Rite of Passage
I got pregnant in 1970, when I was twenty years old, knew it the minute, the second it happened, and also knew that I wasn't gonna have that baby. I told my husband, Regan, the man I had just married, whom I knew I did not love who said, "Quit tripping. You're not pregnant." But two weeks later no period came and after a month passed he started getting kinda grey-faced and grim, too. I hadn't thought about actually having kids since I had been a very young woman, still just a girl that bleeds. Life sucked, poorly, and the idea of perpetuating the species sucked worser. The way Regan and I batted each other around and as immature as we both were, for all our world-weary posing, I knew neither of us could be a parent. Shit, we couldn't even keep a transmission in the Monza, burning 'em out faster than we could pay for the replacements. I did not know anything about abortion except that it was illegal and I started asking my female friends.
I talked to a woman who knew a woman who knew a woman who worked for Planned Parenthood and was an abortion rights activist, (not to imply that people who work for Planned Parenthood are abortion advocates) and who it was known had helped other women find a doctor willing to perform that procedure, as they call it now. I had never even had a Pap test before, white trash kids go to doctors when they have broken bones or their appendix ruptures. In fact, I had gotten birthed, had my tonsils out at age two, had an arm in a cast at age seven, that was about it. Aside from a couple bouts with the croup in Lake Tahoe and getting shots of penicillin, I had never participated in the Health Care System. I loved reminding people that when the doctors and nurses in LA went out on strike the death rate went down. Going to see a doctor, where I come from, is a big deal. But, I tracked this woman down and told her what was going on and she hushed me and gave me a phone number scribbled on a piece of paper and told me to call after 6PM.
I called, per request, thinking I would be talking to the same woman, but it was a different one and I had to tell the whole story again to another stranger and she was very silent and then she gave me the name of a doctor in Carson City and told me "I understand he sometimes can take care of matters such as these."
I spent another week thinking about "matters such as these" while Regan got more and more nervous, then I called that doctor's office. I talked to a receptionist who asked what I wanted. "I missed my period last month and it didn't show up again this month,” I exaggerated .
"Oh, you're pregnant, wonderful. I'll make an appointment for you for next week. Thursday. Nine-thirty AM, OK?" I sure as hell wasn't gonna tell her I was looking to get rid of the little package I was carrying so I spent another week plus feeling my womb grow by the minute. The fateful day finally rolled around and I drove Regan to work and then myself to Carson, finding the doctor's clinic and being shocked to stupidity to find myself in a bright, sunny waiting room with a wall-to-wall aquarium filled with flashing tropical fish. The waiting room was wall-to-wall, too, with bright chirping females, knocked up, everyone, waddling around holding their backs and sitting in that sply-legged way that only pregnant women do.
I waited an hour past the time of my appointment before the nurse called out, "Mrs. McElroy?" I didn't know how to tell her that the only Mrs. McElroy I knew was dying on a sofa in Dobb's Ferry, and had been for years, with a thermos of martinis stashed under the couch. I just went with her and got my clothes taken away and put into a little blue paper robe that tied in back but covered nothing. What is this, blue is for boys or something? There I sat on a cold plastic table, very state-of-the art, I'm sure, for another hour before a heavy-set, jowly-faced doctor with one foot braced up in about forty pounds of metal and rubber works came thump, thump, thumping in and told me to lay down and spread my legs. Well, the direct approach is always nice. He put my feet into the stirrups and spread 'em. There is no greater indignity in this world for women, so far as I know, than the indifference of male doctors doing exams of our private parts, which I thought for years were called "Gentles".
He shoved his hand inside me about up to his elbow and felt around up inside me for what seemed like a long, long time, then pulled out with a sicky sucky noise and slapped my thigh. "Well, you're pregnant, all right, a little more than two months." This is probably what I dislike most about doctors. They belabor the obvious, they talk in polysyllabic words that only another doctor could hope to understand, they slap ya on the thigh and they say stuff like, "Well, now, what's the matter with us today?" Like, hey, that's what I came here to find out. I looked at him from the vantage point of flat-backing on his examination table. He looked at me from his, towering above. Mexican stand-off. I wasn't gonna say anything because I didn't know what to say. Want to kill the kid? seems a bit blunt. I understand you know how to take care of these matters seemed too obtuse, too subject to misinterpretation. I could have stayed there forever, looking up, but finally he broke away and said, "Well, get up, get dressed and I'll see you in my office." I think he already knew why I was there. My total lack of reaction to the joyous news had to be some kind of indication.
I dressed and was led to his office, leaving who knows how many other females freezing their asses off in how many other examination rooms. Then we had another stare-down, him behind his desk, me in a little chair in front. "We'll have to figure out when your last menstrual cycle was to find out when your due date will be,” he said by way of breaking the silence.
"Doctor," I told him point blank, "I'm not gonna have this baby. I can't have this baby,” and then I went on to tell him about being too young, too crazy, with a crazier husband who talks to himself all the time, about the fights and the slapping each other around, about the utter uncertainty of our future, together or apart. I just spilled the beans till I finally wound down, saying, "Besides, I can't even afford to support myself, let alone a kid."
Then it was back to the stare-down again, neither of us blinking, for a long time. Then, he got up and pulled the office door closed tight. "What makes you think that I can help you?" he asked me. I gave him the long, involved, so-and-so said that so-and-so said spiel, laughing nervously when I described the mysterious phone call. His eyes were tiny holes in his fleshy face. Apparently my explanations met his unspoken criteria because he slipped from interrogator into business man right before my face. "It will cost you five hundred dollars, up front, cash,” he stated flatly. "Call me at this number when you have the money,” and he scribbled another seven digit code onto a script sheet, tore it off the pad and escorted me to the door. "Make sure it doesn't take longer than a week or so, I won't do this into the second trimester." Well, I hadn't a clue what he meant by trimester but I understood clearly the matter of a week and laid this news on Regan that night during supper.
Regan got the money from his mama, telling her we had burned out another tranny, which I guess we had. I called the doctor ten days later and he told me to meet him at his clinic that night, at midnight, money in hand. "Don't bring anyone with you,” he warned. Regan drove me to Carson and gave me the phone number of the pool hall downtown where he waited after he dropped me off at the clinic. So, Regan practiced his bank shots while the doctor and I took care of business.
The doctor had another fellow with him, a thin grey guy who was going bald. "This is doctor________,” he told me. "He will be observing and assisting. We'll be doing a basic D and C which is taught in all medical schools but most doctors don't get much practice at it. If you don't mind, he'll be helping me and seeing how it's done." No Fair, I thought, I didn't get to bring anyone with me! I suppose I didn't mind being the guinea pig nearly so much as I minded paying cash, up front, for the privilege.
The other doctor, was quite kind, however, and held my hand and talked to me throughout the ordeal. I was paper-garbed and flat-backed again so fast I had no time for second thoughts and the first doctor slammed an IV drip into my arm so quickly it made my head spin. "Demoral," he told me, "and glucose. You'll be feeling it about now,” he continued, whereupon my head exploded and I drifted off to a place somewhere around the ceiling. "I am putting a local into your cervix, xylocaine, to numb you up, same as a dentist, you might feel a little pricking here,” he added, which gave me the giggles. A little pricking is what caused this whole problem, wasn't it?
The doctor opened me up with a speculum, inserted a series of probes and began the laborious chore of scraping away the beginnings of the next generation. "That's good, you're doing so well. Just breath, look at me, breath, that's good,” the other doctor said, standing at my head. He went around to stand towards my feet as the first doctor explained each step as it was completed, but continued holding my hand and stroking my arm. The demoral had done it's thing, however, and I was nowhere near my body while all this was going on. While I could hear the scrape, scrape, scraping, I could not feel a thing except a sort of pressure where the instruments touched that innermost part of my being.
"We're a little bit further along here than I thought,” the first doctor commented to his cohort. I didn't know if he meant in the pregnancy or the abortion. I just bobbed along on a wave, watching the lights pop blue and white on the drive-in screen of my mind. I don't know how long I was on that table, could have been twenty minutes, could have been twenty hours. The doctor's voices seemed to come from the acoustic tiles in the ceiling. My legs started twitching and the second doctor started patting and stroking them the same way I would a dog having a rabbit dream. "That's it,” the first doctor commented, "Now, it's just a mop up and we're done." The second doctor removed the needle from my arm and wiped my brow which I realized was drenched in sweat as the first doctor finished up and removed the speculum which went pop as it came out. Then I was sitting up on the table and the doctors left me to dress. I glanced down into the metal trash can, lined with a sterile looking clear plastic bag and saw blood and tissue. I touched the blood and put a bit of it to my lips. "Put out the light, and then put out the light,” I mumbled, quoting Othello, "And so, my sweet, goodnight." The blood tasted hot and salt and I wondered why I would do such a thing at the same time that I knew it was exactly the correct thing to do.
The doctor had given me a Kotex, saying, "Use this. You'll have some bleeding for a day or two." Shit, a kotex, wouldn't you know it, and I thought about the time of my first blood and the clumsy attempts to use those damn things and the mystery of my missing maidenhead. "Today, my dear, you are a woman,” I said, remembering the printed instruction sheets with the birds and butterflies that had so offended my sensibilities. This blood ritual, I realized, was a vastly more significant event then first blood or first sex. I scrambled into my clothes and left that room a different person than the girl who had walked in.
I called Regan from the doctor's office. He gave me a year's supply of high-estrogen birth control pills, saying, "I don't know what you have been using but it didn't work. Use these and don't miss a single day. Never. I will not do this for you again, do you understand me?" Yes, I nodded. "If you bleed heavily or develop a fever, call ME, don't go to the hospital. It was a clean job and you shouldn't have any problems. In a few weeks, you'll be back to normal. If you ever have a baby, tell the doctor that you had one previous pregnancy that resulted in a spontaneous abortion, a miscarriage, during the third month, understand?" I nodded yes again. The doctors walked me out to the driveway where Regan pulled up in the Monza. "You'll cramp a bit. Don't let the blood scare you. It's normal and will last only a day or two."
I was higher than a kite on the drive home, watching the stars wheel across the sky out the side window as Regan drove back to Reno. He wanted to know all the gory details but for the moment I was lost to a quiet secret world inside my head. "There wasn't much blood,” I told him. "No pain." I knew that I had entered into this experience just like that, it was just another experience like getting laid, getting drunk, getting loaded, getting maced by some rabid cop at a Peace demonstration that turns into a riot. Another step in the game of life. But, I felt I had crossed some kind of line. I kept thinking about Scarlett O'Hara after she shot the Yankee deserter dead in the head with her Papa's pistol. "Well," I thought, "I've done murder." It wasn't a good feeling, just resigned. It's done.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Kat McElroy 2005, All rights reserved.