Free Willy Was Made on Location. So was my son.

On any other Sunday that summer of 1992, on location up in Oregon for the filming of Free Willy, Id be digging shamelessly into a steaming stack of blueberry hotcakes, purple compote oozing out all over the place. The Pig’n Pancake in Astoria was famous for them, and I usually couldnt wait to wade in. I didnt need—and didnt want—the calorie breakdown to know the pancakes were pound packers, all buttery and crazy delicious, the kind of food I would normally eschew in favor of leaner fare like two eggs scrambled, cottage cheese on the side, one piece of rye toast. 

The rules are different when youre on location. When youre on location, stressed to the max working as production coordinator on a big Warner Bros. movie like Free Willy, you (me) reward yourself (myself!) with a guilt-free weekend treat. My fiancé and I had walked the half mile from the Red Lion Inn where the film crew was housed and we planned on walking the half mile back. A full mile. That had to count for something. 

On that particular Sunday, instead of digging in, I sat there, letting the blueberry pancakes go cold and gelatinous. Feeling punky, my ravenous appetite replaced by an uneasy feeling, a queasy feeling, I wondered if I was hung over from the night before, when most of the crew had invaded the lounge at the hotel for Karaoke night. I’d watched my fiancé sing Stairway to Heaven—the long version—and at the end of the song as he stood there, mic in hand reaching to the sky like he was a rock star, a few of us—including Lori Petty who played the whale trainer—rushed the stage pretending to mob him, We’d laughed until margaritas blew out our noses but I didn’t think I’d had all that much to drink.
I was right, I hadn’t had that much to drink. Or maybe I had but that wasn’t the source of that uneasy feeling, that queasy feeling. I was pregnant. 
Overnight, my diet went from carbolicious pancakes to protein-rich hard boiled eggs that the caterers made just for me. I kept them in a plastic tub filled with water in a fridge in the production office and ate them with as much gusto as Cool Hand Luke. Margaritas became a distant memory and I quit smoking just like that, cold turkey. My p.a.’s sent me a bouquet of flowers. The teamster captain stopped barking at me. My boss, the Ice Queen, still watched every move I made, but she smiled a bit more often as she did so.

The full story of my pregnancy is complicated; one month in I woke up in the morning with slight cramps. Going to the bathroom, I eliminated a small bloody mass into the bowl. There were no painful cramps, it was the emotional pain, the horror, that had me crying out to my now-husband. He rushed me back to bed and called in sick for both of us. The local doctor who’d confirmed my pregnancy said it sounded like a miscarriage. Was I in pain? No, I told her. I could come in for a D&C she said but if I was comfortable I could let nature take its course and check in with my own doctor when we got back to Los Angeles.

Miserable, but not in pain, my husband and I took a drive down the coast to Seaside. We took a walk along the beach, played arcade games, and tried to chase away the sadness. 

The next day I went back to work. The production staff sent more flowers, the teamster captain became downright kind, and my boss stopped being critical altogether.

By the time I returned home to Los Angeles, I felt hollow and empty, sad and resigned at our loss. I was also determined. We were okay.  was okay. We could try again. My mother, seeing me for the first time in months, had other ideas.

“You still have a stomach!’’ she said. “I think you’re still pregnant.’’

My doctor agreed. I was still pregnant. Whatever had happened back in that hotel bathroom, I was left with a baby in my belly. My baby. A baby bump on our wedding day, visible under my short lacy cream approximation of a wedding dress. Approaching forty, a divorcee, four and a half months pregnant, virginal white was not an option. 

Three months shy of my fortieth birthday, after a 22-hour labor and an emergency C-section, I gave birth to our baby boy, our little miracle. My boyo and I spent his first few days apart. Instead of lying next to me in a bassinet where I could see his sweet face, his legs kicking in the air, where I could pick him up and hold him to me, my little beanie baby was up in the ICU, hooked up to a network of tubes, monitored in an incubator. Just to see him, I had to lumber down the hall, feeling my stitches with every step, to take take the elevator up to the ICU. I had to scrub up like a surgeon before I could breastfeed my own baby. My husband had to scrub up just so he could touch his tiny hands.

When we all came home a few days later, healthy and happy, I dressed him in the onesie I’d hand-painted. The movie’s title “Free Willy” arcing above my rudimentary picture of a whale. “Made on Location” printed underneath. 

I still have that onesie, packed away in a box, with the blue beanie they gave him at the hospital. 

My beanie baby turned 29 this week. Lean and lanky, at least a head taller than his father, he’s too big to be anyone’s beanie baby any more. Except mine. He’ll always be mine.

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