Monday, June 02, 2014

Possible Pacifier Panaesthesia

I'm sure most women can relate to the anxiety surrounding a late period. It is, of course, a little worse when you know you did something unsafe. It's during these tense days that I spend angrily punching the area where my uterus is and hopelessly try to persuade it to just get it over with already, stop fucking around, the tiny flecks of blood aren't cute and I'd really like the whole thing to just get out of there now.

Whenever my lady bits start acting stupid, I am brought back to remembering a day in autumn of 2010 when Nicholas and I went to my gynecologist to do a pregnancy test. I hadn't bothered with one at home since I had health insurance at the time and wanted to be 100% sure. It was a beautiful, warm fall day that almost made you forget winter was just around the corner. I was nervous, yes, but overall felt calm with Nicholas by my side. Though I was young and many young people have a tendency to think "this won't happen to me", I have generally felt the opposite way. Perhaps it was being one of eleven people in the state of Illinois to catch German Measles, a disease they thought they had eradicated, as a young child. Or the mystery case of viral meningitis that occurred at the same time as a wickedly bad UTI one summer, forcing me to stay in the hospital for a week. Regardless, I tend to assume everything will happen to me.

The whole appointment took a grand total of maybe fifteen minutes. It's a pretty straight forward process, after all. Pee in cup, think briefly on how you wish you had a penis so it'd be easier not to pee on your hands, wait for results. Nick held my hand as we waited in the exam room, a queasy, fearful feeling inside of me. Truthfully, I already knew. The cravings and extra volatile mood swings were big indicators, but my realization had come one morning a few days previous. I awoke slowly and could very clearly smell French toast in Nicholas' bedroom upstairs, still a solid room away from the stairs leading down to the kitchen. I found out about half an hour later that they had indeed had French toast for breakfast... At least three hours before I woke up. My superhero sense of smell (which was very strange for me since I am chronically stuffed up), was just about as certain an indicator to me as my smiley gynecologist coming back into the exam room and announcing, "Congratulations! You're pregnant!"

Unsurprisingly, my brain shuddered and switched to auto-pilot. He asked us something about are we married, pointing to my engagement ring. We could raise it, he'd be happy to deliver it for us. Dear Jesus, was my inner reaction. I shrugged. I suppose technically two 19 year olds could raise a child. I knew of one couple my age who had a baby and they were actually quite good parents. The problem was that they wanted children whereas I had never thought, "oh, I can't wait to start a family of my own."

"What about an abortion?" I asked. He told us that he could not do that, something about how it would look if he performed one and then went into the next room and proclaimed the sanctity of life. He went on about adoption but I cut him off, asking if he could refer us to someone who performs abortions. I wasn't decided but fuck if I was going to have this asshole pretend it wasn't an option. He refused, gave me a prescription for prenatal vitamins and told me to set an appointment for next month.

As I walked out of the exam room, the nurses and secretaries all offered us, "Congratulations!" Simultaneously uncomfortable and mortified (since I was pretty sure I recognized someone in the waiting room), I said nothing and followed Nick out of the door.

I've never heard the word "congratulations" so much when I had felt so far from celebrating. Nick and I went back to his house to lay in bed after picking up the vitamins. The sunlight streaming through the windows and onto the brochures from the clinic seemed such a strange juxtaposition. I cried as he held me, being strong as he always is, keeping all the tiny, terrified fragments of my soul together.

I don't remember what I craved but I was constantly hungry. Each day I woke with a terrible sadness, feeling so disappointed in myself for being so irresponsible. Tequila has helped me make some of my poorest decisions. Through all of it, I was always so grateful I wasn't in it alone.

Nicholas left the decision to me. We discussed it at length but the ultimate choice rested in my hands. I did some research and found a reputable clinic in Grand Rapids. I scheduled the appointment for when I'd be right around my ten week mark, the perfect time according to them.

Though I am a woman of science and define animal life as beginning with the brain, I was still not positive how I would feel afterwards. Web surfing had led me to believe I would likely feel immense guilt for "abandoning" my "baby". I read about it's development, though the memory of what parts it would have at the time of termination are lost to me now. I wrote a letter to my future self explaining why this was the best course of action and why I should not feel guilty. I still have that letter to this day.

When I told my mother, she was not proud. Unfortunately, the procedure was expensive and we needed to borrow money. I couldn't stand the thought of Nick's parents knowing and knew I would tell my mother even if we could have afforded it. She lent us the money and gently chided me, telling me this better be the only time I have to learn this lesson. I wondered if she thought I was wrong. Though she pushed adoption as an option, even suggesting I simply keep it, she respected me enough to not pass judgment on my choice.
The drive down was nerve-wracking. I had read a lot about surgical abortions but still couldn't imagine what it was like. It would be my first surgery. When we found the place, there were people outside with signs. I clenched Nicholas' hand as we walked past them, ignoring their hateful words. What I'm doing isn't wrong, I told myself. This thing isn't a human yet. I am.

I checked in and I was asked if I would like to see the ultrasound. Anticipating this question, I informed them that I did not but my fiancé did. I discovered he was not allowed back there with me. The knot in my stomach tightened as they told me that they could print a picture and seal it in an envelope for me to give to him. We sat down.

The waiting room had another couple, a man sitting alone and a girl my age with her grandma. Everyone averted eye contact. I remember vaguely thinking the girl with the grandma had nice boots on. She was called in shortly after we arrived and I worked on my forms.

Nicholas kept me calm, quietly whispering jokes in my ear. I appreciated the distraction and almost felt weird about wanting to laugh. My fear was centered mostly around the sedation and actual surgery,  much less around the fact I was getting an abortion. I had always been pro-choice and after fairly extensive research felt confident that I wasn't about to become a baby killer like so many people claim.

After what seemed like the longest wait in the history of my life, my name was called. Nicholas gave my hand a squeeze and I took shaky steps towards and through the door that led to one of the first major decisions of my adult life.

The ultrasound was first and they turned the monitor away from me as their tool slithered around the jelly they spread on my abdomen. I told them my fiancé wanted to see it and they printed a photo, sealed it into an envelope and handed it to me just like they said they would. I wondered if this was strange, if we were reversing the regular roles. Nerves kept me from asking.

I think it was at this point that I saw the counselor. Part of the reason I had chosen this facility was for this very reason - while I believed the choice I was making was the right one, not just for me but for the potential life that I had inside of me, I worried that the millions of people who were disgusted by me would get under my skin. Society has a way of fucking with your head.

My counselor was wonderfully kind and thought that my idea to write a letter to my future self was a fantastic idea. She gave me a number I was free to call afterwards if I had any problems. The time was drawing nearer. I had opted for extra sedation, just to ensure I stayed calm throughout the whole thing. I had researched the procedure vigorously and although I knew what to expect, it was still scary to think about someone poking about my insides.

I was lead down some stairs to a large, sterile looking room where those of us here would spend our pre and post op time. The nurse I spoke with was, like everyone else I had encountered, incredibly kind and gave me all the medication I would need afterwards - for the pain, for my cervix, for possible infections. After a wait much shorter than I had expected, the room was ready and the procedure began.

The sedation was excellent. I was much more calm than I had anticipated being and it came on fast. All in all, the surgery seemed to take five minutes. Afterwards, in the room, I remember struggling to put my clothes on I was so doped up. A nurse came in and helped me slip my underwear back on, equipped with a massive pad to catch any bloody leakage. Though I'm not generally embarrassed by most things, this probably would have humiliated me had I not been under rather heavy sedation.

I was led to the recovery area, where the girl with the cool boots I had seen in the waiting area earlier was resting. My memory is spotty here, as I remember a very funny nurse that the two of us conversed with telling us about some excellent documentary about either whales or dolphins. I'm pretty sure I wrote the name of it down, being the constant chronicler that I am, but lost the paper shortly afterwards. When my recovery buddy and her neat looking elephant bag left, I couldn't help but wish we had met under less strange circumstances so I could have asked her for her Facebook. Maybe we had only gotten along because of the drugs but it would have been nice to find out for sure.

Nicholas pulled the car around for me and I came out the back door, heart filled with joy to see him. Even now, thinking on how much time he's spent waiting for me - at appointments, shopping, work - it blows my mind to think that I found someone not just capable of putting up with me but also never unhappy doing it.

We went to Yesterdog because I was starving. Though I was emotionally raw, I was not sad. I was immensely relieved. Somewhere in the middle of curly fries and a chili cheese dog, I realized that I would never need to read that letter I wrote to myself. Plenty of people would jump at disagreeing with me but to this day, I still know I made the right decision.

Some people would like to call me fetus killer, including the angry protesters outside the clinic I passed by on my way in. Holding back the tangent on how this kind of harassment is completely unproductive (hey buddy, why don't you use those hours you spent holding a picket sign on volunteering at an orphanage for the insane surplus of children abandoned because you think it's better to pop 'em out and toss them aside than it is to terminate a zygote before it even becomes a life form?), I will say that you're allowed to believe whatever you choose. Because everyone has a right to make their own CHOICES. My issue is when your beliefs extend beyond your own actions and you try to force them on others, legally or otherwise.

That topic, however, is another post entirely. I wanted to share this experience with the world because of the fear I felt when I began to consider abortion as an option. It's one of the most hotly debated topics by old white dudes and yet many women feel shame when discussing it. There is no reason for fear or shame. The best way to combat these things is through being open and honest. Maybe, just maybe, someone will read this and realize, "I have no reason to be afraid or embarrassed."

One person at a time, we can change the focus of the conversation from embarrassment to entitlement, and in five, ten, maybe twenty years time if that's how long it takes, we'll look back at all the legislation, the atmosphere and attitude that once surrounded this issue and think, "This was something people debated over? How stupid." At least, that's all one can hope.

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