In 1959, a week after her seventeenth birthday, Catherine missed her period in February, and then in March. By late April she was not sleeping well and most of her waking hours were spoiled by nausea and hating everything she ate. Her mother Agnes made an emergency appointment with Dr. Crowder.
“Stay here,” Dr. Crowder said to Catherine before he left the exam room. The receptionist had brought Agnes into his private office where she sat in the wing chair for consultations.
“She’s pregnant,” he said.
Agnes’ face paled with the accusation. “She’s a child,” she said.
How often mothers would not let their children grow up. He gave her time to absorb the truth. “She’s a young woman who is going to have a baby,” he said.
Agnes wept with her hands to her face. Dr. Crowder handed her tissues from a desk drawer. After some moments, Agnes blew her nose and breathed deeply with a long exhale.
“Have you told her?” Agnes said.
“I’ve told only you. But she’s not stupid.”
“Can something be . . . you know . . . done?”
Dr. Crowder stared. He had been the family physician for over thirty years. He had delivered Catherine. “You might find someone. But never ask me, Agnes.” he said. “I do not approve.”
Agnes flushed. Now she was ashamed. “It will ruin us,” she explained.
Bullshit, thought the doctor. Birth is a miracle. Oh, yes. Life was fragile, dangerous, and loaded with inexplicable injustices, but he still loved humanity. And he stayed in practice well beyond retirement to marvel as his patients juggled life’s inflated minutia in their own creative ways.
“I’ll send her away,” Agnes continued.
“Let her make the decision,” Dr. Crowder said.
“No. I’ll make up an excuse.”
“Think about it . . . there would be gossip if she stayed. But if you and Harold were supportive and proud, the gossips would cease caring after a while. And life would go on.”
“It’s a sin,” Agnes said.
“I doubt having a baby is a sin,” Dr. Crowder said.
But Agnes could not trust the advice of an idealistic doctor who she thought was immune to reality, nor the judgment of her errant child who was too young and too stubborn to know what her slip-up would do to a prominent family.
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