All Bets Are Off

02 Feb

Do not read if you have not seen Season 3, Episode 4 of Downton Abbey.  Also, do not read if you are pregnant with your first child and are already scared shitless about the whole birthing process (I know, girlfriend!—what WAS God thinking?)

Do you know what I’ve discovered?   Even when one tries to get away from the chaos and meanness of everyday life and wants to submerge one’s brain in the soapiest of soap opera fantasies with a bottle of wine and a bucket of chicken wings, pooh-pooh always occurs and snatches one’s mind right back to reality and the horrors of the past!   So says one.


Downton Abbey Cast 2013/Carnival Film & Television Limited 2012 for MASTERPIECE/PBS

Having coerced my husband to watch the “can’t miss TV Episode 4” of Downton Abbey in exchange for two episodes of Homeland and some hot wings, WW (“White and Wonderful”) promptly fell asleep leaving me riveted to the 52-inch screen in his man cave contemplating what it would be like to have been born white, rich, and British with a to-die-for wardrobe, mountains of bling, and tons of servants.   As soon as Lady Sybil (the youngest daughter) took to her bed in the final weeks of her pregnancy, with swollen ankles, high blood pressure, high fever, and random crazy talk, I started beating WW’s leg with a chicken bone to wake him up to witness what I knew was the inevitable:  Lady Sybil was going to bite the dust with something that had almost killed me 28 years ago—preeclampsia (what used to be called “toxemia of pregnancy”).  Having the baby is the only cure for preeclampsia and sometimes that doesn’t even help.

ME:        Wake up, WW!  Wake up!  That damn writer, Julian Fellowes, is going to kill off Lady Sybil—I can feel it in my bones.  I know these symptoms.  I swear to God if he kills Lady Sybil off, I’ll have to get on a plane and fly to the UK tonight—tonight I tell you—to open up a can of whup-ass on his chubby little British butt.

WW:     Huh?  No, no, no, no, no.  You’re getting all bent out of shape about nothing.  You’re watching this so that you can relax, remember?  Fellowes knows he has you women wrapped around his finger.  The writer is just messing with you.  Look, the baby has arrived.  It came through with flying colors and all is well.  In the meantime, stop beating my knee with that damn chicken bone.

ME:        It’s all a ruse!   I had this sickness when I was in the final stages of my pregnancy almost 30 years ago.  Don’t you remember?  I almost died, and I had modern medicine and antibiotics.    Lady Sybil doesn’t have a chance.  I’m telling you:  a tragedy is unfolding in my favorite happy place!  Rich white people are going to suffer and I can’t handle it.  Nothing is supposed to mess with their world—they’ve got it all.  In fact, when I finally come face-to-face with God, I’m going to ask him why the hell he didn’t make me white, rich, and a man.  So I don’t want to hear about death and mayhem messing with my “upstairs” Downton peeps.

Lady Sybil and Tom Branson a Joss Barratt photo

Joss Barratt photo|Lady Sybil and Tom Branson|Downton Abbey

Sure enough, when everyone at Downton Abbey (both upstairs and downstairs) was doing the delirious “Hallelujah-glory-dance” over the birth of the first Downton Abbey offspring from one of the Crawley girls, Lady Sybil suddenly went into a seizure and died from:  dun, dun, dun. . . “eclampsia” while two doctors (one of them, an arrogant asshole) looked on helplessly.  As Tom, the husband, and Cora, the mother, flung themselves on Lady Sybil’s body and pled, “Please don’t leave us, please,” I broke down into inconsolable sobs while flinging chicken bones at WW for falling asleep in yet another eclampsia episode.  (Oh, oh, you wonder, is this foreshadowing?  Can it possibly be true that WW, “White and Wonderful,” slipped from his god-like pedestal and royally blew it by falling asleep in his wife’s hour of need—say it isn’t so?!)

Midhusbands fitnessista dot com

Cartoon by Dave Coverly|

In defense of WW, my eclampsia crisis happened a long time ago in a far, far away landthe land of Jesus’ birth.  We lived in a border town that connected to Lebanon and eventually Syria where WW’s job provided the occasional stress of having his bullet proof-jacketed-ass shot at while going to and from work, the periodic necessity of shuffling his family into a bomb shelter while Katyusha rockets reigned down from the north (Lebanon), the medical requirement of driving his bed-ridden pregnant wife back and forth to a doctor who was two hours from our home, and the fatherly duties of taking care of our newly adopted older daughter, while doing all the shopping, cooking, and cleaning.  This was not how we had planned our lives would transpire.

When we first moved to the land of the Messiah with our two-month old adopted daughter, it was assumed that I could not get pregnant.  Well . . . more like I could get pregnant, but I couldn’t stay pregnant.  WW and I had made peace with being dealt our infertility hand, and figured there were worse things in life.  Besides, by the time all was said and done, I was way too old to start popping out babies.  But as is common to most, as soon as we stopped “trying,” we got the news:

ISRAELI DOC:      Congratulations, Bubbe (translation:  grandmother in Yiddish)!  You’re carrying the gift of life.

ME:        Say what? No, no, no, no, no . . . I came to see you because I’ve had the stomach flu for three months, and I can’t stop throwing up.  What kind of joke is this?  Something is definitely being lost in translation between us, because I can’t get pregnant:  אני לא יכול להיכנס להריון!  (Mumbling to myself)  Although, come to think of it, I was contemplating suing Jane Fonda because her exercises sure don’t seem to be working—my tummy is blowing up like a balloon. 

ISRAELI DOC:      What is that to me?  You’re in the land of miracles.  If your Jewish Messiah could be born here from a virgin Jewish mother, then you, Bubbe, can get pregnant.  Mazel tov!

Birth of Jesus freethunk dot net

Cartoon by Jeff Swenson|

I thought being bed-ridden for six months (because I almost lost the “miracle baby”) was hard enough, but nothing could have prepared me for the preeclampsia manifestations.  By the eighth month my ankles were the size of elephants, my body looked like a chocolate Goodyear blimp waiting to take flight, and when I walked into my Israeli doctor’s office in Haifa for my penultimate pre-natal appointment, I had a fever of 103 and high blood pressure of 260 over 110—stroke level.  (Oh, did I forget to tell you that I lost my mind and turned into a crazy woman?)

ISRAELI DOC:      I’m worried about you, Bubbe.  You have all the symptoms of toxemia.  I can’t risk you going back home via a mountainous two-hour drive.  I want to check you into a hospital.

ME:        Hell, no, Doc!  I’ve got to get back to my 20-month old.  I’m pretty sure her baby-sitter is a serial killer or at least wanted by the Mossad.  But she was the only person available who speaks English who could watch the baby.

ISRAELI DOC:      You don’t have a choice in this.  Besides, I’m sending you to one of the best hospitals in the country—it’s a Kupat Holim hospital on Mt. Carmel.  You’ll get the best of care.  The midwives are waiting for you.

ME:        Read my lips, Doc, I’M NOT GOING!  I have to get back to my baby.  I don’t know this baby inside of me (maybe he’s someone I’ll like—maybe he’s not—only time will tell), but I do know the one that is at home, and I’m telling you that psycho-chick is her babysitter.  I don’t know why I let WW talk me into letting her sit for my baby, but she’s his secretary, and he insisted I couldn’t miss this doctor’s appointment because I was all feverish and shit.  But you need to know, the secretary-bitch has a legion of demons running around in her and eyes like Rosemary’s Baby.  Besides, I’ve heard about that hospital you want me to go to and I ain’t havin’ it, Doc.  It’s on Mt. Carmel where Elijah fought the gods of Ba’al and won, BUT not until Jezebel almost fricasseed his ass.   I know the Talmud—you can’t fool me.  That hospital is sitting on some pretty funky ground.  Who knows what might come up through the basement and possess my baby?

ISRAELI DOC:      First of all, Bubbe, how do you know your baby is a boy?  You wouldn’t let me use my new magic machine from America called the “ultrasound.”  I’ve got the only one in town.

ME:        Cause I don’t know what that thing is!   They didn’t have those when I left America.   For all I know that radiation thingie will turn my baby into a Conehead from the planet Remulak, and it will be entirely your fault.  Besides, all my Jewish neighbor-friends assured me I was going to have a boy by the shape of my belly.  We don’t even have a girl’s name.  Anyway, I had a dream from God and he told me to name him Brian Eden.  If this baby doesn’t come out sporting a penis to claim the name of Brian Eden, then it will go through life nameless.Ultrasound fins by Mark Elden fins dot voot dot com dot au

Ultrasound| fins cartoon by Mark Elden

Yeah, I was shit-faced delirious and in full-blown preeclampsia.  After fighting for 45 minutes with my very patient and wise doctor, he and WW tricked me into going to the hospital for a urine test which they both adamantly assured me wasn’t situated on the part were the “Ba’al gods” used to roam.  They promised I could go home and rescue my older daughter from Satan’s helper once the test confirmed that I didn’t have elevated protein levels in my urine (a sure sign of preeclampsia).*

My saint of a doctor conspired with the hospital to detain me and perform an ultrasound test while WW had everyone he knew from the States call me and try to pull me back from the brink of insanity.  At 10:00 p.m. I started down the road of 20 hours of the most excruciatingly induced labor I have ever heard of in my life (I will never let my youngest child live this down—ever!)  It felt like a watermelon was trying to ram through a vagina hole the size of a pea.  At the 21st hour WW fell asleep for a few minutes and woke up to the screaming of a banshee:  “ARE YOU FUCKIN’ KIDDING ME—YOU’RE ASLEEP?”  At the 22nd hour, midwives stepped aside and let my Israeli doctor perform a C-section, and Baby-girl (“CDT”) was born.

When I awoke some time later, I asked WW all the questions you might think:  was our baby okay, did it have all its fingers and toes, and was “Brian Eden” a lovely chocolate-brown?  WW looked at me and slowly said the doctor had assured him our baby was fine, but WW was convinced that the nurse had given him the wrong baby to hold and promptly told her so:  “This is not my baby—you made a mistake.  First of all, it is a girl (we don’t have a girl’s name picked out), she is completely white with grayish-green eyes (obviously, she’s supposed to be brown), her head is in the shape of a cone, and her face is a canvas of bruises from trying to push through the birth canal.  I gave the baby back to the nurses and told them to look for a mocha-chocolate boy.”

Will Ferrel taglol dot com

Before I could even begin to process WW’s information, I lapsed into eclampsia (name of malady after the baby is born), and began a week-long struggle with high fevers as I muttered:  it’s a “girl,” she has a cone head from the ultrasound, and she doesn’t have a name—oy!”  Anti-seizure meds were fed to me like water, and at one point, the nurses pushed my bed into a storage closet to get some sleep and escape the chaos of my “semi-private” room of 12 new mothers and their extended families in a hospital that seemed to have 24/7 visiting hours and rockin’ out birth parties.

The fever would break on the 7th day and I would take my beautiful “ginger baby” (as the Arab women in the hospital called her) home to meet her big sister (“KLT”).  My beautiful baby-girl would no longer have a cone head and bruises, but her older sister (having been promised a little brother who would be her playmate), after two months of listening to crying, eating, burping, farting, and watching Baby-girl sleep would summarily announce:  “You know that baby you got at hospital?  Take back—it broke!”

New Born Yogi frabz dot com

Not our baby but sure looks like “CDT” when she was born—only her head was pointier and her face was so bruised it looked like she had been cage fighting

I am discovering that all bets are off when it comes to filling in the blank space between birth and death, if you survive the birth.  I don’t care how rich you are—whether to the manor born like Downton Abbey or born in the projects of Cleveland like me—few things in life will follow our best laid plans.   At the time of Lady Sybil’s death, 37 million had died in WWI and 27 million were severely wounded—no young men were still alive for the women to “court” according to Lady Edith, Sybil’s middle sister.   Until WWI, tragedy was not a Crawley relative.  If we’re lucky as humans, a couple aspects of life will turn out better than we expect, but most of life will be much harder than we could have ever imagined.  It takes great courage to live life.  It is easy to be born and it doesn’t take that much effort to die.  It is the stuff in between that takes everything we’ve got.


“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you. For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, ‘Melissa you ripped me to shreds. Now go back to sleep’.”Joan Rivers

“Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth – look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.”Soren Kierkegaard

“When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.”George Carlin

“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”—Maya Angelou


* “Nobody knows what caused preeclampsia in the early 1920s or causes it now. It appears to be an out-of-control state of inflammation.”—David Brown (“Lady Sybil’s shocking death. Did it have to happen?”) Health and Science/The Washington Post.  My story was presented tongue-in-check but preeclampsia is no laughing matter.  I almost died and women still die from it today.  Even though I told first-time mothers (the most likely candidates for this condition) not to read this blog, if you disobeyed me 🙂 and read it anyway, and you start to display any of the symptoms suffered by Lady Sybil and me, run don’t walk, to your doctor’s office because preeclampsia is serious shit. 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Eleanor Tomczyk and “How the Hell Did I End Up Here?” with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Posted by on February 2, 2013 in Uncategorized


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20 responses to “All Bets Are Off

  1. Sondra Smith

    February 2, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    I love Downton Abbey, and could not believe that they would kill her off, it was a roller coaster of emotions!
    With my last child, that weighed in at almost 10lbs, living in the humidity of Florida, I was watched like a hawk by my Doctor. Preclampsia is a very serious matter. Another great story!

    • etomczyk

      February 2, 2013 at 8:39 pm

      Sondra. Don’t you just love that show! I can’t imagine going through pregnancy issues duing that time frame. Definitely trying. Thanks for being the first to stop by. MUAH!

  2. Valentine Logar

    February 3, 2013 at 8:08 am

    As always you tell your stories of life with such wonderful humor, we can’t help but read, chuckle and then be struck between the eyes with their emotional gravity. You are always, always such a great blessing to read!

    • etomczyk

      February 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm

      Val. Thank you so much for your wonderful comment. I hope the story cheered you doing your “death’s door” cold episode. Blessings to you and hope you’re on the mend. Cheers!

  3. Elyse

    February 3, 2013 at 9:51 am


    I was with you last Sunday with the hankies — I sobbed, I cried, I railed. My husband tried not to laugh. You summed it up so nicely. You also reminded me why not having experienced childbirth is an OK thing!

    I absolutely love the Kierkegaard quote: “Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth – look at the dying man’s struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment.” Sums it up rather nicely, I’d say.

    Thanks as always for a wonderful post.

    • etomczyk

      February 3, 2013 at 8:41 pm

      Hey Elyse . . . yep, the childbirth thingie is no picnic which is why I only did it once. It’s a good thing we adopted our first because I was never going to subject myself to that torture again. We’re watching the Super Bowl now, of which I have absolutely no interest except for the halftime and the commercials, but I am poised and ready to wrestle with WW for the remote to change the channel to Downton Abbey at 9:00. Dun, dun, dun . . .

      • nonnie9999

        February 3, 2013 at 9:07 pm

        even though my son was over 8 pounds at birth with a huge head (see my comment below), and i had natural childbirth (natural means feeling like you’re taking the hugest dump of your life for almost 17 hours while someone is smashing you in the back with a sledgehammer, and you’re gnawing through your mattress and cursing your own ovaries), i would have had another child. however, i could never get the straws into those damned juicy juice boxes, and i knew that was a sign to keep my legs crossed.

      • etomczyk

        February 4, 2013 at 9:45 pm

        Nonnie. . .I thought I was the only one who can’t manuever those juicy juice boxes! My four-year-old grandson seems completely flabbergasted with me whenever I try to put a straw in one of those boxes because I always spill a portion of the container all over him. He must be thinking, “what an idiot.”

        I’m glad I adopted our older daughter because after the birthing trauma I went through with Baby-girl, I was done with the subject. If giving birth had been my first experience in getting a child, she’d be an only child. Thanks for stopping by and entertaining me and all who read my comment section. You get the prize for best comments on this one. I’m still laughing! Take care.

  4. talesfromthemotherland

    February 3, 2013 at 1:17 pm

    First- What the hell was Fellowes thinking?? Seriously! I did see it coming, when her symptoms showed up (didn’t have pre-eclampsia , but recognize it) and could barely stand to watch the rest of that sad episode. Ugh.

    So this post finally answers a few of my questions about your time in Israel, but oh how I’d love to hear more. As you noted, in your comment on my post For Love, Part 2, there is so much to absorb from the place, the people and the culture, let alone the abundant faith. I am curious about your time there, and what you were doing there… more about WW’s job. What a hellacious way to experience your first child’s birth!! So scary, and so hard in a foreign land. Can’t imagine it Eleanor. Truly. Glad it all turned out well… Loved the post.

    • etomczyk

      February 4, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      Dawn: That Fellowes guy threw us all for a loop. I’ve since learned that the actress wanted out of her contract. The part elevated her to a level where Hollywood came calling, and she wanted to strike while the iron was hot.

      Yep, I have copious stories about our time in Israel which I hope to put in a memoir some day. Our time was amazing, and I will never forget it. Baby-girl wants us to take her back to Israel so that she can see where she was born. She looks so much like a Sabra (native born Israeli), it’s really freaky. For years people mistook her for Jennifer Grey (before Jennifer got a nose job) when Baby-girl wore her hair in long highlighted ringlets.

      Thanks for stopping by and I’ll be looking forward to more stories about your trip. Cheers!

      • talesfromthemotherland

        February 4, 2013 at 11:27 pm

        Tit for tat… we’ll just keep trading off stories. 😉

  5. imagesbytdashfield

    February 3, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I had to go read anyway now I’m ruined for the recorded episodes I haven’t gotten to yet – eh! It happens. I am sure I will shed a tear or two when I do watch it though. Getting DH to watch it with me? Not happening and frankly some things I’d just as soon watch alone else I might end up punching him to death for not “feeling” the show the same way I am.

    I didn’t scream at either birth (although I did threaten to kill). Actually I wanted to get up and waddle over to the woman in the next room who was making a racket. I sooooo wanted to tell her to STFU I’m busy in here! Both of mine were a week late and aiming towards the 9lb range. Today one is my sweetie and the other still is not talking to me – at all.

    Birth and death – the alpha and omega of existence. ps. I hate when shows kill off characters, unless of course we’ve all been rooting for them to be offed.

  6. nonnie9999

    February 3, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    only you could make a public (or is it pubic?) service announcement so damned funny, eleanor!

    i’d love to watch an episode of downton with you (or homeland, for that matter. i love that show!). i have a love/hate relationship with downton. i love the feel and the ambiance of the show, but i think the writing is abysmal. i don’t mean the dialogue. i think that’s pretty good. however, i think that julian fellowes us either lazy or uninspired. he has wasted countless opportunities for storylines. remember the soldier that edith was interested in and who she thought might be her cousin and the rightful heir to downton? fellowes didn’t bother to explore (or exploit) that at all. i really don’t blame the actress who played sybil for asking to leave. they gave her nothing to do while all the attention was centered on mary and matthew. ughhh, can’t stand her, and i can never be convinced that someone like him would ever fall in love with someone so selfish, snotty, and self-centered. i do like the anna/bates story though. is it me, or is bates a little bit sexy all dirty and disheveled in prison? SPOILER ALERT******* DON’T READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT ELSE IS GOING TO HAPPEN. i won’t go into specifics, but there is another major character who will be exiting the show at the end of this season.

    love you, eleanor! ♥

    p.s. my son’s head had a 14 1/2 inch circumference when he was born. if you think he’s not reminded of that at every opportunity, you have another thing coming, bubbeleh! 😉

    • etomczyk

      February 4, 2013 at 9:36 pm

      Nonnie, it was worth writing this story to get your comments. You are a riot! I agree with you regarding Fellowes’ writing. The cousin storyline was dropped so summarily that I thought I’d missed an episode or something. And where Fellowes is really showing his laziness is in the storyline of Bates’ innocense being proven. One day a bitter old woman doesn’t tell the truth but because Bates hold’s basically a butter knife to a hardened criminal’s throat, she changes her mind???? Where was the evil, menacing guard? He definitely threw that storyline away if this is how the Bates theme finally resolves itself. I’m curious as to what tragedies lie ahead.

      And “ouch” to the thought of your son’s 14 1/2 inch head pushing through the birth canal to the light of day. I feel the pain just thinking about it. Love you too, Nonnie dear. Cheers!

  7. Hudson Howl

    February 4, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Haven’t seen the Abbey, any season or episode (though I hear it in the background often, someday when wind and cold locks me in I’ll throw in the Box set). Not pregnant, never have, 100% certain never will. So having met 50% of the criteria I read on. An for the record, not once did I say, “wow wow too much info”. This is the ‘shtufffs’ that made you who you are. You always bring it ‘home’ at the end.

    ‘It is the stuff in between that takes everything we’ve got’ -it is easy to run away. Harder to stay, to face dark truths and then recover to over come. And that is not self-righteousness speaking, that’s ‘been there done that’ talk. I won’t elaborate, as I do my speaking in other ways as you know.

    It is taking every ounce of being, not to hit the PRINT button, take your post to a neighbouring household, tape it to their front door. However, it would do no good. No one is there in any longer. A few weeks ago, as I passed their house while walking Elvira late one night, a policeman was pounding hard on the front door, hand on revolver, shouting POLICE open the door, a twist of the wrest, a kick, the fancy decorative door bangs open, demands of turn around, hands behind your back, cuffs wrenched on, screams of two girls under five years old. The husband/father placed in the cruiser. Now the house is silent, has been for couple of weeks. Sadly, I could see this happening, knew it would come to this for over a year but REALLY could do nothing but wait. Either adult in that house was or is fit to parent. So now, my thoughts fall on the two children. I hope aspects of their lifes’ will turn out better than expected. That somehow, things will unfold in away these altered gems will be re-polished, that the ills of their parents put aside. Guess I can hope.

    Your post, this event, drives home to me, why it is you do what you do here. And I duly take note.

    • etomczyk

      February 6, 2013 at 6:20 pm

      Hudson. So very glad that the info wasn’t TMI. I think you’re the only man who commented, so I was a little nervous.

      So very sorry to read of your neighbors whose choices have allowed their children to fall through the cracks. As a child whose parents did the same (and worse) to me, I can taste the horror of that situation and how helpless it makes one feel. But you are right, you can always hope. Because sometimes (more often than we realize, I think), children triumphantly survive their birth, their parents, and their environment.

      Thank you for stopping by. You are such a gem!

  8. aFrankAngle

    February 9, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    Because I’ve never heard of Downtown Abbey, I’m taking your advise … but hey, at least I can say Hi E-Tom!

    • etomczyk

      February 10, 2013 at 7:37 pm

      Welcome back Frank. Hope you had a great time. I’m surprised you’ve never heard of Downton Abbey. From reading your blog, you and Mrs. A. seem like you’d be the PBS Masterpiece Theater type. If you get a chance to see it in the future, I would encourage it. Loads of fun. Kind of like Upstairs/Downstairs but much better produced. Take care.

  9. Lindy Lee

    February 20, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    You do make me laugh out loud, ET. Will surely be thinking of you throughout Season 4…

    • etomczyk

      February 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Lindy, that gives me great pleasure that I can make you laugh and touch your heart as you’ve previously stated. It gives me courage to keep writing. All the best.


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