Gifts from a Life Let Go
By Laura Cates
Sunday, January 16, 2000. 8 am
I’m going to be sick. Not because of the hormones, but because of the shock. I sit down on the toilet and place my head in my hands. How? When? Why? This is not real. I look at the stick from the pregnancy test kit. It is real. All of a sudden I’m hot—flushed. A wave of nausea and I slip off the toilet, flip up the lid, and brace myself for what is about to come. My abdomen contracts but nothing comes. Relief. The moment passes. I force myself to get up. My legs are cramped from remaining in such an awkward position. I feel dizzy. My hands shake as I turn on the shower. I get in and try to think of something else. I have to be quick. Only an hour to get to work.
“Okay, your last period was December 10. That means your due date will be September 17.”
I shake my head. No. It won’t be. No due date. Nothing will be due. I tell the doctor I can’t have this baby. Won’t. I am resolute.
“What do you mean?” she asks. She looks a little stunned. She doesn’t understand. How do I make her understand? She blinks her black eyes behind black glasses in confusion. I mean I can’t have this baby.
“Let me ask you to reconsider. You can get help. If you don’t want to parent, you can place the child for adoption. There aren’t enough babies for people who want them.”
I shake my head no again. Can’t do it. She’s a woman. She should understand.
Her tone becomes cold. “I can’t help you. It goes against my beliefs.”
I’m going to be sick again. I can taste bile at the back of my throat. The ends of my fingers go numb. I begin to sweat. Doctors are supposed to help people. Why won’t she help me?
“I’ll get someone else to see you.” She exits and I’m left waiting. Finally someone comes. He is friendly—curly hair and a warm smile—handsome even. I’ve seen him before for a sinus infection. He asks if I’ve considered my options. He asks how it happened, if I was being careful. I tell him yes. It is the truth. I was careful. I’m the two percent accidents happen to—the member of an elite club. He writes a number down, tears the sheet off his prescription pad, and hands it to me. I thank him and leave.
In my bedroom, I pick up the phone with one hand and hold the piece of paper in the other. I call the number. A woman asks me a series of questions, then she gives me instructions. I write down what I need. Clean underwear. Pads. Identification. Someone to drive me home. She tells me I can’t get an appointment for two weeks because they’re busy and I’m not far enough along for an emergency appointment. She confirms the date and time, 12:15 February 1st, and tells me to call back in a week.
Saturday January 22, 2000. 5:10 pm
I finish my shift at the clothing store where I work full-time. I make my way to the bus stop. It’s cold and I don’t have a scarf or gloves. It starts to rain. I don’t want to take the bus because I’m afraid I’ll be sick. I am not in control of my body anymore. I get on anyway. I have no choice. The bus smells of mildew and moth balls. It’s packed with swearing teenagers in baggy clothes and elderly women loaded with parcels in reused bags. I sit down beside one of the women. She has greasy grey hair and yellow teeth that stick out above her lower lip. She clicks her upper and lower teeth together absentmindedly, every ten seconds. She accompanies the clicking with a sucking noise. I count each time she does it. I concentrate on her instead of the woman in the seat in front of me holding a stroller and baby. The bus lurches forward.
The bath water is getting cold. I shift my body so I can reach the tap and the tepid water swishes around me. As I turn the tap to the right, I accidentally glance down. I’ve been trying not to look down. I see the rolls of my stomach, creamy white, shiny and slick with soapy water. I don’t look that different. I’m not any bigger—too early for that. The differences are internal for now. Holding the sides of the tub, I push myself back against the tile with weak arms and try not to feel those differences—the sore breasts, the hardness and slight contractions of my uterus, the nausea. If I feel them I will panic because I cannot stop what is going on inside. I cannot stop the embryo from growing. Not for another nine days. Another nine days to grow. I will live with you for another nine days. No. No you. It. I will live with it for another nine days. A drop of salt water streams down my cheeks and mixes with the bath water. No longer than an inch. Lost.
Tuesday, February 1, 2000. Noon
I am buzzed in through the first door. I enter a small space, and slip my identification through to the other side. The women at the desk behind glass verify that I am who I say I am. They buzz me through the next door. Security is tight.
They’re behind schedule. I’m left waiting. There are other girls—a tiny black-haired girl reads a book, a heavy-set redhead sits two chairs down from me. I want to speak to them, but we don’t look at each other. We sit on long plastic chairs, the ones you lay back on when you’re giving blood. I sit on the end and make sure my legs and feet are together. The nurse asked me to change into a smock that ties in the back. It is too short and doesn’t cover me well. I don’t think I tied it right. It is ugly—bright, large tropical flowers. My running shoes, jogging pants, and t-shirt sit in a neat pile next to me on the floor.
I watch the clock. The hands move close together, further apart, close together. The black-haired girl has gone in. I think I’ll be next. Suddenly I hear the steady hum of what sounds like a small vacuum through the closed door. I realise what it is and my stomach falls like lead. My hands begin to shake. The black-haired girl looked so frail. She didn’t have anyone with her. She was alone. Will she be okay? I hope she isn’t in pain. I hope it doesn’t hurt. I’ve been told it doesn’t. They said she will feel no pain.
I’m not next. They call the redhead. I’m not left alone though. The black-haired girl is back, lying down on one of the chairs, covered in a blanket. We don’t look at each other.
The redhead comes out. She lies down and covers herself with a blanket like the black-haired girl. I must be next. I am. The nurse comes for me and takes my hand. I am ushered into the room. It looks like a regular room in a doctor’s office. Except for the stainless steel machine with tubes. The nurse asks me to get up on the table. I heave my heavy body up, still trying to keep my legs and feet together. The paper sheet crunches under me. The nurse makes chit chat. She asks about work, what I do. She gives me a needle. The doctor comes in. She is pleasant looking, looks like someone’s mother. Or a teacher maybe. She wears large glasses with a purple hue, a throwback to the 80s. Her hair is reminiscent of that decade as well—slightly curly and feathered at the sides. I have to take off my underwear. I slip it off and the nurse takes it away.
The doctor tells me what she is going to do. First there will be an ultrasound to determine how far along I am. I have to shift myself down the table. I can’t keep my legs and feet together anymore. The ultrasound says I’m seven weeks pregnant. I’m relieved I’m no further along.
I get another needle. Drugs. Not to knock me out, just to make the procedure a little more bearable. Immediately I feel light-headed, dizzy almost. I feel like I could float. I am weightless. The doctor turns the machine on. The nurse talks to me about coffee as the doctor starts the procedure. I talk back, unsure of exactly what I’m saying. I’m afraid I’m slurring my words. I must be coherent though; the nurse carries on talking as if it’s a normal conversation.
“Okay. You’re done. You did very well.” I am glad of the doctor’s praise. Glad it’s done. The nurse helps me put my underwear back on, and leads me outside to the plastic chairs. I join the black-haired girl and the redhead. Two more girls have appeared. I have to focus on walking. I feel like I will stumble if I’m not careful. We reach my chair. I lay down and the nurse covers me with a blanket. I want to sleep. I’m supposed to stay here for another hour. Can’t though. Can’t sleep. My boyfriend has to get to work.
Wednesday, February 2, 2000. 7:30 am
I sit on my bed, knees to my chin, arms wrapped around myself. I have been in this position for hours. I stare out the window. The winter sky is slowly turning from black to varying degrees of gray. There are a few white clouds. I wanted to see the sunrise, but there was no sun, just a gradual lightening.
In the night I thought of what I had lost. And of what I had gained. There could be no equality between the two, no fair deal. I had to weigh a life against mine. Although I know I will grieve until the end of my own life for what I gave up, I have the rest of my days to make use of the independence, courage, and strength I gained. They are gifts from the life I let go. I will be forever grateful for them.