Trigger Warning for abortion (at times graphic) imagery. Part 1 can be found here.
When I left the waiting room I didn’t come back until it was all over. The first thing they had me do was pay, five hundred dollars. Then I peed into a cup and they ushered me into an exam room. A nurse came in after about twenty minutes and told me that I didn’t have chlamydia or gonorrhea. She said that they wouldn’t have been able to do the procedure it if I did because of the risk of infection. She took my blood pressure and my temperature and told me to undress. She left and another nurse came in to perform the ultrasound. They do the ultrasound to determine how far along you are because that affects how the procedure goes. I laid down on the exam table and put my legs in the stir-ups. They don’t do the kind of ultrasound where they put jelly on your stomach like on TV, it was an internal devise. She said it’s so they can get a more accurate picture.
“You are six weeks and five days along,” the nurse said, pulling the ultrasound wand out of me.
“You can tell that exactly?” The wonders of science.
“Yes,” she said without emotion. They are all business at the Planned Parenthood and that is why I like them. “Do you want to keep the picture?”
“Um, sure, I guess.” I still have the ultrasound picture, buried in a drawer with the framed picture of Matt that I used to have in my room. It was a gray square with a small gray oval. The oval had two little circles in it, making it look like a peapod. I wasn’t expecting to feel anything when I saw it but my heart sank when I saw the little peapod on the piece of paper.
The nurse explained how the procedure would work and the aftercare involved. She told me to get dressed and go to a room at the end of the hall to speak to another nurse about birth control. That nurse gave me a painkiller and explained the importance of not getting pregnant again right after the abortion. She asked if I wanted to have two free morning after pills or one month of the pill. I chose the later and she brought me to another room to wait for the painkiller to kick in.
The room had four other girls already waiting; I chose the chair closest to the door. The girl sitting across from me had a large frame and a huge mass of thick, curly black hair. She was wearing a striped sweater and was holding several pieces of paper in her hand. The girl sitting two seats away from her was very pale and had her knees pulled up to her chest. She couldn’t have been older than fourteen. The third girl, sitting against the wall opposing the door, was looking at me so I did not look at her. The girl had very red hair and was flipping through a women’s magazine that she must have brought herself. There were no other reading materials in the room.
The walls of the room were adorned with posters in English and Spanish about teen health clinic hours and birth control workshops. I read the posters in an attempt to pass time, wishing that I had the magazines that were out in the waiting room with Matt. The different types of birth control were briefly explained and illustrated by a smiling cartoon woman. A woman who did not have to worry about coming to this room because she takes the pill or has an IUD.
“A little late for birth control information, huh?” said the girl who was looking at me. I smiled and shook my head.
“Like that stuff even works,” said the girl sitting across from me. “This is my fourth pregnancy and I’ve been on the pill since I was fifteen.”
“Really?” the pale girl said, uncurling her body.
“Yeah, my man must have magic sperm or something.” Everyone laughed and I felt a little of the tension that had been in my shoulders for weeks relax. The girl put the papers that she was holding down on the chair next to her and I could see that they were ultrasounds.
A nurse appeared in the doorway and motioned to the girl sitting next to me reading the magazine. She got up and followed the nurse out of the room. There was no clock in the room, no way to tell how long I had been there. My cell phone was in my purse in the waiting room and none of the other girls had anything with them.
Another girl was ushered into the room and the conversation stopped. I leaned my head up against the wall and counted the days. Six weeks and five days ago. I needed a calendar.
Another girl came into the room and the girl with the ultrasounds was called out. I wanted to know how much time had passed. It felt like time was going slower and slower until the seconds crept by like days. I wanted to walk out of the room and pretend none of it was real. Another girl left the room and another came in. She sat down in the seat directly next to mine. She looked over at me a couple times and I looked away. I slumped down in my seat, uncomfortable after sitting in the folding chair for so long. A nurse appeared in the door and looked at me. I looked up at her and she didn’t say anything for a moment. My arms and legs went numb and I could feel sweat starting to form around my hairline. “We’re ready for you now.”
I followed her to yet another exam room and she told me to undress. I sat down in the thin, paper hospital gown they gave me and stared at a calendar on the wall. I’m glad they had a calendar, I guess I wasn’t the only girl who wanted to count the days since conception while they waited for it all to end. There was a radio playing unfamiliar soft rock songs. I couldn’t feel the painkiller and that worried me.
I maintained my composure until the song “What’s Love Got to Do with It” by Tina Turner came on the radio. My eyes started burning and a lump rose in my throat. What does love have to do with this? I thought and a couple tears escaped my eyes. There was no love in that room. I was alone.
After what felt like an eternity, two nurses came in and started setting up the equipment for the procedure. They asked me how I felt and I told them that I didn’t think the painkiller was working. The looked and each other but didn’t say anything. The had me lie down and the doctor came into the room.
They put my feet into the stir-ups and I started to sweat and shake. One of the nurses, a large Mexican man with effeminate mannerisms stood next to me and the other shut off the lights in the room, except for a large bright spotlight aimed at my spread legs. My breathing got shallow and I asked the nurse next to me if I could hold his hand.
“Sure, hon, now don’t forget to breath.” I gripped his hand tight but felt like I couldn’t get a breath. I’ve heard many other women talk about the noise the machine makes, and how scary that was for them. I don’t remember the sound the machine made, just the unfamiliar soft rock songs playing in the background. It hurt, it hurt a lot. I tried to breath and I dug my fingernails into the nurse’s hand but I couldn’t catch my breath. I started to hyperventilate and they stopped the procedure. The nurse put his face close to mine and told me to open my eyes. I did but all I could see was a dark shadow of a face and I could hear the music and everything was swirling around me. “Only four more minutes, ok? Only four more minutes.” I nodded and looked back at the ceiling. I tried to imagine that I was lying on a beach listening to the ocean, like how I do when I’m at the dentist, but I wasn’t lying on a beach. I was lying on my back in East Oakland having a baby I didn’t want vacuumed out of me while I listened to soft rock.
I did love the baby despite my best efforts not too. I never doubted that getting an abortion was the best thing to do, but it was inside of me. It affected my body and I could feel it and I was attached to it. I came to understand why women who were unsure about what to do would keep the baby even if it wasn’t practical. I never regretted my decision, not even for a moment, but I felt a tremendous sense of loss.
After the procedure was over they turned the lights back on and there was a flurry of activity. The doctor left right away and the male nurse kept holding my hand while the other nurse took my feet out of the stir-ups and cleaned up. “Don’t sit up yet.” He gave me a reassuring smile and I started to cry. I laid on the table and cried for awhile and then the male nurse had to leave and the other nurse told me to get dressed. I sat up slowing, sobbing, and started to gingerly put my clothes back on.
“Are you sure this is what you wanted to do?” I looked at her and thought Well, it’s a little late now. I tried to calm down and was able to turn my sobs into desperate breaths and hiccups. As we walked out of the room I glanced into the trashcan by the door and it was filled with bloody paper towels. That her, in a trash I thought and my body went numb. The nurse lead me to another room that had a row of lounge chairs separated by curtains. She gave me a glass of water and some tasteless cookies.
There were other girls in the other lounge chairs but I couldn’t see them. I could hear them talking to nurses, and they didn’t seem as upset as I was. Maybe they were and were just better at swallowing their grief. I closed my eyes and concentrated on my breaths, evening them out. I was covered with a thin layer of sticky sweat and I wish Matt was with me. But they didn’t let visitors into the medical areas.
Another nurse that I had not yet seen came over to me and asked how I felt. I don’t remember what I said, but she seemed satisfied with my response. She gave me a painkiller and an antibiotic to take later in the day and walked me out to the waiting room. I scanned the chairs that lined the wall but I didn’t see Matt. My pulse quickened and I went outside to the wide mall-like corridor that connected the different offices. I saw Matt sitting on a bench, bent over with his head resting on a cup of coffee.
“Hey, I’m sorry, I couldn’t handle sitting in there,” he said when I approached him. “That took a long time.”
“Yeah, I was sitting around back there for awhile.” We looked at each other and felt the weight of the day.
When we got into the car he asked if they would be billing me. I told him that I had already paid, that it was the first thing they had me do.
“I thought that’s why I came,” he said tersely. He fumbled in his pockets and pulled out a handful of one hundred dollar bills. We had already agreed to split the costs. “How much was it?”
“Five hundred.” I think I was almost whispering. He handed me three bills and started the car.
“Don’t worry about the change.” His voice had softened but he didn’t look at me. I wished I had brought a friend instead of him- a woman- someone who would have been gentler with me.
He stayed with me for the rest of the day, working from his computer and smoking weed with me. I sat on the couch and watched game shows on TV. At the time I thought that it was nice of him to stay with me. Later I came to resent the fact that he sat across the room instead of holding me and telling me it was going to be better. Megan was right, they don’t hold you if they aren’t your boyfriend. When Matt left that evening I gave him a long hug but he didn’t hug me back. He kept his arms down and tensed up.
Megan came over to see me that night and that’s when I started to feel better about the whole ordeal. She made me laugh and brought me chicken soup. She was there for me more than anyone else during all of it. I talked about it with her everyday for two months, from when I started to worry that I might be pregnant to when the hormones finally died down a few weeks later. Megan is not one to talk about feelings but she did for me and I wouldn’t have been able to handle the situation without her.
The next night my dad was in town and we met up at an upscale restaurant in San Francisco for dinner. I wanted to tell him what had happened the day before but I didn’t because that’s not the type of stuff I talk about with my dad. Instead I guzzled expensive wine and we, ironically, talked about strange medical procedures we had had before. I wanted to tell him about the waiting room with the other girls and the soft rock and the big, effeminate, Mexican male nurse who held my hand, because it was all so strange and funny in a way. But I didn’t because it would have just made us both feel awkward. When I hugged him good bye I gripped him tightly. It felt good to be held by someone who loved me, even for a moment.
I thought the worst was over but I was wrong. I wasn’t expecting the sense of loss I felt after the abortion. A few days after the procedure I flew home to the East Coast to visit my family before the summer term started at school. My mom knew what was going on and she was so supportive. She had an abortion when she was thirty and she didn’t tell anyone and she said that it was awful. That she would never want me to deal with it alone.
A day or two after I got there I lost it. I started hysterically crying, curled up in my mom’s lap like I was a little girl. Asking why, why, why over and over again. I shook and I couldn’t breath and I was pouring sweat. My mom stoked my hair and said, “Let it out, baby girl, let it out.” I cried like that for a long time, maybe an hour or so, before I got quiet. My breathing evened out, though it was still shallow, and I stopped shaking so violently. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re not alone.” And she was right, I wasn’t alone. I had my mom, my sister, and Megan, but I didn’t have Matt and I resented that for a long time. But he wasn’t my boyfriend so he didn’t have to deal with this part of the whole thing. He gave me a ride and three hundred dollars and that was all I was supposed to expect.
Looking back I can see how much he struggled with the whole ordeal. He started binging on alcohol and drugs and stopped hanging out with our friends as much. I think he was ashamed. He stopped drinking a year later, after got he arrested for driving drunk in an unregistered car. I would see him at meetings and we would talk about the program or our lives but never about the abortion. We never talked about it again.