How Much Expressed Breast Milk To Feed 3 Month Old Infertility In the 1960’s, Horrors and Miracles – My Personal Story

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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. These were the days before support groups. Sensitivity to other people’s problems didn’t seem to be uppermost in people’s minds. And personal matters were mostly kept hidden. As you read this story, you will find many examples of callousness that, thankfully, are almost unheard of today.

With the opening of the 60s, the role of women in our country began to change. The discovery of the birth control pill allowed many women to postpone childbearing in order to build a career. The sense of empowerment over their bodies spurred many of them to make their voices heard in a rapidly changing society.

In late 1963, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy first shocked and then energized both men and women of my generation to leap headlong into changing the world. As the Vietnam War dragged on through the 1960s, men and women protested the war loudly enough to bring down President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

With the new empowerment of women, many eschewed traditional marriage in favor of establishing communes where men and women could live a “free love” lifestyle. (I recently met a man who was born in a commune and had no idea who his father was!)

It was during these rapidly changing times that I, an undergraduate student at Stern College for Women, took my place in the world as a married young woman. I was 19 years old! My husband, Hershie, 22, was 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, neither women’s liberation nor building a major career was on my agenda. I wanted my voice to be heard, but I wanted to do so in the context of my Orthodox Jewish life. Motherhood was at the top of my list!

At the age of 21, I discovered that I had an infertility problem. Today it is called PCOS. Regular gynecologists in the 1960s were not used to dealing with the new field of “infertility” so it was suggested that I see the doctor who had delivered Jackie Kennedy’s babies…a doctor for the rich!! I shyly arrived at my appointment during which I was completely in awe of the presence of the doctor who had treated the First Lady!

Jackie’s doctor suggested that I undergo a major surgical procedure called a Wedge Resection. They would cut a wedge of cysts from both ovaries in order to make a clean surface for new eggs to emerge. I was horrified! The thought of surgery scared me.

I stopped thinking about surgery when we graduated and moved back to our hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. I started teaching kindergarten at Hillel Academy and spent a great deal of time doing Ph.D.

I underwent all the tests there were in those days…the ones I remember were called Hysterosalpingogram and Coldoscopy. Birth control pills began to be used for infertility patients, but researchers were inexperienced in regulating the levels of estrogen and progesterone in pills, and I became very ill after just one pill.

Every month brought a disappointment. Ovulation was measured daily by taking body temperature. Pregnancy can only be determined through blood tests. In those days there were no quick pregnancy or ovulation tests. Waiting for test results was excruciating and ultimately devastating.

Seeing pregnant women was a nightmare. And sometimes women would make insensitive comments about how I haven’t had a child yet. One of my doctors asked, “Why bother with all these tests, etc., you’ll never have a child!” After such incidents, he would go home crying. Even today, 45 years later, that comment still stings!

Because I knew God has a plan for everyone, I never asked, “Why me?” but, except for the time I spent teaching, I felt very sad and empty. It took my doctors 2 more years to mention wedge resection surgery. He was 24 at the time and ready for surgery.

The truth is that this surgery saved my life. One of my ovaries was so full of cysts that it had to be completely removed. The doctor said it could have, at any time, due to the weight of the cysts, twisted in any direction, which could have cut off my circulation! But for me, an infertility patient, the worst news was that the other ovary was also so polycystic that the doctor could only save 1/5 of that ovary. I went into surgery to be able to have children and came out with 1/5 of an ovary! My mother heard the news first and was shocked, although the doctor assured her that a woman can conceive even with just a small piece of ovary.

Another year passed and nothing happened. I was starting to feel desperate. Without support groups, there was nowhere to turn for comfort from others who were experiencing the same pain. And he was surrounded by babies, babies, babies!

When 1966 began, something amazing happened! A well-known fertility doctor from Wales took a position at Magee Hospital in Pittsburgh…the late Dr. David Charles. At the time, Magee, a teaching hospital, was beginning to develop a world-class fertility department. The moment I walked into his office, I felt his warmth and optimism. I was especially encouraged when, after examining me, he announced, “Ma’am, you’re going to have a baby!”

Who would have imagined that Dr. Charles was one of 12 doctors in the US conducting clinical trials of a newly discovered drug called Clomephene. (Today it’s called Clomid…which, as far as I know, has killed off wedge resection surgeries.) Dr. Charles determined that I was a good candidate for success with Clomephene and asked if my husband and I would be up for the opportunity. of multiple births. This question was a no-brainer!

In December 1966 I became pregnant! The first seven months of my pregnancy were blissfully uneventful. During my 30th week, I got out of bed in the morning, looked down and saw blood on the floor. My mind could hardly comprehend what I saw.

By the time I got to the hospital, I was already in labor with suspected placenta previa! There were no ultrasounds in those days, so I was ready for a c-section before Dr. Charles, in front of about 25 medical students, examined me to determine, for sure, if his suspicion was correct.

Yes, it was a placenta previa, but Dr. Charles determined there was enough room for my little baby to slide through. The next step was to try to stop the work. I was immediately hooked up to intravenous alcohol.

The wait began. Because I was the first placenta previa in the Clomephene clinical trials, I instantly became a statistic! But my work did not stop. As I was being wheeled into the delivery room (there were no delivery rooms in 1966!), a resident doctor stopped the gurney and announced that he wanted to try to determine the size of my baby. The resident proceeded to poke and prod my abdomen. (remember, there were no sonograms in those days!) She bluntly stated that from the size she could hear, my baby only had a 50-50 chance of living!

Really? Really? Are you kidding? Am I not stressed enough? If I had then had the big mouth I have today, what I would have said to him would not be printable!

The delivery room was prepared with an incubator and a pediatrician. The team was ready.

Soon after, my youngest son slipped (literally) into the world. He weighed 3 lbs 1 oz. It was June 20, 1967. When Dr. Charles took it out, I closed my eyes tightly. Dr. Charles insisted that he look at my baby. I told her that if, God forbid, the baby didn’t arrive, I couldn’t bear to spend the rest of my life with a picture of him in my head. Dr. Charles insisted that I open my eyes…and since, once again, this was many years before I developed a big mouth, I looked at the baby. What I saw was terrifying. It was so small. How could I survive? I was traumatized.

The baby was instantly transferred to the incubator in the NICU and I was taken to the recovery room.

The next thing that happened today was absolutely NOT going to happen: In the recovery room a nurse came in and announced that she was giving me a shot to make sure I wouldn’t produce milk. I was too shocked by the day’s events to evaluate what he was saying. Even though breastfeeding was discouraged during that time and pumping and transporting milk to the hospital was totally unheard of, I absolutely intended to breastfeed my baby. With this injection, all hope of breastfeeding was dashed.

In the late 1960s, no family member was allowed to touch their premature baby in the incubator. Day after day, we stood in front of the glass window of the nursery and watched as our little baby was fed through a feeding tube and attached to what seemed like millions of tubes and wires. Believe it or not, I was afraid to take pictures of him in the incubator because I was afraid the camera flash would hurt his eyes!

After 2 long, agonizing months, our baby tipped the scales at 5 lbs, 8 oz. This was the release weight. The day before his release, I was invited to the nursery to hold and feed my baby for the first time. It was surreal. My baby was 2 months old and this was my first physical contact with him. When I think about it now, I could cry.

2015 Update: Our little preemie is almost 47 years old and has a PhD in Molecular Genetics! He is a father of two teenagers and loves to tease me that any emotional issues he has… come from the fact that he wasn’t touched until he was 2 months old! I thank him with a laughing guilt trip, but I still feel sick as I wonder what the medical community might have been thinking in those days. Better not to dwell on it.

Over the next ten years, Hershie and I were blessed with 3 more sons and a daughter! Child #2 was also a “Clomid” baby. The joke after that was that we had finally found the on button…without the help of medication!

Hershie and I thank God every day for the amazing blessings He has given us!

Children! grandchildren! During the 1960s, could we have ever imagined such blessings?!

We pray that all of you will be recipients of these same wonderful blessings!

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