The spring following the blue line, Jen traveled to San Antonio for the annual medical institute conference. She was halfway through her pregnancy, and sat in the audience on rickety chairs while doctors talked about trauma in childhood and reactive attachment disorders. Jen thought she might adopt someday and wondered if she would need to know this. (The one thing she never imagined as she sat there, pregnant and married to Eli, is that she would one day marry a man would who would benefit from her knowledge of addressing childhood trauma).
Then, during a break, one of the Joint Council board members looked at Jen's belly pointedly. “This is our second Executive Director to get pregnant. We’re never going to hire another female Executive Director.” (Yes! Seriously!) Jen's jaw dropped, but nothing came out. That was young Jen, without the benefit and wisdom of years as a female leader. The co-CEO must have seen her face because he took Jen's elbow and steered me aside. “Deep breaths. Just let it go.”
“Let it go!? This is illegal. She can’t make those comments, not in today’s day and age. That’s discrimination!” But she did let it go.
And Jen let it go when she found out the following month that her co-CEO made twice the amount that she did, doing virtually the same job but having fewer qualifications. Welcome to the working world, Jen. She was taking crash-course after crash-course in the challenges that even women in positions of power face.
Months later, when Jen started having contractions drove to the hospital, she was sure she would return to work quickly. She was sure that everything would go as planned, that this part of the process would neatly follow her intentions. Then, as she sat in a hospital room, listening to beeps and the squeak of nurse’s shoes on the sterile-smelling floors, she sat under the papery sheets as the doctor told Jen she had preeclampsia.
“We’ll have to induce you,” he told her, peering over her chart, not pausing once to look at Jen directly.
“No, that can’t be right.” Jen's stomach was round in front of her and she wanted the doctor to look her in the eye, to pause his scanning, to listen. “I haven’t been diagnosed with that. I want a non-medicated birth. Please, that’s important to me and I’ve already talked about this with my midwife.”
He didn’t listen to Jen. He didn’t double-check her charts when I asked. The nurses who came into the room didn’t listen either and didn’t look her in the eye as they put Pitocin in my IV. “Please,” She said, again. “I don’t want Pitocin unless you can prove my blood pressure is bad.” She watched their white uniforms swish by her bed, hour after hour, their actions more functional than friendly. And she felt the world tighten around her.
Jen wanted to take her big belly and drive herself home. She wanted to take control of the situation, and felt stuck. Jen was signed in and had the plastic armband on her wrist. She was a patient—a prisoner. The Good Girl who didn’t want to make a fuss and kept asking politely for the non-medicated birth she was promised annoyed the shit out of her. Jen was used to the Jen who was willing to go toe-to-toe with congress members to protect kids. But here in this hospital, she had no one else to fight for but herself, so she let them have their way. Can you believe that? Here, the Jen who was willing to travel halfway around the world to fulfill a shatter-proof intention to save an orphanage simply didn’t matter.
Resigned, she prayed that her baby would be safe.
On the day of Caroline’s birth, the doctor waited until Eli and Jen's mom went for breakfast and then he broke her water, even when asked not to. Jen felt helpless, not wanting to make waves. She felt too young to firmly stand her ground. By the time Eli and her mother came back, sated with pancakes and coffee, her tears had dried and she was holding Caroline. Welcoming her oldest daughter into the world was one of the most beautiful moments of her life, but the way it went down ticked Jen off for years afterward.
In the weeks after giving birth, Jen bonded with her, changed her, napped with her, but kept dreaming about her global babies too. The truth was that without her work, she had a hard time getting up. The world seemed to grey a bit, even when she held her beautiful daughter, things didn’t glow as brightly as they used to. There was nothing dramatic, just a subtle shift to a slower gear. Suddenly, life didn’t seem to fit just right. Her path felt altered—messed with. I’m adjusting to being a mom, she told herself. Give it time.
Watch out for the last part of Chapter 3 tomorrow!