A Way to Enlist the Help of the Cosmos

Is there a way to extend a compelling invitation to Providence?

A beautiful sunriseI’ve been reminded by the Alumni Office at Albert Einstein College of Medicine that I am coming up on my (gulp) 50th medical school reunion.  Memories have been flooding in.  One strong memory: Classes are barely under way when, in October l962, the second month of my first year of medical school, after I’ve been married for two years and regular with birth control, I know — even before I miss a period — that I am pregnant. In spite of everything, and in the face of having no bloody idea how we will manage, I am glad about this pregnancy.  Although the timing is pretty bad, I really want this baby.

We’ve been living on my husband’s very limited salary as a pediatric intern at Bellevue.  The challenge will be to raise the funds and to find someone qualified and dependable to take care of the baby while I am in class.  I’ve had to rely on scholarships, work, and loans for college and medical school to this point, and I’m not easily discouraged.

A search turns up a book that lists the named scholarship funds in the United States — hundreds of potential sources idiosyncratic in their requirements: one with bequests left “for the benefit of descendants of Daughters of the American Revolution”; one requiring the recipient to be an Eagle Scout; many with specific or obscure geographic limitations; and some for which, thankfully, I do qualify.  I apply to every one of these.  I am especially hopeful about the American Medical Women’s Association, whose offices are right here in New York City.

As the year goes on and my pregnancy advances, I wait hopefully for some encouraging word in the way of a prospective grant or loan. I’m beginning to be desperate for the funds we will need for child care, and I come up with the idea of trying to sell the story of my pregnancy to a women’s magazine. After I contact several, I’m fortunate to find a receptive audience at Redbook.  Vivian Cadden, a feature writer who will later become the magazine’s editor, agrees to pay some sum of money (I think it was five hundred dollars), for the story of my pregnancy — from the angle of interviews with my husband.

Every four weeks or so, he gets to go to lunch at an East Side restaurant with Ms. Cadden to fill her in, from his perspective, on the intimate, pregnancy-related happenings of the month.  He distinctly enjoys his part in this.  The lunches are delicious, he says, and Ms. Cadden is quite agreeable. I never even meet her. I’m carrying our baby, and he gets the lunches … oh well.  They pay us and the following year publish the pseudonymous feature, “A Husband’s Diary of his Wife’s Pregnancy.”

The first year of medical school winds down and no solution to the baby-care dilemma has presented itself. Prospects dim when I am finally called for an interview by the American Medical Women’s Association to learn from their representative, who is regretful, that they have no available funds.

By mid-July, I am hugely pregnant and running out of hope.  The baby is due the third week of August.  The first day of classes for my second year of medical school will fall on my twenty-fourth birthday, September 4, l963 — only about seven weeks away — and we have no resources for child care.  I don’t know how I will be able to continue.

One very hot and humid morning in late July, I receive a telephone call from a woman who identifies herself as a social worker for the “Adopt-a-Family Association of New York,” a Red Feather agency funded by the United Way.  The American Medical Women’s Association had passed my application along to her.  I cannot remember her name, but I do clearly remember her beginning by raising the idea that perhaps I would do well to take a year or so off from school to stay home with the baby  I interrupt her with a sharpness I think back on with embarrassment but also with pride: “If you don’t have funds to help me to go back to school in September, I don’t want to talk to you.”

The well-meaning woman is quick to assure me that her agency does, indeed, have money to give and suggests kindly that, since I am in my ninth month of pregnancy, perhaps I’d better not travel into the city.  She schedules a home visit to discuss my financial needs.

Cleaning help is a budget item for the coming year. Housekeeping assistance has always provided nurture and support – something more than a clean house — for me, something I’ve known that I need, have made a priority, and for which I will sacrifice. I make no effort to conceal what might be considered to be an indulgence. The social worker arrives for the home visit while the cleaning person who comes a few hours each week is standing on a chair, washing New York City grit off the window blinds.

Remarkably, for each of the next three years, the Adopt-a-Family Association of New York will grant the twenty-six hundred dollars needed to pay the kind, warm, dependable, low-key mother of two grown sons who answers our ad and comes as needed until I graduate and we move to Boston.

When I think back on those times, sometimes I wonder whether the Adopt-a-Family Association actually existed. I never saw its office. I met the social worker only that one time. If ever I had needed an angel, I had been sent one.

In his chronicle, “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition,” the adventurer William Murray made note: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

(The Goethe Society shows that Murray has paraphrased and distilled Goethe’s words:  Faust I, Zeilen 214-230.)

I have been helping and learning from my patients for decades.   I keep a couple of print-outs of Murray’s quotation at hand, and from time to time they serve as a small gift to support a person’s persevering in efforts to which they are committed.   The intercession of Providence is ingenious, magical, and powerful when we actively commit while working and standing to our truth.

~ Susan Rako, M.D.