I remember lying there on the table, feeling completely disoriented, the anesthetic smell of the room seeping into my pores. The fluorescent lights played tricks on my mind, making the whole room seem surreal, like part of a dream. I kept hoping I’d wake up and this would all have been nothing more than just that: a terrible dream.
I was listening to my doctor speak on the phone in Spanish about a vacation he was about to take. I thought to myself as the tears slid across my temples that, if I could just tell him the words in my head, I could stop all of this from happening. They kept parading through my mind, begging me to say them: No quiero hacerlo. What would he do? My mother had signed the papers; was the choice even mine anymore?
No quiero hacerlo.
He was saying something about flying to Miami. Would he listen to me?
I don’t want to do it.
I was sixteen, I shouldn’t be here; shouldn’t be worrying about how to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Not that I had been given the chance to worry about it much. My mother had made the decision for me: an abortion. There would be no babies in her house and if I chose to have it, I was out. With nowhere to go, I wasn’t left much of a choice.
If I couldn’t keep this child that was slowly being created within me, I knew that I at least wanted to put it up for adoption. Neither choice was allowed as an alternative to the unthinkable atrocity I was being forced to commit. I knew my mother didn’t want me repeating the same mistakes she had made: a young mother at 15, forced to drop out of school to marry her baby’s father. Maybe her heart was in the right place, somehow, but I still couldn’t help but feel that there had to be another way. A better way.
My boyfriend, the baby’s father, was in full agreement with my mother. He had even given her half the money to pay for the procedure and would soon be leaving for the military. I couldn’t raise a child alone at 16; even I was logical enough to know that. It would be hard enough with a solid support system, but to have no one to rely on for help, there would be no way for me to provide the sort of life that a child deserved or even needed.
Still, no matter how many times I brought up adoption, it was always quickly vetoed. I never stood a chance against the army of people pushing me towards abortion. My baby never stood a chance.
When we first arrived at the clinic and the initial paperwork was completed, they had to see just how far along I was. An ultrasound revealed that I was close to eight weeks.
I lay there staring at the little black and white screen, marveling at what they were showing me. It was really nothing more than a little blob at this stage – a peanut – but that little peanut had a very distinct head and body, tiny little arms sticking out near the top and tiny little legs at the bottom. I could even see its little heart beating at what looked like a million beats per minute. It bounced happily around in its little aquatic haven, so completely unaware of what was about to happen.
I fought back tears, watching this little being, and I remember wondering if it was a boy or a girl or even if they had any way to tell this early. I didn’t ask. I knew if I opened my mouth to speak, there would be no stopping the tears.
When everything was finished being documented, I was brought into a different room to await the procedure. My doctor, the man so casually making flight plans to Miami from Detroit in the midst of all my heartache, was a man of Hispanic descent. I don’t think I ever caught his name. We didn’t talk much. In fact, no one really talked much. I tried as much as was possible to distance myself from the situation.
They started an IV and I watched as they hooked me up to the saline drip, then left me to wait while they retrieved the appropriate anesthetic.
My head was still swimming. I felt nauseous and tired. I wondered if the baby’s father would be there like he had promised when it was over. Was he thinking about me, lying here in this room, on the verge of destroying what we had created? Tears welled up in my eyes for what seemed like the millionth time in the last half hour. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. We loved each other. At least, I thought we did. But how could he say he loved me when this was what he wanted? I sighed and tried to make my mind go blank.
The nurse came in with another bag that she attached to my IV pole. She looked sympathetic as she hooked it up to the maze of tubing coming out of the tape on my hand. She must have seen the look on my face when she came in the room.
“It’ll be alright, honey. Nothing to be afraid of. It’s all very routine and it’ll be done before you know it.” She patted my arm.
I didn’t tell her that that was what I was afraid of.
When I was in 8th grade, one of my classmates in an English class had done a report on abortion. He hadn’t been allowed to show the video he’d had as part of his research, but he did explain it in great detail: how the fetus was vacuumed out of the uterus and how it instinctively tried to get away in what appeared to be a panic, knowing it was something dangerous and life-threatening. How they then inserted something to crush the fetus’ head before vacuuming that out as well. Even without seeing it, that video was playing plain as day in my mind.
The tears were threatening again as the nurse left. What the hell was I doing here?
It seemed like forever had passed before they finally came in to start the anesthetic. There was chart-checking, some quiet discussion verifying details and proper doses of medication, then a mask was placed over my mouth and nose and I was told to count backwards from 100. I don’t even remember making it to 98.
The only thing I was thankful for was that, once the medication started to do its work, my mind could finally stop tormenting me with all the what-ifs and whys. It was like a blurry, numbing reprieve.
When my eyes finally opened, I realized that someone was trying to wake me. One of the nurses was patting my cheek and gently shaking me in an effort to get me coherent. When I became aware of where I was and what was actually happening was when I began to notice the rest of my body as well. The cramping was more severe than I’d thought it would be and, yet, the only thing I could truly feel was an overwhelming sense of emptiness.
A quick glance around the recovery room revealed about ten other beds, three of which were filled with young girls, only one still asleep. I quickly averted my eyes from their curious gazes, shame riding across me in waves. How could they just be sitting there so casually? Eventually, a nurse came into the room, but it wasn’t to take me anywhere as I had been so desperately hoping; it was merely to verify that I wasn’t bleeding too heavily. At that moment, I didn’t really care if I was or not.
I just wanted to go home.
I was relieved when they finally came to wheel me out to the waiting room where it would be my mother’s responsibility to see me safely to the car. I was still groggy and weak, but I quickly forgot that when I saw that my mother had gone to get my boyfriend and brought him to the clinic.
They managed to help me out to the car, though I can only imagine how. I felt like a drunk staggering across the parking lot. I briefly wondered why there was no one there with picket signs taunting me for being a murderer.
My boyfriend climbed into the back seat of my mother’s 5-door Ford Escort, then helped her get me in next to him. I leaned in close to him and put my head on his chest as he wrapped his arm around me. The last thing I remember about the ride home was him and my mother carrying on a perfectly casual conversation as I drifted in and out of consciousness. Like nothing had happened. Like life would just carry on as usual. Maybe theirs would, but I knew mine would never again be the same.
I knew I would forever be haunted by what had happened. I would always wonder if I could have changed things by fighting harder, by talking to more people than I had already. If I could have found the right person to talk to, if I hadn’t been afraid of infuriating my mother by directly defying her, everything could have been different. A life could have been saved.
That tiny little life bouncing around on that screen was ended because I was young, irresponsible and naïve. I would have given anything to take it all back.
I still would. I find myself wondering, when I look into my children’s eyes, who that person would have been today. Would that child have been the daughter I never had? Another son? He or she would have been born in the fall of 1992, around the time of my seventeenth birthday.
A full-grown adult by now, going on 19. Living a life that they hadn’t been allowed to begin; a life that was taken away from them.
The amount of guilt that goes along with all of these musings is monumental.
And it doesn’t fade with time.
This post was written in response to a prompt by The Red Dress Club.
This is a writing exercise in two parts:
Make a list of some of your most vivid childhood (or more recent) memories. (Maybe it’s an image of your father or mother doing something they did regularly; maybe it’s a visit to a grandmother’s house.) Jot down a few memories and then pick one and write it down in as much detail as possible. (Take 10-15 minutes to do that…)
Now I want you to investigate what this memory means to you. Ask yourself the following questions: Why has this stuck with me? What did this mean to me at the time? Why did I (or someone else in the scene) react the way I (they) did? How does it feel to look back on it? How does it still affect me (or not)? (Take 10-15 minutes to do that.)