By Jean Rosenthal Harris.
In 1950, I was twenty three years old and pregnant with my first child. My husband Ed and I were living in a cold water flat on East 41st St. and 2nd Ave. in Manhattan. The United Nations building was under construction just a few blocks away.
We learned from Ed’s old friend Joe Springer, a jazz pianist, that his therapist had told him Dr. Wilhelm Reich was looking for pregnant women to use in a study group. He wanted an opportunity to study healthy, natural mothers rearing healthy, natural children. We called Dr. Reich’s office and made an appointment to see him. Ed and I had our first interview with Dr. Reich in February 1950. We took the subway out to Forest Hills, Long Island where the Orgone Institute was then located.
Dr Reich was a short, stocky, ruddy faced, grey haired man who wore a white lab coat. He expressed great interest in us both and asked how we had come to hear about his work. Ed told him he had read all his books, was familiar with the concepts, and had nothing but admiration for Dr. Reich’s work.
Dr. Reich questioned us closely. He wanted to know about our families, how we met, how our bodies related to each other, what we knew about orgone energy, did we use an accumulator, would we agree to use one if we were selected for the study.
Dr. Alan Cott, another Reichian therapist, was also present at this initial interview. After some discussion between them, they both agreed we’d do just fine and would be their first case history for the Infant Research Foundation. They pronounced me “healthy” and that word from Dr. Reich set me on a course for life.
The Orgone Institute and Dr. Reich were, at that time, in the process of moving to Rangeley, Maine, and Dr. Reich informed us that Dr. Cott would be our liaison. Dr. Reich now spent most of his time in Maine, but Dr. Cott was to keep him well informed on our progress. He wanted us to be certain we understood the conditions before we agreed to be studied. These involved:
- Home delivery if possible, attended by a midwife or naturalist doctor.
- Ed would be present at the birth and help me through the breathing.
- I would use an orgone accumulator during my pregnancy and then with the baby.
- The baby would not be slapped after birth but gently rubbed and washed, no drops in the eyes, no dangling upside down, and no tight wrapping of blankets.
- I was to nurse the baby at once rather than waiting, as was customary, for the milk to come. At that time, nursing was considered old fashioned, a waste of time and doctors discouraged the practice.
- If the baby was a boy, he was not to be circumcised. In 1950, nobody was questioning the validity of circumcision and this was a shocking position to take. Doctors routinely circumcised all baby boys, Jews and Gentiles alike, and the medical profession was solidly behind the practice. Dr. Reich gave me a small pamphlet to read called “The Barbarity of Circumcision”. It made sense. I realized it’s wrong to bring pain to a part of the body which should only be associated with pleasure. Years later, many years later, the procedure underwent new scrutiny and now more and more parents are choosing not to circumcise. At that time, it was unheard of.
We discussed the issue with my parents who were both very hurt, but they didn’t argue and they never said another word about it. We just didn’t tell Ed’s parents and they never learned till years later. We both took a lot of heat on the subject.
- The baby would be put to sleep on his back and not his stomach. Again, a shocking practice. Dr Reich felt a baby on his stomach was not free to kick, or move easily, and would develop rigidity. Now sleeping on the back is advised as a precaution against SID.
- There was to be no schedule for feeding and sleeping but rather the baby would establish his own patterns. This too was controversial. Babies were put on tight schedules, feeding by bottle every four hours, not sooner and not later, and in between feedings, they were left in the crib to cry it out. I was to nurse the baby immediately after birth and thereafter whenever he felt like eating. There was no one to teach me anything about breast feeding except my mother. I was the only young mother I knew who was breast feeding. All other babies got plastic nipples and formula.
- The hospital stay (if required) would be as brief as possible with little separation of mother and child. At that time, childbirth was called confinement and the mother was confined to a ten day hospital stay. Babies were removed from their mothers at birth, and the mother’s milk artificially drained.
- Complete support of sexual freedom during adolescence. This was a point Dr. Reich emphasized. he foretold there would be difficulties down the line and we would have to support our child, son or daughter, against the puritan community. We were to provide clear sexual information, discuss promiscuity and its risks, and the joys of a monogamous relationship freely engaged in.
We agreed to the conditions and shook hands all around. Dr. Reich also suggested I take series of classes in child rearing which were to be conducted at the office of Dr. Simeon Tropp in Manhattan.
A psychiatric social worker named Grethe Hoff (married at the time to Dr. Myron Sharaf) was assigned to my case. She followed me about with pad in hand, recording every dream, twitch, thoughts, emotion, movement. I loved the attention. She took copious notes which were sent on to Dr. Reich in Maine.
Grethe met with me at least twice a week, either at the office of one of the doctor’s or at our apartment. Grethe was from Norway. Her father was publisher of a major newspaper and she first met Dr. Reich in Norway when she was sent to interview him. I learned years later, in the biography of Reich written by her then husband Dr. Myron Sharaf called FURY ON EARTH that she divorced Myron somewhere down the line had an affair with Dr. Reich.
During my pregnancy, I saw Dr. Reich on his monthly visits to New York and Dr. Cott every week.
We could find no doctor who would agree to a home delivery nor were there any licensed midwives in the state of New York. Dr. Colt found a general practitioner in Woodside, Long Island, who agreed to help me deliver the baby without the use of anesthetics and would permit Dr. Cott and Ed in the delivery room. As it later developed, Dr. Chester Raphael replaced Dr. Cott when I was giving birth. It was not easy to find a hospital which would agree to our conditions, but at last, the Madison Avenue Hospital on E,. 58th Street and Madison Ave. promised to cooperate. They would permit me to bring my baby to my room immediately after birth if I paid to have a private nurse in my room for the first 24 hours. So we hired a nurse who fell asleep on the foot of my bed while I ecstatically held my baby all night long. A New York State law prohibited fathers in the delivery room but after Ed made a fuss, a compromise was reached and Ed permitted to observe from behind a screen.
I remained in the hospital overnight and we went home in the morning. That was the first time a New York City hospital had a venture in rooming-in (as it came to be called). Later, my other two children were born at Kaiser Hospital in Walnut Creek, California, where fathers were encouraged to be present at the birth and the nursery was next to the mother.
When our baby son Marc was six weeks old, we drove with him to Rangeley, Maine, for an international conference of Reichian doctors. Dr. Reich had requested we bring the baby so they could all have a look.
We couldn’t dream that just seven years later, Dr. Reich would die a prisoner in Lewisburg, PA, penitentiary, a victim of the FDA and the McCarthy fear campaign gripping the country.
In Dr. Reich’s book CHILDREN OF THE FUTURE, (published posthumously), we are the chapter titled, “Armoring in a Newborn Infant”. He has changed our names, our ages, reversed a few bits of information, but it’s our story.