by kathy godfrey
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
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
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
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
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
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. [ email@example.com ]