The holidays obviously sucked ass. In spite of everything, I missed Winston, and it’s hard to forget someone when they are literally growing inside of you. Almost as if he intuitively knew what had happened, he conveniently broke things off the week after the un-immaculate conception. I didn’t tell him, which is a whole other can of ethical worms, but at the time I thought, why bother? It was a fizzling fling that had dragged on long past its reasonable expiration.
I wanted to just get it over with and decided to go alone. The nurse on the phone told me if I drove myself they couldn’t give me anxiety meds. No problemo. I called a friend and got my own. BYO Xanax.
Saturday came. 7:30am I parked and strolled past the contingent of protestors standing with their signs and pro-life propaganda just behind the statutory clinic buffer zone. The sight of them didn’t bother me. I support their constitutional right to wake up at dawn on Saturday morning and throw non-violent stones at whomever they wish. Plus, I can see the allure of such a low-maintenance avenue to promised moral satisfaction. The seductive appeal of the cult of the unborn is its lack of membership dues–achievement through belief without actual action. When you can post up at a clinic for a couple hours and shame some whores, there’s no need to spend a cent or lift a finger to help the billions of malnourished, abused and neglected children who already exist.
I briefly considered stopping to pose with the zealots for some “before and after” pictures, but as they say, when at the zoo, don’t feed the animals.
Inside was pretty much the uncomfortable composite of what you’d expect an abortion clinic in the south to be. Shitty furniture. Empowering feminist posters circa 1990 on the walls. Scared teenagers with their emotionally-exhausted looking moms. College girls with a take-the-reigns gal pals bearing snacks and handling the paperwork. Mid-thirties fertile myrtles on the phone checking in on their other kids. Chair after chair of guys who would obviously rather be anywhere else.
On TV there are always pregnancy scares, almost-abortions, and abortions-past, but rarely if ever do you see one actually go down. Fortunately, I knew what to expect. This was indeed lucky number three for me. The first I chalk up to a theory of invincibility and/or infertility that I thought had been investigated with the rigor of the scientific method in a near clinical sample of successful roulette trials. The second time, I shockingly got pregnant while on birth control. By “on,” I mean I was taking it regularly but then would skip a week or two whenever I had to accomplish the daunting task of getting my prescription refilled. This time, the culprit was a failed Plan B omelet. It may have helped if I had gotten around to eating it within the 72-hour window of emergency contraception’s touted effectiveness.
Anyways, after you manage to bypass the fetus crusaders without aid of the National Guard, there’s signing your life away, peeing in a cup to confirm the pregnancy, a finger prick to determine blood type, an ultrasound to verify gestational age, and meeting with a counselor who makes sure you are making a conscious, non-coerced decision. The staff is friendly and non-judgmental, but everyone is blasé and disillusioned. There’s no attempt to sugar-coat the fact that you’re on an abortion assembly line, just waiting until the conveyor belt takes you into the vacuum room. The waiting is the hardest part.
To pass the time, I had brought the assorted works of Foucault with me as a light-hearted beach read appropriate for the occasion. I gave up about a paragraph in and admitted to myself that the selection was more than just absurdly over-ambitious. In truth, I brought it as a prop and not to read. It was both a sword and a shield of my insecurity, to distance myself from the solidarity of the shared experience cutting across socio-economic boundaries, and to signal to onlookers, “I’m not really supposed to be here.” As my delusional paranoia gave way to the realization that absolutely no one but me noticed or cared what I was reading, I put the crypto-normativist anthology away and flipped through a tattered Glamour from the magazine rack.
My thoughts drifted back to high school. I went to an all girls’ Catholic school I’ll call St. Patriarchy Academy, where we celebrated annual Right to Life week with the pomp and circumstance that most high schools reserve for homecoming spirit week. Picture this: as the week commenced, the nuns would bustle us out to the front lawn (located on the city’s very main artery no less) where we would construct a mass mock graveyard with 3,000+ crosses commemorating the unborn aborted each day in the United States. While it now strikes me as a fairly horrific scene of public performance art with teamsters directing a crew of plaid-skirted minors planting crosses instead of picking cotton, at the time it was just another routine day at St. P’s. With my limited energy for rebellion reserved for things like flouting the three-inches-above-the-knee skirt length rule, when it came to indoctrination I was complacently ambivalent. In the event the bullshit is true and I’m slated for hell, St. Peter had better cut me some slack at the pearly gates for the hours I logged in preemptive abortion penance.
The real treats during Right to Life week at St. P’s were the all-school assemblies for surprise anti-abortion programming. One year we had an extra special guest speaker – a real, live aborted fetus! I shit you not, this woman had been miraculously born alive during a late-term abortion and the doctor saved her. From what I recall, her fervent rhetoric was incredibly compelling. In paper, rock, scissors, resurrected abortion beats rationality. She was a fairly well-known name on the pro-life circuit. I wonder if she ever considers the irony that while her mother didn’t choose life, she definitely wrote her meal ticket.
I can say without exaggeration that the spectacle of Right to Life week was actually on the progressive end of St. P’s overall curriculum. Billed as an academically rigorous college-preparatory academy, in practice it was a finishing school for well-heeled wives-in-training. Let me preface this with the explicit note that I attended high school there in the 21st century and not 1950. Senior religion class at St. P’s included an extended unit on the mechanics of “NFP” aka Natural Family Planning, a (segment to which, in retrospect, I perhaps should have paid better attention.) And, in a sacred tradition that to my understanding persists to this day, the cornerstone final assignment before graduating St. P’s is constructing the infamous “Bride Book.” The Bride Book consists of composing prayers to God to deliver you a devoted and pious husband, naming your future children, and other hilariously heinous sections that I’ve mercifully forgotten. No joke, we were told to save our Bride Book to present to our husbands on our wedding night. It was too bad I hadn’t kept mine after all, I thought. It would have been the perfect gag gift to give to the abortionist.
Time crawled by in the clinic, and as I popped my smuggled Xanies in preparation for the main event, I looked around at the cracking wallpaper wondering why there wasn’t a market for making this experience just a little more pleasant. From the insensitive vantage point of reckless white-girl problems, my mind wandered to the pipe dream of a spa afternoon of mani, pedi, abortion. I remembered how terribly disappointing it was hearing that Planned Parenthood aborted Tucker Max’s funding proposal. I would have flown to wherever and paid premium to come home with a t-shirt “I Aborted at the Tucker Max Clinic.”
While I pondered abortion tourism and waited for a peaceful benzo haze to kick in, I had to ask myself the inevitable question that I had tried so hard to avoid–what the fuck are you doing here (again)? Jokes aside, it was a tough day of self-loathing. As much as I respected the choice when it came to everyone else and certainly didn’t regret having made the decision before, abortion still seemed like stupidity insurance. As a semi-functional adult with basic knowledge of the principles of procreation, I should have had zero claims filed on the policy.
Apparently, I thought, the safety net of the option to terminate was a moral hazard that I was simply too lazy or self-abusive to avoid. Or worse still, I wondered, as much as I hate kids and can barely take care of myself, was I actually trying to get pregnant? I took little comfort in the psycho-babble my psychiatrist had told me in therapy the day before. He said that, while not a complete excuse for my irresponsibility, I should find a framework for self-forgiveness in being recently diagnosed with adult attention deficit disorder. The genetic structure of an ADD brain is marred by neurological dysregulation which manifests in involuntary failure to execute, he said. So apparently, I really did want to get that Plan B on time. I really did plan to stop at the pharmacy. I would visualize the sequence of events in my mind, and yet inexplicably, find myself at home empty-handed, not understanding why. He also posited that my untreated ADD caused me to organize my life around certain focal points of anxiety to give it external structure. Because my inner self was so distracted while the ADD went unmedicated, I had actually shaped my life around repeated unplanned pregnancies as an organizational axis. I wanted to ask him if his convenient, post-hoc analysis was being read from a Shire Pharmaceuticals teleprompter script behind my head, but instead I just nodded and got my Adderall prescription refilled.
Eventually, my thoughts gave way to drugged-blank calm, and I was finally summoned into the procedure room. The nurse got me situated with legs spread up in the stirrups. Since I was only about six weeks along, it was going to be a short and sweet ordeal. Essentially, they numb and dilate the cervix, stick in a small suction tube, turn on the machine, suck out the fetus, and you’re all done in a matter of minutes.
The doctor came into the room and introduced himself. We made awkward small talk as his fingers slipped inside me and he opened me up with the speculum. As he probed for the location of my cervix he said, “Did you used to be a cheerleader or a gymnast?”
Jesus, I thought, could we cut to the chase? It was like being at the dentist without shit in your mouth to justify an “ummph hmm” response. “Uh, no,” I said. “Well, actually, yes. I was cheerleader in high school for a little while.”
“It must be something about all the swatting and jumping,” he said.
“You have a very tight vagina.”
Maybe it was just an off-hand clinical observation. Maybe it should have raised a sexually-inappropriate red flag. Maybe it was just the drugs or my vulnerable position, but at the time, all I could think was wow, that was a really nice compliment.
A few minutes later I was holding back tears and tensing as the suction started and my uterus cramped. It was over soon enough. As the pain subsided, I opened my eyes. The nurse was by my side, but the doctor was already headed towards the door. I never got a chance to thank him. I may be superficial and setting feminism back 100 years with this statement, but there is nothing better you can say to a woman lying on the abortion table than some permutation of, “You are not worn and blown out.” The man may be a brilliant humanist or simply a pervert, but whatever that was, I thought, I hope he tells all the girls that.
It’s funny, as much as I thought I had long rejected all the ignorant things I learned at St. P’s, deep down I still believed exactly what I had been told. I couldn’t forgive myself for the failed Plan B omelet, but I did find a god to absolve me.