“You will have to get an abortion!” Doris announced as if she were reading a fortune pulled from a broken cookie. I looked at Craig who sat beside me on the sofa, lightly holding my hand and taking in his mother’s words.
Doris was an uncommonly liberal woman for her generation. My future mother-in-law had high ideals and raised her five boys to be conscientious. After her college-aged eldest was killed in a motorcycle accident, and following her divorce, the boys built her a log cabin on the farm, felling the trees themselves, while supporting each other above all else. Doris was proud of her sons’ accomplishments and in no way shy about sharing the trials of her life.
Sitting on her worn, quilt-draped armchair in her cabin, she had told us stories of emotional abuse by her mother, and once she married, of undergoing illegal abortions between the planned boys. Coming from an uptight Catholic family, I knew no one who had admitted to having an abortion until I met Doris.
It took ages for me to meet her. After we fell in love, Craig prepped me as well as he could before he introduced me to a woman whose opinions were as strong as her voice was loud, whose affection needed to be won. Doris’ no-nonsense, unromantic, “back alley” facility with family planning gave me the push to make the hardest decision of my life that cold afternoon.
page after page
eyeglasses slide down
a shared story
In 1974 I was twelve, living with my family in yet another rented home in Connecticut. Craig was eighteen and in his first year at the University of Virginia when we both encountered the same edition of a book on hand-hewn hippie homes. Whenever I babysat for the Tragers, I cozied up with its full-page photos of structures made with bits and pieces. The Tragers’ own chic house was graced with high-end books and artwork where every brush stroke was visible.
As the Tragers didn’t go for curtains or shades, the bare living room windows felt unsettling at night after I put the kids to sleep. Can anyone see me? I wondered, sinking deeper into a sofa. Down in Charlottesville, Craig encountered the hippie house book at a neighbor’s. A notorious bookworm, he pulled it onto his lap whenever he visited.
The hippie house book caught me at a time when I fantasized about adulthood, far away from my nomadic family, and settled in a home of my own. It would reflect who I was: a poet, or, at least, a creative, chronic daydreamer. The impression that book made on me re-emerged when I met Craig some fifteen years later. I felt he embodied its flavor: a quirky, part-time gardener with a law degree, he was good with his hands. Our fate was sealed early on when he mentioned that book being the inspiration for wanting to build his own place on pastureland at his mother’s farm. Would I join him? I said yes.
a four-poster bed
of unfinished trees—
We were engaged because we wanted to build a home and start a family. We were casual with birth control because we were engaged; there was an understanding Craig and I would bring a baby into our lives at some distant time once our cottage was built. And after he had a full-time job. No doubt we felt infallible, because shortly after our engagement, when we were at the height of our entanglement with each other, our bodies so in sync, my period turned into an ellipsis…
I thought it odd that for a college town, there was only one abortion doctor, and Planned Parenthood made my referral. The nurse giving me the consultation at Dr. Kirby’s office said that I had time to change my mind. They purposely spaced consultations and procedures with the doctor with two days in between. It was a strange set of appointments to request off from work, in fact, my supervisor Elizabeth was the only person outside of Craig and Doris who knew I was going to end my pregnancy. She was a new mom herself; when I sat with her in her office, Elizabeth’s face grew deeply concerned as if she struggled to make sense of why a newly engaged woman wouldn’t bring her child into being.
“You don’t have to answer, Melanie, but I have to ask. Is this Craig’s baby?”
I was slightly offended. “Of course. It just isn’t the right time.”
“Well,” she said, swiveling away as she moved her pen in graceful loops across her calendar. “You know best. Please take all the time off you need. I just hope—you’ll be okay.”
Craig was silent as we pulled up outside Dr. Kirby’s bland, orange brick clinic for the procedure. Of course, there was no counseling session offered for guys, and his reluctance to discuss any feelings increased the loneliness of my mission. Anyone would have thought he was dropping me off for a dental cleaning.
Once inside, I was given a dose of Valium and was led to rest in a room filled with recliners. Being sedated, I recall little of the procedure except that I watched Dr. Kirby’s assistant’s heavily made-up face shift from a bored expression, as she gazed between my elevated legs, to one of controlled surprise. Afterwards, I was brought back to the recliner room to recover and elevate my legs to avoid cramping. As I settled in, I overheard a teenager whose procedure was minutes before mine whisper to the nurse, “Tell me, was it a boy or a girl?”
During my follow up appointment I learned Dr. Kirby reported that I was more likely ten weeks along rather than the six weeks estimated by Planned Parenthood. Maybe that explained the assistant’s surprised look, or perhaps it was just her way of forcing open tired eyes. I understood the fetus was one and a half inches long, no bigger than my thumbprint. Staring at my hands folded on my lap, I noticed how my right thumb was just a tiny bit wider than my left.
During the months following my procedure, I returned to taking birth control pills and I moved to Doris’ farm to start planning our cottage. Before we were to create any kind of living or inert representation of ourselves, Craig and I hunkered down in a cold, funky mobile home that Doris bought us for seven hundred dollars. I drew the plans for our south facing cottage with one bedroom. Open living area. Large, bare windows. No nursery, no place to play.
At work, my co-worker Callie and I were discussing our upcoming weekend plans, how things were going with her cute, new boyfriend. “Things are okay,” she said. But on Monday she was taking off for a doctor’s appointment and another one two days later with a Dr. Kirby. Her eyes were fixed on the window.
“Oh. Right,” I said, not letting on that I knew who Dr. Kirby was, not letting on that for the past several months. I wondered how it would feel to be six, seven, nine months pregnant? Now August, suddenly the only thing to do was close the door to a dark, empty office, lie on the cool floor, and cry it out.
all we learn inside
About the Author
Writer and psychic artist Melanie Alberts works at the University of Texas at Austin. Her work has appeared/is forthcoming in Big Bend Literary Journal, Stardust Haiku, Prune Juice Journal, Sleet Magazine, Failed Haiku, Drifting Sands, Cold Moon Journal, Texas Poetry Assignment, Ransom Center Magazine, Borderlands, bottle rockets, and others. Follow Melanie on Instagram @clair.circles.spirit.art and on Twitter @NaturalMedium
Supporting Reproductive Rights
This is a critical time in our fight to preserve access to abortion and reproductive healthcare. We believe that every action counts. Here are three things you can do.
- Fight stigmatization by sharing your story and/or supporting people who have shared their stories. Supportive comments and likes make a big difference to the people who have chosen to share their personal experiences.
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- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas for the work they are doing to fight for reproductive rights.