What Can You Do With Your Life?
Down the hall she came making sounds of distress and physical effort. When she got to my door, it didn’t get any easier. She had to push her way through the narrow doorway, one of those doors designed for thinner people of years past.
I saw a wildly obese 23 year old, with suicidal ideation, who told me her life was worthless. Doctors had found a rare uterine cancer and done a total hysterectomy. She was told that she could have no hormone replacement. So she was dealing with some symptomatic treatments of hot flashes that weren’t doing very much.
I was pretty much impressed by the doctors who had made a rare save. She seemed to be cancer-free now, although she was not “crazy” about the abdominal wall hernia repair that had been necessary to hold her stomach together. Also, she was not enthusiastic about the bimonthly pap smears. But she was alive, and granted, she could not have hormone replacement. She sat in front of me telling me all about how the doctors had taken care of her.
She was crying and depressed. It was not hard to figure out why.
“I will never have children. I will never be a mommy.”
I launched into a speech about the advancement of women and the availability of alternative methods, like surrogates, and she got so mad she pounded the table and made me jump. Even her coffee went flying.
“All my life I wanted to be a mommy and have babies. My sisters all get together and bring their babies and talk about them together, and I am the only one with no babies.” She sounded like a young girl, not a woman ready for a child.
This was definitely not the time to share that I am “childless by choice.”
Even royalty seeks for more ways to prove self-worth than being a brood sow. The idea that this young woman had invested all her self-worth since earliest memory (she claimed) in the ability to procreate (or create a family) bothered me more than I thought it would.
She was young enough that she had missed the flowering of feminism I had lived in the 60′s, when Gloria Steinem went “undercover” to see how they treated bunnies at the Playboy Club, and emerged editor of “Ms. Magazine” — to which I then subscribed.
I remember what then felt like disappointment when a “Woman’s Worth” became some sort of a spiritual concern, according to Marianne Williamson.
This young woman had an ethnic background that was at least part Hispanic and part Native American. I doubt that her traditions were as rich in feminist ideals as mine had been. Still, there are grass roots community things happening.
Some say that feminism goes forward and backward, like a pendulum, and perhaps that is true. I remember, in the Midwest, supervising a fairly competent medical student who told me that she needed to bake bread regularly, at least every few days. It was a part of her heritage that brought her close to her Native American roots, for among other things, she made Native American fry bread.
Me, I was so excited about becoming a doctor when I was in school, that I probably would have walloped anyone who said I should go home and make matzoh, even once in a while.
I never thought that the traditional female role model should be thrown out completely. I like when I feel my husband is protecting me. I like how women are traditionally pro-peace and anti-war. I even like being a professional specialist physician (most of the time — I hate the bureaucracy) and an amateur fashionista some of the time. A life should offer alternatives. Women can choose careers. They can choose to be a full-time mommy at least in theory, although the economy may make this a suboptimal option.
I am not yet sure how to convince someone so wedded to the idea of being a baby maker because there are other options. She was not ripe for a lecture on great women of history.
Its relevance would have been limiting. Maybe, great women of the present or the future.
Great women of her ethnicity? Not only did I not know any, but I wondered what she would think made someone great. Maybe it was raising a child to adulthood.
I am still hoping that some discovery of mine makes a lasting contribution to humanity and history.
But families perpetuate values, too.
The mother of Leonardo Da Vinci certainly made a great contribution, and had a lot to be proud of.