Interview with Francie Hornstein2020-09-04T11:39:05+00:00

THE VFA PIONEER HISTORIES PROJECT

Francie Hornstein

“The Women’s Movement Dramatically Changed My Life.”

Interviewed by Judy Waxman, August, 2020

JW:  This is Judy Waxman, I’m with Francie Hornstein. Francie is in Oakland, California, and I’m in D.C. and we are doing this over Zoom because of the pandemic.  Francie, we start with your name and where and when you were born.

FH:  My name is Francie Hornstein and I was born in 1947 in Omaha, Nebraska.

JW:  What was your life like before the women’s movement?

FH:  I had a pretty typical middle-class Jewish upbringing in Omaha, Nebraska. A lot of people think there aren’t Jews in Omaha and there aren’t a lot but when I was growing up, it was kind of the center of our universe. I went to public school. I had a very typical, nice, loving family: two brothers, my dad owned a little furniture store, so we were comfortable, and it was a good life. My mother did not work outside the home, which was true for most of her friends at the time. And that would come into play later: my awareness that my mother didn’t go out into the workforce.

JW:  What was it that got you involved in the women’s movement?

FH:  I started college at the University of Iowa in 1965 and I don’t think I was too aware at the time of a lot of the issues, of the feminist movement, which hadn’t really gotten off the ground where I was. Reproductive rights was the first issue that presented itself to me because I was living in a dormitory at the University of Iowa, which was at the time composed mostly of Caucasian students. There were a few Jewish kids, a lot of kids from Chicago and Des Moines and big cities and quite a large number of farm kids who’d grown up on Iowa farms, which was new to me.

It was really interesting for me to meet them and hear about their lives. There was one woman on our hallway who I didn’t really know very well, but who in late winter or spring of our freshman year, 1966, had gotten pregnant with her boyfriend. It was a total shock to me because she was very conservative. I think she was from a Mennonite family; she wore a little white head covering. My reaction at the time was, wow, she’s having sex and I’m not.

Coincidentally, I had been at a party a couple of weekends before I found out she was pregnant. And the  guy that I was dating mentioned that a friend of his had gone to get an abortion in Des Moines. Abortion was definitely illegal at the time, so it was the first I had ever heard of people getting abortions. I knew it happened, but I hadn’t had any personal knowledge. I had this kind of crisis of conscience about whether I should go try to get the name of the abortionist or the contact information for this woman in my dorm.

I didn’t have any feelings about whether or not she [would have] an abortion. Even at the time, I felt like women should be able to decide whether or not they wanted to have kids. But what made me really nervous was what if something bad happened? What if she died, if it was a bad abortion? So, my friend Carol, who was the go-between between this woman and I on the subject, said she couldn’t just have a baby – it was a big thing for her and for her family. And if they knew she was sexually active and that she got pregnant, it would just be a disaster.

Carol and I wanted to get the information – we felt responsible for her. At some point someone had mentioned a very progressive woman physician at student health at the University of Iowa. We went to talk with her about the dilemma and our concerns. Her name was Dr. Dewey. She was very matter of fact. She said, “I’ll describe what the issues are, what could happen if she gets an infection, if she is bleeding, whatever could happen, and she should go to the abortionist and then when she returns I’ll see her the day after at student health.” So that was a really, really good arrangement. And Dr. Dewey did a lot of very progressive things in her time at student health.

So, I got the information. She went and had the operation. Everything was fine. So that put me on a path of thinking about women’s options. And at the time, student health did not provide birth control to women who weren’t married. ’65, ’66 was right about the beginning of when the birth control pill was being marketed and made available. But it wasn’t an option for women who were not married.

I remember I went home and told my mother the story, just kind of curious about what she thought, and she was completely supportive. My mother was not politically active; she had kind of a provincial life. But she was completely supportive. And then an aunt who had grown up in Omaha but had moved to New York, came to visit and we were talking about it. And she said when she was little she would go play at her friend’s house, her neighbor’s house. And her friend’s dad was a doctor in Omaha. His office was in his house and she said that occasionally he would go upstairs to a room he added in the attic with women. And later she found out he was doing abortions. This was in the 1920s.

JW:  What a progressive place Omaha was!

FH:  Who knew? That put the issue in my head, and I went on my way, didn’t think much more about it. In 1968 I took the whole year off and went traveling. During all this time I was coming to terms with the fact that I was a lesbian even though I was dating guys – I wasn’t quite ready to act on it. For one thing, I did meet a number of lesbians who lived in the dorm. They were friends, but were out. They were out. And Dale McCormick, who was another one of my friends at college, she was one of the first lesbians I ever met. And Dale was very political.

Things were starting to heat up with opposition to the war and I was in sympathy with those activities, but I left for a year to travel in Europe and Israel and did a little bit of just talking with people about the issues on my travels.

I went to a big anti-war march in Munich, but it wasn’t really in the front of my mind. But then I returned to the United States and I went back to Iowa in 1969, the Women’s Liberation Front was just getting going. I had heard about it from some friends and I was really, really interested. I kept hearing about this Women’s Liberation Front and some of the women were organizing the wait staff at the field house, one of the big event venues.

I kept hearing about this woman, Sondra, who had three kids that were under the age of three, and she couldn’t really come out much, but she was interested in working on daycare. And I really loved kids and babies. And I missed having my nieces close to me. So, I was just waiting to meet Sondra with the three babies. I think in the spring of that year, I finally got to a meeting of the Women’s Liberation Front and met Sondra and all the other people who were involved. And Dale, my friend from the dorm, was also very involved.

That was really my first full-on entry into women’s liberation and feminism. We had consciousness raising groups. We actually started a daycare center for the staff and the faculty and students at the university, a free daycare center, which we managed by getting donated space and all of us taking shifts at the daycare center. Those daycare centers eventually grew into three daycare centers. We let the kids name the first two. The first one was Dum Dum Daycare. The second one was Hoho Daycare. And the third one was named by the adults and it was called the Free Underground Care Kollective (FUCK).

Sondra actually organized a big demonstration which led to our getting more donated space. She and a bunch of the women’s liberation women and men and their kids took over an unused university building. We had two churches donate space and then the university donated a really nice space, and the third one. The Women’s Liberation Front in Iowa City was a real hotbed of activity. Aside from consciousness raising groups and daycare, we had a writing collective which went on to publish a newspaper called Ain’t I A Woman, which was a really good quality publication. It was available in Iowa and in some bookstores around the country in the same way that we read “Off Our Backs” or other new feminist publications, we started a health collective.

The first activity was driving women from Iowa City to Des Moines every Saturday so that they [could] get birth control. There was a Planned Parenthood in Des Moines, which was a couple of hours away, and that was the only access to birth control. At the same time, we were pressuring the university to change their rules about making birth control available to women who weren’t married.

JW:  We’re still doing that but that’s an aside.

FH:  On the side, we were learning self-defense, we took karate. We started talking about doing a women’s night at the newly forming Free Clinic. Some people were in the process of starting a free clinic with volunteers from medical school and in the community, that was a couple of years down the road. The feeling at the time is we want to make a revolution. And this was all part of making the revolution.

The daycare centers flourished, the newspaper was flourishing, we had started working on the clinic. I went to take a community college course in first aid so that somebody in the daycare center would know what to do if kids got injured or the typical epidemics of the stomach flu and other kinds of things. Basically, it was a well-run little daycare center.

And Sondra was the ringleader for all the daycares; she started going to conferences about daycare. She learned about supplemental foods from the Department of Agriculture and I don’t know whether they’re still given, but she applied to get supplemental foods. At the time we just had the one daycare and there were probably twenty or twenty-five kids. So, she ordered this food and up comes this huge panel truck and unloads so much canned vegetables, peanut butter, frozen pork – I mean enough to feed the whole community of everybody who was in the daycare center.

So, we ended up having to rent a freezer to store all of the frozen food and the butter and things that we didn’t have room for in one little refrigerator in a church basement. We probably gave some of that away, most of the families were pretty low income, but we used that, and I became in charge of the lunch program and the snack program. So, we provided food for the kids and got a little more organized.

I think there was an issue where someone reported us for being an unlicensed child care facility. We pushed the state to develop regulations and guidelines for daycare for children under the age of three, because there hadn’t been any regulations for care for infants, and we had everybody: we had a three-week-old baby. We got donations of cribs and playpens, toys. That was an exciting part.

JW:  I want to hear about the health part.

FH: In the fall of 1972 we had heard that the NOW chapter in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had invited these two women from California who were coming to do something called a Self-Help Clinic, and it was basically a health education program aimed at women’s health. Three of us decided to go, we drove to Cedar Rapids and that’s where we met Carol Downer and Lorraine Rothman, who were from Southern California and were traveling across the country demonstrating how to do a cervical self-exam. They showed a device that did menstrual extraction. Because of the legal climate at the time with abortion, we had to be pretty careful and it was not referred to as a method of early abortion – that was understood.

 JW:  How many weeks pregnant could somebody be and still use it?

FH:  Probably up to about eight or ten weeks. So definitely early abortion. It’s very hard for me now to even call this an abortion because we were so careful at the time to not admit that we were doing abortions or teaching. All of us were just so excited about this revolutionary thing and having the ability to see cervical self-examination was like the curtain was lifted and you could actually see women’s reproductive organs and how everything worked, it was just so revealing and so impactful.

The whole self-help clinic was based on a slide presentation. And each slide prompted a discussion of birth control, childbirth, sexuality, anything that was related to women’s health and particularly reproductive health. And it was an incredible venue for women to tell their stories of being treated very poorly or disrespectfully by doctors, being totally knocked out during childbirth so that when they woke up, they couldn’t even remember where they were, what they were there for. It was a real opportunity for women to look at the issues and also for us to learn from each other.

Lorraine and Carol were just in the middle of their trip around the country to NOW chapters, but it was set up that when they got back, they would send us the self-help clinic slides and the script that went along with it, and then people were free to improvise and address any issues that came up. About a month after they left, a friend of ours got pregnant and was in the midst of making an arrangement to go to New York to get an abortion.

There was a whole underground network of abortion referrals all over the country that was kind of a hybrid of things. The biggest moving force was actually the Clergy Consultation Service. It was an underground railroad network of progressive clergy – mostly men at the time – we worked with to refer women to a couple of illegal abortionists who we felt were relatively safe.

By that time, you could go to New York and get an abortion, but it was quite expensive. So, this friend of a friend got pregnant and we thought it would be cheaper for us to bring in Carol or Lorraine back from wherever they were on their tour to do a menstrual extraction and then we would get to see how it was done. It was quite a project to find them on the road, I think we called one of their homes and they called us back. No cell phones, it was all long distance, pay for it telephone calls.

So, Lorraine came back from wherever she was on her travels and did a menstrual extraction for this woman and we all observed and saw how it worked. That really set us off to want to learn to do menstrual extraction and then come back and do abortions in Iowa City, so we didn’t have to send people off. So, in February of 1973, Carole and Lorraine were back in Los Angeles and invited us to come out.

There were four of us who drove out to L.A. to spend two or three weeks at a health center learning to do a menstrual extraction. We learned to do pregnancy testing with a little chemical kit that was the standard used by labs at the time. We learned to do pelvic exams and we practiced a lot of menstrual extraction on each other when we had our periods. While we were there, we were doing pregnancy screening. They had a house they rented where they did self-help clinics and then they had a little storefront clinic down the street where women did pregnancy testing and then got abortion referrals to a hospital.

While we were in L.A., we were all just talking about how we can set up a whole women’s clinic. We decided the four of us who were there were going to go back to Iowa City, pack up and move to Los Angeles to help Carol and Lorraine start the Feminist Women’s Health Center. We were going to help them get the clinic up and running. So, we went back to Iowa. The idea was to come and stay for however long it took and then go back to Iowa City and do abortions. But when we got back to Iowa City with the skill and the knowledge of doing menstrual extraction, although limited…

JW:  By then abortion was legal. That was January ‘73 when Roe came down.

FH:  Maybe I’m a year ahead of myself because abortion wasn’t legal. We went back to Iowa City and the reality hit us like a bucket of cold water. People were afraid to have us do the abortions in their homes. The reality of going to prison was real. And so, we decided that the best thing we could do was go back to L.A. and get more education and information and help start that health center.

The women in Iowa City had started a women’s night. By then there was a free clinic and a women’s night at the free clinic. They were teaching self-exam and doing some of the same things, but they weren’t able to do abortions. They were still sending women mostly to New York because you could get a legal abortion in New York. So, we went to the health center, we got an apartment, we started being part of the staff.

At the beginning we got our room paid for. And we had an active abortion referral service. We used to put these red and white stickers that said Pregnant? Need Help?  and then it had a phone number and we just plastered this all over the entire city of Los Angeles, everywhere we went. We went to the beach, we put them up, we went to a restaurant, we put them in the bathrooms, and we started getting a lot of women who were coming to us.

We would have them come to the clinic where we would do the pregnancy screening, which was a urine test. And then we had learned to do pelvic exams. And that was another real learning opportunity for us, too, because women were at all stages of pregnancy. For us it was just an estimation of their length of gestation, because we knew that at the hospital we referred to, they would only do abortions up to 12 weeks. Later they started doing late term abortions up to probably 16 weeks, maybe a little bit beyond that.

We would do the screening and we learned how to feel the size of the uterus, like maybe a walnut was a not pregnant uterus, a lemon maybe eight weeks. The grapefruit was 12 weeks. And we got pretty good at estimating a woman’s pregnancy by having the opportunity to feel a lot of different gestations and if you put it together with a positive pregnancy test, the date of their last menstrual period, usually it would match up. It was probably more education than medical students get initially, before they really get into the clinic and get to feel a lot of uterine sizes. And then it was all confirmed by the physician at the hospital where we referred.

We charged the women, I think, twenty-five dollars for pregnancy screening. I think abortions at the time cost one hundred and fifty dollars. We weren’t doing them yet in the clinic. We were actually referring them to a hospital, but we would meet the women at the hospital. The abortions were done on Saturday morning, so we had the clinic all week. I think we collected their money for the pregnancy screening at the clinic, for the abortions at the hospital, and I remember that we had our people who were collecting money at this little private hospital that was owned by a guy who wanted the business.

We found the doctor who did the abortions, we provided the patients. I think out of the one hundred and fifty, we got a little bit back from making the referral. That’s how we started making some income. It wasn’t very much, but it was enough to pay the rent and I think we got a little stipend for working there. But the goal eventually was to start our own clinic. We finally were able to do that a little bit before Roe v. Wade. I can’t remember exactly when we started doing the abortions in our own clinic. We had the same doctor he just did them in the clinic instead of in the hospital.

JW:  But you weren’t doing a menstrual extraction there?

FH:  No, no, no, no. When we opened our own abortion clinic, instead of just being a referral service, we hired the doctor. We learned to do the medical assistant part of it, we learned to sterilize the instruments. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta had something called the Abortion Surveillance Unit, and I don’t know how long it had been in existence, but it had been in existence for a while, a number of years. And I think they went and looked at different abortionists to see what they were doing. And we openly asked for help and they were delighted to help us, really.

FH:  This was before Roe?

FH:  In California, abortion was legal – it was in both New York and California. It was kind of a rubber stamp. That was just how things evolved. So, we started the clinic and we joined the American Public Health Association which was a smart move because that’s where we met all the Abortion Surveillance Unit. It was a number of young doctors and public health people who were really in support of those providing safe legal abortion.

This doctor Willard Cates, who just died a few years ago, had this amazing career, very progressive, health advocacy and in an interview I read he talked about being consulted by this group of young feminists in the early days and how he learned as much from us as we learned from him. He showed us how to do pap smears the correct way. We found that the doctors, our doctors, were doing them all wrong so we had to show them how to do them. We talked about all the possible emergencies and how to deal with them.

Vicki Jones was part of the Abortion Surveillance Unit, who had an MPH or a PhD and she actually came to visit us a number of times and helped us with our clinic protocols to just make it as safe and legitimate of an operation as we could. That was really a wonderful opportunity. The clinic went on and did very well for many years.

After Roe v. Wade, the women who were working in Iowa City at the free clinic wanted to start their own abortion and reproductive health clinic. There was a doctor in Iowa City who was kind of a local hippie doctor who helped people with medical trouble – you could trust that he would help. He was willing to learn to do abortions. Several people came from Iowa City and spent a couple of weeks.

The doctor trained with our doctor to learn to do early termination abortions. And the women learned about all the administrative and the counseling and the medical assisting, how to deal with tissue and blood tests. They went back and then started the Emma Goldman Clinic, which still exists.

JW:  Around this time, you decided you wanted to have a child of your own. Is that right?

FH:  It was around this time and I had actually tried to get pregnant in the early ’70s, but we were too busy. I was sort of still waffling about whether I was ready to do it. Around ’77 was when I really started trying. We did research on donor insemination and it seemed pretty simple. Because we had the abortion clinic, we actually had all the equipment, we had syringes, we had the cannula that you could put right up against the cervix. You don’t want to put it into the cervix. We had a syringe with these small cannulas like a plastic straw and we cut the end off and sucked up the semen and put it in and it happened. When I was in the midst of that I was thinking how could this possibly work? Would something go wrong, like would the sperm get damaged? Anything you could worry about? I was worried.

JW:  Did you have any trouble getting sperm?

FH:  Yeah, it was difficult. There were doctors who did donor insemination and it was later found out they often used their own sperm. The problem was we really didn’t know that many men. We were working mostly with women. Half of us were lesbians, there were women who were married. But it was hard to find a donor. I had a very good friend who I really wanted to be the donor father, but it was just too new for him. He didn’t have a good relationship with his own father, and he didn’t want to do it.

So, at that point, we just started asking everyone we knew. In retrospect, I’m not sure it’s the way to go. Our thought at the time was, well, you don’t really screen people before you sleep with them, but in reality you do. Anyway, I started trying to get pregnant in the end of ’77 and then got pregnant in February ’78, I think it was.

JW:  It took a few tries?

FH:  It actually took me six tries! But it was free, it was socially awkward, there weren’t sperm banks at the time. I did get pregnant. We had our first son in 1978, and that was really wonderful. When I took the first look at him, because of all the anxiety and the issues that came with it, I was just blown away at how perfect he was. It was wonderful, it was a dream come true.

Four years later, Yael got pregnant and we had these two kids. By then we were on the parenthood part of it, although we did do a lot of public speaking and talking to groups about reproductive freedom for lesbians and gay men. At the time, most of the lesbians with kids that we knew were women who had been in heterosexual relationships and then came out as lesbians. It wasn’t until after our first child was born that we started meeting other families, other lesbian couples who had conceived by donor insemination.

We had a little group of, I think, four parent groups and four children who were conceived by donor insemination. By the time our oldest was a few years old a sperm bank had opened in Los Angeles, the Cryobank of Southern California. Unlike a lot of the other physicians who had donor insemination as a service and would not see anybody who was unmarried, the sperm bank of Southern California would provide sperm to anyone. So that’s where lesbians and single women started to go if they wanted to do donor insemination.

We met these families who were early recipients of the sperm banks product. We later found out and wondered whether those kids were related because we don’t think they had a very big pool of donors at the beginning. I don’t know if anybody ever really checked. It can be an issue if a sperm bank has a very limited number of donors (about siblings). In a negative direction, you don’t want to unknowingly marry a sibling. On the other hand, a lot of kids want to know their half siblings.

There’s now a donor registry where people can sign on and say the name of their sperm bank, the number of their donor, and can figure out who the siblings are, which has led to some ethical issues. I think it’s mostly been a good thing. We moved to Northern California, to the Bay Area in 1984. Before that, at the feminist Women’s Health Center in Oakland, they started a sperm bank.

Barbara Raboy learned everything she could about sperm banking which was in its early days and they started their own program. It later split off from the Feminist Women’s Health Center and became The Sperm Bank of California, which is very active today and I was on the board for a number of years in the ‘90s or 2000s. Regarding the ethical issue with sibling and donor registries, the one thing that the Sperm Bank of California did that was different at the time was they gave women the option of having a donor who would be willing to be contacted when the child was 18. Donors could choose to either be anonymous or to be known when the child was older.

Eventually hardly anyone wanted an anonymous donor. Almost everybody wanted their child to have the option. So other sperm banks started to make that option, it’s called Donor Identity Release, because that’s what people wanted, and in fact, lesbians and single women became the prime market for every sperm bank. Doctors doing donor insemination wanted nothing to do with lesbians or single women because of the morality of the time and then eventually realized that there was a demand for single women and lesbians to have kids on their own. Feminists really changed the reproductive health market for people who want to get pregnant through donor insemination.

JW:  I want to go back to L.A., selfishly because that’s when we met. You decided to get a different kind of job in 1980.

FH:  I did. I felt like it was time to get what we called a “straight job.” I got sort of a straight job. I applied to be a newsletter editor at the National Health Law Program in L.A., a legal services support center that provided technical assistance and advice to legal aid lawyers working on health law issues. I didn’t get the job of the newsletter editor, but it was a big interview process, including one with you and the rest of the D.C. office.

I was so disappointed I didn’t get it in the end that I wanted to call Sylvia Drew Ivy, the director, back and say, “If anything opens up…”, but I was so disappointed I couldn’t stop crying long enough to make the phone call. So, I waited till the next week and I called Sylvia and I said, “I didn’t realize how much I wanted this job till I didn’t get it.” It wasn’t just the newsletter job, it was to work with NHLP which was all these things that included my interest – health and poverty law. And anyway, she was really lovely on the phone and she said, “Well, let me think about it.”

She called me back within a couple of days and said they were having a conference on public hospitals and we need a conference coordinator. I had done that at the health center. So, they hired me in a half time job, sort of temporary to work on this conference, which I did. It was in Frederick, Maryland. It was really interesting for me to learn all about what was happening with public hospitals. And then that job just sort of turned into a research associate, which basically was helping whatever lawyer needed help. Mostly I worked on enforcement of the Hill-Burton regulations with attorney Armin Freifeld, which was another education.

JW:  That was a requirement if a hospital got federal money, they had to give out a certain amount of free care.

FH:  I always say that my four years at NHeLP was like getting a master’s degree in poverty health law, as I learned so much about the history of public benefits and different programs. I eventually went to Berkeley to get a master’s degree in social work and it was like I aced the whole first introduction to social welfare because it was all these programs – aid to the disabled, aid to the blind – and all these programs that either I had been a recipient of, like food stamps when I was in Iowa City, or that I learned about through NHeLP.

NHeLP knew both Judy and I had an interest in women’s health and in improving outcomes in maternity care. We worked on a really wonderful project in different communities where people were trying to provide assistance to low income pregnant women and their kids. I’m still friends with a woman who I interviewed, Patt Young, she has a different name now, who is an advocate for African-American women to breastfeed at Highland Hospital and we still are friends on Facebook and have a lot in common.

JW:  Wow. So your whole family now moves to San Francisco and that’s in the middle ’80s. Were you still involved in women’s health there?

FH:  I was not so involved, but the first job I got when we moved up here, and I had for 10 years, was the director of a program called California Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies. Each state had their own version of the program, and the goal was to improve outcomes for low income pregnant women and their kids. My job was the director for California. We had different work groups, we had conferences each year. We tried to bring together people who had successful programs that provided services to low income women.

At the time, African-American pregnancy outcomes were much worse. I don’t know if it’s gotten worse. The infant mortality rate among African-American women was consistently much higher than it was for white women or Latino. So the state was also working on a program to provide extra services to low income pregnant women. And they provided extra health, education, nutrition, education, car seats, things that they thought would really impact the differential in outcomes in infant mortality between Black and white babies.

I did that for 10 years. It was a great opportunity to meet people working on the same issues that I had been interested in for a long time. But it was also interesting because it wasn’t in a context of feminism. It was an opportunity to get some of these feminist ideas like reproductive choice out to other communities who were working in public health. I met some great people.

There was a time in the ’90s during the crack cocaine epidemic where the judicial system was prosecuting women and pregnant women who were using drugs, sending them to jail, taking their kids away. Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies in California organized a subcommittee which became its own organization – pregnancy advocates for women who were using drugs – and had a big impact on taking away the punitive aspect and building in an educational, supportive aspect.

The organization was California Advocates for Pregnant Women. We spoke to professional groups around the state and talked about the need for education, not punishment. There was a lot of differential treatment of pregnant women who were using drugs. If a woman went to a private doctor, usually there was no screening, nothing happened, she could fly completely under the radar until she possibly gave birth to a drug exposed baby, at which time it might be discovered. Then there were public facilities who were screening everybody and doing various punitive or helpful things.

But eventually, Kaiser Permanente developed a program called Early Start, which operates to this day. And in that program, every pregnant woman is screened for drugs, both a urine tox screen and also a verbal screening for did your parents use, does your partner use, have you used any drugs? And it’s not done in a punitive way. It’s done in a way to offer support, to explain the benefits, the risk to a baby who’s exposed in utero to drugs.

It’s interesting, between my public health stuff and my feminist self, my use of the term baby or fetus for a pregnancy has evolved largely into designating whether this woman chooses to give birth or not give birth. It’s just something I found myself doing – when you’re talking to a pregnant woman in prenatal care, “fetus” doesn’t seem to be quite appropriate.

Kaiser’s program has been very successful. They still have some women who use during pregnancy and give birth, but they’re given every support to try to stop. And that all came out of that era.

JW:  That’s amazing. I know that you left Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies to get another degree and then speak a little about your last job.

FH:  In the 10 years I was the director of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies I learned that I’m not a good administrator, I’m not a good director. I did it, the organization made it. But I was always envious of people who were on the front lines, the people who were seeing the pregnant women, who were providing them education and support. So, I decided I can either get a degree in public health or I could get a degree in social work.

I knew that many MPH graduates that I knew ended up in administration. So, then I chose social work and it was with the goal of doing medical social work. My interest really wasn’t necessarily in working with mothers and babies anymore. My brother had died of cancer and my father had died of heart disease. I just was interested in medical social work in many settings. So, I went to UC Berkeley, to the School of Social Welfare and I did internships the first year at Children’s Hospital and ended up in the [Neonatal] ICU and the second year in HIV at Kaiser.

In my second year of social work school, I was diagnosed with uterine cancer and had a hysterectomy and took a little time off but really didn’t get that behind. Working in my second internship at Kaiser in HIV was the perfect companion to my having been diagnosed with a bad kind of cancer. I was working with all these people whose futures were uncertain. It was right before the AZT and the drugs that sort of ended the death of people with HIV came. That was a really beneficial experience for me.

I graduated and had a few months of being really nervous about whether I was going to get a job as a new graduate, although they promised us within a year, everybody has a job. I did a couple of vacation coverages and eventually because of my experience with reproductive health, the health center and Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, I ended up getting hired in the NICU. Basically, my whole career of 15 or 20 years, at the end of my career, was working with parents, mostly mothers and babies. And it was my dream job. It was a coming together of everything I’d learned about public health programs. 

JW:  How do you think the women’s movement changed your life?

FH:  Well, the women’s movement dramatically changed my life. It made it easier for me to come out as a lesbian. For a while in my young adult years I had this gnawing feeling, especially because I had dropped out of college to travel and to become involved in feminism, I didn’t want to not have a career. I didn’t want to not have a passion and a focus that was outside my family, which I had seen my mother [didn’t] have.

I don’t know that it bothered her, because she didn’t really know what she was missing. I think she was fairly content, doing volunteer things and being a mother. But I know that she could have had a much richer life if she had had some job outside of her home. And I feel like I benefited from that, because that was a goal that I learned in the women’s movement. And it always sounds a little negative to say I don’t want to end up like my mother, although that’s how I said it – but I feel sad that she never had the opportunities that I had. And I know she was totally in support of them, because of the conversations we had. So, I think it really has given my life meaning and a focus, and I feel like we’ve changed the world in some ways. What more can you ask for?