By Nancy Ford
Search for just the tiniest dot of red on the tissue that would signal my oncoming period and remove the “what if” thoughts that had plagued my every waking moment for nearly two months.
Beat myself up for indulging in a moment of carnal, unprotected pleasure brought on by familiarity, nostalgia, hormones and a bottle of cheap wine. So fucking stupid.
Hope no one would notice my very visible bright green Chevy Maverick parked alongside our family’s doctor’s office building in Smalltown, Ohio.
Beg Dr. M to do an in-office procedure. He explains, of course, that that was impossible. Without moralizing or making me listen to a heartbeat, he refers me to the nearest Planned Parenthood office, 20 miles away.
My breasts become tender, even at only six weeks.
My closest friends swear their secrecy. My sister cries, remembering the thrill ride for all that was my year-old divorce. Regardless, I convince myself that if the ex-agreed, we could remarry and bring this child into the world and we could all live happily ever after. This, despite knowing that never, ever had my life’s plan included heterosexual marriage and parenthood. Tra la. Feel a rush of relief when he declines.
A dear friend from our local community theater drove me to the small, two-story brick clinic. It was old but clean and safe. Quiet. No protestors.
Gratefully I had an extra $200 that month.
Take a number in a dimly lit reception area. Two other women wait. One was about my age, mid-20s. The other was much younger.
They call my number. Enter a much more brightly lit area. Clothes off, paper gown on. Hop up on the examination table. Place heels in hard, cold stirrups.
Cry. Panic. Hyperventilate.
Attendant wraps a cuff around my arm. My blood pressure is too high, they say, to proceed. I beg them to, anyway. They won’t ‘til it’s safe. After a short, calming period, my numbers fell to an acceptable level.
Lean back. The overhead lights were so bright. Still see those lights in the dentist’s chair.
Breathe deeply. Internal pressure, not exactly pain. Sucking sound. Lose myself in those lights.
Recovery room. Not as bright. See those two women again. Exchange silent nods. Told to rest for 30 minutes, then we can leave when we feel ready.
Ask friend to stop at the grocery store for maxi pads. Big, rigid, white cottony pillows.
No pain or cramping. Sleep, go to work the next day and rehearsal that evening. The same friend throws me a questioning look. I mouth, “I’m OK.”
The follow-up exam reveals no fetal tissue in the substance they evacuated from my uterus. They think I must have spontaneously self-aborted during those stroke-level moments of elevated blood pressure and absorbed it or something. I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. (My sister cries again when I tell her this, decades later.)
Normalcy returns, more or less.
Prepare to move to Texas to follow my literary and stage aspirations as an out lesbian, which I did six months later. It was the right decision. My decision.
In ensuing years, calculate how old that child would be. “Oh, it’s been five years. She’d be starting kindergarten now.” Then, “Oh, it’s been 16 years. He’d be wanting his driver’s license now.” Then, ‘Oh, it’s been 42 years. I wonder if I’d be a grandmother now.’
Other moments bring pure confidence in my decision. Moments of power, victory and love that likely would never have come to me otherwise, at least not in the way they did. These reassurances multiply when a stranger goes out of their way to tell me my work somehow helped them through a dark period in their own life. It humbles me and reassures me that I made the right decision. My decision.
It does make a person wonder about parallel universes, though. Now there’s another story for another time.
Meanwhile, somewhere a woman searches desperately for just the tiniest dot of red on her tissue that will tell her she doesn’t have to make that decision.
Today, she’ll need a lot more than $200. It’s our job to make sure she gets what she needs.