“There was a pandemic of rubella between 1962 and 1965, starting in Europe and spreading to the United States. In the years 1964-65, the United States had an estimated 12.5 million rubella cases. This led to 11,000 miscarriages or therapeutic abortions and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome. Of these, 2,100 died as neonates, 12,000 were deaf, 3,580 were blind and 1,800 were mentally retarded. In New York alone, CRS affected 1% of all births. In 1969 a live attenuated virus vaccine was licensed. In the early 1970s, a triple vaccine containing attenuated measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) viruses was introduced.”
Staring at myself in the mirror, tears running down my spotty face, getting rashier by the second. I call Ray. “It’s German Measles”.
“Don’t get upset. It could be something else. Let’s get you to the doctor. Then check at school and see if any kids have it.”
I scream, “It’s f****** German Measles!” My mind empties. I can’t focus. My heart slams against the mesh of my lungs, vibrating the rash all over me, burning my skin, my eyes. Sucking my tears dry. I wade through the weekend making calls for help. Nobody can. The principal says “your student Bobby’s sick. His grandfather, who’s a doctor, said he's come down with Rubella.” I moan. Why did he have to be in my class, the only pregnant teacher in the school?
”The base clinic says, “Come in Monday for a Gamma Globulin shot. It’s all we've got.”
I reply trembling, "Let's do it."
I sit in the waiting room. Looking up, away from myself, I see several obviously pregnant women surrounding me. A scene from a recent “Monkey Virus Infects the World” movie flashes before my eyes. I jump up to the desk. “I can’t stay here.” I whisper. The whole place will panic. I’ll get stoned. I mouth “German Measles.” They grab and isolate me in an examining room. Typhoid Mary! Another blow. They jam in the needle of gamma globulin. I cry, “What good will it do?” They don’t know. Maybe stop the rampage? Maybe nothing?
I falter, check into abortions; only legal in two states, New York and Arizona. I can’t do it. I'm too late, too far along, too far away. The doctors try to be reassuring, “all the big stuff is developed by three months, except hearing.”
Living on base, finishing out the school year, preparing to leave Ft. Bliss, all is a blur, a void. My first child, that happy experience we haven’t really planned for, has taken a turn of foreboding.
It’s 1967. In the next few months our lives change drastically. The first decision is Ray’s. Taking the lead from my father, a very successful investor, he’s been studying the stock market, during his years of armed service preparing for a short internship on Wall Street and the ensuing SEC exam. A family friend has offered him a job in Daytona Beach, Florida, with the prestigious firm, Merrill Lynch, pending his successful completion.
A bout of morning sickness makes me fully aware of my pregnancy in all its glory and distress. Being of strong body and positive nature I keep my apprehensions at bay and concentrate on a healthy beautiful baby. After a short visit home with our families on the Gulf Coast we cross the state to begin our new life and find a sweet house in a family neighborhood half a block from the beach. I find an OB/GYN who tells me not to worry my pretty little head about the German Measles epidemic. Everything will be fine. I want to remain in the sheep-following stage of the '50s, wanting to believe the “Doctor knows best”, and ask no more questions.
Although student protests are beginning, first over segregation, then over the war in Vietnam, Texas and Florida lag behind. The schools in Florida are just beginning to integrate. The medical community lags too. At Halifax Hospital where my son is born on Oct. 21, fathers aren’t even allowed on the Obstetrics floor. They have to wait in the lobby downstairs. I’m given a shot of painkiller as soon as the labor is strong and regular. No one asks me if I want it. Natural childbirth is out of fashion with the advent of strong painkillers. My one question about the possible damage to the fetus is answered with, “We’ll do a hearing test along with the other birth assessments.”
Next Time: Child Birth