Her pregnancy alone had caused enough discussion.
The eldest child of a factory seamstress and a small time farmer who occasionally, and often unsuccessfully, tried his hand at being a businessman, G was the prodigal daughter – the one who would pull the family firmly up into the emerging middle class and bring success and respect to the family. Despite being raised by a mother who at 17 chose marriage and family over the possibility of a career in nursing and a father who began school at the age of seven speaking only Pennsylvania Dutch and ended his education a few short years later in the eighth grade, G had graduated first in her class in high school – Most Likely to Succeed – and went on to also graduate in the top spot of her college class. In early 1970, while many women her age gave birth to their first (or second, or third) child, joined the typing pool, or completed a two year business program, G wrote letters to her new husband – away in the Navy – and applied to medical school.
G’s marriage was the first cause of concern to her parents and family. The choice to become a doctor occurred early in G’s life, and at the time there was little to make anyone believe that it was not an appropriate choice. Groundbreaking, yes. Inappropriate, no. G was intelligent, studious, and academically successful nearly to a fault. She did not date in high school – went to the senior prom alone – and was fully prepared to spend her life as a female doctor. She planned on being a woman with a degree and a career, but no family. This suited her parents just fine. Having been raised during the Great Depression, they wanted security for their daughter and didn’t see marriage as the way to attain that. While such a notion was revolutionary for their time, it did not encompass what would come to be expected of the women of G’s generation – an attempt to “have it all.” It also did not account for their daughter meeting a young man at a shoe factory one summer day between freshman and sophomore year of college or their rushed wedding during the biggest snow storm of the winter of ’69 after L received his orders to ship out…to Vietnam.
So here she was, walking alone in mid-summer July heat to give birth to a child in the hospital where she worked as a doctor. In 1970, the year that she entered medical school, only 8.4% of medical school graduates were women
. It was going to be a difficult journey for G in any part of the country during these early days of women’s lib, but G planned t
o practice in rural Pennsylvania – one of the last East Coast hold-outs in the move towards equal rights. During an interview with a residency program in central Pennsylvania, she had been asked what she would do if she and her husband were hosting a dinner party one night and she needed to make a house call. G had never been to a dinner party in her life. She answered that her husband, now retired from the navy, would finish dinner. She was not admitted. A few short years later, while assisting in surgery one day during her residency in northeastern Pennsylvania, G quickly excused herself from the operating room to vomit. When she returned the lead surgeon asked her how many weeks pregnant she was.
She didn’t let that happen again. It didn’t matter; her secret was already out.
Upon the birth of her nine pound, healthy little boy later that day, G became a member of a new club of women professionals – in a field almost exclusively inhabited by men – who by accident or choice had also become mothers.
Thus began this unassuming and private women’s journey through unmarked territory as she attempted to balance her career as a physician and her identity as a mother.