I drove up to the clinic in my friend’s silver Acura, my bottom half sliding back and forth across the slippery gray leather seats. Numb and nervous I noted the parking lot was seventy-five percent full. The cars in the parking lot were average, not that I know a lot about cars, but there were no Ferraris, no Lexuses. No colors that stuck out either, like a lime green convertible. Grey, white, and black cars, sedans mostly. The weather was cold and gray. No wind that Wednesday in Chicago.
The building was a faded yellow cement color and there was a barbed-wire fence covering the entire perimeter of the building. A small green sign on the front of the building, very difficult to see, said the name of the clinic, “Women’s Planning Medical Center.” I unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and walked inside, trying to keep my thoughts only on the task at hand. My friend and I walked into the empty waiting room. A lady checked me in.
My friend was with me because the father of the child had moved to a different city. He gave a half-hearted offer to be with me the day of the procedure. His reaction to the situation had been one of the worst parts of it. I wanted this child, he did not. He was cruel.
We had been broken up for a month when the child was conceived. We were brought together after the sudden, tragic death of a mutual friend. While we were in the throes of unimaginable grief, the child was conceived.
I had taken Plan B, per the instructions, but it did not work. I had taken several pregnancy tests because I was late, and they all said negative. Finally, I went to the doctor and had a blood test which was positive. I was just on the cusp of where I had to have a surgical procedure.
This seemed slightly comical or prophetic because years ago for Halloween I had dressed as Plan B and my ex had dressed as a one-night stand.
Despite his defiance in wanting anything to do with my pregnancy, my ex came with me to an ultrasound appointment. He had no reaction to the doctor handing him the picture of the fetus. His mind was made up. He ignored my incoherent sobbing. I made my final decision. When we left the clinic that day I felt broken.
On the day of my procedure, once my information needed was collected I was told to wait in the waiting room until my name was called, once I went back my friend would not be able to come with me. We sat down in orange plastic chairs with small circular holes in the back of them, not a word passing between the two of us. “Bethany”, who I assumed was a nurse, beckoned me into a back room.
I said goodbye to my friend.
She hugged me as if it were the end of a trip where we hadn’t seen each other in a long time and were not sure when we would see each other again. I told her I would call her when the procedure was over, and she walked out the glass doors in the front. I sat down in a chair across from a lady who began to ask my basic demographic and health questions. She took my payment of 500.00 dollars, I signed a consent form and agreed upon a follow-up appointment.
My thoughts and actions were on auto pilot. If I thought for one moment, I would have run out the door. To the farthest away place, I could find. I would sit somewhere, anywhere, and revel in the fact I was out of the depressing yellow cement-colored building. I would never need anything again from anyone, I could be destitute on the streets for the rest of my life, I could be beaten, again and again, starved, to not be in this place, right now.
Yet, if I ran away I would be with a child I knew I couldn’t care for.
I was led into a small exam room and told to take all of my clothing off and put on a hospital gown. I do not remember any sort of conversation about how I would get my clothing back. I just knew that I didn’t wear my clothing during the procedure, and I got it back somehow afterwards along with my other belongings.
I laid on the exam table waiting for the nurse or doctor to knock on the door. Fear had crept in, slowly, gripping the outer edges of my thoughts then sliding around the whole circumference of my brain, drip by drip my whole mind became saturated with the thought of fear and pure panic slowly began to settle in. A knock on the door and into the room entered a middle-aged woman.
Her manner was authoritative and slightly aggressive. She made me feel even more nervous about the choice I was making, maybe only because she asked me about the situation in which it happened and about my birth control use. The truth of my past was hard for me to process. I was shrouded in the here and now. The inescapable palpable presence of that cold exam room, the stiff yet almost transparent feel of the hospital gown, the walls, and the doors that were my chamber closing in on me with the ferocity of a straight jacket.
This was much different than what I imagined the experience to be for the individual experiencing it. When I took a friend one afternoon to have a procedure several years prior in Texas, it seemed like such a breeze. All I had to do was drop her off at the clinic and be conscious of my phone around the time she had said the procedure would be over, and I could pick her up.
When I picked her up later that afternoon, she seemed a little out of it and loopy, but together. I remember when I drove her out of the parking lot I had to fight a few people that were picketing in the parking lot. Nuns, priests, and a few other random middle-aged folks with signs throwing things (hard objects that seemed like rocks) at my car.
Everyone had a different way of judging or not judging her.
Her mom “How could you do this, I love you, but how could you make a choice to rid me of my grandchild…”
Her dad “ My moral compass on this issue is debatable, and I wish not to think of my daughter being in this situation. Period.
Her friends “We have all had one in some form.” It’s awful but a reality.
The baby’s dad, in this case, did not know. As mad as that may make you, it’s her truth.
Society. Some want to know nothing. Some fight against it. Some don’t even know what their options are.
When I had to make a decision I contacted several friends, ones that had children, ones that didn’t, ones that had abortions.
One of my friends who had a child said she would never say this to anyone else, but she would not have had her child had she known her options.
Some people think you will go to hell.
Maybe we can accept we don’t know anything other than our own experience, so why don’t we make it safe for people who have to do this? Individual women have been there, experienced it, and only they can say what that experience is like.
The worst feeling for me was facing this alone. The fear that people you love would judge me if they ever found out.
The staff judging me…
Colleagues I hope never to find out…
Strangers in the street, can they see the pain in my eyes?
My friend when I picked her up from the clinic, “Is this a dream or reality?”
My experience was mine to be had. This was the loneliest thing to discover. I am not sure why friends and family are not allowed back for the procedure. I cannot remember if they told me why. But I can think of a few logical reasons why.
1.) The possibility of someone not being supportive of the person getting the procedure
2.) A bad situation could be made worse
3.) Safety for staff and others receiving the procedure
4.) Confidentiality of other patients
After the nurse questioned me, I cannot remember the order of events. When in distress one can hardly remember these fleeting details.
A different nurse led me to the other waiting room.
On the way there she said, “Congratulations on your new life, your choices.”
I wondered if I’d go to hell. When I was little I feared hell more than anything, more than any awful car wreck, being sliced apart by a power tool, drowning in a cold river, dying alone in an apartment surrounded by other apartments full of people, being chased by an unknown thing that’s only objective is to kill you, never living in the first place, or losing your mind and sense of identity.
I walked into a long, narrow, cold, all encased sterile and steel-looking room. There were about fifteen hospital beds and three girls in the room. One girl was entirely passed out, so I couldn’t see her. Another girl was sitting upright on the bed with an IV in her arm. One woman was older than me and the other was much younger.
When I saw an older woman, I saw a projection of something that made me feel better about myself in some convoluted way. That these mistakes can happen at any age, to someone even older than I, made me feel better.
When I see the younger woman, I feel a deep sadness for the individual’s experience, but hope for the person and happiness that they had the chance to make the choice.
The most horrifying thing to me about seeing the others was the IV in their arm and the realization that I would soon have a needle in my arm, the first IV I ever had in my life. I am terrified of needles.
The IV was put in my arm. I saw a person come out of the surgical theater and they were entirely passed out and they looked dead. Finally, it was my turn. I was rolled into the surgical theater. It looked like a scene from a horror movie. The nurse said, “You will be ok” and then I was passed out, gone from the present state of consciousness into the dark.
I awoke, alive, my heart beating, my eyes open. I was given my clothes back. I was given my choices back. But I was also given an immense amount of emotions I had no idea what to do with. My friend came to pick me up. We did not say much on the ride home. I immediately went to sleep. I remember calling my mom to say it was over, she did not say much to me. My ex-wanted nothing to do with me, or my emotional breakdown after.
It would take years to navigate the emotions from this experience, wrangle with them, let them consume me, become numb to them, then finally find my balance, to accept and let this experience be a part of me, but not own me.
I wish someone had told me this, that the worse part would be after. Yet, nobody can tell a person, or a woman how to feel, what to feel, or what their experience is. I had to go through this to understand that fundamental truth about life.
We are all in this together, alone, breathing, until we no longer are. Yet, any ending that you get to choose, is your ending, regardless of how anybody feels about it.
About the Author
Jane Kirsling lives in Maine. You can find her work in Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Writespike, Medium, Random Rehab Centers, Academia.edu, and Quimby’s. She is currently working on her first novel, “Lunch With Dr. Loering” and drinks one cup of coffee a day while watching the sun rise.
Supporting Reproductive Rights
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