I sat in the chair, jiggling my leg. I had been here before, but never in this position. I had been here for school projects, for birth control, for STD testing. I had always wondered which of the girls I saw in this room were here to alter their lives forever. Now I was one of them. It was absurd. I was staunchly pro-choice, but I still felt at odds about it. My financial situation wasn’t ideal, but I had family who would support me, friends who would help me, and at my age, I felt I should have known better. When my mother was my age, she married with two children. Yet here I was, having an abortion.
Because of my indecisiveness, a medical abortion was out. It was going to have to be surgical. That wasn’t what I wanted; the idea of that procedure had always scared me. I cursed myself for waiting to long, but he said things, things that made me stop and consider. He said he’d step up and wanted to be a part of a kid’s life if it should come to that. But it was one thing to say these things hypothetically; it was another to actually go through with it. I may not have had expectations for the two of us, but if we were going to have any hope, a baby after seeing each other for a month was not going to be conducive. I buried my head in my hands. That felt like such a selfish statement. Especially since I never told him. Should he be here? Would it help him to know? Would it help me?
I stared at the papers in my lap. It was the size of my friend’s dissertation, and just like the dissertation, I wasn’t going to read them. It wasn’t going to tell me anything I hadn’t already heard. It seemed so…American, I thought cynically. This information seems so useless. You’ve all told me over and over again what to expect; saying the same thing that you’ve said probably a million times over. I need more than that. I need to know how I’m going to feel, and the emotions behind it. Why can’t you just tell me if it’ll hurt? What does ‘uncomfortable’ even mean?
I shoved the papers in my bag in disgust. This is just a way for you to feel like you’ve covered your asses; I can’t sue you now, because I have all the information, I thought mirthlessly.
I immediately felt guilty. Planned Parenthood is an organization that saves lives, an organization that may actually be altruistic. They were saving my life today; at least, my life as I knew it.
“Ok, we’re ready for you.” A voice interrupted my thoughts.
I swallowed hard.
The nurse led me into a lonely room at the end of the corridor.
“Take off your pants and underwear, wrap this around yourself, and put your feet in the stirrups,” she said kindly, holding out a paper sheet.
I blinked back tears.
“Ok,” I said in a small voice.
The nurse turned to leave.
“Wait. Is it…is it going to hurt?”
The nurse sighed.
There was that word again.
“It feels like cramps, but everybody experiences them differently. Some women feel it more, some women feel it less.”
I nodded wordlessly.
The nurse left the room.
I slipped off my shoes and pulled off my jeans and underwear. I folded them neatly on the chair, and sat down gingerly on the edge of the table. I looked at the stirrups and put my feet up. I felt so raw and exposed. The room smelled sterile, completely devoid of any warmth.
The doctor walked in.
“How are you doing?” she asked sympathetically.
“I’m ok. I kind of wish I was somewhere else though.”
The nurse smiled at me.
“Most people do. And this is the right decision for you? You weren’t coerced?”
“No, this is the right thing for me.”
The doctor sat down between my legs. I stiffened involuntarily.
“I know this is difficult, but just try to relax.”
I burst out laughing.
“I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. But if ever there were a completely un-relaxing situation, this would be it.”
The doctor grinned in spite of herself.
“You are absolutely right. I’m so sorry. What I meant to say is try to relax your muscles.”
The nurse entered again.
“I’m going to be monitoring your blood pressure and your oxygen levels, ok? I’m also here to hold your hand if you need it.” The nurse said, as she wrapped a blood pressure cuff around my arm and attached an oxygen monitor to my finger.
“I’m going to open up your cervix now, ok? You will feel some pressure.” The doctor said gently.
I whimpered, as what felt like a steel ball was inserted into my cervix, forcing it open. It’s definitely ‘uncomfortable’.
I blinked back tears. This was actually happening. I was in a position that I never thought I’d be in at 30 years old.
“Ok, your cervix is open. You’re going to feel some suction, and what will feel like cramps. I promise, it will be over soon.”
I tried not to panic. I had never had cramps during my period, so I didn’t know what to expect, but if it felt anything like the dilated cervix, this was not going to be pleasant.
“I’m starting now,” the doctor said.
The nurse looked at me, clearly noting my rising anxiety.
“You can hold my hand,” she said kindly.
“I’m ok, I’m ok…” I said in a shaky voice.
The noise was loud, and the feeling was indescribable. It was as if a cannonball had been placed on my abdomen, and it was trying to push out my insides. I gasped audibly, and without thinking, I grabbed the hand of the nurse, and clenched the sheet beneath me with my other hand so tightly that my knuckles turned white. I ground my teeth. It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok…I thought to myself. It felt like my insides were being twisted, and for a split second, I thought about the fetus. Oh god… I felt sick to my stomach. It’s ok. There’s a reason this is an option, you aren’t doing anything wrong.
I opened my eyes and stared at the ceiling. There was a mural up there, of some kind of seascape; undoubtedly meant to provide some small sliver of serenity. Yeah right…
Another shock of pain swept through my abdomen and I yelped.
“I’m sorry…” I said.
The nurse smiled at me.
“It’s ok. But I need to relax your arms now, because I can’t read your blood pressure.”
She touched my shoulder.
“Don’t worry, you’re almost done.”
I forced myself to let go of the sheet, the sheet that I had ripped to shreds, and disentangled my fingers from the poor nurse’s hand.
“It’s almost over…” I mumbled to myself.
Suddenly, the room was silent. The suction stopped. I blinked.
“We’re done. I just need to do a quick check,” the doctor said, patting my knee.
Just like that, the pain was gone.
“Blood pressure and oxygen levels are normal.” I heard the nurse say.
Whatever was holding my cervix open was removed, and I felt a wave of relief, almost giddy. The doctor leaned over me.
“You’re no longer pregnant,” the doctor said softly, squeezing my hand gently. With no warning, my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t know why, I couldn’t tell one emotion from another. Relief, guilt, sadness, happiness, anger, frustration, loneliness… they all swam over me, like the mural above my head. I felt like I was drowning, but in a good way. I shook my head. What a sick thought.
“There is some bleeding, which we need to keep an eye on. I need you to wipe yourself off with the sheet, and then show it to me. Here is a sanitary napkin, you can use tampons later if you want, but we prefer you to use the pads,” the nurse said to me as the doctor exited the room.
“I really hate pads. Why do you prefer them? Is it an infection thing?”
“No, it’s just easier to see how much bleeding is occurring on a sanitary napkin than a tampon or the cup. Just use it for today, and then if you really want, you can switch over.”
I shrugged. Whatever would get me out of here quicker and home to the familiarity of my bed. I wiped myself down and winced. Shyly, I handed the sheet to the nurse, and carefully pulled on my clothes.
The nurse examined the sheet carefully.
“That looks ok. Are you ready?”
“Come with me, I need to take you to the recovery room.”
I was lead into a small room with a few chairs. Another girl was in there, and I quickly lowered my gaze. I didn’t want to share this moment with anyone, that girl probably didn’t either.
“Here, sit down.”
I sat down gingerly in what looked and felt like a lay-z-boy.
“I need you to listen to this CD.”
I was handed a Discman. I smiled wanly; I hadn’t seen one of these since I was in high school.
“No, just a few things you need to look out for. You’ve gotten so much reading material already, so just lean back and press play.” The nurse placed a heating pad on my abdomen.
I shrugged again. I was feeling weirdly euphoric, like a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I pressed play on the Discman and listened. It was like listening to side effects on those stupid drug commercials on TV; it was all doom and gloom. “Look out for pus, or blood clots the size of golf balls!”
Much like the procedure itself, the cd was only a few minutes long. When it was done, I removed the headphones. The other girl had left at some point; it was just a few nurses and myself now. One of them, a pretty girl with a pixie haircut, noticed I was done.
“You all done listening?” she asked cheerfully.
“Yep. Now what?”
The nurse walked over with a paper bag.
“Here is your NuvaRing, condoms, lubricant, and a Plan B, should you need it. Have you used the NuvaRing before?”
I nodded. It was lie, I hadn’t; but if I said no, I assumed I’d be stuck here for another 30-40 minutes getting instructions that I could read off the package.
“Ok, great. Then all I need you to do is go to the restroom and check your pad. Then I need you to take a look at this chart, and tell me what it looks like.” She gestured to a picture on the wall behind her. Four different sanitary napkins were pictured; the first one with just some light spotting, and the last one soaked through with blood. I shivered.
I walked over to the restroom and locked the door. For the first time, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror; I looked like I had been through a war. My hair was mussed like I hadn’t brushed it in a week, my eyes were red, and mascara was smeared across my face. I cleaned myself up. I didn’t want to look like this, like a victim. I wasn’t one. I made a choice, one that was best for my future and for me.
A pang of sorrow overcame me briefly. I splashed some water on me face, dried my hands, and then stood resolutely for a moment. With shaking fingers, I unbuttoned my jeans and pulled my underwear down. Light spotting.
I walked back out.
“It looks like the first one.”
The nurse smiled at me.
“Great! You’re free to go.”
“Do I need to a check up appointment or anything?”
“Nope. You’re all done. If anything seems unusual to you, just give us a call.”
I gathered my things.
I walked out of the recovery room and down the hallway, where nurses and counselors were wandering about. I pushed open the door to the waiting room, which had filled extensively since this whole day had started. I paused momentarily, and looked at all the people in the room. All from different walks of life, all there for different reasons. I wondered if any of them were there for the same reasons as me, and if so, how were they feeling? I brushed it off and headed to the exit. As I pushed the door open, I braced myself for any protesters who might be there. None. Thank god for small favors, I thought.
The sun was warm on my face. Everything was so different from before, yet exactly the same. The only person who knew anything had changed was I.
Madeleine is a thirty year-old Creative Writing student currently attending San Francisco State University. She is a native of Sweden, but grew up not unlike a military brat, living all over Europe and parts of the US before settling down in San Francisco. She enjoys hanging out with her friends at her favorite dive bar, reading, writing, and lapping up the sun when Karl the Fog isn’t concealing it. She has a life companion in the form of an asthmatic feline named Katja.