to a local jewelry store to buy her a gold necklace as a token of their love. I was too distraught to attend the funeral since my own baby was overdue at that time.

Two weeks later, almost to the hour, my daughter Ellyn was born. Sadly Karen had a 26-week preemie and I had a 42+ week baby that weighed 10 and a half pounds! If only I could have let my baby share that weight with Tara!

I was overjoyed that I had my girl. And I was devastated that Karen would have to face this situation. Karen called me as soon as I got back to my room from delivery. She said, “I knew it would be a girl and I am so happy for you.” And we both cried. My other sister-in-law at the time, Linda, was spending the night with Karen under the circumstances. She later told me that Karen laid awake and cried the entire night. And how could I blame her when I had a warm baby girl to hold in my arms and she did not. But she never held it against me. She was truly happy for me and Ellyn in spite of her loss because she was a good person at heart. And I can never forget that.

And remember that wedding shower I had for Karen and Jim at my dad’s house on Sixth Avenue? Shortly after that, Dad wanted to sell the house and Jim’s brother Mike had been at the party that night. He had commented to my dad, “if you ever want to sell this house, I’d be interested.” So, Mike and Jenny bought that house and lived there for years!

Also, Karen and I were of different religious faiths. This was never a problem. She had originally been Lutheran and married into a strong Catholic family. I had originally been Lutheran and became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

As time went on (and before Karen had her other kids) she asked me what I thought would become of Tara. I explained my hope of the resurrection and how Tara would get life again when the time comes for that. She looked at me in earnest and asked, “do you really believe that?” “Yes, I do,” I replied. And without hesitation, she said, “if, for some reason, I don’t make it, would you go and get Tara for me?” “Of course I will,” I said. “But you will be there to get her yourself.” And I know for an instant she believed me and wanted it to be true.

And that is the story of Tara, who we never got to know. But there is so much more, so this series will continue. I hope you will keep reading of my dear friend and sister-in-law, Karen. I still love her so.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: And Then There Was Ellyn… (part 4 of 4) | thesketchylife

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