It was late winter. Husband and I were a year into grad school and assistantships. We'd had our first child a few months before we started school, and the combination of parenting and graduate school pressures had not left us the glowing, happy parents one might see on the cover of a magazine.
No, we had the scars, literal and figurative, of gestating and birthing a new being into the world, caring for him to ensure his survival, and the emotional and physical effects of a full year of heavy interpersonal stress.
The marital relationship had suffered under the weight of schedules and the unexpected demands of getting to know a heretofore nonexistent new creature’s personality and needs. Fighting and coldness reigned during the first year, interspersed with brief moments of warmth, and the knowledge that this, too, *should* pass. Right? Please?
The memory of our past decade or so together helped me to remember that we were going through a difficult and trying time, but that our relationship had a strong foundation and could weather the storm of strain.
Childbirth had done a number on me. I spent essentially a full year getting, at most, two-hour blocks of very light and physically tense sleep during the night. I tore during birth, and vulvar pain and pelvic weakness was present well after the first year postpartum. I gained only about 25 or 30 pounds during pregnancy -- but post-partum, I gained nearly 75 additional pounds on an already extra-large frame.
I had never been so fat and physically weak. I could feel that my body wasn’t right, like it was on the verge of something very wrong. The stress and hormonal changes were affecting me and had expressed themselves partially through this large weight gain, I knew.
It was at about that first year mark when I became pregnant again. My periods had recently begun and were so unpredictable that at the time I didn’t even know if I was ovulating. But obviously I had been.
I knew we couldn’t continue with the pregnancy. Physically, it would have pushed me over the edge. Emotionally, our family was unprepared to have another child, and I felt very uncertain about our financial future after graduation. So, we agreed to terminate the pregnancy.
I looked up a clinic on the Internet and my mother drove me to it, a two-and-a-half hour drive to the big city. There were no protesters. My mother made a nice donation to the clinic when we registered, and expressed her appreciation for the clinic’s services. Another clinic in my state had shut down after its doctor was killed.
We waited for a long time in the waiting room. Finally, they called me back for some bloodwork. They drew some blood and asked me a few questions, then sent me with my file back to the main office and then back to the waiting room. More time passed.
Again they called me back, this time to meet the doctor. He was wiry and casual. He began asking me questions. He asked my weight and, after my reply, he told me that they might not be able to perform the abortion due to my size. He laughed that the week prior they’d had to turn a girl away that was my weight, after she had driven over 200 miles.
“Of course, she was about 10 inches shorter than you,” he commented.
He began the transvaginal ultrasound and asked more questions: How far along I was, had I ever been pregnant before, how many children had I birthed? Had I had any hospitalizations?
“No,” I replied. I told him my child had been born at a birthing center, with midwives.
He scoffed, and slid out a low, “Shiiiiit.” At this point, I was becoming a bit shocked at his lack of professionalism. I remarked that I’d had an uncomplicated pregnancy and birth and that the midwife’s center was what we had felt was best for our family.
After the ultrasound, he stated that they could go ahead with the termination and asked if I wanted to see an image of the embryo. I refused, and he said, “Can I give you some advice? Next time, don’t have your baby at a birthing center, go to a hospital.”
I told him I didn’t know that there’d be a “next time” and that was why I was visiting him. As he exited the room, he told me to get dressed and take the folder on the counter to the lab. After I dressed, I went to pick up the folder and noticed he’d left the printout on top of the folder for me to see, instead of putting it inside like I’d asked. I looked at it for a moment and then carried the folder to the desk.
I sat back down next to my mother and waited again. My nerves were getting the better of me at that point. It felt like we waited for ages. We sat in the waiting room for five hours that day. Finally, they called me back for the procedure.
I went back in the procedural room and waited. And waited. And waited. I waited in the procedure room for at least an hour, and finally a nurse came in. She told me that my mother had asked if everything was all right. The nurse wanted to reassure me that they hadn’t forgotten about me and that they’d be with me soon. I waited another 20 minutes after that and then they came in. I lay down on the table and asked the nurse to hold my hand.
The doctor began asking me about my work as he started inserting the anesthetic needles. It hurt really, really badly. I’d had one other abortion in my late teens and I didn’t remember the pain feeling anything near as much. He began asking me about my weight as he was using the aspirator.
As he was finishing up, he asked me if I’d ever considered having bariatric surgery.
I curtly replied, “No,” and as he stood up and left the room with the nurse he said, “Maybe you should,” and shut the door.
In shock, I lay there for a moment and then my mother came in. I recovered on the table for 10 or so minutes and then, as soon as I could, I wanted out of there. With her help, I got dressed, left the room, walked by the nurses’ station, past the registration desk and out the front door.
We had over a hundred miles to drive, and about an hour after we left, the clinic called telling me that I hadn’t picked up the medications I needed to take. Pissed, at this point, I told her that no one had given me any directives on follow up medications or anything of the sort and told her that we were 50 miles away already. Snippily, she told me that they’d see if they could call something in to my local pharmacy (which they were able to do).
Some time later, I reported my story to the National Abortion Federation and they made contact with the clinic. They called back after they talked with the clinic and left a message on my phone to let me know if I was interested in hearing how the follow up went, I could call the NAF back. But I never did.
I didn’t want to hear any of the excuses that they made, or the denials, or anything of the sort. And if they received any kind of punishment or citation, I didn’t need to know about it. If there were any repercussions for the doctor, that was enough for me. If there weren't, well, I'm happier not to know.