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I took a few gentle swipes at a blog-friend recently over the subject of smoking.  In my pointed comments to her, I hastened to add that “There is no nagger worse than an ex-smoker.”  We can be rather relentless.  Which is odd, because the same arguments never worked for me when I smoked.  Go figure. . . Anyway, I told this friend that I would one day blog on the circumstances that surrounded my giving up the habit.  It was 35 years ago this fall.  I don’t know the precise date – it doesn’t matter, but I know the season, and I know how many years, because that season was the beginning of the most wonderful part of being alive for me – motherhood.

I started smoking when in college. It was, I guess, some sort of rebellion.  My parents never said to us, “Don’t smoke,” or “Don’t ever let us catch you with any form of tobacco!”  Smoking just wasn’t done in our family – except for an uncle who occasionally smoked cigars.  My mother sort of hinted once that perhaps my dad had smoked before they were married – either cigars or a pipe – but that was never confirmed one way or the other, and it didn’t really matter – it was over and done long before I came along.  Smoking wasn’t a part of my growing up.  So, my decision to start was borne out of my desire to separate myself from the family pack, I guess.

I didn’t have to “get used to it,” or “develop a taste” for cigarettes.  No.  I loved the first cigarette I ever smoked.  I loved everything about it – and blowing smoke rings gave me great pleasure.  It all sounds so silly now, but the whole ambience of smoking gave me pleasure.  For someone who had never been a part of any “in-crowd” it gave me some odd-ball sense of belonging.  I guess I needed it at the time – because my perspective on conforming has changed so radically since then.  Add to that I was a vocal music/theater performance Major. But, I was 18.  Who knew that was so young?  At the time I certainly didn’t.  In any event, I loved smoking from the very beginning, and quickly grew myself a habit of 1-1/2 packs a day.  Which is roughly 30 cigarettes a day – which of course means more than one per hour.   Much more than that because I didn’t smoke in my sleep!  So, you get the picture.  I loved smoking.  But I managed never to smoke in front of my parents.  I was therefore convinced  that they didn’t know I smoked.  What a riot!  One can smell a smoker a mile away – as long as one is not a smoker.

Hubs and I decided that we really wanted children.  No question.  We also felt that as Ashley was at such an advanced age when we married (he was, after all, all of 32), that we should not wait too long before starting our family.  We gave ourselves a few months of contraception, and then it was “take your chances when you gots ’em” time.  I went off the pill, and even though I knew that it takes a while for the body to readjust after some years on the pill, Ashley and I were both disappointed that nothing happened conception-wise after a few months.  I visited the OB/GYN,  I checked out fine.  I was told to “relax,” but as time went by, that got harder to do.

I was at the point of tears one night upon discovering that once again, I was not yet “in the family way.”  The only good thing about it all was that you got to keep on trying – and as often as possible! 😳  I went to sleep and I had a dream. . .(cue dream music. . .)

 I am standing in a beautiful pasture.  It is a lovely day, and I feel wonderful.  Some sheep come into view, and I am struck with the beauty of one little lamb, leaning against its mother.  So sweet, so innocent, so beautiful.  From behind me, someone I cannot see, reaches around and puts in my hand a small, snub-nosed pistol.  It feels heavy and foreign in my hand.  I’ve never liked seeing, holding, or being around guns.  I hear a voice from behind me – neither male nor female in tone – say very clearly.  “You must kill it. You must kill the lamb.”

Dream over.  I snapped awake instantly.  I was shaking a bit, because the vision of that sweet lamb was still in my mind’s eye.  Nevertheless, had I been a cartoon, a lightbulb would have switched on directly over my head.  I knew exactly what I had to do.  I knew that if I really wanted to get pregnant, I would have to make a sacrifice.  I also knew that the “sacrificial lamb” in my case was cigarettes.

From that moment on, I never smoked another cigarette.  Six weeks after that dream, I got pregnant.

Was quitting very hard?  I remember there were times when I wanted one – as a matter of fact I still have a random yen now and then – like at a restaurant after a meal. (Can’t smoke in restaurants in NC now anyway – and thank goodness!  Don’t understand how the smoke used to be appealing!).  Again, I think the “yen” is for the ambience – the memories and feelings that are evoked.  No matter.  I never smoked another cigarette because there was something I wanted more.  I found that was the key for me to quitting almost any bad habit.  Find something worthwhile that you want more than you want anything else.

Although the dangers of smoking were known – not as decisively as now – there had not yet been any studies released to show that nicotine can inhibit ovulation in some women.  It did in me, and the only way I could have gotten pregnant was to have quit smoking.  My belief is that God found a way into my heart through that dream to tell me what I needed to do.  It was for me a miracle, and to this day I can view that dream in no other way.

On August 10, 1977, at 7:31 a.m. EDT, Ashley and I were granted stewardship of a beautiful new life:  Joshua Ryals Calhoun.  He was an 8 lb. 5 oz. bundle of humanity who was screaming his head off – even though he was tongue-tied.  The doctor grabbed a pair of scissors and snipped the tissue that tied his tongue to the bottom of his mouth. Josh screamed a bit louder, and then he was placed in my arms.  He was beautiful.  After a very long and difficult labor, I was suddenly infused with energy.  I could have jumped off the delivery table and run down the hall to my room.  It was an incredibly energizing feeling.  I knew that Ashley and I together could do anything we needed to do – that we would always be blessed with what we needed.  And, we have been blessed far beyond our needs. 

Over the days, weeks, months, years – and even now – I found out how little I knew, except that one thing.  I have often felt inadequate to many tasks, and I have often regretted many things that I have done or not done as a mother.  There was so much I didn’t know.  So much, in fact, that I am quite certain there is much more to learn even now.  But one thing has held true for all the 35 years since my dream:  parenthood was a special honor given to Hubs and me.  I have often said that the very best parts of my life have been as a mother; and the very worst, as well.  Anyone who has rejoiced over a child’s life and happiness knows the best parts, anyone who has wept over a child’s unhappiness, injury, or illness knows the worst.  Every single laugh and smile, and every single tear and sigh – they are embedded in my memory.  They are jewels of great value and will always be treasured.

My darling Joshua.  You have brought not just your parents and family great joy, you have offered the joy of your own unique character and talents to the world.  You have always been sweet, gentle, handsome, and strong.  You have been given so much, you have given even more.  I remember the moment you were born, and I can see you now.  My heart still quickens at the very thought that I have been and still am privileged to be called your Mom.  Thank you. Happy Birthday.

Such abundance. . .God’s gift of enough. . .

P.S.  One quick “capper” to the story:  When I was 14 I had emergency surgery to remove a ruptured ovarian cyst.  During the surgery the doctor had to do a lot of repair work, which included removing about 1/2 of each ovary.  After the surgery, the doctor told my mother that I would never be able to have children.  She never told me – not until well after Josh was born.  I wonder at that sometimes.  Would it have made a difference if I had known what she had been told?  Would I have ever agreed to marry someone who I knew wanted children?  Would I ever have tried?  Would I still be smoking, and childless?  My mother must have known something I didn’t and have yet to learn adequately – how to keep hope alive, your options open, and your mouth shut!