protest sign with women reproductive system and flowers. Text on poster: Not your body, Not your choice.

They Don’t Make Bereavement Cards for This

AFTER

“Has the bleeding subsided at all?”

Doctor Ziegler has hair that probably used to be deep, deep brown but is now turning silver at the roots. She’s attempted to tie it back into a loose ponytail but there are several gray tendrils that curl around her cheekbones. Her face is void of makeup, save for a thin sweep of mascara and some medicated lip gloss. I can’t help but think she looks like my mom, except for her eyes. My mom has twin slate blue pools with a ring of gold around the iris, meanwhile Doctor Zielgler’s eyes look like tortoiseshells just beneath the surface, seawater meeting sunlight. Her scrubs are nondescript, simple and mauve. However, near where the diaphragm of her stethoscope meets her breast, she wears a small, homemade pin that reads: “PRO ROE”.

“No,” My voice comes out dusty so I clear my throat and readjust my body on the examination table, the paper beneath me crackles and tears a little, “I’m definitely still bleeding.

Whether it’s a lot or a little depends on the day.”

She nods, assuring me that this is normal while I collect the sheet that covers the lower half of my naked body. I fight the urge to look over where my jeans are folded neatly in a chair adjacent to the ultrasound machine. Last week he was sitting in that chair.

“It’ll stop soon, so will the cramping- are you still experiencing cramping?”

“Yes, not as bad as the first few days but, ya know, still.”

She pauses before asking the next question, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. I notice that she has three holes but only wears one pair of turquoise studs, “And mentally?”

“I’m sorry?”

“How is your mental health, Rachel?”

DURING

“Take a shower, it’ll make you feel better.” My mother says from the recliner where she is perched smoking a Camel Blue. She takes a long drag, flicking the centimeter long ash into a handmade ceramic ashtray from 2008.

“Can I have a drag?” I ask, angling my body toward her and reaching as far as I can until the dull pain in my pelvis becomes sharp and unbearable. I withdraw, my hands racing to my abdomen, a few tears escaping my eyes. My mom walks quickly to the kitchen, rooting around in the cupboard above the stove for a second before returning with an almost-empty container of Ibuprofen and her bottle of life water. I take the pills, she takes another drag. Mom hands me her cigarette, which I puff on a couple of times as she turns the temperature up on my heating pad. The burn hurts in a good way. My mom hands me the ashtray, I flick the ash absently. My mom goes back to her chair.

“Finish that and go shower, okay? The pain should settle a little in thirty minutes. I don’t know how to tell her that I don’t think this pain will ever really settle but I still nod and say alright.

I walk into the bathroom and lock the door behind me. Slowly, I take off the same sweatpants that I have worn for the past three days. Then my shirt. Goosebumps appear on my body and I am naked all except my yellow cotton underwear that are covered in daisies. I’m scared to take them off, so I don’t. I turn on the water, wait for it to turn warm, then hot, then for it to boil.

“How’s it going?” My mom calls, rapping her finger gently on the bathroom door.

“I’m, uh, nervous to take my underwear off.”

“You’ve just got to be quick okay?”

I take my underwear off, throwing the large menstrual pad into the garbage. Almost instantaneously thick, red blood rushes down my leg. I run to the shower. The blood keeps coming.

BEFORE

“Do you want me to drive you to Walgreens to pick that up?” Cole asks finally. He tried for a minute to get me to talk to him after we left the hospital, tried to hold my hand and told me not to cry. I was unresponsive, tucked my hands into my lap, stared out the window. I was determined not to speak with him, but I realize that I’m not sure how I would get the Cytotec otherwise.

“Yes please.”

I wait for him to offer to pay for it like he did the surgical procedure. He doesn’t. At the pharmacy drive thru, I pull out my crumpled barista tips and pay for the medication. The perky young pharmacist with a septum ring reminds me of what kind of medication this is and warns me about the symptoms.

“Yeah. I’ve got it. Thanks.”

Cole and I broke up three weeks ago, just two weeks after my grandmother died. His timing is impeccable. However, we’ve still managed to maintain a semi-normal relationship. But sitting in the car with the medication and the hospital paperwork between us, I can see that Cole currently has one foot on a banana peel and the other out the door. We’re never going to see each other after this moment. We’re never going to sleep in the same bed. We’re never going to walk around Flint Woods and watch the sun set. He’s never going to kiss me ever again or tell me he loves me. This loss sits heavy in my stomach and I feel like I could throw up. I don’t. We park at my apartment, I take my medication, and I don’t wait for the awkward goodbye. I wait until I’m safely in my bedroom to sink to the dirty, teal carpet and sob uncontrollably.

AFTER

“So you told him that you wanted to come back and hear the heartbeat– if there was a heartbeat?”

Doctor Ziegler asks this without judgment. She’s the first person who hasn’t looked at me with anger or sympathy. She just understands.

“Yeah. I- I told him that I wasn’t sure but I thought I wanted to keep it.”

She nods, “And that’s when he got upset.”

BEFORE

“You’re not taking my kid to Vermont.”

I feel like I can’t breathe, he’s been so calm until right now. Now Cole’s face is red and he’s itching to start yelling, only refraining because we’re still at the gynecologist.

“I- Cole, I-”

“And you won’t have my kid around your family. I don’t trust them. I won’t put another child through that.”

It feels like everything inside of me is on fire. I’m burning alive. I weep like a wounded animal, “Tell me what to do, Cole, I’ll do whatever you want. I’m sorry, just tell me what to do.”

He seethes, “It’s your choice.”

My body goes on autopilot. I walk to the door, opening it and signaling for the doctor before returning to the table.

“W-what are you doing?” he asks, his voice shaking.

Doctor Ziegler enters, giving me a wan smile, “How’s it going in here?”

“I want to take the pill. I don’t want to continue with the pregnancy.”

DURING

I’ve returned to my spot on the couch, my hair still wrapped in a towel. My mom has moved from her chair to the end of my couch. My feet have ended up in her lap, she absentmindedly rests her hands on them. We’ve been watching some Netflix documentary about an infertility doctor who impregnated dozens of women without their consent. Every once in a while she’ll turn to me and roll her eyes or squeeze my foot in a “this fuckin’ guy, ammirite?” way. Yeah, man, this fucking guy. Finally, she clears her throat. She doesn’t look at me, she’s still watching the television when she finally says something.

“I know that I can’t totally relate to you on this babe, but I do know from my own experiences that it won’t always hurt this bad. It gets easier over time.”

I switch positions, moving my head to my mom’s lap. Her hands begin to weave through my hair and goosebumps appear on my arms, “Mom, can I ask you something without sounding totally pathetic?”

“Yeah, punk.”

“Am I a bad person for wanting to keep it?”

Her fingers pause for a moment. Her voice comes out thicker than normal, “No, baby.

You’re not a bad person for wanting a family.”

“Cole says that I was being “terrifyingly idealistic”.”

“Yeah, well, Cole’s a piece of shit so.”

I don’t agree but I nod anyway. I will myself to believe that Cole’s a shitty person for not wanting a baby with me before he’s ready.

AFTER

“Can I ask a stupid question?”

Doctor Ziegler smiles, smoothing her hair again, “There’s no such thing. Go ahead.”

Ziegler has just finished up my exam, concluding that the pregnancy was successfully terminated, showing me on the ultrasound that where there was once a two-millimeter something there is now absolutely nothing, “Can I- I mean, uh, can I still have children? When I’m ready I

mean?”

She quickly nods, “Oh God, yes. Absolutely. That’s all in the paperwork that I’m going to give you today. While there is a slight chance that there can be complications with a suction aspiration abortion, inducing a miscarriage is much safer for your body and you should be able to conceive,” She takes my hand, “when you’re ready.”

I leave the hospital with a stack of paperwork, a new IUD, and some pretty severe abdominal pain. My body feels like it has just been through a war. I take my phone out of the back pocket of my jeans, I see a text from Cole: “How did the appointment go? Is everything all good now?”

I think about texting back. I think about calling him. I open my contacts, scroll through a long list of names all in alphabetical order before clicking on one and bringing the phone to my ear. It rings three times before the voice on the other end answers: “Hello?”

“Mom?” I say, “Yeah, hey. I’m okay.”

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Header image: Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

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