When I was twenty years old, I made the incredibly shortsighted decision to marry the first man who was the exact opposite of the my previous serious boyfriend. Because when you’re twenty years old and you have everything all figured out, that logic makes total and complete sense. I mean the previous guy, with whom I had a child with after a glorious bout with teen pregnancy, had cheated on me repeatedly, was a hilariously terrible liar (but he tried so hard), and had the personality of a pleasant, wet sock, so the total opposite would be the absolute best, right?
I could bore you with the details – and I eventually may, but not in this piece – of my tragically unfunny and now defunct marriage to the non-wetsock.
What I’m writing about instead is my abortion.
After less than a year of marriage to the non-wetsock, we’ll call him “my husband” from here on out for the sake of clarity, my body began having adverse reactions to the birth control pill I had taken religiously since giving birth to my daughter at sixteen (actually, I had started to take it WHILE pregnant, but that, too, is a whole different story).
Apparently I am Fertile Myrtle, so within about five minutes of being off the pill, I became pregnant. My husband was not keen on condoms, and, as it turns out, the other over the counter birth control options are iffy at best.
At least I was married. That’s what’s was and still is so very important when it comes to a woman being pregnant. To some people that is. It was a constant conversational theme our years prior while I was pregnant with my daughter four, what a disappointment this was and if only I had waited until I was married. Ah well.
But I was married now, so everything was fine.
The problem was that my husband was, to put it mildly, furiously displeased with this pregnancy, how fully unfair it was for me to put him in this position, and, in his highly uplifting way, he made sure I knew it on a fairly regular basis, i.e. every day – all day – several times an hour if possible which, as it turns out, it was.
With that constant encouragement being as persuasive as it was (and boy was it), I reluctantly agreed after a lot of tears that he was right, there was absolutely no way I should continue with this pregnancy.
I made a few phone calls to various medical facilities so that I could ascertain where the best place was to terminate it. My husband said that was the best decision I could have made. Thank god I came to my senses. It was going to be a lot easier now.
After some consideration, I settled on Northwest Women’s Clinic in Portland because they were the least expensive and, according to my husband, that would be the deciding factor. Northwest Women’s Clinic it was.
The day of my appointment, I got dressed, argued with my husband about something, I don’t recall what, but I do recall with some clarity what our morning routine was, and dropped my daughter at preschool.
My husband wasn’t even sure why I needed him to go with me, I mean, after all, this didn’t really involve him. But after a conversation that involved a lot of yelling and an emotional breakdown on my part, he agreed to accompany me to terminate the pregnancy. Let’s get it over with.
We drove through the typical Pacific Northwest rain. When we arrived downtown and found the clinic, we climbed the stairs to the 10th floor as the elevator was out of order. Once we arrived to the correct suite, my husband selected a magazine from the table and took a seat, and I checked in at the window marked “Check In”.
The theme from Speed Racer was playing quietly on their audio system. It’s funny how something like that will stand out, and while I never knew waiting room music to be hip and current, and I couldn’t help but think Speed Racer was odd.
“He’s gainin’ on you so you better look alive.
He’s busy revvin’ up a powerful Mach 5.”
“What is the reason for your visit?” The woman behind the glass looked at me as if she was annoyed that I had interrupted whatever she had been doing which, from what I could tell, was working on today’s newspaper’s crossword puzzle.
I said, while being as discreetly quiet as I could, “I’m here to terminate a pregnancy.”
The woman studied me for a bit, looked at my stomach, which looked mostly like coat and not like a pregnant belly as I was only a few weeks along, and said, “I see. Is this your first abortion?”
Yes, yes it was. I nodded.
“Are you sure?”
Now I’m not sure if she thought I was lying or if my answer was unusual or why she would ask this after I had stated yes. Was she worried that I had forgotten? I laughed at the thought of going “WOOPSY doodle, I forgot, I’ve actually had seventeen other abortions. I’m so silly!”
But, instead, I nodded to the affirmative again.
“Alright…” she said with skepticism in her voice. Maybe I looked like someone who would have multiple abortions, though I’m not sure what that would look like. Me I guess. “Take these forms, and be seated. I’ll call you back up in ten minutes and they all need to be filled out, do you hear me?”
I let her know that I did hear her, and turned to sit down next to my husband. I was very glad he was here for support. He looked up from his magazine for a minute and looked down again.
I filled out the standard medical questionnaires, what was my history with cancer, diabetes, STDs, had I had any surgeries, including abortions, previously, etc. How many sexual partners did I have, did I abuse alcohol, did I use intravenous drugs, if so, how often…the usual questions I assume.
I went up to turn them in, but was shooed back to my seat, “I said I would call you.”
I sat down and, within seconds of my butt hitting the seat, she called my name and asked if I had finished the paperwork. I stated that I had.
She looked them over and asked about a surgery I had indicated that I underwent a a couple years prior that had resulted in metal rods being affixed to my spine. She seemed to not believe me. I assured her that I had this surgery. “We’ll see,” she said and told me I could take my seat again.
After about fifteen minutes of sitting with me, my husband commented on how long we had been there, something about appointment times, and announced that he needed to take a walk, stretched his legs. He got up and walked out, and, before I had much of a chance to object, a woman called my name to let me know they were ready to see me.
I was led back to the exam room by the woman, a pleasant woman who, as she closed the door, assured me that the doctor would be with me in “just a jiff.” And, as per usual when called back to an exam room at any medical facility, I spent the next twenty minutes waiting with no pants on and wearing a sheet over my thighs for privacy. I always w0ndered two things: Why do they bring you back here if you’re going to just sit and wait some more, and why didn’t I ever think to bring the magazine I was reading while in the waiting room?
After I had nearly memorized every pamphlet on drug abuse and suicide in their wall kiosk, the door opens and two people, a male doctor and his female assistant, step in.
“Hi, please lay back, we’re going to take a look to see what we’ve got here,” he declared. The woman he brought with him stood by the door and picked at her fingernails.
I was going to say, “Well, I’m going to assume what we have here is a human embryo, but if you find something different in there, like a cheetah or a hamster, please let me know right away.” But the demeanor of both medical staff hinted that they may not find that amusing. I opted for silence.
The doctor grabs some instrument that looks like a crappy, hard plastic vibrator that they sell at Spencer’s Gifts, not that I would know anything about that, and starts covering it with the same lubricating gel that they applied to the ultrasound doohickey when I was pregnant with my daughter.
“What the hell is that?” I asked as calmly as I could. The doctor ignored me.
“No, seriously, what is that and what are you doing with it?” I asked because I already had an idea where it was going.
“You need an ultrasound. I’m going to do this vaginally because I will get a better reading.”
“I’d rather you didn’t use that.” Seriously, what the fuck.
“Do you want this done or not?” He seemed annoyed with me, but this wasn’t much of a shift from his demeanor from when he and his assistant first arrived.
I laid back and conceded to having this this thing jammed into me as he stared at a screen with a metal frame, the white paint on it peeling. And I say jam because to say he gently entered me with the phallic ultrasound wand would be inaccurate. I attempted pretending I was somewhere else.
“I can’t see anything, are you sure you’re pregnant?”
I assured him that I was.
The assistant continued to pick at her nails.
“Oh, there it is. Ok, you’re too early, you need to wait two weeks, it’s not big enough. Go to the front desk and make a new appointment,” and they both left the room.
After I finished crying, I wiped the ultrasound lube from between my legs and got dressed. I went to the front desk and told the woman there that I’d need to make another appointment. She scheduled me for two weeks later, let me know not to be late again. I thought about mentioning that I was twenty minutes early, but decided against it.
My husband was nowhere in sight, but, once I vacated the building, I found him out near the car. He seemed relieved that it was time to go, but I let him know that we would have to come back. He and I agreed that it was pretty fucked up that I was not far enough along to have an abortion.
The next two weeks were soul-crushingly difficult. It wasn’t a time to reflect and reconsider, there was no reconsidering on my husband’s end, and at that time I wasn’t a strong enough presence to overrule a thing. So it was ultimately two weeks to dwell, fourteen days of varying emotions, none of them pleasurable.
Once the required timeframe had passed, my husband and I drove through the rain once again to the clinic. We climb the stairs to the tenth floor, he sits down, and I walk up to the window. The same woman is working at the desk where I check in.
We go through the routine of her asking me why I’m there, her skepticism over this being my first abortion, and all of that.
“Take these forms, and be seated. I’ll call you back up in 10 minutes and they all need to be filled out.”
I remind her that I filled them out two weeks ago and that they might be in my records.
“I thought you said this was your first abortion.”
My intake paperwork was found, I was seated, I was called back to the exam room, and I waited sans pants once again…and once again without a magazine because, clearly, I don’t learn.
It’s a different woman who enters the room this time, she is less unpleasant, which isn’t saying too much. She uses the external ultrasound wand this time, and I don’t ask why.
“I don’t see anything, are you sure you’re pregnant?”
I assure her that yes, I am, and that two weeks previous they had “found it” but it was too small for them to terminate.
“Oh, there it is.” She proceeds to tell me that she’s going to insert a wad of seaweed into my cervix which will dilate it a bit, and that I’m supposed to take this Valium, go have lunch, and come back check in again in an hour.
After I find myself crying again and get it out of my system, I put on my pants and leave the exam room. As I go out to retrieve my husband, who seems annoyed that he has to leave and come back, I notice that Speed Racer theme song is playing on the audio system again.
“And when the odds are against him
And there’s dangerous work to do
You bet your life Speed Racer
Will see it through. ”
He and I walk down ten flights of stairs and go to a delicatessen down the road. I take my Valium, and, once we finish our sandwiches, we walk back to the clinic. He informs me that he won’t be going upstairs with me because he’s restless and wants to go down the street to the book store. I remind him that I don’t want to be here either and subtly remind him further that this appointment wasn’t my idea in the first place.
Inevitably, after he says he’ll head up in a bit, I enter the clinic alone and check in. The same woman at the front desk asks me why I’m there. I stand there and stare at her until she catches up. At this point, I’m just done talking, at least for a bit.
I’m led back to the exam room where I, once again, disrobe from the waist down. I think my Valium is taking affect now as I’m still melancholy, but I don’t care quite as much anymore.
I’m told to walk with the sheet around my waist to another room at the end of the hall, and I do. On the way, I notice that the theme song to Speed Racer is playing. Again.
“Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer
Go Speed Racer, Go!”
I decide that someone has got to be fucking with me, although that doesn’t make any more sense than their choice of music.
Once I reach the room I was directed to, I enter a harshly lit area with 3 medical personnel standing near a table talking about how bad the traffic has been on the Burnside Bridge lately. “Too many damn Californians moving up here,” one of them agreed enthusiastically.
“Hop up on here and lay back. Put your feet into the stirrups,” the male voice behind the surgical mask says. He sounds like Steve Buscemi.
I do as I’m told and Steve Buscemi asks, “How many abortions have you had?” as he sits down and maneuvers closer to me on his wheeled stool.
I tell him that it’s my only one.
“So this is your first?” Yes, this is the only one.
“We’re beginning the procedure now, relax. We’ll get you out of here in no time. Piece of cake.”
A speculum is abruptly inserted into my vagina and, from a large metal canister, a long plastic tube with a metal end-piece is passed through the speculum and into my uterus, causing me to cramp up as it passes through my cervix which is only partially dilated.
A switch is flipped, and the motor at the base of the canister starts humming loudly.
Immediately, the cramps intensify tenfold. My insides feel like they are being put through a blender and I’m in a terrific amount of pain, but I try not to let on, because denial has become my best defense mechanism at this point. I no longer feel like my Valium is effective as I find myself starting to panic. The doctor is hurriedly sliding the metal end of this tube in and out of my body with a motion that isn’t unlike scraping ice off your windshield.
I must have made a noise or tensed up too much because a stern female voice told me to calm down, speaking to me as if I was a disruptive child. I did my best to comply.
It felt like it went on forever but, in reality, was only a minute or two, the doctor flipped off the switch. “All done here. Get her down to recovery,” he instructed to the other staff as he stood, removed his gloves, and exited the room, “I have a tee time at four.”
One woman placed her arm across my back and helped me sit up, another grabbed my feet and swung them over to the edge of the table and assisted me into a standing position. I still felt like my guts were in a blender, but the pain was dissipating. Or maybe my focus on it was.
The second woman walked me down the hall and into an unlit room and assisted me onto a hospital bed. “Wait here. Look out the window, try to take your mind off of it.”
I asked her if she could get my husband who should be out in the reception area waiting for me to get done, but she told me the waiting room was empty last she checked. She said she’d check for me anyway. I never saw her again.
I rolled over onto my side and stared out the window. I thought about how surreal the whole experience was. I thought about my subsiding cramps and figured I probably deserved them and more. I wondered why some people got into health care if they didn’t actually like people. I thought about leaving my husband. And I lingered with that thought for a quite a while.
A woman I had not seen before came in and asked how I was doing. She could tell I had been crying – I may have still been crying at that point, actually, and she held my hand.
“You will be fine. This day isn’t you.”
She isn’t who I wanted to be holding my hand, but I was thankful she was there. She sat there with me while I continued to rest on my side, staring out the window at the tops of buildings and watching rain trickle down the window pane. After some consideration, I allowed myself to believe she might not be wrong.
Another twenty minutes passed, and she asked if I was ready to go home where I’d be more comfortable. I thought a second about that, and decided that I was ready to go home regardless of the comfort level. She handed me a tissue so that I could dry my eyes. She told me she’d be thinking of me, and she left.
I walked to the waiting room. My husband had returned and was reading a National Geographic. He looked up casually, “Oh, are we finished? Good. I’m ready to get out of here.” He asked what I thought about nachos for dinner as it we still had time before we picked up my daughter.
As we headed through the exit, Speed Racer began to play on the speakers behind me.