Wednesday, December 06, 2006

What I Was Doing
December 6, 1963

In early 1963 I was living in Berkeley and dating a young man who lived in Menlo Park with Jerry Garcia and a couple of other future members of the Grateful Dead. It was a fun existence, with hitch-hiking and exploring altered states of consciousness and generally being a hippy. Until I discovered I was pregnant. At which point, I decided that was not the milieu I wanted to raise a child in and left the young man and left the life style and left my chance at fortune since the young man later became famous in his own right. Never regretted it. Nice young man, but I was right about it not being any way to raise a child.

Not long after this, I ran into an old friend, Dick, who had just returned from New York. My apartment didn't allow children and Dick's did, so he invited me to move in with him.

I had a lot of morning sickness with Richard. Actually, I had so much morning sickness that I weighed slightly less when I checked in for his birth than I had before I was pregnant. At one point an elderly doctor I was seeing before I signed up for the clinic gave me the straight scoop: I would score some pot, take exactly one toke before each meal, or he would have to put me in the hospital on IVs. That, he explained, was what they had done before marijuana was illegal.

Later, I signed up for the clinic at the county hospital, since I was unmarried and broke. We all had appointments for 8:00 a.m. and sat to wait on backless wooden benches. By noon my back would be killing me; if I hadn’t been one of the earliest to sign in when they opened at 8, I would have to come back after lunch (they were closed from 12 to 1) and wait longer. Lots of us were waiting by 7 for an 8 o’clock sign-in, in the hopes of only wasting half a day. Because I had a bicornate uterus (sort of conjoined uteri, capable of being pregnant in both at once, with weeks or months between due dates!), they insisted that I come back once a week for a check-up. Supposedly this was so that whichever doctor was on duty when my child was born would have examined me. I found out when I went to a private physician for my second pregnancy, that wasn’t it. I was going to a teaching hospital and I had an extremely rare condition; they were bringing in every medical student in the San Francisco bay area to examine me for experience and education. Twenty-one years old, convent educated, and every week another group of four or five young men were examining me!

In addition to throwing up every bite I ate, I also fainted a lot. One week while they were taking blood at the clinic I fainted and the blood re-entered my arm, leaving a huge, painless bruise. Two days later I fainted in the middle of an intersection, and as I went down I heard a man say, “not even 10 o’clock on a Tuesday morning, and drunk already!” That one left me with skinned knees and elbows. Actually, I looked like nothing less than a battered wife, now that I think about it. I sincerely hope no one thought Dick was mistreating me!

The first time I went into false labor, they had me stay in the hospital for a couple of hours and then sent me home. The second time, because it happened after 10 p.m., they had me stay overnight. In the morning, as I was sitting, episode over and waiting for a doctor to come in and release me, a young intern stopped by and asked if I was doing alright. When I told him I was, he seemed puzzled but then realized that I didn’t know that JFK had been shot.

When Dick came to check me out, I was wearing my blue dress with the sailor collar and belt and had my hair braided to keep it from tangling while I was in bed. We were waiting at the nurse’s station, and the nurse came up and said, rather sternly, “Children under 14 are not allowed on this floor.” As I stood there, trying to figure out how I was supposed to be there without the baby, Dick explained that I was 21 and checking out after false labor.

Although I had mistaken the false labor for the real thing, when I did go into labor, there was no mistaking it. It was a completely different level of sensation. The doctor came to check on me, and turned out to be the only medical professional on the west coast who had never examined me. I told him that we had records going back for five generations in my direct female line and no one had gone over four hours of labor. He explained to me that my mother meant intense labor, that my family had lied to me to keep my calm and not frighten me, and that since this was my first child, I would have a good 36 hours of labor. And that’s why, less than two hours from my first twinge, Dick (who by this time was my husband) stuck his head out the door of the labor room and called to the doctor, “I can see the head” and the doctor had to drop his cup of coffee and catch Richard.

Richard was born just after midnight on December 6, 1963. The hospital, being county, wouldn’t let me eat until breakfast, and I was starving. Dick snuck out and smuggled a cheeseburger and milkshake to me by ripping a hole in the lining of his pea coat and slipping them in.

The best part was holding Richard. He was five pounds and seven ounces; and after a short labor, he wasn’t all red and his head wasn’t misshapen. He was a lovely baby. He was also the only white baby in the nursery, and his full head of white kid hair looked absolutely bald. Those were the days when nursing was discouraged, and I had no idea how to go about it. But, being in a dorm with seven women who had nursed all of their children was wonderful. They all gave hints and clues. They all thought I was so funny. When the nurse tried to tell me that I had no choice but to sign permission for a circumcision, “it’s against the law for you to take him home without it” I stated fiercely that no one was mutilating my child and that if the law said it had to be done they wouldn’t need my permission.

And yet, I had to be taught how to breast feed and to call him by name, rather than baby. I think that the consensus was that “white women are strange, aren’t they?” I didn’t care; they taught me how to nurse him. They all thought that for a bald little thing he was a lovely baby. They could laugh at me all they wanted. They, after all, did know much more about what they were doing than I did.


Anvilcloud said...

Our Christmas baby came 9 years and fourteen days later, and it was a long labour. However, unlike yours, it was an uneventful pregnancy.

J said...

Happy Birthday Richard!

Gina said...

Great birth story and Happy Birthday to your son!

Ms. Mamma said...

Yes, excellent birth story and what a gorgeous photograph.

Ron Southern said...

Granny's more hip than we know! Good story.

kenju said...

What a wonderful post; thanks for sharing your story. When my first baby was born in 1966, I had no earthly idea how to nurse or anything else. An only child, who never babysat much, whose own mother never birthed a kid (I am adopted); I was ill-equipped to take care of a baby, but somehow I got through it and so did we all.

Happy Birthday, Richard! And I hope you know how lucky you are to have this woman as your mommy.

Ginnie said...

43 is a great age. Hope Richard enjoys it and thanks for the elaborate blog...I had no idea that you had such a colorful past and I'm glad you chose the route you did...for you and the children. It must have taken a lot of courage.

Suzann said...

Such a wonderful story - I had a baby in July 1964. I did not breastfeed as you said, it was discouraged then.

I was so young, just 18 that I could not stand up for myself. I am so glad you had the women around you to help make that happen. It was always a regret of mine that I did not breastfeed my baby in 1964. I love visiting and reading. Take care.

Deja Pseu said...

Happy Birthday to Richard!

Joy Des Jardins said...

What a wonderful story J. Happy Birthday Richard! I love that photo...beautiful.

donna said...

Wow. You've lived one heckuva life, my dear.

Happy birthday Richard!

Never That Easy said...

Great story: thanks for sharing!

Happy Birthday to Richard, and Happy Remembering to Maya's Granny!

Py Korry said...

I've heard the very short version of that story. Thanks for blogging on it. And I love that picture!

Happy belated birthday Richard/Tad