The doors were doubled and beige. I had been directed to walk towards them down the narrow white hallway after mistakenly walking into the billing office instead of the clinic. I guess they don’t take the check in advance here. I could see the check-in desk through the two brightly lit rectangles nestled into the doors. I pushed the door open, pressing my palm flat against the cold metal plate and leaving a sweaty print behind. The room was large and open. The desk was right in front of me now with large sliding glass screens shielding nurse from patient. The walls were white and the floor a light colored plastic imitating wood. There were several rows of chairs with people scattered across them. The nurses behind the glass gave me warm and welcoming smiles as if I’d just walked into my old pediatrician’s office.
“Good morning, how may I help you?” One of the nurses asked as I shuffled a little closer to the desk.
“I have an appointment at ten forty-five today,” I said, my voice cracking as I adjusted to speaking in the quiet space.
“Name, please.” The smile never left her lips. She brushed her long dark hair over her shoulder and readied herself to enter my information into the computer.
I gave her my name in exchange for a clip board.
“Okay,” she said. “I need you to fill out these forms on top and then read the information that’s laminated and then come back to the desk to sign the consent form electronically.”
I nodded at her and took the clip board and a pen. She never said out loud why I was here. There was just a small blue booklet clipped to the front of the board with the words medical abortion typed across the cover.
I looked across the waiting room for a good seat. It wasn’t exactly crowded, but all the good corner and wall seats were taken. I ended up taking the seat directly in front of the door that led to the examination rooms. Two seats away from me sat another girl, here alone with a blue booklet in her hands. She looked around the same age as I was, maybe a little older. Her long blonde hair created a curtain across her face as she stared intently into the open blue booklet. She had come alone just like I had.
The paper work was fairly typical of any doctor’s appointment I had been to in my twenty something years. I wrote my name and address, checked a few boxes, and answered questions about previous surgeries and family medical history. I turned to the next page and found a sheet labeled: Ultrasound and Sonography Release.
Question one: Do you want to see the ultrasound? No
Question two: Do you want a picture of the ultrasound? No
Question three: Do you want to know if it’s twins?
I stopped. My pen hovered above the two boxes. Yes or no. I hadn’t thought about this. I didn’t know if it would change my mind.
I finished up and handed the same nurse the clip board and electronically signed the consent for a medical abortion.
“We will call you when we’re ready,” she said, smiling at me again.
The term was so clinical I thought as I sat down in my seat a couple of spaces away from that girl. The room was quiet, but not in the way the dentist’s office or family practitioner’s office or even the ER is quiet. The air in the room was heavy and in danger of weighing just a little too much. The ghost of anxious minds, heated discussions, tears, and impossible choices clung to the breath of the intermittent sighs as we waited well past our appointment times. The information online did say this could take four or more hours.
I looked around the full waiting room. The blue booklets stood out before the people did. The nurses let you keep those after you give the clip board back. It’s filled with instructions and warnings and things to expect once you’ve taken the medication. The woman across from me had one. She looked to be in her thirties. She was African American, heavy set, and she too had come alone. She was craned back in her plastic chair, head resting against the wall and eyes closed. The wall next to her held a row of chairs where two separate couples sat.
A strawberry blonde girl with large glasses and pale skin. She looked smart. She was leaning against a stocky guy with a fat beard and shorts on in the middle of January. The girl was tapping her foot in no particular pattern, her lower lip jutted out and her brow was furrowed.
The couple a few seats away from them looked to be around the same age. The girl was very pretty and even sitting down she had an obvious height. Her companion was an even match and professionally dressed. They were whispering to each other and laughing periodically. They looked more like two college kids at the library rather than an abortion clinic.
I sat in my plastic chair picking at the pale pink polish I’d painstakingly applied over a month ago and wondered what brought this circle of girls together, all connected by a blue line of faint fluttering heart beats.
Five minutes past my appointment time. A male nurse came through the office door, but he did not call my name.
“Bella,” he said to the room at large.
The girl sitting next to me stood up quickly, her long blonde curls bouncing as she got up. She followed the nurse through the door and disappeared.
Bella was hiding in the bathroom stall of Denny’s. She was on her only break of the day, but she had to do it while she was away from home. And the only time he ever let her out alone was to go to work. She was sitting on the toilet of her stall. The sanitary napkin bin that clung to the wall in this stall was just enough off kilter that she could hide things in the crevice between the bin and wall. She had been stashing about half her tips in there every shift for the past month and praying that a customer would not discover her reserve. It was the only way she could save for herself. Her boyfriend was in charge of all the finances. But, that was all going to change. In just a couple of months she’d have enough money for a plane ticket to Florida where her sister lived. They hadn’t spoken in years because of a fight caused by Bella’s boyfriend, but when she got there she would explain it all. The bruises and multiple ER trips for broken bones and all the concealer she owned. Only a few more months and he would never see it coming. She would be free, except…
The timer on her phone went off, interrupting her rambling thoughts. She had balanced the pregnancy test atop the toilet paper roll. Bella’s hands went numb and her heart fell into her stomach. Shaking, she looked at the test.
“Shit,” she let out in a half whisper, “Shit, shit, shit.”
I forgot to mention the music in the waiting room. The clinic played the soundtrack a thirteen year old girl would play after a break up. The kind of music you play when you’re trying to be sad. But, somehow the music and the silence were separate. The music never stopped playing, but the room never felt full of noise.
I exited out of the Facebook app on my phone. I’d already checked it at least five times in the last twenty minutes. I’d scrolled past the same pictures of my old friend from high school’s wedding, my co-workers status complaining about her shift that morning, and my mother’s incessant cat memes at least fifty times.
The male nurse opened the door again and the blonde girl walked out after him. She was holding a brown paper bag. She didn’t look at anyone as she exited the waiting room.
“Jessica.” The nurse announced to the room. The tall pretty girl next to the professional guy stood up this time. She looked like a Jessica.
“Hey, Matt,” Jessica said when she heard the rustling of Matt bringing the phone to his ear to answer her evening call.
“Hey, babe, what’s up?” Matt’s deep voice came through the speaker.
Jessica was not a nervous girl. She was good with people. She loved being in crowds and making new connections. Embarrassment was an emotion she was not at all familiar with. She had a knack for conversation and public speaking. But right now she was at a loss for words or even where to begin.
“Just wanted to talk for a minute,” she said, her words trailing off in a breathy laugh.
“Babe, I told you I have to get these study abroad applications done tonight,” Matt groaned.
“Um I know, but I have something to tell you.” Jessica plowed forward. Might as well rip off the Band Aid.
“Yeah?” Matt said. He sounded a little distracted, he was probably reading an application as they spoke. Deciding between France or Peru maybe?
Jessica took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant.”
There was silence on the other end for a full minute.
“But, you don’t want kids. Like, ever,” Matt said, as though this fact meant pregnancy wasn’t possible. If only it worked like that.
“Yeah, but I’m pregnant any way,” Jessica stated, unsure of where to go next with this conversation. She didn’t ever want kids. She was currently a junior at Loyola University majoring in environmental science. She wanted to spend her life going all over the world. She wasn’t even sure she wanted to spend the rest of her life with only one person. Matt was great, but she wouldn’t sacrifice her plans for anyone.
“Well, um, what are you going to do?” Matt said his deep voice rising a few octaves. “Did you change your mind?”
“No. I didn’t change my mind,” Jessica said, her nerves settling as flashes of her future played in her mind. “I have the right to choose and I’m going to exercise that right.”
“I can take you if you want,” Matt offered, his voice returning to normal.
“You don’t have to do that.” Jessica said brushing off the gesture.
“Babe, I want to,” Matt affirmed.
The door to the waiting room opened heralding a new patient. A young couple preceded by a stroller. The family caught everyone in the room’s attention. The man lifted the baby out of the stroller as the woman collected her clip board, adorned with a blue booklet. Our eyes collectively followed the father and the child to their seat in the waiting room. The baby made soft cooing noises. She couldn’t have been more than eight months old, all dressed in pink with a bow on her head. The father was helping her stand on his lap as she bounced up and down and laughed. I turned away and looked back at the girl with the large glasses and the guy with the beard. They were both watching the baby. The boy looked back at her and the girl whispered, “I don’t want a kid right now.” She bowed her head into his chest and he hugged her.
This time a thin female nurse opened the door. Jessica walked over to where her boyfriend was sitting with a brown paper bag in her hand and they got ready to leave.
“Nancy,” the female nurse called out in a voice that sounded like she had a permanent cold.
The woman sitting across from me opened her eyes and picked herself up off the chair. She walked through the doors blue booklet in hand.
Ok, I can do this, Nancy thought as she stood over the sink of her apartment bathroom staring at the stick. If this thing turns blue I can handle it. I’m thirty, it’s not like I’m eighteen. I’d just have to move out and get a better job and try and remember that guy’s name. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find out he’s a doctor.
There was a knock at the bathroom door.
“Nancy, what does it say?” Cara, Nancy’s roommate called through the door.
Nancy sighed. “It’s blue, it’s positive.”
“What?” Cara exclaimed, bursting through the bathroom door. Cara and Nancy had lived together for the past ten years. They’d been best friends since eighth grade and moved in together shortly after high school. “Are you gonna tell that guy?”
“I barely even remember that guy,” Nancy said, sitting down on the bathroom floor. “I was so drunk. God, why do I have to be this stupid?”
“You’re not stupid, Nancy, accidents happen,” Cara said, sitting down next to her.
“This is a little more than an accident, Cara. I knew what I was doing,” Nancy said, shaking her head.
“Ok, so you like sex. Like every other human on the planet. You’re not stupid.” Cara insisted.
“What am I going to do?” Nancy rested her forehead on her knees.
“You can marry me and we’ll raise it together. Two moms like us, that baby will be badass,” Cara joked, nudging Nancy’s shoulder.
“Yeah, when was the last time you even fed that goldfish you bought last week. Is it even still alive?” Nancy tried to joke back, but tears were already filling her eyes.
Cara put her arm around Nancy and squeezed, “You don’t have to do this, you know?”
“I can’t give it away,” Nancy said shaking her head. “If I have to take a ton of time off I’ll lose my job at the restaurant. And I’d know my kid was out there with someone else and I don’t even know if I could hand it over after I saw it.”
“Ok, just breathe for a minute,” Cara said, rubbing Nancy’s shoulder. “You have a few options, not just one. And it’s gonna be okay.”
I looked at my phone to check the time.
My appointment was set for 10:45am and I was starting to get a little restless trying to entertain myself with the same four apps on my phone and struggling not to think too hard about the future. I set my stuff on my chair to make sure no one would decide it was their seat now, and walked up to the check-in desk.
“Excuse me,” I said quietly. “I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t skipped. My appointment was at ten forty-five.”
“No ma’am, you haven’t been skipped,” the nurse replied with the usual smile and exaggerated pleasantry. “This appointment can take over four hours as it says on the website. We will call you back soon.”
I sighed and wandered back to my seat and checked my Facebook again. It wasn’t much of a surprise that nothing drastically new had happened in the social media world in the three minutes it took me to talk to the nurse.
The door in front of me swung open again. Maybe I’d get lucky and I could get this all over with now. The male nurse was back this time and Nancy followed him out of the door. She clutched the souvenir brown paper bag to her side and exited the waiting room quickly.
“Bridgett,” the nurse called out.
The girl with the glasses jolted and lifted her head up from the bearded boy’s chest. She looked at the boy and then to the doctor and then at the boy once more. She stood up slowly and followed the nurse through the door. The boy watched her go; he never took his eyes away from the door.
Bridgett walked out of the bathroom holding the test in her hand. Alex was sitting on the couch waiting for her. He looked up at her expectantly as she walked towards him.
“It’s real, I’m pregnant,” she said, sitting down next to him.
“Ok.” He smiled and kissed her on the cheek. “So we are having a baby.”
“Yeah,” Bridgett said, looking away from him.
“We can do this, it’ll be fine,” Alex said putting his hand on her thigh.
Bridgett looked at him and burst into tears. Alex threw his arms around her encasing her small frame.
“Hey, don’t cry. It’s going to be fine,” Alex reassured her.
“No it’s not.” Bridgett cried into his shoulder, “It’s not going to be fine.”
“I know this isn’t ideal, but I know we can do it,” Alex said. “We’ve been talking about having kids since we met. You want a bunch of them, right? It’s just an early start.”
“I haven’t even graduated yet,” Bridgett said, pulling away and looking at Alex. “My parents are going to kill me. They still pay for school and most of my bills. They can’t pay for a baby.”
“I have a job, Bridgett, and you can get one too,” Alex said, pushing the hair away from her face.
“I’m supposed to intern for the Chicago Tribune this summer,” Bridgett said staring off at the wall again. “That’s my dream. That could ensure my journalism career. I don’t want to do this right now.”
“Babe, there’s not much of a choice anymore.” Alex sighed.
Tears started to fall down Bridgett’s face again. “I don’t want to do this right now. It’s not right, yet. We’re only nineteen. And we’ve been fighting since we moved in together.”
“It’s been getting better,” Alex protested.
“Alex. We can’t have a baby if we don’t even know if we’re going to make it. We talked about breaking up last week,” Bridgett said her voice rising through her tears, “What if we fall apart because of this?”
“That’s not going to happen. We almost break up, but we don’t. Because I love you,” Alex said, his voice matching hers. He was holding both her hands and looking her right in the eye.
“I don’t know that.” Bridgett said looking down, but not pulling away.
“Bridgett.” Alex sighed.
“We need more time, Alex.” Bridget asserted.
“We don’t have more time. This is happening.” Alex implored.
“I don’t want to do this right now. I want kids, but not now. I don’t think we are going to make it if this happens. All those plans we made, they’re going to disappear. We need time. I need time. I need to graduate and you need to take over your dad’s business and we need to go a year without breaking up.” Bridgett’s voice cracked as she forced the words through her strangled throat.
“Bridgett, you know I don’t believe in where you’re going with this. You’ve known that since the beginning.” Alex’s voice dropped to almost a whisper.
“I don’t believe in it either. I never thought I’d even consider it, but…” Bridgett granted.
“But, what?” Alex asked, a bitterness coating his words.
“I don’t want to do this.” Bridgett said slowly emphasizing every word.
“We can’t kill our baby.” Alex said in a strained voice.
“I don’t want to kill our baby. I don’t want to make this choice at all. But, I’d rather regret this then regret my baby’s life. I don’t want you to leave me over this, but I don’t want to have a baby right now.” Bridgett was crying again.
Alex watched her cry for a few minutes that felt more like years.
“I won’t leave you.” Alex said hugging her again.
“We aren’t stable. We aren’t ready.” Bridgett cried.
Alex took a few deep breaths. This was not something he ever thought he’d have to agree with. He didn’t want to agree with it. He’d always said he’d break up with any girl that tried to end the life of his baby. Take her to court, even. Try and force her not to do it. But this, this was Bridgett.
“I know.” Alex sighed, “I know.”
The waiting room door opened again a young girl and a middle aged woman walked inside. The girl couldn’t have been older than fifteen or sixteen. Their shared long dark hair, green eyes and short stature gave them away as mother and daughter. I watched them as closely as I could without blatantly staring. I was waiting for the nurse to hand them a clip board. The young girl stood behind her mother while she took care of talking to the nurse. And sure enough there was the blue booklet glaring at me as the nurse handed the clipboard to the mother. They went and found a seat in the back of the waiting room. The girl’s eyes were glued to the family with the now crying baby as they passed them to find their seats. I watched the baby with her for a while. The mother was rocking her, attempting to quiet the crying before anyone became too disturbed, but the waiting room was an awfully boring place for a baby. The father started a game of peek-a-boo when it became clear the rocking was futile.
A plump woman in scrubs just a little too tight opened the door for roll call this time. Bridgett followed the woman out of the door. Her cheeks were red and glistening. She clutched the paper bag like a Teddy bear to her chest. She gave her boyfriend a slight nod and he gathered her stuff and followed her out of the waiting room.
“Julia.” The plump nurse called out in a husky voice.
The woman kissed her baby on the top of the head and followed the nurse to the exam room.
“We just had Ava seven months ago.” Julia sighed laying down next to her husband, Dan. Their parents had all pulled together to buy them a king size mattress for Christmas a few years ago. Her mom always told her the size of your bed could make or break a marriage. Julia looked over at Ava sleeping in the crib set up next to their new bed.
“Baby, I told you it’s up to you.” Dan said cupping her face in his hand.
“We are just barely making ends meet now.” Julia sighed.
“Julia Korine Andrews, I will get three more jobs if you want this baby. I love you. I love Ava. And I will love this baby too.” Dan pulled Julia into his arms and kissed her.
“I just think it’s too soon. Ava deserves some time to be our first baby.” Julia shrugged, “But, I feel bad.”
“Don’t feel bad, babe.” Dan reassured her, “You’re going to do what’s best for Ava. And don’t forget birth wasn’t exactly easy for you, Jewels.”
Julia had spent 36 hours in labor with Ava. Everything seemed normal, but the doctors kept saying she was taking too long. And after eight hours of ineffective pushing her placenta began to tear away from her uterus resulting in an emergency C-section.
“So you think I shouldn’t do this?” Julia asked.
“I think I never want to see you in that much pain again and I never want to feel like you might die again. But, baby this is your body. So you get the final decision.” Dan said and guided Julia to roll over so that she was facing away from him and wrapped his arms around her.
“You just don’t want me to get fat again.” Julia laughed.
“You could be five hundred pounds and I’d still think you were sexy as hell.” Dan laughed, shifting closer to her.
I’d run my phone battery all the way down to fifteen percent since I walked though those beige doors. If I didn’t put it down now I’d have no way to find a ride home. I’d had to pee for the past hour, but now I was afraid if I got up to use the bathroom they’d call my name and think I left. I opened the blue booklet and flipped through a few pages. There were two ways you could take the second set of pills. The nurses give you the first one here and then, well I guess that’s what’s in the goody bag, you do the rest at home. The first way is to put the pills in your mouth and let them dissolve before swallowing and the second is to stick them up your vagina. Gross. Not that the side effects from either are any better. Diarrhea, vomiting, passing blood clots the size of a lemon, a small chance -but still a chance- of death. Great.
The door opened again and the male nurse had returned. Julia walked out, gave her husband the paper bag and picked up her daughter. I looked at the nurse hoping it would finally be my name that he called.
“Maria.” The nurse said scanning the room. The young girl and her mother stood up. I sighed of course people that got here after me would get called before me.
I got up to ask the nurse about my turn again.
“You should be next.” She said before I could even get the words out.
Maria: I need to talk to you.
Ben: What’s up?
Maria: It’s serious. Can we meet up?
Ben: I’m busy, babe. My mom’s making me clean my room before I can go hang with Jose.
Maria: Can you hang out with me instead?
Ben: Why do you do this Maria? We were together all week. Don’t be clingy.
Maria: I’m not. It’s important.
Ben: Just tell me now then.
Maria: I’d rather not.
Ben: Come on.
Maria: I’m pregnant.
Ben: That’s not funny.
Maria: It’s not a joke.
Ben: Shut up. We’ve had sex like twice. I had sex with my ex all the time and this never happened.
Maria: I’m not lying or joking.
Ben: Then you’re a slut. You cheated. That’s not my baby.
Maria: What? You’re the only one I’ve ever slept with.
Ben: You’re a fucking liar and a cheater. I didn’t knock you up. We used a condom and had sex twice. That’s not even possible.
Maria: It has to be, I didn’t cheat! Please. I love you. I’d never do that. I want to raise our baby and be together.
Ben: Don’t fucking talk to me anymore. It’s over. Don’t call. Don’t talk to me at school. Slut.
Maria: Ben. No. I love you. I don’t want anyone else.
Maria: Ben, please answer.
Maria: Ben I can’t do this without you.
The knob on Maria’s bedroom door began to turn. She didn’t have enough time to dry her eyes before her mother was walking into her room, a basket of freshly done laundry in her arms.
“Mija!” she gasped, “Are you crying? What’s wrong?”
Maria looked at her mom for a moment trying to come up with the words. She knew she was about to disappoint her mother more than she ever had before. She knew her mom would not want her to have a baby right after she turned fourteen years old. She was only a freshman in high school.
“Don’t tell daddy.” Maria squeaked and started to sob.
I was staring at the door. Any minute now it would open. They would call my name and everything would change. I would walk through those doors lay down on a table so they could stick a wand inside of me and see exactly how far a long it, the baby - that is a baby - that I don’t want to think about as a baby - because it’s not going to exist much longer, is. And then they would ask me if I thought about all the options and make sure I wasn’t going to go and off myself after this. And then they would give me the pill. The little white tablet filled with a bunch of chemicals I couldn’t pronounce that were supposed to put my life back to where it was before all of this. But, somehow I couldn’t imagine it would feel like nothing had happened. I think that maybe, no matter what I chose, everything would change. The real question was, how did I want to be changed?
How sure are you that you will get an abortion today?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
I circled nine.
The door opened and the male nurse emerged once more. It was my turn.