Different Engineer

I am full of energy and vitality therefore, could not understand what had come over me lately. I was constantly nauseous and did not feel like eating or getting up in the morning. It was March 1969 and I thought it was the stress of work that was getting to me. I was working pretty much 24x7 trying to get my dissertation work finished before moving to Australia. That meant designing and building integrated circuits. The pace was grueling, and of late I had begun to get into fights easily with Ken.

'I don't know what has come over me, I feel sick all the time.' I complained to Ken one day.
'Why don't you go to the health center and get checked out.' He said matter of factly.
'It is easy to say that. When should I go? The wait time is so long. I can't afford to spend that kind of time. I must finish my work so that we can hold my exam in May before the end of Spring quarter when professors leave for summer.' I said irritably.
'Well what do you want me to do? I can't go to the doctor can I?' He said unsympathetically.
I lashed out, 'Well if you were home more, I will not have to do everything and also work!' 
'Damn it! Look who is talking 'Someone who is hardly home all night.'

The happy carefree days of our young marriage were buried deep in this ugly bickering. 

One night, as I was working hard in the lab and towards early morning, I felt dizzy, it frightened me. I knew I would not be able to ride my bike in that condition. I called Ken. He came in the car and took me straight to the student health center. We waited for eternity until a doctor came to check me out. I explained my symptoms. She asked me when I had my last period. I could not remember. She ordered some tests and then told me that I was pregnant. 

I was aghast! This can't be true. How could it be? We were so careful about birth control. Then I remembered ' When biological urges took over social restraints. Oh My God what will we do? How will I manage this? How could I be so careless? My mind was racing. I thought I will take it in my stride like everything else. At least it is not something serious. Women have been working and delivering babies for centuries, I consoled myself. Besides, I am probably the first pregnant engineer in this college! That brought smile to my otherwise petrified being.

By this time it was late afternoon. It was time to get back to work. I went back. I felt sad that there was no one to share my good news with. No one really cared about such things. Then Jim came over and said that the director wanted to see me. 

I knocked on the director's door. The director had recently come from the US army and was no-nonsense, crew cut, stern looking, unsmiling, and a strict man. It was rumored that it was not good news when you had to see him. I knew he did not much care for me. His vibes clearly indicated his belief that women did not belong in engineering. I had successfully avoided him until that moment.

'Come in,' a rasping austere voice commanded. I opened the door. I found Jim standing there with him. They both looked at me menacingly. I have an animal sense of smelling danger.
'Jim told me that you left the gas furnace on when you left.'
'Sir',' I began.
He cut me short. 'We can't have likes of you working in this lab, if you cannot follow simple directions. Are the rule not posted clearly on the wall?'
'Yes sir. I---'
'Then how come you cannot follow these simple instructions? You are clearly irresponsible . We cannot have likes of you around here. I will let you advisor know. Jim here had to shut the furnace. People aren't here to pick up after you. We expect all our students to be responsible in the lab.'

He hammered on like an army commander. I cringed at the tongue lashing I received.

The unfairness and unfeeling attitude stung me to the core. He did not want to hear of the circumstances. No harm was done. Yes, another student had to shut the furnace. What would they have done had I dropped dead? Tears stung in the back of my eye, I swallowed them. I had not had sleep in over twenty four hours. I was angry at Jim. He could have asked me first before reporting the matter. After all we were graduate students together. If he had done something, I would have shown that courtesy. I had been working in the lab for over 6 months and this was the first time, and it was because'Oh! What was the use? All the frustrations of being the only woman graduate engineer, its loneliness, the uncaring manner of fellow students all made their presence felt then. 

Crushed I retreated and went home. At that moment, the unborn baby seemed to be my only ally and solace. I was bleeding next day, but the doctor felt everything was fine. She prescribed extra vitamins. The people in the lab never asked or bothered with my side of the story. They never knew of my pregnancy. I did not tell them. I avoided them. I did my job. I finished my circuits as best as I could. Took my exam, passed it and was glad to leave. 

After I became a faculty in Electrical Engineering Department, I began feeling sick to my stomach when I entered Integrated circuit facilities and changed direction of my research to biomedical engineering. The director and Jim went on to be presidents and deans at Universities.            


More by :  Manjula Waldron

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