Rhonda Baisden thought Mother's Day was a holiday that would never apply to her. After about eight years of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, she and her husband, James, figured having a child just wasn't meant to be for them.
"After so long a time, we just thought if it was going to happen, it would have happened by now," Rhonda said.
The Kenai couple have always liked kids, have a slough of nieces and nephews and planned to have children of their own at some point in their marriage. They were high school sweethearts in their home town of Logan, W.V., and when they married a few years after graduation, children seemed to be the next expected development.
"Everybody pigeon-holes you as a perfect couple," Rhonda said. "The next step is to have kids right after the wedding. People were constantly asking when we were going to have kids."
But the couple had other plans at the time. James joined the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Florida while Rhonda stayed behind to finish school to become a laboratory technician. When Rhonda graduated and moved to Florida, the timing still didn't seem conducive to starting a family, since she was working three jobs and James could be transferred at any time.
"Initially, we knew since we were so busy we couldn't dedicate the time we wanted to for a family," Rhonda said.
James was sent to Alaska in 1989 and spent a year in King Salmon before transferring to Elmendorf Air Force Base, where Rhonda joined him. When James was discharged from the military the couple moved to Anchorage and James worked in the state fire marshal's office, while Rhonda got a job doing research for the Centers for Disease and Control. Finally, life seemed settled enough to bring a child into their lives.
But biology, it seems, couldn't be convinced that they were ready for a baby. James took a job as the Kenai fire marshal in 1998, and he and Rhonda moved down from Anchorage. They got a house with plenty of room for a little one to grow up in, a yard perfect for a swing set or sandbox and vehicles that could easily hold a child safety seat.
Years passed, yet there still was no child.
Rhonda's doctor suggested she try fertility treatments. She and James talked it over and decided against it.
Rhonda Baisden laughs as James Cullen takes turns beating on pots and dad. The Baisden's said that the baby has changed their life in about every way.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"At that time we had a few friends going through the shots and timing and we could see the stress they were going through just trying to conceive," she said. "... We decided intervention wasn't going to be for us."
"We were just to the point where if it was going to happen naturally, it was going to happen," James said. "And if it didn't, we were going to be satisfied with that, too."
Though they had no definitive medical diagnosis saying they couldn't conceive, eight years of not getting pregnant put the Baisdens in the mind-set that a baby was not in the cards for them.
Then in the fall of 2002, Rhonda came down with a sinus infection or at least what she thought was a sinus infection. She had had them before, and they typically made her dizzy and nauseous. But this one wasn't going away.
"I thought, 'OK, this is just really kicking my butt,'" she said. "Then I was late. I thought, 'No, I don't think so.'"
She took a home pregnancy test, and the results showed she was pregnant.
"I'm a lab tech, so I know what it means. But I was thinking it couldn't be right, so I took another one."
The second test came out positive, as well. She showed it to James, and he was just as incredulous.
"He said, 'What does it mean?'" Rhonda said. "I said, 'It means we're going to be real busy.'"
"I thought she was making things up," James said. "It had been one of those things that I never thought was going to happen. I was like, 'Wow, you're kidding. We're almost 40.'"
Rhonda Baisden shows baby James Cullen an airplane during a walk to see dad at the Kenai Fire Department.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Though they like to kid about how a sinus infection turned out to be a child, the fact that Rhonda was pregnant was no joke although their families seemed to think it was at first.
Rhonda and James included a comment about expecting a new edition to the family in an e-mail to family at Thanksgiving, but all that did was make people think they were getting a new puppy. They had to repeat the happy news again at Christmas before people caught on to the fact that they really were having a baby.
"I love kids but I always played it off like 'Kids are so much trouble' and 'Who would want to do something like that,'" James said. "Everybody who had kids that were friends of ours, I think they were more excited then we were. It's like, 'Now it's your turn. Now you're going to see it. Paybacks are coming.'"
Rhonda's pregnancy went well, although, because of her age, it was considered a high-risk pregnancy.
"I was not prepared when the doctor told me it was a geriatric pregnancy," she said. "You feel like you've got a bottle of prenatal vitamins in one hand and Geritol in the other. But anything over 35 is considered geriatric."
Eleven days after his due date and eight years after his parents started trying for him, James Cullen II was born Aug. 5, 2003.
Since then, life for the Baisdens has irrevocably changed.
"I can't imagine what life would be like if it was just the two of us because it's so much better now," Rhonda said. "... I never knew it would be so great. It's completely different then a niece and nephew or a puppy, and we've had all those and cherished them, but it's a hundred times better. I look at him and I see James, parts of me, parts of my family. He has this lineage behind him of people that makes it so much more enriching. It's so cliche, but true."
Life is better, but busier.
"I don't know what I did with my time nine months ago," James said. "I must have wasted a lot of time. I don't know what I did. Now you've always got somebody waiting on you, staring you in the eyes saying, 'Hold me.' There's time constraints, but it's time you don't really count anymore. You have a whole day's worth of stuff to do and if you don't do it, it's no big deal."
Rhonda brushes dust from James' uniform as the baby ogles a fire truck. "He's my other baby," Rhonda joked.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Rhonda said she was already the mothering type, always making sure everyone around her is fed and comfortable even to the extent of getting up to make a hot snack for the Kenai firefighters if they get called out in the middle of the night. But she has particularly noticed a change in James since their son was born. She says James was always a family man, but now he's even more so. Seeing James holding James Cullen after he was born was enough to move her to tears although Rhonda concedes she's not sure if it was the postnatal hormones that made her cry or if the scene was really that touching.
"I've seen him in his fireman's outfit, and that's the sexiest thing in the world ... (but) there's nothing more attractive than seeing him snuggling with the baby," Rhonda said. "'GQ' has nothing on a committed dad."
Though the two were always homebodies, they are even more so now, James said, especially since their responsibilities have multiplied.
"Now I'm more paranoid," he said. "If we don't have to go to the store, we don't go. It used to be one of those things I didn't think about. Now I think about what can happen. When it's just the two of you, you don't think about your spouse getting hurt in an accident, but with a child, now you think about it."
The couple had to make several changes to their lifestyle, especially when Rhonda decided to give up her job as a lab technician at Central Peninsula General Hospital and be a stay-at-home mom.
To compensate for the loss off an income, the Baisdens downsized their existence. They got rid of vehicles, sold property, cut off cable TV and gave up cell phones. Rhonda makes James Cullen's baby food herself and finds other ways to save money and cut financial corners. James started a computer support and repair business, Kenai Computer, that he operates out of their home to make ends meet.
"It's tough, but I can't leave him," Rhonda said. "I think, 'What is it that I have to do that is so important I have to leave him?' And I can't come up with anything."
James said he doesn't mind the lack of income or extra work.
"From my experience and the people I deal with who have to deal with day care and stuff, we've got the best of both worlds with what we have," he said. "... I think she's really took on the mother role. I think it's going to be her most rewarding job she's ever done."
Now Rhonda's days are full of changing diapers, reading baby books, taking baby pictures to post on the Internet (James Cullen has had his picture taken every day of his life), teaching baby sign language, helping him look out the window, taking him for walks to the Kenai Fire Department to visit dad at work, and in general being a mom. She enjoyed her career, but she likes her life now much better.
Rhonda Baisden laughs as her son James Cullen adjusts his sunglasses in the front window of the family's home in Kenai.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I love it with all my heart," she said. "Of all the jobs I've pursued, of all the things I loved ... none of that adds up to the enjoyment of being a mom. It's a big ball of pride, contentment, enjoyment every positive adjective you can think of all rolled up into one little diaper."
Though the couple did not intend to have a child when they were nearly 40, they say there are some advantages to having a child later in life.
"I hope he doesn't put dad in an old folks home by the time he's 18," James joked. "... When you're young and have kids you can get out and do more with them. As older parents I think we may not be as active, but we can be in his life more now."
Since they had both been working for almost 20 years, the Baisdens were in a better financial situation to have a child than they would have been in their early 20s. They also have more life experience and maturity on their side. They've had time to be independent and self-centered and focus on their own careers and needs. Now they don't feel like they're giving anything up to focus on James Cullen, Rhonda said.
"Parenting at every age is hard, but you just have to parent," she said. "I think a lot of people miss the concept that parenting means you, not the TV or the computer or whatever. ... When you have (children), take the time to enjoy them. Put them as a priority on your list of things to do. Motherhood is such a gift, (not something) to sidetrack for other things in life."
Their maturity also has taught them to steer away from material things and give James Cullen what he really needs in life, instead of whatever new fad toy is popular at the moment.
"The things he really needs we already have ... arms, kisses, hugs, encouragement. I don't have to buy that," Rhonda said.
Though James was planning a nice dinner and perhaps a relaxing trip to a lake to celebrate Rhonda's first Mother's Day, Rhonda said she doesn't need any special attention to make the day enjoyable.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Rhonda displays pictures of baby James Cullen on a laptop computer. The family said they've taken at least one photo of the baby every day since he was born.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I know I'm appreciated," she said. "I can see it every day when (James Cullen) gets up. I can see it in James' face when he gets a good home-cooked meal. One day won't change that. (But) this day in particular is made special because he's here. Lots of Mother's Days have come and gone like any other day, but because he's here, it makes it special."
"I can't think of anything more I would want as a woman as being blessed with a child and being loved by a good man."
Nothing, perhaps, except another child?
If Rhonda does come down with another suspicious sinus infection, she says she and James will welcome it as they did James Cullen.
"If another one comes, great. If it doesn't, we're so pleased with him. If it's meant to happen, it'll happen and we'll welcome it."
She might want to make sure James is on the same page, however.
"Now we're going to have four or five, if she can keep up with me," he said.
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