Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.
Most people must have unconscious ways to measure the passage of time. Some calculate all that a mirror can show; others mark the change in physical stamina. Most use the obvious, like the ages of parents, children or grandchildren, while the acquisition of wealth or power are benchmarks for a few. Those who create and build can point to a body of work that may have increased both in size and talent. I measure time in the growth of the babies I have delivered. They visit mostly before going away to college. But most of all, I measure time in the growth of my smallest baby. Matt was born at 29 weeks. He arrived early after the usual uncomplicated pregnancy became complicated. His mother had developed a small amount of early third-trimester bleeding after he’d been in utero only 28-and-a-half weeks. She was evaluated thoroughly in the hospital: All tests of fetal well-being, and all the fetal anatomical evaluations were perfect. A few days later, we knew we had all the signs of premature birth. My patient was admitted to the labor and delivery unit. Over the course of that early evening, life made the decision for us: The fetal heart rate dropped in a way that made an emergency delivery the right choice. In fact, it was the only choice.

The neonatal specialists were in the operating room as the two-pound, seven-ounce baby boy was delivered by a classical cesarean section. In the operating room, I told them that I had given them a perfect baby and that they were to keep him that way.

Matt stayed in the hospital in the neonatal intensive care unit for 11 weeks He went home on his real due date, Mother’s Day, May 9, 1986.Babies who are born prematurely do not generally have an easy time. There are developmental delays of all sorts, and back in the dark ages — before there was a coordinated team for speech therapy, fine motor therapy, physical therapy, play therapy, occupational therapy and sophisticated monitoring of developmental milestones—the journey for a little one who wasn’t carried to term was a complicated one. Matt’s parents were undaunted. They created their own team of experts, under the care of a wise pediatrician who knew babies in a way that can only come from years of experience. The whole team loved Matt enough to never shortchange him. They expected themselves to expect Matt to become a man with character and a commitment to society.

Matt thrived because he was always counted on to do his part in this family, who had succeeded from its middle-class background with intelligence, but most of all determination and a serious work ethic. His job was to work with his tutors and to work at school. There was play-time of course, but Matt was not given any leeway in catching up.

When Matt became an Eagle Scout at the mere age of 16 —most finish at 18, if at all — I witnessed the honor. I watched as he graduated from the most competitive high school in New York. It wasn’t easy for him, and he wasn’t the valedictorian, but his parents felt that life would be like that demanding school, not like some special school that focused on a child’s difficulties. Matt consistently met expectations; he thrived with this supportive family and his friends. Each summer after that graduation, Matt and I made a date for dinner to catch up and get to know each other as grown ups. I remember the first dinner that was my treat, and I arrived three minutes late at the Four Seasons restaurant.

The infamous Julian Niccolini was waiting to take me to my table for this special dinner; in order to reach the table where Matt was waiting, I had to walk about a city block. Julian chided me in meant-to-be audible tones for having dinner with “younger and younger men, and what is your husband going to say about this?” Matt, with perfect manners, had arrived early. He stood while I was seated and carried the conversation with ease.

At Ithaca College, Matt chose the Park School of Communications and was always interested in the technical parts that make the communication sector work. He also spent extra time over an entire year completing his EMT course at Cornell. Summers he worked: the first two for Fox News, then at the New York City Department of Emergency Management, and last summer for the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department — in the communications section, of course.

Not surprisingly, Matt now has a job lined up for this fall, as a research assistant with the State Task Force on Homeland Security. He’ll join a team charged with the creation of a program that does not currently exist: a communications setup for first responders, one that will not fail when our next disaster strikes and emergency personnel must speak to each other across the state. This is a natural task for Matt: He was trained from birth to expect and be ready for emergencies.

This Sunday is graduation day in the Northeast for most colleges and professional schools. My stepson is graduating from college. My son is graduating from law school, leaving the school with a gift of: a newly created Web site for the International Law Review. But my smallest baby is the measure of my time.

I close my eyes for just a second and see him entering life, too tiny to imagine. Now he is 6’2” tall and will be a college graduate on Sunday, May 17. This is a measure of time that I can hold in my heart, as I once held Matt in my arms.

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  • abbe weinerman-kalfus May 18, 2009 at 10:23 am

    This is what separates Dr Pat from the rest. With her busy schedule, she makes time to connect with the babies that she has delivered over her career. It is so gratifying to see this display of dedication. A touching story…

  • Beth Portnoi Shaw May 17, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Would you put these musings in a book, please? Then the world can read, and weep and laugh and feel with you. You are so good!