Victim, Perpetrator, Negotiator

I stood across the street from a Texas drug store, staring lazily at the glass doors that would lead me to fluorescent aisles.  I was a few blocks from where my brother’s fiancé and the ladies attending her bachelorette party were thumbing through lingerie and hot pink sex toys.  I sighed, hot and needing to pee.  “Maybe I should just take a test so that I can enjoy drinking tonight,” I mused to my sister.

“Yeah,” she nodded.

Pregnancy test boasting 99.9% accuracy in my overstuffed purse, I rushed up the steps of the house we had rented for our weekend of fun.  I pulled down my pants with fervor and ripped open the packaging of the $14 test.  “Fourteen dollars,” I had moaned when I saw the price tag, reminding myself that I was clearly in no position to have a baby if I could barely stomach the idea of losing an extra fifteen bucks.  My bright red toes pressed down onto the cold, clean tiles, and I placed the stick under my urine stream.  Sweet relief.  I glanced down, waiting to be relieved of my concern.  A tiny, red, and maddeningly indifferent plus sign appeared almost immediately.  I stared, my hands beginning to tremble.  “Oh my god. Ohmygodohmygod,” I repeated out loud.  Sharp, rapid sobs rose from deep within my gut, forced out along with streams of snot and mascara.  I could not believe it, and yet, I knew it was true.  Everything suddenly made sense.  The exhaustion.  Sore breasts.  Dreams of babies and incarcerated parents.

I have been vehemently pro-choice my entire life, both politically and personally.  I probably have higher blood pressure from the heated arguments I have gotten into in the name of defending a woman’s right to choose.  Throughout my 20s, I would say (with the hubris typical of a progressive 20-something year-old) things like “If I got pregnant, I would definitely have an abortion.”  But now I was 30.  I had been to grad school. I had a good job, and I loved the person who had gotten me pregnant.  Yet it was still completely wrong.  I had just started a new job and had no health insurance. Three months ago, I broke up with said person I loved.  I had a grand total of $300 in my savings account.  I was planning on dancing and flirting and drinking whisky tonight and tomorrow night and the night after that for gods sake.

The next few weeks felt like I left my body while simultaneously being trapped within it; no solace in anything.  I fought back tears alone in my office.  I fought back throwing up on the train on my way to work.  I stared, almost pathologically, at pregnant women and mothers, checking to see if they were married, biting my tongue to keep from asking inappropriate questions.  “Excuse me, were your pregnancies planned?  Do you have a man?  Does he support you?  Were you depressed when you were pregnant? EVER HAD AN ABORTION??!!!”  I had no desire to do anything I once enjoyed.  I came straight home from work and repeatedly fell sound asleep in all of my clothes, drooling on myself.  Each night I pathetically washed a single pair of underwear in my bathroom sink, unable to muster the energy to do my laundry.  I suddenly felt ridiculous for believing that abortion could ever be easy. Conflicting with my politically educated mind, my heart was attached and maternal.  I felt love.  A desperate desire to do no harm, while knowing I must.  I attempted to curtail the inclination to communicate with the growing embryo inside of me, not wanting to create another vinculum between us.  I smiled and acted interested when people spoke to me, acutely aware of the running commentary in mind: I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant. I had agonizing conversations with the potential father over whether or not we could function as a couple again.  The conclusion was a resounding and depressing, hell no.  I felt alone. It was my body and no one else’s that was under siege; I had no choice but to act as victim, perpetrator, and negotiator.

I called Planned Parenthood.  The call was almost as unplanned as the pregnancy; I never realized quite when I had made the decision.  I began to weep as I told the woman my reason for calling, terrified of the impending appointment.  She responded to my trembling voice, “If you’re a teenager, you have the right to-”

“I’m thirty,” I interrupted her, embarrassed.  “Thirty years old.”

A week later I sat at Planned Parenthood, resigned that it was the best of my shitty options.  I spent hours in the waiting room desperately searching for women’s stories.  Please let there be someone just like me.  Most that I found had been viciously slandered.  Baby killer. You should have your tubes tied.

My frantic abortion-story-google-search binge was finally interrupted and I was brought into a tiny room for an ultrasound.  A short Russian woman who must work part-time doing bikini waxes escorted me in. “Pull pants down around ankles,” she instructed, without glancing in my direction.  “Shoes on.”

“Um…oh, okay. Like, don’t take them off?”

“Yes,” she snapped, swatting the spot where I needed to sit on the table.  I half expected her to look up at me and say, “You not pregnant.  Psychosomatic,” and then laugh maniacally.  I was 6 weeks and 5 days.

After watching two movies in the waiting room, I met with a counselor.  She did not try and make me feel better.  She did not rush me along.  She let me explain how I had made my choice, and gently offered me tissues as my tears flowed freely. I wanted to hug her, thank her for existing.

Alone again, I changed into a stained gown and placed my belongings in a plastic bag with my name on it.  I stared at myself in the mirror that hung on the dingy wall and looked into my green eyes.  I took a deep breath.  This is an act of love.

I cried harder than ever before as I lay on the table.  I howled like an animal, gasping for air, my body threatening to hyperventilate.  The doctor who would be performing the procedure had yet to turn around and look at me.  I needed to see her face. I needed faith that she wanted me to be okay.  The nurse insisted that I move down on the table, coaxing my legs to open wider.  I fought to keep them closed.  The doctor finally turned and walked towards me, placing a hand on my knee. “Honey are you sure about your decision?” she asked.  She was young and pretty.  I wanted to know her story.  “Yes,” I sobbed.  She nodded towards the anesthesiologist, who began IV preparations.  “We’re going to take good care of you,” he told me.  I have never felt so vulnerable in my life.  He put his hand on my forehead, and the doctor instructed me to slow my breathing.  I thought of the thousands of women before me who had done this, of the thousands of women who would come after me.  I thought of my own mom, who only after knowing what I was going through had shared with me that she, too, had once made this painful decision.  An uncomfortable wave of what felt like poison washed over my body.  “I feel really weird,” I said out loud, to no one in particular.   “It’s okay,” a voice responded.  “It’s the anesthesia.”

When I awoke, I was one woman in a string of occupied gurneys.  We nodded at one another, an unspoken camaraderie, all part of a tragic yet empowering sisterhood.   I let my head limply drop back onto the pillow, my medically induced haze causing a desperate desire to keep sleeping.  The nurses continued to come by, kindly encouraging me to sit up and fight it off.  I attempted to follow orders and became insanely nauseous, throwing up the nothing that was in my stomach into a little plastic tray that was handed to me just in time.  They allowed me to go back to sleep.  I was the very last patient to leave Planned Parenthood that day.

Yes, I felt relief.  Yes, I felt that what I did was truly an act of love.  Love for myself, love for the soul that had briefly been within me, now free to take on some other form.  Love for my life, and love for the life of the father.  Checking off these boxes did not, however, free me of the emotional pain that sat lodged within, unwilling to move.  After my abortion, I was acutely aware of the fact that I had a womb: a womb that had been briefly occupied and was now vacuous.  A few sleepless nights I found myself as if in a trance, opening up my desk drawer and removing the small, purple envelope where I kept my sonogram.  Like an anorexic sneaking carbohydrates and fat, I would indulge by staring at the empty and potent space, knowing that it no longer held my tiny dot.  My beautiful, sweet, dot.  What did the feeling mean? What was I mourning?  Grief is not convenient.  The visceral memory of being on the table that day regularly popped into my head at inopportune times, causing me to wipe tears from my face as I walked to dinner parties or sat in crowded yoga classes.  I needed to somehow mitigate the fact that saying goodbye had been right, and I missed that soul.  I wished so badly that I could have met it in its human form.  All opposing feelings can, and still do, exist.

While the sadness continues, I am finding comfort in sharing my story, in reaching out to others, in writing.  In honoring what graced my body with its presence, leaving me with an unforgettable lesson about my fertility, my femininity, and my maternity.

-Caitlin Gibb

 

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