*Disclaimer: the below represents the personal opinion, view or experience, of the author, and can not reflect elephant journal as a whole.
When I was in my mid-twenties, fresh out of grad school, and in an unfortunate marriage that I knew would soon end, I found myself pregnant.
There was no question in my mind that I would be unable to keep the child. I was about to embark on a career as a writer…most likely alone. The following is an essay that I wrote the day of my abortion. It began as phrases that sang like choruses in my mind as I lay in bed, wracked with pain and guilt. It ended with this piece, which is neither a pro-choice anthem nor an admission of regret. Rather, it is an honest account of my experiences before, during, and after a life-altering event.
Somebody who should have been born
Yes, woman, such logic will lead
to loss without death. Or say what you meant,
you coward…this baby that I bleed. ~ Anne Sexton, “The Abortion”
Five hours of waiting, bleeding into vials, and signing waivers has brought us here. They have readied the U-shaped formation of eight, brown leatherette recliners for us. Square absorbent pads cover each seat. Eight of us rest in pink paper dresses, cotton blankets thrown over our legs.
Our paper-bootied feet are elevated, twitching. Some of us have hot water bottles pressed to our throbbing abdomens. Some eyes closed. Some mouths open—things going into or coming out of them depending on how strong our stomachs are. But our stomachs aren’t the problem. Beneath there, between two pointed pelvic bones, we are on fire.
Wrenched, suctioned, drained. Draining.
And, god, we hurt.
Earlier, we’d stayed upbeat. Kept everything as normal as possible. Like going to the dentist, my mother offered the night before. We handed over our urine samples with the same non-chalance as handing over insurance forms.
Then they started hurting us.
One by one, two vials of blood were drained from our arms; each of us returned to the waiting room with foreboding cotton balls taped to our inner elbows. We started getting nervous. Not visibly. Verbally. We began talking. Compared the most intimate of pregnancy maladies we’d suffered over the last eight weeks.
The gorier, the better. We spat it all out.
They called us into the counselling room. There we learned what would happen to our bodies and when. After the cervical injection of what was like Novocain, and before the manual dilation of the cervix, was the last moment we could stop the procedure. A pardon. A stay where you are. We were told to remain still during the procedure or be punctured by the instruments (there were plastic replicas of them that we could touch, if we wanted). We signed waivers to protect the clinic against malpractice. We received paper cups of sweet tea and were sent back to the waiting room.
Then pairs of us were escorted to the back by a sweet-faced nurse in a Superman T-shirt and pink medical fatigues. Soon there were only two of us left: a queasy African-American woman and me. Looking out the window at the city morning business going on without us, she told me that, at thirty-four, she was “too old for this shit.”
We took “this shit” to mean pregnancy and child-rearing.
But she could have meant she was too old to have made a mistake usually reserved for horny teenagers, not women like us: married, educated, smart. When they called her name, she jumped up with her bag of maxi pads and fresh underwear—which we were all requested to bring—and shouted, “Yes, Ma’am!” as though she’d just won a door prize.
Now we are together again. The Waiting Room Club has reunited in The Recovery Room. My friend sits across from me, her head bobbing, caught up in her own agony. She looks like we all do: Drained of life. She mouths to me as the aide takes my blood pressure,You all right?
I have just been helped into my recliner. I am in blinding pain, as though my bowels have been ripped out from between my legs (which, in effect, they have been). I can only half-smile at her, do something in the air with my free hand.
The aide takes my blood pressure. We both watch the mercury struggle up. The aide looks at me. Takes it again. Hurries away.
Our faces are empty, heavy arms reaching up now and then for a paper cup of hot tea, bringing slow sugar cookies and goldfish crackers to our mouths, thinking: Can I keep this down?
One girl can’t. Doesn’t. The rest of us see it coming: she hiccups, jolts forward, reaching for the oncoming kidney dish. But it’s too late. She fills most of her lap before the series of metal dishes the nurse doles out to her. We all grit our teeth and pretend to read the obligatory birth control literature that’s just been dispensed to us.
I wonder why anyone—specifically the cheerful volunteer with long brown hair and delicate nose ring—would want to give up a beautiful afternoon to watch over a bunch of women hurting, forever changed.
Were we changed?
These are the same women who were laughing it up in the waiting room not an hour earlier. But their silence is not mourning; it is physical pain. That kind of pain will go, sooner or later. And for some overpowering reason I want it to be sooner. The brown-haired volunteer crouches down, asks if she can do anything for me.
“A foot massage would be good.” Some women crack a dry smile. “Sorry. Thought this was The Plaza.”
The nurses laugh nervously and look at each other, then at me. This reclining stand-up comedienne in a paper dress, half sick with her own bleeding and sorrow. But that’s the power of comedy; they don’t have to know the truth.
The volunteer’s smile fades. “Well, try to eat something. Your blood pressure is very low.”
How unified we women are in our undoneness. All social etiquette lost at some point during the five-minute procedure. There is no energy left to be ashamed of our blood tainting the absorbent seat pads, the backs of our gowns. There is no shame in openly moaning, no shame in retching as though we were in the privacy of our own bathrooms.
Alone in the 7 x 10 room with the doctor between our legs and a counselor at our heads, we had just seen future lives sucked from us through plastic tubes into an oversized pickle jar that was politely covered with the same pink paper crumpled around our bodies. What absurd luxury was privacy now? We experienced all this, that is, only if we chose to notice. I imagine some of these women kept their eyes shut. Mine were wide open. I wanted it all.
I watched the vacuum tube fill with blood before it became too painful to concentrate. When the hot and deep waves of damage began, I removed my casually-placed hand from its folded mate on my torso and let it grip the side of the table during the tugging, the tugging, the loss. I thought: That thing is me; my child is shooting through plastic tubes.
I rolled my head toward the counselor. “This is sort of uncomfortable,” I said. As though I were commenting on a Jell-O salad at a picnic.
Afterward, the doctor slipped off her plastic gloves. “You were good,” she said. “Barely moved at all.” This made me strangely proud. A gold star for following directions.
I watch the clock in The Recovery Room.
Ten minutes ago I was pregnant.
I think about the life I have just had removed from the safety of its first home as though it were a tonsil or a splinter. I never asked for it to need me so much. Still, what hurts most won’t be the following days of cramping. It is that I don’t know what happened to my child-to-have-been.
It seems to me there should be some burial, some remembrance. I picture my blood, the fetal tissue, being merged with the other women’s blood, tissue. All of it in a singular, tightly-sealed drum, buried out back like toxic waste. At least I’d know my life isn’t floating in some city cesspool or bottled, buried, dumped—lost.
There was something about its sweet, uninvited neediness. Its first consciousness—to live…here. As I ate, I wondered of its approval. As I drove to work, I wondered would it feel the routine of my path. I hoped, when I talked of its termination, that it did not understand. But I know there is deeper communication than words. The body speaks to itself, its parts, its passengers.
When I am done bleeding this baby out, I will have truly lost it. This is sadder than any separation I’ve known. I have killed a part of myself and not only the obvious part. I made a choice that, believe it, I do not regret. This does not, however, absolve me. Us.
Why aren’t all these women sobbing?
Anger is okay. Pain is the norm. But sadness would be alien.
There was time enough for that before. They call it The Recovery Room but I don’t know what we’re expected to recover. I look at the women’s faces. I know what we have done. Know how we suffer, will suffer, in our own ways.
I love these women who I do not really know. And I love all we have given up. What I fear is that they will not mourn. Not for themselves; for the lives we’ve chosen to end. It is true that choice is vital to freedom. But with that freedom comes the obligation to be awake, experience the blessings and sorrows of what was chosen as well as what was not chosen. That is where freedom is. And sometimes it is painful to be free.
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Editor: Renée Picard
Images: courtesy of the author