It was a little over a month after the great blizzard of 1993 that hit the Northeast -- when the city of Pittsburgh was ensconced in two feet of snow -- that I was nearly eight months' pregnant.
I dreaded that I would go into labor early and never be able to make it to the hospital, or an ambulance would never reach me.
First-time pregnant women worry about these things, because for the entire gestational period, other women -- with only the best intentions, of course -- are regaling you with horror stories, and then laughing it off. "Oh my God, I was in labor for 72 hours. I thought I was going to die! But I'm sure it will be much better for you."
It wasn't. But as with most mothers, I look back and laugh. I'm fortunate enough to be able to laugh even harder at the challenges of my own delivery. Because the wife of a sports god went into labor at the same time I did. At the same hospital.
In 1993, Mario Lemieux was at the zenith of his career. Barely a year earlier he had led the Penguins to a second consecutive Stanley Cup title. The good people of Pittsburgh all longed to bathe themselves in the afterglow of his glory.
Mario freakin' Lemieux. Sports legend. Pittsburgh's holy redeemer of hockey turned expectant father.
This was shaping up to be far worse than a prior experience when I took my mother out to eat Downtown for her birthday. We were completely abandoned by wait staff because Jim Leyland -- then the manager of the Pirates, back when they were winning division titles -- was there with a handful of buddies.
None of the women who offered their plentiful, unsolicited pregnancy and delivery advice could have anticipated my own version of labor pains. But it's true: No woman really knows what to expect during her first childbirth experience. It's about as close to dying as most of us will ever come. (Now who's the well-intentioned woman offering unsolicited pregnancy horror stories?)
The medication from my epidural brought on some very unsavory side effects. At one point, the doctor poked his head in my hospital room door to check on me. He asked how I was doing. I replied with projectile vomiting.
He used his index finger to signal he would be right back.
"Yeah, sure you will," I thought. "I'll just hang onto this bedpan full of stomach bile until you return."
By now, my daughter's father was long gone -- as were all of the nurses and any other hospital staff. And that's because they'd all heard that Mario Lemieux was somewhere in the hospital.
At the first utterance of his name, the echo in the surrounding corridors became louder and emptier. I whimpered -- then called out quite palpably -- for help, because I was pretty sure that it was "time." This baby was ready, and I needed some assistance.
I imagined Mario's wife to be in a similar situation, because I don't think they were as concerned about Nathalie Lemieux or the progeny of hockey royalty she was about to give birth to; everyone just wanted to know if Mario Lemieux was in the hospital, and where.
All the while, I waited alone in my room, for what seemed like an eternity. In retrospect, it probably wasn't that long, but the urgency of the situation made it seem so, like one of those purposefully protracted scenes from the movies ("One minute until this starship self-destructs ...").
Help would come, but only in the proverbial nick of time. Word had spread just as quickly when it was discovered that Mario was not there -- and so everyone went back to business as usual. Perhaps I should have pretended he was in my room and screamed out his name, in hopes of luring a nearby nurse to my lair.
So it would come to pass that in that last week of April 1993, hours apart from each other, Mario's first-born, a daughter, and my first-born, also a daughter, made their successfully plucky -- or should I say "pucky" -- entrances into the world.
They both recently celebrated their 20th birthdays, and I wish them all the best. You might say Lauren would be Mario's "hat trick" and my Maddie, well, she would be the kiddo who took one for the team.
I'm reminded of all this two decades later as I watch television with two words on my mind that weren't there at delivery time: "Go Pens!"
Frances Monahan of Brentwood, a social worker, can be reached at email@example.comThe PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255.