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choosing life
by kathy godfrey

I could not remember the last time I felt so relaxed. My body sank into the chair. Gradually I lost the frantic energy that kept my brain spinning with plans, anxiety, regret, criticism, and guilt. I had no choice but to relinquish control to professionals. I was not responsible for making sure the situation was successful or for preventing disaster. I relaxed into the capable hands of “mission control,” such a relief that I cried, causing a nurse to question my resolve one last time. Without explaining the twisted thinking behind my tears, I assured her I would be ready whenever the doctor called me in.
When my daughter was two, I found myself pregnant again. That’s how I felt—as if I had gone missing and turned back up with a fetus growing in me. The nurse at the clinic looked up at me from the test on the counter top and quietly said, “Positive.” Positive. That’s all. She waited for my reaction before she offered anything more. If I had crumpled like tissue paper in the rain, she would have laid me out in a quiet place to dry and smoothed my wrinkles with clean warm hands. I said a curt “thank you,” no eye contact, and out the double glass doors. There was nothing she could do.
For days I had been dragging through my routine longing to sit in one spot and lick saltine crackers. I was up at 5:30, at daycare by 7:10 and to the plant before 7:30 the way I always did, but I knew. So sitting in my car with the “positive” verdict, I wasn’t thinking of the quiet nurse or the possibilities of the baby. I was planning what I would tell my mother to get her to pick Erica up on the day of the procedure, where I would get the money, whether I could have it on a Friday so I wouldn’t miss work the next day. Pure logistics. I never really struggled with what to do, only how to get it done. I pulled out of the parking lot and picked Erica up at daycare.
I talked to her all the way home. That’s what I always did because I read somewhere that talking to babies makes their IQ higher. We might have discussed the color of trees or what something was called, or what she wanted for dinner which for about six months was always “peace and cats” (peas and carrots). We had dinner, a bath, a story, milk, another story and at 8:30, she was in bed sleeping soundly. In her doorway, I watched her middle rise and fall thinking how fragile a breath that barely raised the sheet covering her, and how heavy she felt to me.
Soon after, I was lying on the paper-covered table wearing a cloth gown that smelled like Downey. I wondered whether I hid my panties under my pile of clothes. A nurse was stationed at my head where she monitored my emotional state throughout the procedure that seemed remarkably short. The doctor narrated every step, preparing me for a cold speculum, needle sticks, pressure and the wet whooshing sound of the vacuum hose.
I stretched the phone cord onto the dark porch and fell into the swing. I wished that I smoked. It seemed like a cigarette would have helped. Instead, I called the only person (other than the father) who knew that I went for the test. Linda listened while I cursed and regretted and despaired, then asked simple direct questions.
Do you want the baby? To raise on my own?Could you marry him?What good would that do?Are you sure this is what you want?Do you think I don’t want to?Then what are you upset about?What kind of life is this?
When the whooshing sound stopped, it was over. The doctor patted me on the knee and helped my feet out of their stainless stirrups. After resting a few minutes on the table, I was raised to a sitting position. I remember feeling remarkably relieved, like having a toothache for days then finally getting in to see the dentist, and it’s over.
I was only twenty-five years old, but I had more than enough evidence that I was a loser. With one divorce behind me, I was shacking up with another man twelve years older than I was, a man who still played local dives with a band of thirty-somethings determined to make it big. (But mostly they drank beer and married and divorced foolish hometown groupies.) Sometimes this man was faithful, sometimes not. Sometimes he was funny, sometimes cruel. Once he told a room full of our friends that I was prettier from a distance. He also crooned love songs to me from on stage and took me on my first real vacations and yanked me around by my hair when I was bad.
Add to my successful relationship history the fact that I worked in a sewing factory forty-five hours a week; my family pronounced me an unfit mother; I had been randomly promiscuous, drunken and wildly self-destructive and there was all the proof I needed that I would "never amount to anything.” My high school friends were college graduates by then, and I pretended not to know them if our paths crossed. And then, pregnant with another child I would not even consider wanting.
Blessed relief. The absence of pain. It was over. I thought of all the stories I had heard about women having abortions. Many struggled to maintain their sanity for the rest of their lives. The horror of what they had done tormented them into mental hospitals and out of marriages. Some were barren. Some developed early cancers. Most of them suffered depression, especially around the time the child would have been born. Some wept every time they saw children that were the age the child would have been. Even my best friend admitted she could never have gone through with it. So from the oasis of my relief, I wondered if I would come unglued in the months and years to come. I considered the marching men and women I had passed on my way in. Posters of mangled fetuses, hand-made signs accusing me of murder, warning of God’s judgment.
The attendant helped me dress and offered her arm for support as we proceeded from the procedure to recovery. She lowered me into one of several puffy recliners and raised my feet. Tucking a warm blanket over me into the sides of the chair, she offered me a cup of tea and a cookie. At least a half dozen other women were in the room, but I pretended I was the sole object of her thoughtful care. I wanted to believe that the doctor, nurses, counselors, sedatives, blankets, tea were all gathered to relieve me of the pain I had been carrying.
And I was relieved. Pungent chamomile wafted into my face reminiscent of daisies, summer vacations—not drunken conception, not hair pulling and filthy words and self-mockery. Sweet smelling games of “he loves me, he loves me not” played alone in sunny weeds. Banished memories rose and wrapped around my cramping middle like a warm bath, clean and comforting.
I sipped tea and drank in the cool fingers touching my wrist for a pulse count every twenty minutes. I never wanted to leave. As the clock ticked toward the end of my two-hour recovery time, a nearly nostalgic sadness drifted into my relief. I was already missing the brief respite from my life, the mess that must be going on without me even as I nibbled gingersnaps and picked sweet peas from 1960’s summers. I dreaded stepping back into my real world with indescribable exhaustion. If something had gone wrong on the table, a little uterine tear, complication of some kind, an unforeseeable tragedy . . . As it was I had recovered nicely in the allotted time.
I was on my way out the door and back down the sidewalk lined with shrubs that smelled of urine. No protestors waited for me. Too bad because I was shaking and weeping with what may have looked like regret, another story to add to the arsenal: “women leave the clinic in a near hysterical state.” They never would have suspected I was fighting the urge to run back to the door and beg for one more hour away.
I drove myself back to his house, climbed into the waterbed and pulled the satin covers over my head where I stayed until the following morning. He came home from a gig in the wee hours and asked how I was feeling. I pretended to be asleep. (I later learned he had taken a groupie to breakfast before coming home.) I got up that Saturday morning, cleaned house, picked Erica up from my mother, told her I was feeling much better and resumed my routine.
Just over a year later, I went through the whole process again. Curiously, I remember almost nothing about the second abortion. I remember my circumstances had not improved but deteriorated. I also recall berating myself for allowing such a thing to happen twice as if only one time was forgivable, but two times were not. I didn’t even tell my best friend the second time, imagining her disgust at my incomparable stupidity.
I have never calculated birth dates, never wondered what they would have looked like, never feared infertility, never felt compelled to warn other women about ending a pregnancy. But then, that’s just me.

Kathy Godfrey, M.A. was born and raised in the Asheville area. She teaches English and Literature at AB Tech and has just completed a collection of short stories and poetry with the support of her husband Dale and cats Hunky and Possom. [ dalekat@charter.net ]

 

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