“Ars longa vita brevis.”
I drove up to the clinic in my friend’s silver Acura, my bottom half sliding back and forth across the gray leather seats. My emotions vacillated between numb and nervous. 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 barb wire fence covering the entire perimeter of the building, including the parking lot. There was a small green sign on the front of the building, which was very difficult to see until you drove right up next to it with the name of the clinic, “Women’s Planning Medical Center.” My friend parked her car, I unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and directly walked inside, trying to keep my thoughts only on the task at hand. My friend and I walked into the empty waiting room and up to the check in window. A Hispanic lady checked me in while my friend stood next to me.
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 had not supported me in the emotions I was feeling. We had been broken up for a month when the child was conceived. I had taken Plan B, it did not work. I had taken several pregnancy tests because I was late, but 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.
We were only brought together after our break up by a friend of our’s sudden death. The night our friend died was the night the child was conceived.
He came with me to an ultrasound appointment. He was completely numb to the doctor handing him the picture of the child, completely numb to my inability to maintain any composure. That is when I made my final decision on what to do. We left the clinic that day and I felt broken. I was going to throw the picture away, he kept it. I did not need an image to know what was within me.
Once the 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 my goodbyes 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, into the parking lot. I sat down in a chair across from a Hispanic 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. I had no room for thinking anything except for the task at hand. 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 drab 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.
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 which were a purse carrying some basic items such as phone, wallet, chapstick, and loose papers intermingled between that all that ranged between receipts, flyers, scrambled words and thoughts on scraps of envelopes and loose paper.
I laid on the exam table waiting for the nurse or doctor to knock on the door. My thoughts were beginning to take hold of me. Fear had crept in, slowly, gripping on 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 woman who was older than 40 years of age and less than 55. I honestly do not remember her race, although I think she was Hispanic.
She was shorter with a petite build. She had an American accent, it didn’t sway in one direction towards any other place in the country. It was just what I would call a good American accent, one you can understand easily. 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 was hard for me to process, I had not even begun to process the entire experience. 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 doors that were my chamber hugging 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, 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.
It is a perfect example of how you cannot really know, judge, or experience something unless you are the one experiencing it. 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. I was more astounded by the picketers, then I was by what it would be like to see the inner workings of my friend’s mind.
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 babies 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 their options are. When I had to make the 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, therefore why don’t we make it safe for people who have to do this? Some have been there, experienced, it, and only they can say what that experience is like. The worst feeling is all of the feelings in facing this alone as a woman. The fear that people you love would judge you 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, “Is this a dream or reality?” I am scared to even if I don’t show it. She did not show it because maybe she did not know how to.
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 to the person getting the procedure
2.) A bad situation could be made worse
3.) Safety for staff and others receiving the procedure
4.) The most important reason, confidentiality of other patients
After the nurse had questioned me, I cannot remember if she left and another person escorted me to a different waiting room, or she immediately took me. Memories are fleeting, but when in distress how can one hardly remember these details unless they have pen and paper in hand at that moment.
A different nurse came to lead me to the other waiting room.
On the way there she said, “Congratulations on your new life, your choices.”
The other waiting room is what I like to refer to as “The waiting room to hell.” The hell reference comes from my Catholic background. 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. There were three girls in the room. I think, once again, I cannot be sure. I know one girl was entirely passed out, and one girl was sitting upright on the bed with an IV in her arm. One woman was older than me (29) and the other was much younger. The older woman was white. The younger one was Hispanic. The thing is, as I write this story, my memories are very unclear. I am imagining how I felt at this moment. And when I see an older than me white woman, I am seeing a projection of something that would make 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 Hispanic 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 to me about seeing the others was the IV in their arm and the realization that I soon would have a needle in my arm, the first IV I ever had in my life. I am terrified of needles. I have no recollection why this fear developed. Some fears I do. I remember when I first became of spiders, which up until this particular moment, I had thought were friendly creatures just like all the bugs and animals that I had encountered. I had no reason to believe otherwise.
The IV was put in my arm. I saw a person come out of the exam room and they were entirely passed out, 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, my choices, 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 and 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 to own me. I wish someone had told me this, that the worst part is after the experience. The thing is that nobody can tell a person, or a woman how to feel, what to feel, what their experience is. I had to go through this to understand this fundamental truth about life.
We are all in this together, alone, breathing, until we no longer are.
If you can grasp this tragedy, you also have room to grasp the comedy and beauty.