It was 1969. Atlanta Georgia.
The ER doctor leaned close and asked, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything to cause this?” Through my anesthesia, I mumbled no, but he knew I was lying. No one showed up with so much blood loss and a massive infection without having done something.
For months, I’d been in a fog. I’d missed two, maybe three periods, and when I finally walked into an ob-gyn’s office, I used my brother’s name saying I was married. “Girls who walk in off the street usually aren’t married. Are you sure you’re married?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, I’m sure.”
After he confirmed my pregnancy, I was engulfed in terror and confusion. I declined a second appointment.
I was living with a friend of my older sister, Donna and her husband, and when I told her my news, she said, “I was pregnant a couple of years ago. My boyfriend, at the time, set me up in an apartment, paid for everything, and I hid the pregnancy from my parents. I gave the child up for adoption.”
I’d recently lost my job at Southern Bell, so I didn’t have any money. I’d been homeless for a week before moving in with Donna. She offered to help but said I had to move because her husband wouldn’t allow me to stay in my condition.
I called the baby’s father, Lee. He was living at home finishing his is last year of high school and working part time, and he said, “I’ll find us an apartment.”
Since coming to Atlanta, I’d done many drugs, including LSD, and there was a controversy about the effects of the drug on the unborn. I’d seen a photo of children without arms and legs in The Saturday Evening Post with a caption that read: LSD babies. (Later I would learn the photo was of Thalidomide babies, but the Post didn’t care—it sold copies.) If carried to term, would my child be deformed? I couldn’t do that to an innocent life. Plus, Mama spent her teenage years in a convent steeped in Catholic guilt and bringing such shame to her was unthinkable. And I was the black sheep of the family, so there was no way I’d have a child out of wedlock. Abortion was illegal in Georgia, and I didn’t have the money to travel to New York or California. While waiting for Donna’s help, I moved in with Lee.
Donna drove me to a chiropractor in Chattanooga, where along with the invasion of my uterus with a rubber hose, I received a lecture about the finest rubber products. As we were leaving, he said, “I like to watch my patients for at least twenty-four hours in case anything goes wrong.” Donna had work in the morning, and besides, what could happen? We headed back to Atlanta.
Back at our apartment, I waited—the chiropractor hadn’t given me a clue as to what to expect. For the first twenty-four hours, I had mild cramping, but when the pains intensified, the blood flowed. Lee was worried and called Merry, a former roommate, who came to help. When she became frightened, she called one of her friends, a medical student at Emory, who came to assess the situation.
“She has an infection, and if she doesn’t miscarry before you take her to Grady, the doctors will try to save the baby. If she doesn’t miscarry soon, she’ll bleed to death. I’m going to take the fetus manually before you take her to the ER.” Weak and delirious, I couldn’t protest. When he finished, he showed me the corpse. One side of the body was black. Was it bruising from the insertion of the tube or some sort of deformity from the drugs I’d taken? Merry came in later, and said, “He’s dissecting the fetus.” I turned my face to the wall folding in on myself and curling into a ball, trying to drive the image from my mind.
Merry called Donna, who agreed to drive me to Grady Memorial Hospital. Since I was underage, the hospital had to call an adult before I could be treated. Donna called her father who told the hospital that he was my uncle and my parents lived in a rural town and didn’t have a phone. All lies.
While the doctor performed a D&C to remove the placenta, I groggily answered his questions. Then they moved me to a room to recuperate. A little later, the doctor walked in carrying a jar holding four large blood clots. “This is what was giving you such a stomachache. I’m going to keep you here for a while to make sure you are okay before I release you.” He didn’t admit me to the hospital, which would have triggered another call to my uncle. Six hours later, Donna took me to her apartment.
The next morning, I called my sister who came to Atlanta to bring me home to Savannah.
When we stopped for gas, my cat escaped. I caught her but didn’t notice my purse containing my antibiotics sitting on the ground outside the car. Back home, I made an appointment with my ob-gyn.
“What were you thinking? Were you trying to make sure you could never have children? Why didn’t you call me?” Dr. B asked. I was frightened and ashamed, and he was my mother’s friend. I couldn’t call. Along with a stubborn infection, I had a collapsed uterus, but I recovered.
People asked me if I made it to Woodstock, but I said no, I was recovering from being strung out. In a way, I was.
I never shared this story until 2014.
About the Author
Raised in the Deep South, Christine was born in 1950, a time when girls weren’t allowed to do squat, and she didn’t like being told that running the length of a basketball court was dangerous to her lady parts. She fled, first to California, and then to New York City, and along the way, she fell in love with singing opera, a strange pursuit for a working-class kid whose father was a rail welder. Her writing life began as long letters to her Mama, sometimes three a week, inconsistent journaling, and secretive thoughts tucked on pages of art paper. The South sucked her back — first to Georgia, then Tennessee. Now she’s mining her memories — fodder for a memoir, poems, and essays. In 2021, my poem Interior Design won the Gold Medal Prize in the Single Poem category of the William Faulkner—William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, my memoir Diary of a (Recovering) Doormat was short-listed, and my two essays My Southern Daddy and Mother were finalists. In the 2020 competition, my poem For Leonard was short-listed, and my essays White Dress and Reality: A Field Guide were finalists. o Medium: https://christinepoythress.medium.com/ o Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/christinepoythress/ o Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/poythress o Twitter: https://twitter.com/poythress_c o Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQo6krkXVc8NLXk7MKWAuHg o Personal webpage: www.christinepoythress.com o IMDb: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4433420/
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.
- Reach out to your representatives on the federal, state, and local levels and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that protects reproductive rights including abortion access.
- Donate to organizations committed to protecting access to safe and legal abortions. This writer recommended Planned Parenthood for the work they are doing to ensure access.