It’s amazing how much a good night’s sleep can chase away the anxiety and reignite hope. Last night was my first dose of letrozole, and I slept for ten hours straight which is definitely some sort of miracle as I usually can’t even get the three hour block of sleep required to effectively track my basal body temperature to confirm ovulation.
This is so refreshingly familiar to me, the temping and tracking my menstrual cycle, planning intercourse when I’m fertile. I can’t even imagine stopping right now, fortieth birthday notwithstanding. I have been trying to conceive a healthy baby for three years now. It’s become a lifestyle and I’ve become comfortable with grieving and despairing and all the terrible shit that comes along with it. In a way, the sorrow and yes, rage, that accompany my little rituals feels safer than giving up and my addiction to hope brings comfort as well as the pain.
When I am pregnant, even through the terror of loss, I know the suffering is worth it. Only thing is, and this may sound contradictory to the previous paragraph — the pain lasts so much longer than the joy.
I’ve had a lot of readers say that they’re glad I haven’t given up the fight. I have ambivalent feelings about that. Eventually, if I want to save my soul, I will have to give up or I will go mad and that’s not a figure of speech. Oh, “madness” sounds so dramatic and glamorous as compared to the clinical terms my psychologist would use while assessing my illness. Through this entire cycle of hope and desperation, through all my bereavement and the exhilaration of success that precedes grief and torment, I have always been a girl with a severe mental illness. That’s irrefutable; the one constant throughout these miserable years has been my ominous diagnosis of schizoaffective, bipolar type. It certainly gums up the works, the frantic attempts to link up my medication prescriber and my psychiatric obstetrician and make informed decisions about medications, and to assess the risks of medications that make me barely functional.
I am enjoying my morning today, though, and as I know from hard living, today is all I have. This feverish longing for just one baby could destroy me but as of yet, it has not gone away.
For some reason I am rather suddenly remembering every minute detail of my termination for medical reasons, those two horrible days that left me forever changed. These memories, for quite some time, crystallized in my memory until they were a sharp and painful mass that I learned to be able to tuck away safely in some of the squishier parts of my conscious mind, occasional feeling the hard edges and feeling pain, but otherwise moving on. This was after months of sobbing all day and being able to think of nothing else, all the while holding my head high because at the time, I had inserted Molly’s sad story into actual legislative discourse on Planned Parenthood and the controversy of fetal tissue donation and felt my small town was judging me accordingly.
We went to Tacoma for the dilation and evacuation procedure, to a dumpy and squat little building that served as an abortion clinic as our local hospital is Catholic and the abortion clinic in Olympia did not perform second trimester terminations. I felt apprehensive upon our arrival — the neighborhood we drove to was full of shiny new medical facilities and our clinic was a shack tucked into a street full of palaces. There were anti-abortion protesters who were agape upon viewing my small but unmistakable baby bump, and the clinic required you to use an intercom system to gain entry. I was a wreck, and Geoff spoke unintelligible words into the little speaker.
Suddenly, the door sprung open. A black woman hustled me inside, introducing herself as Tanya, the clinic’s grief counselor. I remember being surprised at her title, as my previous experience with abortion was notable for the staff’s indifference for patients and as she guided me through a lobby full of desolate looking women with no grief counselor to reassure them, Geoff remained at the front and I assumed he was taking care of payment details (I think it was $1k but I can’t remember, nor do I know where the money came from — he told me he’d handle it, and he did). Tanya said there were no other second trimester procedures scheduled, and I’d have a waiting room to myself. Upon entering the private waiting room, where there was a worn but comfy couch and a couple chairs, as well as a television, I was given a Valium. Geoff joined us, and he was offered coffee. I, as the patient, hadn’t had food or drink since the night before, since I was having twilight anaesthesia for the procedure.
Tanya held my hand and told me it was best that I start grieving now, while I was there. No problem. She and Geoff both held me as I sobbed and sobbed.
Tanya explained what I would be undergoing that day, and upon my return the next. Forms were signed — I didn’t read them. That day, they would insert laminaria sticks in my cervix to dilate it, but I would be “asleep”, and they would give me an injection to stop Molly’s heart. I was assured that both the Valium I had been given and the anaesthesia I would receive would both cross the placenta, and that Molly would feel no pain. She rubbed my back while explaining, and it was so comforting. I wanted my mom with me, but I was not speaking to my mom, and Tanya was a fair substitute.
I knew from prior internet research that Geoff wouldn’t be able to be with me. When I had learned that at home, I had been very frightened but Tanya said she’d be with me the whole time, and I felt okay about that. I was led down a short hallway to a room with an exam table and a chair for Tanya. Everything looked old, but clean. I asked Tanya if it were possible that I’d die, and she said no, they were there to take care of me. The doctor entered.
“I read your story,” he said to me, holding up a photocopied document. It was something I’d written at Geoff’s behest, an application for financial assistance that I’m not sure we were ever granted. “I am so sorry.”
They started an IV, which I didn’t even really register. I have tiny veins, and they always have to dig around to find them, but it has never bothered me.
“I promise I’ll take care of you,” the doctor said, and took my other hand. I felt very safe, even though a nurse had wheeled in a tray of shiny and intimidating array of implements.
“When are you going to start?” I asked him. He told me they were finished, startling me back to wakefulness. “Where’s Geoff?” I asked them.
I was back in the waiting room, in Geoff’s arms sobbing. I couldn’t believe Molly was gone.
Tanya had said it would be best if we stayed at a hotel that night in case I went into labor, and said the clinic would cover the cost. I wanted to go home. We weren’t too far away, as the clinic was in the southern part of Tacoma and I wanted my cat (not the little cat I talk about now, a different cat named Bandit). After some discussion, it was decided that that would be okay. Tanya gave me her cell phone number to call in case I did start having contractions, and I was instructed to eat lightly, but no food or drink past 8pm. I was given a script for painkillers.
That night was horrendous. Brutally painful cramps wracked my body. Geoff called Tanya to see if a heating pad (!) would help — stupidly, since I had been told no food or drink, we assumed I couldn’t take the painkillers, even though I’d been told to take my psychotropics as normal. Tanya said a heating pad would probably be useless, that she was so sorry but I just had to get through it.
I slept the whole drive up to Tacoma the next day. Again, Geoff dealt with the intercom as I stared bewilderingly at the protesters, wondering if they knew I’d do anything not to be there right then, and that my baby was already dead, and Tanya again came bustling out and whisked us inside. I couldn’t stop crying. There was a bruised and tender spot on my abdomen. They had said they’d stop her heart with an injection either in my abdomen or vagina, and I guessed they had done it in my abdomen, but I didn’t ask. Valium materialized. We were led to the private waiting room, Geoff again had some coffee — I wanted a cup so badly! We went into an office, where I was given Cytotec to dissolve in my cheeks to further soften my cervix. The pain was unbelievable. We signed more forms that I didn’t read, and I think that’s when we actually paid for the procedure. I decided Tanya was an angel of some sorts. I remember having to wait a while so the pills in my cheeks could start working, and being left for awhile watching COPS on the television in the now familiar waiting room. Geoff and I live a TV free life, so it seemed so novel and ultimately meaningless. Finally, Tanya came to bring me back to the same room. This time, I was terrified of being separated from Geoff.
I laid down on the table again. Tanya said she had a question, and anything I answered would be okay, but they were specifically looking for fetal tissue donations from women taking Category C medications during pregnancy (this meant there was not a lot of information to prove or disprove the medication’s safety during pregnancy), and my fistfuls of psych meds qualified me. It suddenly occurred to me why I had spent months researching the safety of my meds, and come up with no satisfying answers — it’s fucking unethical to test medications on pregnant women, duh. I signed my consent in hopes that Molly’s remains could be used to help other women like me. We had the option of cremation, but I was not okay enough to set that up and assumed it would be too expensive anyway.
“Good for you!” Tanya exclaimed as I signed the form, “This will really help someone.” She kind of shook my arm in her excitement. I hadn’t discussed this decision with Geoff, but was a little glad that the decision had been left to me. It was our baby to be sure, but my body. I know my husband well, though, and knew he’d accede to my wishes on the matter.
They started messing around with the IV and my recalcitrant veins and Tanya asked if I had any pets. I felt a rush of energy, and started enthusiastically telling her about Bandit and how she loved me but growled ferociously when Geoff tried to pet her, and then I was waking up again and they said I could start healing now. I felt physically worn out, in a lot of pain and they put something in the IV to help me feel better and started taking that out. I felt suddenly warm and fuzzy, and I practically ran back to the waiting room into Geoff’s arms to cry some more.
I’m sorry, but every so often I have to write out what happened those two days. I’ve described my eighteen week abortion over and over, and this time I really wanted to focus on the kindness and compassion of the staff at the abortion clinic because these really are our frontline warriors in the fight for women’s right to maintain autonomy over their own bodies and make decisions that are right for herself and her family in regards to reproduction. I was right; Tanya is an angel and I’ll never forget her or her tenderness or her soothing embraces (and I’m not one who is normally okay with physically affectionate gestures from strangers) and the doctor who performed the procedure was someone I feel fortunate to have on our team. Tanya called several times over the next few weeks to make sure I was physically and emotionally okay…my physical wellbeing was perfect with no complications but three years later, I am still struggling with grief. These people stood by my side in my darkest hour, and I will never stop being grateful.