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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Conflicting ideas of motherhood

Dr. Eleanor B. Easley was the first woman to graduate from Duke University School of Medicine, and she rose to national prominence through her work on women's health issues. Of particular importance to her during the mid-twentieth century was the idea of American motherhood and how that could combat Communism. When Barbee did not express joy over her pregnancy, she roused Easley's concern because the doctor had theorized that excitement over child-bearing was one of the primary characteristics of good motherhood. The lecture Barbee received angered her in return.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Annie Mack Barbee, May 28, 1979. Interview H-0190. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

And so I went to Dr. Easley and I reckon I was almost two and a half months. It didn't take her long to do it. She said, "I can not do nothing with you until you lay still. What you so nervous about." I said, nothing. She said, "Now will you relax." I said yes. She was a elderly lady with white hair. She said, "Will you." I said yes. I got hot when I went in there. She said, "Do you think you're pregnant. Some of them folks were working around there, nurses and all. I said no, I don't know what's the matter with me. I said this is the place to come ain't it. She said, "Yeah." That's why I'm here. You see now I got hot then, she didn't bother me none. She said, "Most women don't get pregnant at your age." I said, one thing you'd better do, you better go on out here and not say anything else to me. Because I'm here to see Dr. Easley and if there's any questions she asks me I will answer them, I ain't going to answer nary a one of yours. She strutted on out of there. I was ill as a hornet. So Dr. Easley came in, she said, "Relax now so I can examine you." I got up on the table. She looked at me. And I could see the nurses passing by. Old woman, there that thinks she's pregnant. I reckon they was talking about me. So she got through, she said, "Relax." I said Dr. Easley, I'm going to relax 'cause I want to know. She said, "You'll know in a few minutes. Are you relaxed." I said yeah. "I can feel it, you are sure enough relaxed." Took her hands, she said, "A normal pregancy. Wait a minute, lay back down, you ain't right." I laid back down. She said, "What's the matter with you?" I said, nothing. I said, nothing. Something wrong other than that. Then see, she had to calm my nerves. She said, this is what she told me, "Women like you always have your children early." This is not a I want you to get this good. "Women like you always have their children early." See women, how she say it, she didn't say it black and white, she said women, my women, something like that. They delay their rearing families for financial reasons sometimes, they're not out of school, and financial some. She said, "But you women have your children early." Oh I got so mad with the woman. I said, lord don't let me show my behind because she's all I got to depend on. But Beverly, if she could a seen me when she said that, oh good gracious alive. I said to myself, I said yeah. I said, but you must understand one thing Dr. Easley, I married late. She said, "Oh you did." I said, yeah. I said I was in my early forties when I married. I married about a year. She said, "No wonder this is a shock to you." Yes it is, it really is. She said, "You didn't think?" I said I didn't—in other words, I'd had no thoughts about it. I didn't think nothing about it. She said, "I know you didn't. Now you're physically fit. The only trouble you'll have is running around with this little one, keeping up with it. I don't see no complications whatever unless you disobey my orders." And I was sitting there. She said, "What's the matter with your finger?" I have a bone like that. She said, "Can you remember if this was always like that." I said yeah, as near as I can remember. She said, "Do you know what caused it?" I said the only thing I could remember, we was in the country going to school, and real cold one morning and I forgot my gloves. And when I got to school my whole hand was numb and the teacher—I didn't have any lesson that day, that's when we was working, Mae and I. And she took my fingers and rubbed 'em and rubbed 'em. And I said they was frostbitten, and they grew like that. That's what I told her. 'Cause I can't remember them being like that when I was born. She took 'em and said, "Do they bother you?" I said no, they don't bother me at all. She said, "I just wanted to know whether you were born like that." I said I don't remember being born—I could have been. So she was sitting there and told me, "I'm writing you out a chart here. Now you don't need anything much, whatever you need you can get I don't think you need nothing. You are physically fit for a woman of your age to bear this child. Without any complications whatever. If you stay on your strict diet." She said, "Now aren't you happy. Come back here and sit down." I was going out the door. She made me sit back there facing her. She said, "Aren't you happy?" I didn't say a word. She said, "I'm talking to you. Aren't you happy?" I still wouldn't say nothing. She said, "One thing about it, I want you to be happy, as happy as you can. There's some reason why you don't want to have this child, I don't know what it is. But I want you to be happy. Do you work?" I said yeah. She said, "Don't stop work. I want you to be as active as you can." I said I do seasonal work. She said, "It's not going to hurt you. Because I know you ain't going to do no walking. As long as you can work and stir around. Explain to me what you do." I told her. She said, "No it won't hurt you. 'Cause you ain't going to walk. If you was a housewife I would put you on a rigid, strict, walking. But you're not no housewife, you work. Now I don't want you to lay around and mope around. I want you to be as active as you can." I said yes I will. She said, "What does your husband think about it?" I said he don't know it, I haven't told him. She said, "Are you going to tell him?" I said of course, you know I got to tell him. She said, "I reckon he'll be tickled to death." I said maybe. That's all I said, I said maybe he will. She said, "But I know one thing, you're not happy. I don't like that. Why are you not happy?" I told her I have my reasons. She said, "Well forget your reasons and let this child be a normal child." So I went on home. Victoria Lawson was living next door to us. She was the first one I told. She said, "Well I could have told you that." When I worked with the girl she told me, I called Betsy a liar on the bus. I'd go to sleep and every time it was time to get off the bus she'd have to wake me up. And Betsy, "You'd better go ahead and see about yourself. You're the biggest asa." I said, you damn liar, and got off the bus, telling her that. Betsy said, "Annie I knew you was pregnant. I knew it. I've had seven children." I said no. And honey, me and Betsy fell out the next morning when I went there. "Annie, what did that doctor say?" I went to laughing. She said, "Yeah, he said you was pregnant." I said yes I am. She said, "I know. I could've told you." But I didn't want to believe it. It was hard for me to believe that thing, I just didn't want to believe it. So after she confirmed and said it was so, I went on with it. But honey, Beverly, that was so hard for me to believe. It was just unbelievable. And I felt wonderful. The only thing I had was the heartburn.