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.

I witnessed my first delivery at the Rosary Hospital in Campbellsville, Ky., on the first day of my new job as a nurse’s aide. I was 14-and-a-half, and I had lied about my age in order to be hired at the grand sum of $1 an hour. No one thought to check to see if such a sophisticated and mature young woman was anything other than the 16 years old she claimed to be.

On that first day of work Sister Mary Barbara—CEO of the hospital, Mother Superior of the Convent, Nurse Anesthetist, and She Who Will Be Obeyed—took me into the delivery room to see if I could be trusted to behave in a professional manner. I had never seen anyone without clothing who was not an infant. I had no idea that babies came out of the bottom part of a woman’s body. As God is my witness, I had been told something about seeds and the belly button and no matter what I was not to kiss boys. Sex Ed, by Edna.

In the delivery room, there was a woman in extreme pain yelling her head off. There was a nurse with her and a male doctor at the bottom end of her person. The woman was screaming, and then a hairy head came out of the bottom part followed by the rest of a baby. There were two attractive candy-stripers in the delivery room as well, who were oohing and aahing over the beauty of it all. I thought the entire group had gone mad. After the baby, some disgusting fleshy thing came out, more screaming and too much blood. Then a new mother, transformed by birth, held her first born.

Years later I chose obstetrics as a career. I am certain that I have spent more time on the labor and delivery floor than anywhere else. I was a resident at New York Presbyterian at a time when there were few female obstetrical residents, and I am hopeful that those with whom I trained no longer remember that for the first six months. I cried as each baby I delivered took its first breath. The parents sometimes cried—I always did.

Years as a nursing assistant in hospitals, from such an early age, had prepared me. I knew how to listen, and how to bond quickly with frightened women who needed to believe that they and their baby would be safe in my care. I would secretly arrange for women I had seen in the clinic to call me when they went into labor. I could then “show up” and become their real doctor, not just another resident on call.

I had a solo practice as an obstetrician from 1982 until my last delivery on November 18, 2004. I had chosen to continue months longer than was financially prudent (given the increase in malpractice costs) because I felt that one of my patients really needed me to make up for a prior delivery elsewhere that had been an unhappy affair. She had been cared for by a high-risk obstetrician because of a medical problem. The night of her delivery, her primary obstetrician had signed out to a covering doctor whom she had never met. Her labor then progressed rapidly, and she badly wanted pain relief. The covering obstetrician delayed coming in to evaluate her because the patient had not been in labor long. But when this obstetrician arrived, the patient was ready to push: The labor had been rapid because there had been an unnoticed problem with the placenta, and suddenly the baby was in distress. My patient had had an emergency cesarean section and was terrified when she became pregnant for the second time. She needed me to be there for this delivery.

It took all my courage and self resolve to begin the work that day, since I knew that this would be the end of a beloved part of my life. It was a perfect birth and a perfect end to a wonderful career.

I never once regretted a phone call, a middle-of-the-night dash to the hospital, or 36-hour delivery stretches. Every couple had a story and every pregnancy was unique. Each new mother was, for those hours, always the only mother-to-be in the world.

The obstetrician had a backstory as well. I always wore gold angels on my ears for every delivery and called my mother each time to ask for a special prayer for the work ahead.

I think of those many children I delivered over such a long career each Mother’s Day. I imagine that some of them will remember that I was the one who saw them first and welcomed them to life. Perhaps on Mother’s Day someone will tell them the story of that day.

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  • Suzanne Mills May 11, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    Lovely Dr. Allen! I think of you every Mother’s Day b/c you were the one who so carefully helped me bring my 4 wonderful children in to this world! Suzanne Mills

  • jennifer May 10, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    an inspiring story, my friend. thank you for Nickxxxx