The pregnancy was the crisis, not the abortion
Summer 2009—The first time seemed the fastest. My best friend, Emily, took charge. “Call this clinic,” she texted after I left the gynecologist’s office, where a woman I’d met twice for annual checkups informed me I was pregnant. When I told the woman I wanted an abortion, she said her practice didn’t offer them because one of the partners was “pro-life.” I asked how far along I had to be to get one and she said, incorrectly, eight weeks. I asked her to recommend where to go and she told me to use Google. I asked what to look for when I searched. “You never know what you’re getting,” she said, as if discernment wasn’t worth attempting. “Some doctors are good, but some . . .” Yes, some doctors are bad. She was visibly displeased with the speed and certainty of my response. Maybe she had expected me to be happy. The paperwork I’d filled out in the waiting room included an extensive checklist asking about my interest in Botox and vaginal rejuvenation.
Emily was eight years older than me and had had seven abortions by the time we met, then more once I knew her. That scandalized me. As for everyone, there were circumstances: she was allergic to latex, couldn’t tolerate hormones, never wanted to have kids. I didn’t believe abortion was wrong in an absolute sense, yet seven was somehow too many. Get it together, already. But her experience was invaluable. “You’re early enough to get an injection,” she said, which I didn’t know existed. She described the surgery, too, presented every option. She never pressured me. She asked if I wanted to keep it. “I’ll drive you,” she said. “You’re barely pregnant,” she said. She loved me so well, and I had judged her.
I recall the clinic as airy, bright, clean, staffed by women who were friendly and nonchalant. They let Emily stay with me the whole time, through the blood test and the empty ultrasound, which produced an image of grainy blackness they printed out and clipped to my chart. It was a photograph of nothing but I wanted it. It was too silly to ask for. “This is your first pregnancy?” the doctor said. “You must be terrified.” I don’t think I was. The shot went in my hip. I rested my elbows on a table and wiggled my ass with my skirt up to make Emily and the nurse laugh. I asked the doctor if I could hug him and didn’t wait for an answer. I was giddy with freedom, the new appreciation for freedom; high on the awareness of diverted catastrophe.
I wanted to tell everyone in the store what had been in me, what came out.
My follow-up fell on a Saturday, when protesters choked the entrance to the parking lot. “Don’t take the abortion pill!” one shouted at me through the closed window of my boyfriend’s car. “The abortion pill kills women!” I felt smug knowing they were too late, that I wasn’t pregnant anymore and I was also alive. In that state, at that time, there was a counseling and waiting period requirement, but it could be satisfied by listening to an automated recording over the phone, or calling and pretending you listened, or (maybe?) pretending you had called. There are no words that could have changed my mind but I dialed anyway, curious.
My grandfather had died the month before, and my boyfriend made reference to what his parents would think, if they knew about the pregnancy and knew about the timing. But I didn’t want to give birth to my grandfather. He was a brusque man who beat his dog and treated my grandmother so badly that she finally fled him without saying goodbye and I never saw her again. I didn’t want to have a boy at all, and I dreamed I had a girl so I decided it was, or would have been. I imagined her not as a baby—I’ve never liked babies—but at the age I enjoy most in children: 3, 4. I didn’t picture a face so much as a sweet and radiant presence, a soft golden weight rested on my hip and in my arms. This sort of thinking was safe, even appealing, once I’d been restored to unpregnancy. How loving I felt toward her now. How connected.