By the time I was pregnant with my sixth child, I was desperate to find a supportive family doctor and obstetrician. Four of my five children had been delivered by Dr. Leslie E., a brilliant, strong, feminist. As a mother of a growing family, I was an enigma to her as she was to me.
In her office, successful professional women waited for gynecological care and women in their late thirties or early forties were pregnant with their first child. I felt like every eye was on me when I walked through her door for my first visit, pregnant with a toddler on my hip and by my last visit with three or four other children clustered around me. Birth control devices enshrined on this doctor’s desk and encased in glass seemed to glare at me every time I sat across from her.
After one visit, this obstetrician said, in what I hope was a teasing tone,
“Would you quit bringing your beautiful children to my office. Someone always wants a reversal (from tubal ligation) after you leave.”
Finally, A Pro-Life Doctor
A few friends urged me to check out their family doctor who also delivered babies, Dr. Owen Hughes. At my first appointment, he naturally asked me why I was leaving my obstetrician after she had delivered four of my children.
I slumped slightly and then sighed, “I just can’t face my old obstetrician with a sixth pregnancy.”
“And who is this doctor?” he questioned.
I answered, “Actually it was Dr. E.”
Well, Dr. Hughes threw his head back and started to laugh,
“Leslie is a good obstetrician. However, although she owns a parrot, tropical fish, and expensive horses, she doesn't have any kids. I can understand your problem.”
I nervously joined his laughter and from that very first visit, I no longer had to don protective armour to shield my vulnerable emotions before each obstetrical appointment. It was the beginning of a wonderful 24-year friendship with a dedicated health care provider.
Dr. Hughes is a pro-life doctor who lives out the teachings of the Church with a joyful, compassionate dedication:
2270 Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.
From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person - among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.71
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.72
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately wrought in the depthsof the earth.73
Obviously, my husband and I practiced Natural Family Planning , NFP, but I was one of those rare people who could conceive long before ovulation. When I was astonished that I was pregnant yet again, Dr. Hughes responded,
“Ah, I remember reading about a woman in New Zealand, two years ago, who conceived five days before ovulation.”
I raised my hand and chirped, “Well, you can add me to that list!”
It was really important that I had found a pro-life doctor because two of the next four pregnancies were high risk. That meant weekly ultrasounds and check-ups with the high-risk doctor at the hospital. I checked in every week after my appointment in the high-risk unit with Dr. Hughes.
He often waited after office hours to get his weekly update, explaining,
“They would love to get their hands on you. Don’t let them touch you without checking in with me first!”
Dr. Hughes refused to allow amniocentesis, an amniotic fluid test or AFT because this medical procedure is used in prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and to pressure women to choose abortions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
2274 Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.
Prenatal diagnosis is morally licit, "if it respects the life and integrity of the embryo and the human fetus and is directed toward its safe guarding or healing as an individual....
It is gravely opposed to the moral law when this is done with the thought of possibly inducing an abortion, depending upon the results: a diagnosis must not be the equivalent of a death sentence."8
I was protected from an impersonal system by a doctor who treated me as an individual and valued the life of each unborn baby in his care.
When I was pregnant with my seventh child, I was bedridden in the high-risk, neonatal wing of the maternity ward for a week while waiting for a housekeeper to come to run my home and help tend my other six children. I faced 6 months of bed rest but that one week gave me perspective and kept me from sinking into self-pity. The other two women in my room were desperate to keep their babies in uteri and finally become mothers. One of the two had suffered five miscarriages. She was stuck in a ward room for months, only going home after the birth of her baby.
My generosity petered out after a few weeks at home. My only outing was to a high-risk appointment every week. Church was even out of the question, so Michael brought home communion and the readings each Sunday. I remained in prone position, eating while propped up on one elbow with my food cut into small pieces. The high-risk doctors let me use a regular toilet and have a quick shower every morning. In those days, we had one large, heavy T.V. in the living room, a black dial-up phone on the hall wall, no stereo system, no computer and the bedroom window was cloudy, so I could not look outside. In frustration, I phoned my doctor one morning after my shower.
I complained to Dr. Hughes, “But I don’t feel sick. I feel fine and my kids need me!”, I wailed.
Usually laid back and jovial, my doctor explained my situation in graphic detail,
” You have a huge clot, 4 cm thick, 6 cm, wide from the top of your womb where the placenta tore down your entire right side. The last time this happened at the Civic was two years ago to a woman who had four kids at home. They both almost died . We had to call the archbishop in to explain to her that it was more of a sin to her remaining children if she foolishly died along with her unborn child.”
“Listen to me “, he continued, “Keep this image in your mind. Imagine that here is a gun pressed to your temple, cocked waiting only for the slightest movement to set it off. Lay in bed and do not move!”
Well, that got my attention.
The end result of my confinement was a beautiful baby girl with huge black eyes and black hair that stood straight up. She is now a gentle artist/ philosopher whose dark eyes sparkle with life and joy.
A Joyful Delivery
For my eighth child, Dr. Hughes warned us to come into town immediately with my first labour pains. My baby was going to come quickly.
My doctor actually met me outside the hospital, helped me out of our old bus, into a wheelchair and literally ran past admitting with a huge grin on his face yelling,
“Sorry. No time to admit her. I’ll do the paperwork for her after the delivery. See you later!”
He was still chuckling in the elevator over the shocked expression on the admitting clerk’s face. We moved slowly out of the elevator onto the obstetrical floor and Dr. H peered around the corner to check the nursing station.
He sighed happily,
“Good. The head nurse is on a coffee break and no one is in the natural birthing room. Olga is going to have a fit when she sees your stats on the board and that you are in here!”
He laughed loudly this time as we darted into the softly lit room. I was embarrassed when Michael walked in a little later, holding eighteen-month-old Katie with her sunsuit on backward, straps crossed across her chest with her nipples showing.
A nurse noticed my reaction, turned to me with one eyebrow raised and said,
“Let me guess. Daddy dressed her.”
I smiled weakly in between labour pains because the nurse barely had time to check my vital signs before Anthony was born. Michael had pulled the curtain around my bed partly closed to block Katie’s view of the labour and delivery. Since she refused the cookie bribe offered by a nurse outside at the station, Katie was still with Michael.
As soon as Anthony was born, my husband whipped the curtain open and passed Katie to a nurse so he could cut his son’s umbilical cord.
Michael turned to Dr. Hughes and me as we beamed at each other over the birth of our beautiful baby and yet another successful, humane delivery despite the hospital’s regulations.
Dr. Hughes has an old-fashioned sense of service; he mentors countless med students and residents and is always on call for his obstetrical patients. His most important characteristic is his innate compassion because he has an uncanny ability to listen and understand each patient. He has now just delivered my sixth grandchild a few days ago. Best of all, this medical knight in shining armour celebrates each birth with incredible joy.
Let's pray for vocations not just to the priesthood, but to medicine as well, because people also need Catholic men and women who have a vocation to protect and support people in our healthcare system.