I clutched my friend Margaret’s hand in anxious silence and looked around at all the other women. Many of them were weeping, and they all looked extremely anguished. In my late thirties, I was probably the oldest one in the waiting-room. They looked like babies to me, just in their teens, sitting with their mothers. One by one the nurse called a name and shepherded the frightened girl through the door to see the doctor.
“My God Margaret, they all look so young,” I whispered.
I turned to the girl seated next to me and asked her timidly, “Is this your first?”
“No,” the teenager replied, “It’s my fourth.”
At those words, I gave a horrified look in Margaret’s direction. It was the first time I had ever set foot in a women’s clinic like this, and although I felt profound gratitude that it even existed, I sincerely hoped it would be the last.
Sitting there in that painful silence, I couldn’t help going over and over in my mind what had happened. Why oh why had I been so stupid and gone home with my dance teacher and had sex with him? It had been a classic one night stand, even though it happened during the day, and stupidly we had used no contraception. I had also failed to pay attention to the fact that we had sex on the exact middle day of my cycle. My next period had been late, and just for the heck of it, I bought a pregnancy test kit from the pharmacy. I’d gone into the bathroom, opened up the package, and passed through the motions almost nonchalantly, because hey, I was almost forty, and couldn’t possibly be pregnant.
I had never been pregnant.
But in just a few seconds, the test showed positive. Yes, I was pregnant. I called my mother at once and told her everything. Fortunately, she already knew that my husband Jim and I had been having marital problems for a while and that I had looked elsewhere for sex, so she wasn’t at all surprised. Nor was she judgmental.
“Don’t worry darling. Go back to the pharmacy, get a second test and do it again. Just to be sure. And then call me back.”
So I went out and bought another test and went through it a second time, with the same results. I called my mother again. “Mom, the second one says I’m pregnant too. What shall I do?” The strain was too much for me, and I burst into tears, feeling utterly overwhelmed.
“Don’t worry darling; I will pay whatever the cost to take care of this problem if you’re sure you don’t want the baby.”
“Absolutely not,” I blurted out. “I can’t have a baby now.”
“Then find a clinic that will take care of this for you, “ my dear mother said, calmly and resolutely, “and I will send you the money so that Jim never finds out.”
When I got off the phone with my mother, I immediately called my best friend Margaret and told her everything. She knew what to do, and found a reputable clinic right away, and the next day I had an appointment set up.
I felt quite ill waiting for the next day to arrive and even felt the first signs of morning sickness, or at least, I thought I did. I was in such a state I suppose it could have been the power of suggestion. And all this time I was acting normally at home, as though everything was fine. Jim didn’t have a clue about the turmoil I was going through.
And now, we were here, at the clinic, on this rainy fall afternoon, waiting. I felt as though the sword of Damocles was about to fall on my neck, or that the very doors of hell were going to open up to me.
The nurse called my name from the open door, and I grasped Margaret’s hand one last time for the strength to go on, and then with fast beating heart I walked off with the nurse into the part of the clinic where everything is “taken care of.” All the nurses were so very kind to me, and I was led into a small room with a high bed with stirrups, and a rather large machine standing close by. I was terrified.
They helped me to remove my underwear and settle into the correct position, and then the doctor came in. He too had a kind manner and a quiet, calming voice. He told me to relax and breathe deeply, that the pain would only be like heavy period pains, and they would soon be over. It helped me so much that one of the nurses held my hand during the whole procedure.
The doctor turned on the noisy suction machine and proceeded to remove the incipient fetus. It was over very quickly, and no more painful than he had described. Before leaving the room, he turned to me and said, “So what are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?” I didn’t have to think twice about how to respond, and quickly said, “I’m never going to have sex again.”
That was not the case of course, though I did swear off men and sex for many months. I went back to Margaret’s house for a cup of tea, and then went home and prepared dinner for my husband as though it were just another day. Although I had some mild physical discomfort and felt shaky and emotional about what had happened, I did not feel any guilt at all, either then or later.
Several months later I made confession to my favorite priest and received the absolution that my mind unconsciously wanted and which my soul craved. I’m an old woman now and still feel neither guilt nor remorse. I am just eternally grateful that I live in a democratic country where a woman is allowed to make her own decision about what to do with her body.
Well, for the time being anyway.