March 2, 2021, marked the 50-year anniversary of my family’s arrival to the United States. We had just spent seven long months in a refugee camp in Trieste, Italy, having escaped from Czechoslovakia following the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of the country. My father was hospitalized on August 20, when the tanks rolled through the streets of our town. I remember him with tears in his eyes when we visited and he told me the tanks were firing at a national monument in Prague to quell the meager resistance that unarmed civilians put up. I experienced real fear for the first time. My father was a rock; I had never seen him so emotional.
My parents both held high-level jobs, which required mandatory membership in the Communist Party. Following the invasion, they both resigned in protest. Our teachers told my sister and I that we could not go on in more advanced schooling despite the fact that we would have otherwise qualified. She wanted to become a professor of linguistics, and I had aspired to become a physician since I was 10. We were devastated to have our dreams shattered. Despite the potential risks and the possibility of leaving extended family members, friends, and the life they knew behind, perhaps never to come back, our parents began planning an escape. In July of 1970, we left the country and became political refugees.
When we arrived in the United States, I submerged myself in the culture, learning the language and working diligently to pursue the goal of becoming a physician. I reasoned that this country was allowing me to pursue opportunities the country of my birth would not and that my parents had made a tremendous sacrifice to allow me to have a future of my own choosing. It was not an easy road for any of us, and I cannot tell you how many people—including neighbors, our parents’ coworkers, friends, and friends of friends—stepped up to help us build a new life. With all of that community support, my family achieved our goals: My parents worked their way up from entry-level positions. My sister completed her doctorate in linguistics and became a systems analyst. I, with the guidance of many mentors, have been fortunate to pursue a career I love.
This year, I have had the fantastic opportunity to work with Immediate Past President Ted L. Anderson, MD; President-Elect J. Martin Tucker, MD; ACOG CEO Maureen G. Phipps, MD, MPH, FACOG; and ACOG’s executive board and staff to serve our members and the patients we care for. I believe that the impact of our work on the health of our patients and the economic viability of our profession will be long lasting, and am very proud of our achievements. I could not have hoped for more.
History shapes women, and in turn, women shape history. I am who I am today because of my past. This Women’s History Month, take the time to learn and understand the history of the women around you. Appreciate what the women you know overcame to become who they are—and recognize that you are experiencing history in the making as the women of today build our tomorrow.
P.S. August 20 now has a different connotation for me: it is my second daughter’s birthday. Sometimes, life offers rewarding paybacks.