Category Archives: pregnancy

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part III)

Something surprising happened in January.  Months before, I’d applied to work at the San Diego Legal Aid Society, but I’d never heard back.  Now I got a phone call asking me to come downtown for an interview. When I met with the program director, Steve H, I was visibly pregnant, but Steve liked my background working in Legal Services as a lawyer for low-income clients, and he decided to hire me part-time. 

I was thrilled.  I’d completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Starting a great new part-time job right now would work out perfectly.  Steve loved introducing me to everyone in the office, practically beaming because he, a steadfast liberal, had hired a pregnant woman.

I discovered that I could take a convenient bus downtown.  But when I met my officemates, one of them offered to give me a ride. Mike W, a single lawyer about my age, lived near me and picked me up on a corner close to my apartment. 

Mike W was a smart guy but totally unaware of how pregnancy worked.  Almost every time he gave me a ride, he fretted that I’d give birth in his car.  I had to keep reassuring him that first babies are never born that fast.  And of course mine wasn’t.

Working in the downtown office turned out to be a terrific experience.  I enjoyed my Legal Services work, interviewing clients and doing research at the downtown city library.  During lunchtime strolls, I was also able to explore downtown San Diego.  I discovered a great used book store and still own a vintage copy of Robert Burns’s poetry I found there. 

I also browsed at the big downtown department store, Walker Scott.  It reminded me of old-line department stores in other cities, like Chicago’s Marshall Field’s.  I remember the store was at that time promoting the forthcoming film, “The Great Gatsby,” featuring life-size photos of Robert Redford and Mia Farrow on full display.

One lunchtime, I entered Walker Scott feeling a bit tired, and I happily discovered a women’s lounge where I could put my feet up.  I returned there often.  One day I noticed a new mother nursing her baby, and I remember smiling and telling her how much I admired her.  At the time, I was busily reading up on how to nurse my own baby, and it was reassuring to see a new mother handling it so well.

Before I reluctantly went on leave from my job at Legal Aid (I’ll explain why below), the women in my office surprised me with a baby shower!  It was a true surprise because I never expected any of them to spend their precious time and money on me.  I think there was one other woman lawyer, whom I barely saw because she was so busy.  The other women were either administrative staff or secretaries, and most of them didn’t appear to have an extra dollar to spend this way.  It was a joyous event, and I treasured receiving gifts from these ultra-kind women.  A stuffed teddy bear from Mari became our baby’s first toy, landing in her bassinet as soon as she arrived home.  Another gift was a baby blanket, especially endearing because it had a noticeable flaw that identified it as a remainder purchased at a bargain store.  Buying even that was probably a stretch for my beautiful co-worker, and I loved her for it.

In March, I got some bad news.  A routine urine test revealed a high number for glucose.  I had to follow up with another, more serious, glucose test, requiring that I drink a revolting liquid.  The result was a shocker:  I was diagnosed with a complication of pregnancy, “gestational diabetes.”  

I didn’t even know that this complication existed.  It was NOT a complication described in my well-thumbed paperback copy of “Pregnancy and Childbirth,” written by the noted NYC ob-gyn Alan Guttmacher.  His book listed a whole lot of complications, but nowhere did Dr. G mention gestational diabetes.  (I do remember his advice for dealing with constipation:  Just relax on the toilet with a cigarette.  Oh, yes, his book gave that advice.  Luckily, I never needed to follow it.)

Dr. Blank sent me to a local specialist, an MD who was an expert on diabetes.  This man turned out to be a horrible practitioner of the medical profession. I had no problem with modifying my diet. That was no big deal.  But this MD also ordered that I begin having insulin shots once a day, and he arrogantly announced that I had to enter a hospital overnight to learn how to give myself injections.  Further, instead of trying to cheer me up, reassuring me that everything would go well, he warned me forebodingly:  “We’ve had some losses….”  What a miserable thing to say to a vulnerable pregnant patient.

My friends Lyn and Ted once again came to my rescue, dismissing the idea of my going to the hospital.  Instead, in their dining room, they taught me how to give myself insulin shots, using an orange as the substitute for my arm.  Former nurse Lyn told me that was how nurses learned to give shots.  I felt incredibly lucky to have Lyn on my side.

Marv lovingly took over giving me my needed shots.  But I was nevertheless depressed by the prospect of six more weeks of them.  Marv tried valiantly to make me feel better by reminding me of the biggest news story of the day:  Patty Hearst’s abduction in Berkeley six weeks earlier.  The shocking story had dominated local TV news.  “The time since then has gone fast, hasn’t it?” Marv asked me.  I had to admit that he was right.  Those six weeks had flown by.  I could survive six weeks of shots.

I had become and would always be a “high-risk primapara.”  Once I learned the meaning of “primapara,” a woman giving birth for the first time, I thought about writing a journal titled “Diary of a High-Risk Primapara.”  But I never got myself organized enough to do it.

Celebrating my birthday at the end of March became a wonderful break from our worries.  My nausea had lessened a great deal by that time, so Marv and I drove to Tijuana, where we had a scrumptious Mexican lunch and shopped at the outdoor vendors’ stalls.  Marv bought me a beautiful white crocheted shawl that I cherish to this day.  We then drove back to San Diego, where we devoured a delicious dinner at a fancy rooftop restaurant, Mister A’s.  (It’s still in business.)

Marv and I didn’t want to tempt the evil eye, so we put off shopping for baby clothes and furniture until just before my due date in early May.  But we anticipated needing a rocking chair for our new baby.  In a store near our apartment, we found a great Scandinavian-designed rocking chair, made with teak wood like the rest of our good furniture.  I later used it to rock my new baby, just as we planned.  I still own and treasure it.

In April, my diabetes diagnosis compelled me to take a leave of absence from my Legal Aid job.  The reason was borderline disgusting.  Please forgive me for describing it, and feel free to skip the following paragraph.

My doctors demanded that I collect my urine for 24 hours every day so it could be analyzed for a certain substance in it.  I was given giant glass jug-like bottles in which to save the urine, and I kept them in a bathtub in our apartment.  I was so dutiful in my collecting that whenever I left home, I would carry smaller bottles in which to collect smaller amounts, later adding them to the giant bottle. Usually accompanied by Marv, I would then drive to the UCSD hospital downtown to drop off the big bottles.  The whole process was exceedingly disheartening, but the final blow came when I began to lift a completely-filled bottle out of my bathtub, and the bottom fell out, spilling an entire day-long collection.  I sadly watched it all go down the drain.

At that point, I knew that I couldn’t keep up with both my job and all the medical demands on me, and it was the job that had to go.  My desire to give birth to a healthy baby overpowered everything else.  So I said goodbye to my Legal Aid office, assuring everyone that my leave was only temporary and that I planned to see all of them again after the birth of my baby.

Although my diagnosis of gestational diabetes was disheartening, and we couldn’t be certain of the outcome of my pregnancy, I felt pretty sure that the fetus growing inside me would put up a good fight.  This baby had to be strong.  It had survived all of my energetic dives into the hotel pool we’d shared with our friend Arlyn in Westwood.  (I’ve always believed that a weaker fetus might not have survived my vigorous diving.) 

The gap in my work-life balance was soon filled by another part-time job, one I could work on at home.  I’d already begun my leave of absence from my job at Legal Aid when I was recruited to bolster the Legal Writing program at USD law school.  I’d successfully completed teaching Poverty Law at USD at the end of the fall term, reading final exams and papers and handing in my grades.  Now a faculty member eagerly recruited me for this new job.  He brought me a big pile of student papers to review and grade by the end of the spring term.  I was happy to use my experience as a Legal Writing instructor at the University of Michigan Law School, a job I’d completed just before we left Ann Arbor for San Diego.  I dug into the USD student papers with relish, marking them up with my trusty red pen.  My hope, of course, was that my revisions and comments would help these students become better lawyers.

Meanwhile, Marv and I went back and forth, trying to choose a name for our hoped-for baby.  Picking a name for a boy was easy:  Marv’s and my father had both been named David.  But a girl’s name was much more challenging.  Almost every one that I liked Marv would veto.  While we continued to consider possible names, my friend Lyn gave me some useful advice:  Choose a name your baby will like.  She confided that she and Ted had named their son Ira Robert, but he was incessantly teased by other kids:  “I’m a rabbit, I’m a rabbit.”  They finally legally changed his name to Robert Ira.

                                                To be continued….

PACIFIC BEACH: An unforgettable year (Part II)

September brought a lot of changes. 

Just about the time I began teaching, I discovered that I was pregnant.  The relentless nausea convinced me.

I needed to find a doctor, an obstetrician I could like…and trust.  My new friends, Lyn and Ted, knowledgeable about health-care professionals, came to my rescue.  Once I confided my suspicions to Lyn, she immediately recommended a couple of doctors who practiced together nearby.

Nausea propelled me to make an appointment.  After a routine test confirmed that I was pregnant, I began taking a prescribed med, but it didn’t lessen my nausea very much.  So I began to resort to other remedies.  My best discovery was…date shakes!

Happily, I could get fantastic date shakes at a shack along La Jolla Boulevard where it bordered Pacific Beach.  Not only did I revel in the flavor and texture of the date shakes, but their cold temperature also chilled my interior, dramatically lessening my nausea.  So whenever I drove that route to USD law school, I’d stop for a shake.  Once I arrived at USD, I discovered something else:  As soon as I stood in front of my class, the adrenaline that kicked in also kept my nausea at bay.

I was thrilled to be pregnant, but I didn’t relish having “morning sickness” that usually lasted all day.  First thing in the morning, I’d toast English muffins and smother them with apricot preserves. They helped me face the rest of the day.  I also had a crazy craving for club sandwiches, and I remember phoning a bunch of local restaurants to ask whether their menus included my new favorite dish.

Like every ob-gyn, Dr. Blank (his real name) prescribed daily vitamins.  When I brought his Rx to the drugstore, the pharmacist handed me a bottle whose label instructed me to take four pills a day.  But the pills were gigantic.  I couldn’t bring myself to swallow more than one or two of them a day.  I just couldn’t.  But I worried about it.  Was I neglecting my future child?  During my next doctor visit, I revealed my dilemma.  Dr. Blank was appalled. The pharmacist had read his handwriting incorrectly!  I needed only one of those monster pills a day.  Phew! 

Marv and I began haunting Mr. Frostie, a venerable soft-serve ice cream shop on Garnet Avenue.  Soft-serve ice cream wasn’t as good as a date shake, but it was cold enough to work for a while.  Later I discovered a great place for maternity clothes: The JC Penney store on Garnet.

One more purchase on Garnet:  A sewing machine I bought at the Sears Outlet, where a kindly salesman cheerfully instructed me how to use it.  I’d actually first learned to use a sewing machine in junior high in LA when I was 12.  (I bought the fabric I needed at the May Co. store on Wilshire Boulevard that’s now the site of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.)  But my skills had eroded, and I was happy to revive them.  I proceeded to make easily-sewn creations like maternity tops, ties for Marv, and baby pants in a gender-neutral fabric.

That September, America witnessed an exciting event in the sports world:  “The Battle of the Sexes.”  Because the event was important in my own world, I wrote about it after seeing the 2017 film loosely based on the big event [https://susanjustwrites.com/2017/11/20/the-battle-of-the-sexes-one-more-take-on-it/].  Here’s a chunk of what I wrote:

When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego.  I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.

I was watching the clock, assessing how long it would take me to drive from the law school to our recently-rented apartment in La Jolla.  Waiting at home was my handsome and super-smart husband Marv, finished for the day teaching math students at UCSD.

We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.”  I’d respond:  “Which one?”

Marv had snacks and drinks ready for us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match.  Nothing alcoholic for me.  Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses.  I think that came later.  I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to have them during my pregnancy.

Was it instinct or just dumb luck?  When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was vindicated.

I drove home with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.”  In the 2017 film, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly, portraying not only King’s triumph over Riggs but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.

Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.”  But the focus has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day.  By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own.  Watching the battle on TV, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.

As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  I’d answer “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.

I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter.  When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Marv and I were on top of the world.

Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria?  Euphoria that led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?

Maybe.  Tennis, anyone?

Later that fall, thanks to an appearance by diva Beverly Sills on a late-night TV show, we discovered that San Diego had an opera company where Sills had performed, and we eagerly bought season tickets.  One evening, I shoved my nausea aside and dressed in an elegant long dress that still fit me and headed for “Le Nozze di Figaro” at a downtown theater. The performance was so thrilling that we rushed out and bought the LP the very next day.  The season was filled with four other excellent performances, but “Figaro” remained our favorite.

In November, Marv and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving in Chatsworth, a suburb of LA, with my Aunt Sade and Uncle Sam.  (I liked to call my sweet Aunt Sade my “half-great aunt” because that sounded funny, but she really was the much younger half-sister of my mother’s father.)  We drove to Chatsworth and devoured a turkey-and-trimmings feast with Sade and Sam, their son Sid, and his family.  We loved being surrounded by their warmth that day. Scrutinizing my belly, one of them bravely asked whether I was expecting.  I happily replied yes!

In December, my mother made a visit to La Jolla, a big deal because she rarely left her beloved Chicago.  Mom’s travel wardrobe featured her very first pantsuit!  After seven decades of wearing nothing but skirts, she finally gave in and bought some stylish pants.  Mom slept on the cot we had purchased for our friend Arlyn, and, like Arlyn, she swore that it was comfortable.

Mom’s visit led to a few surprises.  Everyone in the U.S. had just started pumping our own gas.  Driving Mom somewhere, I stopped at a gas station, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and began pumping.  Mom gasped.  She was startled not only to see me performing this fairly new task, but also that I was doing it while pregnant.  Shocking!

Another surprise:  When we escorted Mom to Sea World, one of San Diego’s prime attractions, she took a look at the walrus and other sea creatures and suddenly warned me: “You shouldn’t look at these ugly animals. Looking at them…it’s not good for your baby!”  What?  Mom was a savvy businesswoman who kept up with the news by reading the Chicago Sun-Times every day.  Her bizarre warning had to stem from Old World thinking she’d heard long ago from her own European-born mother.  I was startled because it was the kind of thinking I’d never heard her express before.  Securely in the 20th century, I quickly assured her that these creatures would have absolutely no impact on my fetus!

On New Year’s Eve, we celebrated by taking Mom to a charming Italian restaurant that featured singing waiters serving a festive meal.  I wore a brand-new glamorous green maternity dress for the occasion and thought I looked smashing.  But something I ate unfortunately left an ugly stain I could never get out, so my memory of that beautiful evening is somewhat tarnished.

After Mom returned to Chicago, Marv and I took off for a weekend in Ensenada, a gorgeous spot in Baja California about 80 miles from San Diego, 62 of them on a somewhat bumpy road along the coast.  We’d traveled there from LA before we got married, and I had glorious memories of that trip. 

Our return to Ensenada was blissful.  We loved the breathtaking scenery, the food, and the lively but laid-back atmosphere.  (It wasn’t yet filled with tourists arriving on cruise ships, as it is now.)  We browsed the outdoor displays of ceramic wares and bought a colorful planter for our terrace.  It never occurred to me that we’d done anything unwise. 

But when I next saw Dr. Blank and told him about our trip, he was horrified.  He told me we’d taken a big risk by traveling to a fairly remote part of Baja California, where medical resources were much more limited than those in the U.S.  I could have developed serious medical issues in a location with none of the up-to-date care I would be able to get in San Diego.  And any attempt to travel back to San Diego could have taken much too long.  I soberly realized our mistake and was immensely grateful that we’d luckily escaped a medical emergency in Ensenada.

                                                                                                                                                                             To be continued….

The Battle of the Sexes: One more take on it

When Billie Jean King met Bobby Riggs on a tennis court at the Houston Astrodome on September 20, 1973, I was miles away in San Diego.  I’d just finished teaching a class of law school students about Poverty Law, and I was blissfully pregnant with my first child.

I was watching the clock, assessing the time it would take me to drive from the law school on the beautiful campus of the University of San Diego to our recently-rented apartment in seaside La Jolla.  Waiting at home for me was my handsome and super-smart husband Herb, finished for the day with teaching math students at UCSD, the University of California at San Diego.

We were both Professors Alexander that year, and I took delight in answering our phone and hearing a student ask to speak to “Professor Alexander.”  My somewhat amused response:  “Which one?”

Herb had snacks and drinks ready for the two of us to munch on and imbibe during the televised tennis match.  The drinks included nothing alcoholic for me.  Not because the medical profession had pronounced that alcohol was detrimental for growing fetuses.  As I recall, that came later.  I avoided alcoholic drinks simply because I had no desire to drink them during my pregnancy.

Was it instinct or just dumb luck?  When we later that year saw the film “Cinderella Liberty,” in which an often-drunk woman’s pregnancy ends in tragedy, my choice to avoid alcohol was clearly vindicated.

I drove home from USD with as much speed as I could safely muster, arriving in time to watch the much-hyped tennis match dubbed the “Battle of the Sexes.”  In the 2017 film that tells the story of the match, Emma Stone captures the Billie Jean King role perfectly.  She portrays with aplomb not only King’s triumph over Riggs in that tennis match but also her initial uncertainty over her decision to compete against him and her continuing struggle to ensure that women’s tennis be given equal status with men’s.

As one of the estimated 50 million viewers who watched King on ABC television that night, I can’t imagine any other Hollywood star assuming the role with greater success.  Emma Stone embodies Billie Jean King to perfection, and I hope her performance garners the attention of countless moviegoers, including many too young to remember  the match that took place in 1973.

Steve Carell carries off his role as Bobby Riggs in the film equally well, depicting the outrageous antics of the 55-year-old Riggs, who initiated the concept of the “Battle of the Sexes.”  But the focus here has to be on Billie Jean, the Wonder-Woman-like heroine of her day.  By accepting Riggs’s challenge, and then defeating him, she became the mid-twentieth-century symbol of women’s strength and perseverance, advancing the cause of women in sports (and in American culture at large) as much as she advanced her own.  Watching the battle on TV with my adored husband, my hoped-for child growing inside me, I was ecstatic when Billie Jean defeated Riggs before 90 million viewers worldwide.

As my pregnancy advanced, I was frequently asked by complete strangers, “Do you want a boy or a girl?”  I took pleasure in answering “a girl” just to see the reaction on the faces of the nosey parkers who clearly expected another response.

I was in fact hoping I would give birth to a healthy child of either sex, but I knew that I would treasure having a daughter.  When my beautiful daughter was born about seven months after the Battle of the Sexes, and when her equally beautiful sister arrived three years later, Herb and I were both on top of the world.

Maybe watching Billie Jean King in September of 1973 sealed our fate.  We really wanted her to win that battle.

Did the endorphins circulating inside me as we watched Billie Jean triumph produce a feeling of euphoria?  Euphoria that later led us to produce two Wonder-Woman-like heroines of our own?

Maybe.

Tennis, anyone?