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Infertility In the 1960’s, Horrors and Miracles – My Personal Story
I was a teenager in the middle of the last century. Those were the days before support groups. Focusing on other people’s problems is not very important in people’s minds. And personal issues were largely hidden. As you read this story, you will find many instances of inconsistency, thankfully, unheard of these days.
When the 1960s opened, the role of women in our country changed. The discovery of the maternity bill allowed many women to delay childbearing to create a career. The force exerted on their bodies has forced many of them to express their voices in a rapidly changing world.
In late 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy first shocked and then empowered men and women of my generation to take the first leap to change the world. As the Vietnam War continued throughout the 1960s, men and women protested the war to overthrow President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
With the new empowerment of women, many women shunned traditional marriage in favor of establishing a society where men and women lived in “free love”. (I met a man who was born in the county and I didn’t know who his father was!)
In these rapidly changing times I, a graduate student at Stern College for Women, stood in my place in the world as a bride. I’m 19 years old! My husband, Hershie, 22, is a graduate student at Yeshiva University. We lived in a neighborhood in Manhattan called Washington Heights.
Our world is The Orthodox Jewish World. In the 1960s, there was no women’s liberation movement and no significant work was done on my project. I wanted my voice to be heard, but I wanted to do it in my Orthodox Jewish life. Having children was at the top of my list!
When I was 21 years old, I found out that I was having trouble giving birth. Today it is called PCOS. Ob-Gyns in the 60’s weren’t used to working in the new area of ”infertility,” so I thought I’d see the doctor who delivered Jackie Kennedy’s babies…a doctor to rich people!! I arrived nervously for my appointment when I was surprised to see the doctor who treated the First Lady!
Jackie’s doctor recommended that I undergo a major surgery called a Wedge Resection. A piece of tissue is cut from both ovaries to clear the surface for new eggs to develop. I was scared! The thought of surgery scared me.
I dismissed the idea of surgery when I decided we would return to our hometown, Pittsburgh, PA. I started teaching Kindergarten at Hillel Academy, and spent a lot of time “doctoring.”
I did all the tests available in those days… the ones I remember were Hystero-salpingogram and Coldoscopy. Birth control pills began to be used for infertility patients, but researchers did not know how to control the levels of estrogen and progesterone in the pills, and I became very ill after just one pill. .
Every month is sad. Ovulation was measured daily by taking body temperature. Pregnancy can only be determined by blood tests. There are no rapid pregnancy or ovulation tests on those days. Waiting for those test results can be very frustrating and dangerous.
Seeing pregnant women is a dream. Sometimes women say bad things about me not having children. One of my doctors asked, “Why are you bothering with all these tests, etc., you’re not going to have a baby!” After these situations, I ran home crying. To this day, 45 years later, that word still hurts!
Because I knew that God had a plan for everyone, I didn’t ask, “Why me?”, but, except for the time I spent teaching, I was very sad and empty. It took my doctors 2 more years to recommend Wedge Resection surgery. At that time I was 24 and ready for surgery.
Honestly, this surgery saved my life. One of my ovaries was so full of blood that it had to be completely removed. The doctor said that it is possible, at any time, from the weight of the cysts, to twist in one direction, and can cut off my flow! But for me, an infertile patient, the worst news is that the ovary is polycystic and the doctor can save only 1/5 of that ovary. I went through surgery to have a baby and came out with 1/5 of one ovary! My mom heard the news at first and was shocked, even though the doctor told her that a woman can get pregnant even if the ovary is small.
Another year passed and nothing happened. I started to feel sad. In the absence of support groups, there is no place to seek comfort from others who are experiencing these pains. And I was surrounded by babies, babies, babies!
As 1966 dawned, something amazing happened! A famous obstetrician from Wales who stopped at Magee Hospital in Pittsburgh… the late Dr. David Charles. At that time, Magee, a teaching hospital, began to develop a world-class Obstetrics and Gynecology Department. When I entered his office, I could feel his warmth and hope. I was especially encouraged, after he examined me, he said, “Young lady, you are going to give birth to a baby!”
Who would have thought that Dr. Charles is one of only 12 doctors in America doing clinical trials for a newly discovered drug called Clomephene. (Today it’s called Clomid… as far as I know, Wedge Resection surgeries are gone.) Dr. Charles decided I was a good candidate for success with Clomephene and asked if my husband and I would be okay with taking a chance. . of many families. That question is a no-brainer!
In December, 1966, I became pregnant! The first seven months of my pregnancy were very happy. On my 30th week, I got up in bed in the morning, looked down and saw blood on the floor. My mind could not comprehend what I saw.
When I got to the hospital, I was already in labor with suspected placenta previa! There were no sonograms in those days, so I was prepped for a C-section before Dr. Charles examined me, before 25 medical students, to determine if his suspicions were correct.
Yes, it was placenta previa, but Dr. Charles determined that there was plenty of room for my little baby to slip. The next step is to try to stop the process. I continued to drink alcohol.
The wait began. Since I was the first participant in the Clomephene Clinical Trials, I will always be a statistic! But I don’t stop working. As I was being wheeled into the delivery room (there were no delivery rooms in 1966!), a surgeon stopped the gurney and said he wanted to determine the size of my baby. The resident insisted on stabbing and pushing my stomach. (Remember, there were no sonograms in those days!) He said, nonchalantly, that from what he could hear, my baby only had a 50-50 chance of survival!
Really? Really? Are you laughing? Am I still not serious? If I had a big mouth today, what I said to him is unprintable!
The delivery room was set up with an incubator and a pediatrician. The team is ready.
A short while later, my little boy (literally) slipped into the world. She weighs 3 pounds and 1 oz. It was June 20, 1967. When Dr. Charles pulled her out, I closed my eyes. Dr. Charles urged me to look at my baby. I told her that if the baby is not possible, I will not be able to go through my whole life with the picture of her in my mind. Dr. Charles urged me to open my eyes… and because it was years before my big mouth developed, I looked at the baby. What I saw was terrifying. He is very small. How will he survive? I was hurt.
The baby was still shaking in the incubator at the NICU, and I was taken to the recovery room.
The following will NOT happen today: In the recovery room a nurse came in and told me she was giving me a shot to stop me from producing milk. I was shocked by the day’s work to review his comments. Even though breastfeeding was weak that time and pumping and bringing milk to the hospital was unheard of, I really wanted to feed my baby. With that injection, all hope of breastfeeding was lost.
In the late 1960s, no family members were allowed to touch them in the incubator. Day after day, we stand in front of the glass window of the nursery watching our little baby being fed through a feeding tube and attached to billions of tubes and wires. Believe it or not, I was afraid to take pictures of him in the incubator because I was afraid the light from the camera would hit his eyes!
After 2 long, painful months, our baby tipped the scales at 5lbs, 8oz. That’s the shipping weight. The day before he was due, I was called to the nursery to hold and feed my baby for the first time. It’s true. My baby is 2 months old and this is my first physical contact with him. When I think about it now, I cry.
2015 Update: Our little hero is almost 47 years old and has a Ph.D in Molecular Genetics! He is a father of two teenagers and likes to tease me by saying that he has emotional issues… stemming from the fact that he hasn’t had sex in 2 months! I chuckle to thank him for his guilt trip, but it still makes me sick to think what the medical community was thinking in those days. Better not to sit on it.
Over the next ten years, Hershie and I were blessed with 3 boys and a girl! Child #2 is a “Clomid” baby. The joke after that is that we have found the “on” button … without help from medicine!
Hershie and I thank God every day for the wonderful blessings He has given us!
Children! Grandson! In the 1960s, can we expect such blessings?!
We pray that you all receive these wonderful blessings!
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