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….