It was a hot summer night when Brenda Ridgley suddenly awoke from her slumber. She shifted herself onto her elbows as the thin blanket slid down her 36-weeks pregnant belly. Something felt different.
“Parker,” she whispered, stirring her husband. “It’s time.”
Parker blinked then jolted out of bed when he realized that Brenda’s water had broken. The baby was coming!
What happened next was like watching two actors perform a well-rehearsed routine in fast-forward. Brenda and her husband scuttled around the room carting their carefully laid-out hospital bags to the car.
“No!” Brenda suddenly yelped. She grimaced and hunched over in panic. She glanced down and what she saw, she could never unsee: a portion of her baby’s umbilical cord dangled outside of her body!
“Parker!” she yelled.
Everything was a blur. Denver’s Hampden Avenue flickered like fire as Parker roared towards the hospital zooming through red lights at race-car driving speed. He said some comforting words but Brenda didn’t really hear. She stiffened her body, bracing her shoulders and feet to avoid pressure on the birth canal. “Please Parker Junior, please stay with me,” she silently begged.
Minutes later Brenda lay on a wheeled hospital bed in a bright florescent-lit room as the ER team clamored around her as they strapped monitors and equipment to her body.
Through all of the chatter, Brenda couldn’t help but focus in on a nurse, who spoke softly in a quiet corner with one of the doctors. What was she saying?
“Dead,” Brenda heard the nurse mutter. The doctor and the nurse peered at Brenda, then quickly averted their eyes from her pleading gaze and walked briskly out of the room. That was all that she needed to hear.
The last thing Brenda remembers before she went black as she was shuttled into the emergency room for a C-section was a bursting exclamation for her own death: “God, take me away from here!”
This wasn’t part of the plan. Brenda had always been a master planner. Even in college she had designed her own bachelors program as a second business major called “Corporate Fitness." After grad school she decided she would work her way up corporate America to become an executive HR director. She and her husband Parker would have two children along the way, a boy, and a girl. They would hire an attentive nanny to care for their children during the work week while Brenda would operate from a polished executive desk somewhere in tall fortune 500 building with glass windows that overlooked the city. Her children would run into her arms when she returned home, and she would cook them warm meals and read them stories until they fell asleep. They would be an adventurous family, and travel to beachfront properties, scuba dive & hike all the 14’ers. The picture of her future family was seared so perfectly in Brenda’s mind she sometimes forgot it hadn’t happened yet.
“Brenda!” Parker called to his wife. Brenda’s body felt heavy; her limbs were numb and her mind was black as she lay on a cold metal table with nothing but a blue curtain between her and the doctors. She remembered nothing, felt nothing - the slicing of skin or the pressure as Parker Junior was released into the world. Parker clenched her hand and his hopeful anticipation dissolved into dread at the first sight of their limp and lifeless baby.
The next morning Brenda felt the warmth of a clasped hand. A cheery voice spoke beside her. Brenda opened her eyes. Rays of sun pierced through the hospital room blinds. She moved her body, then retracted instantly when she felt the tug of an IV hooked to her arm.
She focused her eyes on the nurse next to her, still trying to interpret what had happened. Parker Junior!
“Is he alive?” Brenda cried. A fearful void filled her voice.
The nurse stood up smiling and stroked Brenda’s hand in reassurance. “Yes, and he is doing wonderfully!”
Parker Junior was born at 1:07 a.m. on August 29, 1999, with no breath or heartbeat. His Apgar score was 1 out of 10. His first breath of life came after one successful resuscitation attempt by the doctors and nurses. This hardly ever happens, a nurse had told her, and Brenda could tell by her excited tone that Parker Junior had indeed lived up to his new name that was circulating around the hospital: their Miracle Baby.
The first time Brenda saw him she was still in the haze of post-anesthesia. She had to concentrate to focus her eyes on the tiny, fuzzy face with dark hair and penetrating blue eyes, clamped to many chords and machines. As she stroked his tony body, his eyes seemed to say, “Don’t worry mommy, this will all be over soon.”
People told her that her life was going to change when she had children. But nothing had prepared her for this, she thought, late one night as she swaddled her baby. Parker Junior cooed as she gently pulled the sides of the blanket across his body in memorization. Right side, tucked under his left side, left side tucked across his body, the tail under his legs and back, just like all of those childbirth and infant preparation classes had taught her.
What Brenda had gained from those classes was the same lesson she had gained from her career – all of those carefully planned out steps up until Parker Junior’s birth seemed frivolous when she held the one gift that had almost been taken away. How could she let anyone else care for him? Brenda’s master plan was unraveling.
People were asking about her at work. “When are you coming back?” “When can we see the baby?” “Did you find a nanny yet?” And she couldn’t give them any answers.Three weeks later, Brenda found herself back at her desk. A new framed photo of her son perched in its center.
“How are you doing?” her co-workers would ask her in a sing-song voice, and she would pause, not sure whether to disclose what she was really feeling: somewhat guilty and lost.
“I’m great,” she would say, as one does in the corporate industry, then she would scurry back to her office, in a numb state of seclusion.
She walked those halls, sat at the desk and circled in and out of the conference rooms for two years.
A typical Friday now involved Brenda sending a letter to an employee with the words “We regret to inform you,” “unfortunately” and “boxes will be provided for you to pack your belongings today.” She was aware that people called her “The Terminator,” behind her back, and she didn’t want to play the role of the grim reaper of careers any longer. With great relief, Brenda resigned after the birth of her beautiful daughter Gillian.
Then, just at the burst of the millennium, Brenda had an idea. “Please open another shop here!” she had begged a family friend who operated a successful liquor store in Longmont. Brenda had been a wine hobbyist for a few years and she loved learning about all the varietals, food pairing, cellaring and collecting. Retail shops like this one were flourishing across town and by the owners’ genuine smiles Brenda understood why. Her shop-owner friend casually laughed. “Just do it yourself,” she proclaimed matter-of-factly.
Parker and Brenda hadn’t even opened their shop yet and already eager customers were tapping at their windows in anticipation to inquire about its opening. The shop was a hit. When their doors officially opened, a flood of customers poured through, and the couple turned a profit within their first year. The best part? She could stay home when she wanted, work when she wanted and was always within five minutes of her children. The booming success of the first wine shop eventually led to a second location opening. Yes, it was hard work (big bank notes, massive inventories, the occasionally disgruntled employee landlords, etc.) but for the most part, everything was running according to plan.
Then came the plot twist – for the Ridgleys and almost everyone else in America. Most people remember the financial collapse of 2007. Over the next couple of years, the bear market would lose over half of its value since 2007, 8.7 million people would lose their jobs and foreclosures exploded across the country like a virus, defining the worst housing crash in U.S. history. Like most small business owners, Brenda and Parker clung to the one thing all successful entrepreneurial-minded people have in common: perseverance. But even perseverance has its resting place.
The last afternoon as Brenda was sweeping the floor of her wine shop an old woman, in a floral print dress and shawl who Brenda had never seen before entered the shop.
Brenda stopped sweeping and looked up. That smell that flooded the shop – she recognized it. It was the perfume worn by her late grandma Grace.
The old woman ambled towards Brenda and gazed at her with sympathy. She patted Brenda on her arm.
“Sweetheart, this isn’t just a business closing, it’s a dream dying.”
Brenda stood there, broom in hand, watching as the woman turned to leave, a tear running down her cheek.
In that final conversation Brenda and her husband had about closing the stores, he had mentioned something that Brenda couldn’t get out of her mind. Years earlier she had joined a direct-selling company called Team National as a customer, yet had still profited naturally through friends and family.
“Why don’t we close the stores and you can come home to be with the kids and build that Team National business?”
Brenda let out a long laugh. “Are you suggesting that I go into direct-selling?”
Parker shrugged. “Why not?” he said.
Brenda now refers to the closing of the wine shops as “the death” of her “dream business.” But she says this in a thank God kind of way.
“Today I have two strong and healthy children with big hearts, an awesome husband of 23 years and a very successful work-from-home business that I am passionate about,” she told a crowd at a speaking event in January. She paced the stage in thoughtful contemplation, then beamed suddenly.
“Even though things did not go according to plan, I feel like I have it all and it’s better than I could have designed on my own,” she said.
Brenda’s voice rose and the crowd leaned forward. She was talking about her near-death experience of Parker Junior, and I know she’s not speaking of the Parker Junior everyone knows now, a tall handsome High School letterman heading to New York to study to become an actor. She’s talking about that frail being with the comforting, radiant blue eyes, hooked up to all of those machines – the miracle baby, the one who taught her not so long ago that a master plan is now a myth – a once linear, concrete construct that was carefully disassembled the moment Parker Junior decided to come into the world, giving birth to her true purpose without limits; a purpose of love.
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Jennae Geren is a freelance journalist, the founder of the journalism and film project, I Had a Dream Project, and the Owner of Geren Imaging in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Fort Collins, CO business photographer and headshot photographer Jennae Geren, features entrepreneur Brenda Ridgley of Firestone, Colorado.