An Abortion Mystery – Nevada Stream


It’s an old story that I don’t like to tell. I have no hope of catharsis. After 45 years, I know the grief is here to stay, the anger will continue to crack my aging teeth, and my eyes will continue to look askance at men who claim to know what’s best for women. Nevertheless, a story must be told.

It starts quite happily. In 1977, I was a 25-year-old white woman with two years of college under my belt and four years of marriage. Five months into a long-awaited pregnancy, I was as healthy as a horse – nutritionally sound, drug and alcohol free, an avid cyclist/walker/yoga practitioner, and covered by health insurance. My husband had a paid job and, except for a small payment for the car, we had no debts.

We had rented a charming little house with a fireplace and a courtyard, near the chestnut trees and the azalea-laden campus of a small liberal arts college in Bexley (Columbus, Ohio). It was a beautiful neighborhood where colorful perennials and decorative vegetables adorned homes and driveways. The older adults and children living on either side of our house became friends and the Quaker group that met next door during Ohio’s long growing season invited me to join their community garden and learned to grow food. It seemed like a good place to start a life and I was happy, proud and excited.

I had been thorough about my prenatal care. Nevertheless, well into my fifth month of pregnancy, I woke up at night with mild uterine contractions that continued until morning. When I was able to reach my OB/GYN to report them he was irritated and called the contractions morning sickness and abruptly hung up the phone. Having never suffered from morning sickness and having reported no nausea, I was confused and concerned by his response. The following night I woke up again to stronger contractions and lost another night’s sleep. When I called the OB/GYN he again dismissed it as morning sickness and told me to only call him if there was any bleeding. By the third night, I was exhausted, scared, and prone to continuous cycles of strong contractions and eventually bleeding. Feverish and too weak to stand or walk, I struggled to stay conscious. My husband carried me to the car and drove us to get help.

When we got to the emergency room at University Hospital Columbus, the hospital staff immediately assumed that I had attempted an abortion in my fifth month. Maybe it was my husband’s fairly long hair or my choice of cotton over polyester – I never knew. But my medical experts never deviated from their initial assumption and this assumption spread throughout the staff.

Despite my fever, I was stripped naked, roughly placed on a bare metal stretcher, and covered in a thin sheet to await treatment in a cold hallway. Care came in the form of a middle-aged nurse who was short, portly, full of piss and vinegar, and openly furious at my supposed abortion attempt. Spitting venom all the time, she raged at me in a patient room occupied by a young man visited by several members of his family. There she deliberately crushed the stretcher into the vacant bed and had me – literally – thrown on top of me, naked in front of a room full of horrified and embarrassed faces.

When I started shaking uncontrollably from the fever, she hissed wickedly, “Stop it!” Then, with a parting shot of just contempt, she stormed out of the room without closing the privacy curtain and left me to the future humiliations she happily foresaw I would endure. Later, however, she had to think twice, because she finally came back to take my temperature. Realizing it was 105, she became alarmed and fled like a frightened insect.

Shortly after, I found myself naked and feverishly cold in a hallway. I was eventually wheeled into another room for an ultrasound, which was conducted by two technicians who happily discussed their social life as I watched my grayscale child for the first and last time. After more cold, bare time in the hallway, I was inexplicably led into a janitorial closet full of cleaning gear and supplies. The door was closed and I was left in the dark. I remember being spooked when the door opened and four or five men in white coats crowded into the small space and looked at me with hostile faces. The older man introduced himself as the head of the ward and said the others were doctors and residents. In a voice as harsh as “brass” in a bad film noir, he began asking me questions in rapid succession: “Did you want to be a mother? Did you want this baby? How did you do this? Did you use a coat hanger? Why did you try to kill your baby? Horrified and unable to get a word out, I started sobbing. He straightened up, looked at me coldly from above and ordered me to “shut up”. The men quickly walked out of the interrogation room, turned off the light, and closed the door.

I then began a five-day stay in intensive care, where hospital staff kept me from dying; where, alone and in the dark, I painfully gave birth to an unhappy child; where his birth was then announced by the cries of a night nurse who found us on her rounds; where, when my mother arrived from Wisconsin, she found it on the counter of the nurses’ station in an ice bucket; where he disappeared forever and without explanation; where, too close to death, I was never anesthetized for anything; where I left my body during D&C and watched my executioner from above, safe from the brutality of his harassed and impatient hands; where I listened to the cries of women all night long, cries that had nothing to do with the birth of children.

When I went to my follow-up visit, my doctor was angry. He thought I was trying to pull one on him and didn’t get my desserts right. He said I was stupid. He told me the only way it could have happened was if I had attempted an abortion or had cervical cancer (a test the hospital hadn’t bothered to take). ‘administer).

I left his office thinking I had cervical cancer and got tested. I didn’t have cervical cancer, so I decided to visit my old friend, the public library. I read every relevant book I could find, including medical texts. There, in the humble, democratic warmth of the Columbus Public Library, I learned of the fairly rare, but not unheard of, occurrence of second-trimester miscarriages, something my male doctors had never bothered to report. ‘learn or seriously consider. Soon after, I bought a copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” and headed into the new world of female-centered healthcare and home birth, better equipped for the fight.

I didn’t end up in the hospital because of morning sickness or a failed home abortion. If my prenatal obstetrician/gynecologist had not been so incompetent, arrogant and dismissive, much of the resulting trauma could have been minimized, if not completely avoided. This is also true for understaffed, male-centric hospital workers. As bad as it all was, it could have been worse.

Without Roe v Wade, I could have easily ended up in jail. My doctors could have denounced and testified against me in court. I could have been charged and prosecuted by a theocratic, politically motivated criminal justice system. I could have been convicted by a jury or a judge who didn’t want to accept the testimony of an ungodly 25-year-old woman who didn’t know her place and looked suspiciously counter-culture.

There have never been good old times for women in this country, but the establishment of reproductive autonomy has been an improvement and a salvation for millions of women and children and – as in my case – in ways people can’t even imagine. I don’t want to see women lose something so precious and hard earned. We have important work to do and we must face the complex and perilous realities of life.

It’s clear to me that men, and the women who falter after them, have nothing to do with women’s reproductive choices. People are ignorant, imperfect and limited beings. Those who do not understand this and disregard it are fools and not trustworthy. They are dangerous.

Despite the selfish socio-economic motivations behind this interference, popular rationalization is largely religious. And there is no place for religious fanaticism in a democratic country. I do not believe in male gods, divinely inspired social hierarchies, holy books, chosen people, embodied and disembodied souls, heaven and hell, fanciful timelines of life and death, or primacy of a fertilized egg over the woman who produces it.

What I do know is that if there is East a god and there East a plan, we are unable to understand it, because we are all pea brains. When I was in Catholic elementary school, we sprayed Sister Mary Lorraine with nifty questions that we imagined challenge dominant notions about life and religion. Our growing pride, she gently cut us off by reminding us that “life is a mystery”. We found it infuriating, but it was the best teaching I have ever received and it has served me well. I suggest we all recognize our limitations and pride, respect the wonderful mystery that is a woman’s life, and step aside or listen and lend a helping hand. Because we have this.

This essay was originally published in the Wisconsin Examinerlike Nevada Current, which is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.


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