It was sweltering on the pavement the day I took myself in for an abortion. Two crowded buses to an outer-city suburb, on one a man was pressing his erect penis up against my back as we stood hanging onto cords.
The abortion clinic didn’t look clean but the stench of bleach was profound. The staff were practical and kind rather than sentimental, which I appreciated. Those who could afford to pay paid, those who couldn’t didn’t.
I waited with teenagers and their pimply, put-out boyfriends. Teenagers with their mothers who looked worried, firm, stressed. Older women with male partners. I waited with middle-aged women who had come alone, like me. I didn’t like being in a waiting room with boys and men, but there wasn’t a separate space, and I didn’t begrudge other females needing their own terms of support. Some of the men were perving on other females. Poor girls and women, thinking this is maybe one day your man is going to treat you better….
Outside the ‘pro-life’ team were a small group, with a card-table of flyers of warnings and salvation. One man holding a placard of a fetus in utero stating ,”This is who you are killing”. Yeah, I know, I said to myself, I didn’t come here for a tooth extraction. They didn’t yell and they didn’t grab- it was a semi-silent vigil.
There was an on-staff counsellor to make sure abortion was the decision I wanted. I cried, I was scared, but I had made my decision.
Back to the waiting room until the call (it seemed like hours- it was almost two I think. Some of us had been awake for 8 hours without a sip of water which is normal in these procedures.)
A hospital gown and being taken to the operating theatre. The counsellor took my hand as, with my legs in stirrups, (“move your bottom down, no, bit further, no further- that’s it”) they counted me down into twilight sleep.
I woke in a cot vomiting into a surgical tray next to girls and women in various stages of consciousness. I was starving.
The effects of sedation made me feel “just fine” to leave but they told me to wait and the plastic cups of hot, sweet tea and packets of Arnott’s Family Assortment’ biscuits were like a revelation. Like I’d never had them before.
“You out of it?” grinned a groggy girl beside me.
“Has to be something good about this”, I smiled back.
To a nurse I said, “I so wanna a cigarette!”
“I know! You just have to wait!” – her smile whizzed past.
It wasn’t long before I was awake enough to put on my jeans and go out side onto the narrow verandah. I sat there smoking watching the ‘pro-lifers’, tired of them (not angry- just tired), and grieving my aborted fetus. Knowing my decision was right, but grief seemed only permissable on their terms.
Suddenly an older woman came out the same door I had, she was in tears. She didn’t want to intrude but…? I gave her my hand.
“My daughter is in there. Did you have to walk through these people? She had to walk through these people!”- voice quiet, shaking, raging.
“ I’m so sorry.”
“Are you okay?” she asked me. ( Here is a woman, I thought- getting right to the person before her- extending solidarity of care.)
“You’re being brave. You can’t be okay. Look at these people. They have no idea. No right.”
I was still sedated but looked at them again. I turned my head up and down the street. Had the pavement cracked with heat I wouldn’t have been surprised. Dead gardens and some limp hoses slugged out globs of useless water.
I saw the cars adorned with ‘Pro-life” stickers. Run-down, banged up cars- cars that people who can barely afford gas let alone air-conditioning drove.
I shook myself back to the woman beside me.
“No they shouldn’t be here. Hey, if you’re wondering, the procedure is painless, fast and your daughter will be drinking tea in about – ooh- seven minutes.She’ll be okay.”
Of course, I couldn’t promise that. She may have felt dreadful. The procedure may have got messed up. She may have been sick as a dog. I just knew it wasn’t likely.
After I picked up my script to take to the pharmacy I left through the front entrance and wound my way relatively unmolested through the small sad group. Cramps were kicking in. A woman approached me shyly and handed me a flyer about Jesus. She told me she would pray for the spirit of my aborted child. I think I said “thank you.”
Walking alone up the street I saw children packed in the protester’s old cars, in abominable heat. Staring out at the abortion clinic, staring at their parents, staring at me.
I turned and called back to the woman who was praying and the surrounding group, “You need to get those kids out of those cars or they’ll die.”
There was some fussing around and a lot of shocked faces and even the placard man was silent.
“Get them out or I’ll call the police. I’m gonna wait here until they’re out of those cars and I see them with water.”
It occurred to me the only shade the kids could have was under the abortion clinic verandah. A predicament for the girls and women having to put up with the protesters.
“You see those trees right up there?” The group turned and peered, shading their eyes in glaring sun, way down the street, looking to where I was pointing.
“Well, get them out of those cars, there’s a tap in the park. I mean it!”
I got home to my toddler and we read stories. She delighted in “camping food”.
Beans on toast for dinner.