The Set Up
I was 19 at the time, in the August of 1992, and living in my car with my son, Zack, who was nine months old. My parents had kicked me out of the house three months after Zack's birth, due to the insane behavior I was displaying as a symptom of my methamphetamine and alcohol addictions. They told me I should leave Zack with them, and just get the hell out. I wasn't willing to do that for many reasons, but the biggest of them was spite.
I had no job, I had no insurance, I had nobody to turn to for support or assistance of any kind. I drove all night so the baby could sleep, and I fed him bottles made from stolen formula in gas station restrooms.
When I found out that I was pregnant again, I was shocked. I didn't even recall having had sex with anyone, but in talking to my fellow junkies, I learned that indeed I had- in a drug and booze induced blackout- with several partners. No one was able or willing to identify these so-called partners, and I had some idea who one or two of them may have been, but for all practical reasons, I had no idea who the father of this baby was.
I went to a place called "New Life Homes" in hopes of finding someone to talk things over with. I met with Becky, who was really wonderful and informative. She gave me details about all the free services I could take advantage of, including their own adoption program. I told her I may have an abortion, and she did her best to talk me out of it, but all my ears wanted to hear was judgement. To me, she sounded just like my parents, and I wanted nothing to do with that.
I'd grown up in an actively pro life family, and I had seen all of the pictures of aborted babies, and read all the statistics there were to be read. We marched in pro life rallys and demonstrations every weekend. It was a movie called "The Silent Scream," that made the deepest impact on me, though. The movie was an abortion, filmed from inside the mother's body. It showed the baby open his mouth wide, no doubt screaming, and trying to wriggle away from the vacuum.
With this kind of upbringing, deep down inside of me, I knew having an abortion was the wrong thing to do. For months, I wrestled with my decision, as I was certain that raising another baby in my car was not the right thing to do either, and I was horrified at the reactions of my parents on that inevitible day when I'd have to tell them I was pregnant yet again. I still have no doubt, that if my parents had become involved, they would have brought it to the attention of the courts that I was raising a baby in my car, and was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Once this happened, I surely would have lost Zack to the State, and also would have been forced to relinquish any parental rights to the baby inside of me. I just needed to sort things out, I just needed a little more time to think. Time was in very short supply, however, as this life grew inside of me, but I still didn't know what to do, and so in my confusion, I did nothing at all.
At roughly 14 weeks into my pregnancy, I went to visit my mom. Though we hadn't spoke in months, I felt I might gain something from the experience that would help me arrive at a sound decision. As I walked into the kitchen, she stared at me. The first words out of her mouth were, "Are you pregnant again? Please, Katie...tell me you're not pregnant again." I told her I wasn't, but I'm still not sure she believed me. After our short visit, I was in a constant state of panic. I was already showing. This baby was still growing. I had to end this now before either of my nightmares were realized- raising two babies in my car, or losing them both to the courts.
The first call I made was to Meadowbrook Women's Clinic. I had already been to a regular doctor to confirm my pregnancy, and was told that I was 16 weeks along. When I spoke with the Meadowbrook receptionist, I was scared but also hopeful that they would refuse to perform an abortion this late in the game, but she said, "Don't worry Hun. If you're pregnant, we'll abort it for you." This freaked me out, and I didn't make an appointment with them. My next call was to the Sally Hansen Clinic for Reproductive Health, where I was told the same thing, but the price of the operation was much higher. My third call was to the Robbinsdale Women's Clinic, and because of the hundred dollar price difference, this is where I went to have the abortion done.
My first visit was geared at "indecision counseling," but they may as well have called it, "We'll make the decision for you." Every time I even broached the subject of adoption, the woman I spoke with told me I really didn't want any "offspring" out there that I'll never know, and since this would be the case, I really wasn't losing anything by terminating the fetus, was I? She said that our world is overpopulated, and that some intelligent people think that bringing more people into the world is irresponsible. She said that adoption is an excruciatingly slow process, and that there are just not as many couples out there wanting to adopt as I think; especially in the case of a mother with chemical dependency issues. This child could very well be born an addict, and adoptive parents simply do not want to deal with that. She said that I was making the very best decision for the fetus and for myself. She said that if I could survive the pain and trauma of giving birth, I certaintly could handle this quick little proceedure. She told me I was incredibly strong and smart, and showing just how responsible I was by having an abortion. She told me I was admirable for wanting to try to raise this person, but that I needed to take care of myself first. It's safe, she said. Millions of women do this without the slightest complication or regret.
I still struggled. Why wouldn't she listen to me? Why was she so eager for me to do this? Why would that other place want to give me money to have this done? It didn't settle well with me, not at all. But I don't want another baby. I don't want to be pregnant again. It wasn't my fault, anyway. I didn't even know I'd had sex, let alone consent to it! In my opinion, I was raped. Why should I be forced to carry the offspring of a rapist in my body? Did I think that finding a job would get any easier when I walk in to apply with a pregnant belly? Then there was the issue of daycare that I already couldn't pay for just one child. I didn't even have insurance! Sure, New Life Homes had *said* that I could get my exams for free, but I would still have to endure the pregnancy-not to mention giving my baby away, and more than likely, losing Zack at the same time. No. I can't do that. The abortion will be quick, and even if it hurts a little, I'll survive it. I have to do what's right for ME now, what's right for the baby I am already responsible for. I can go in tomorrow morning, have the abortion, and be on my way by noon. Decision made.
The morning of my abortion finally arrived when I was 17 weeks, 6 days pregnant. I dropped Zack off with my friend Lori, and drove to the clinic alone. I was greeted by Linda, my indecision counselor I had spoken with before, and we talked some more about all the many reasons why this was the best thing to do. I was then sent back out to the waiting room, where I read all the clinic's pamphlets and publications, which primarily focused on their struggle against pro life groups, and told stories of clinic bombings and doctor shootings. I wondered if my parents knew all of these awful things were going on-possibly even in their own circle of friends! What a bunch of freaks. What kind of pro life parent would let their daughter raise a baby in a car, anyway? Fuck them. I'm taking care of ME now, thank you very much. Nothing wrong with that.
Linda came to get me, and brought me into a room where we watched a short video, describing exactly how the proceedure would go. As we watched, she held my hand, and I couldn't help but notice that there were three videos in the room; one in the VCR, and two still on the TV stand. The one we were watching was detailing the proceedure for a second trimester abortion, and the ones on the shelves were about first and third trimester operations. Wow. They would abort a 7-9 month old fetus? That's appaling! But, I suppose...I wasn't too far away from that with what I was going to do...I was only taking care of me, as everyone does. I could not bear the horrible indecision any longer. Linda still held my hand, and she stopped the video every time I so much as sighed, to ask me how was I feeling and to tell me how proud she was that I was making the right choice. This was a woman thing. This was about choice and pride and strength, and sisterhood among women.
When the video was over, Linda and I went into a small room to talk about what we'd just watched. Both the video and Linda explained what would happen next--
1) I would be thoroughly examined to check for infection or anything else that may cause a complication, and to determine the exact length of my pregnancy, to the day.
2) An ultrasound will be done, and I can watch the screen if I so choose, but it's not recommended. Haven't I already suffered enough?
3) I would be taken to a relaxation room for a 15-20 minute period, where I will be given gas or something else to relax me, if I so choose. The doctor himself will come in for a brief consultation at this time, if I so choose.
4) I will be taken to the proceedure room.
5) The doctor will insert the suction instrument into my vagina, and that could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes to complete. He may feel it necessary to do it twice, just to be extra cautious.
6) I will be taken back into the relaxation room for as long as I need to sleep and recouperate, and I will be given instructions as to how to care for myself when I go home.
7) I will be taken to the recovery room, where I can sit and watch television with other women who have just had the proceedure. There will be juice and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for everyone to eat.
8) I will not be allowed to drive home if I choose to use the gas to relax me, but I will be able to use the phone to call for a ride. If I couldn't find a ride, they would call a cab, as it's imperative that I not drive.
Linda and I talked for quite a while, until I felt certain I had all the information I would be needing. As she spoke, I looked into her pretty face and gentle eyes, and I thought that there's no way in the world this woman would want to see me hurt. She was so supportive simply because she knew what was best, and she cared for me.
With a broad smile, she asked, "Are we ready?" Indeed, we were.
She brought me to a very small room with just a cot in it, and told me to go ahead and lie down and the nurse would come to get me shortly for my examination. She told me again that she was proud, that I was a strong, independent woman, and she knew I would do great, and she left the room.
I had my examination, as expected, and the examiner confirmed my pregnancy at 17 weeks, 7 days, and then did the ultrasound. As I lay there, I remembered Zack's first ultrasound and how cool it looked. How I could make out eyes and ears and a nose, how I could see little tiny fingers and toes starting to grow, and how it was obvious he was a boy.
I wanted to see this ultrasound now, so I could see that there really wasn't anything to see, just a clump of cells, a shapeless black mass in my womb. I needed the reassurance that this was the right thing to do.
The monitor was turned away from me, however, and I had to ask, "Could I take a quick peek?" There was no response. I asked again, and this time she said, "We're juuust about done now.." I quit asking. I felt like I was out of line for asking, and I didn't want to bother anyone. Anyway, how badly did I really need to look at a clump of cells?
When she was finished, she told me I could go wait back in the relaxation room, and the doctor would be with me shortly. I found my way back, and lay on the cot, anxiously waiting. I waited for a very long time. Finally, I got up and walked out into the hall to ask someone how much longer this would take. I was told to get back into the room, and I did. I tried to nap, but I couldn't. Where was my choice of chemical relaxants, anyway? Shouldn't I have them by now?
A nurse or someone I hadn't seen before came in, wiped the back of my left hand with antiseptic, and inserted an IV, without saying a word or looking at me. "What's that?" I asked.
"This should help you relax," she answered, and left the room. I lay there, patiently waiting for sleepiness to overcome my senses, but it didn't happen. More people in hospital-looking uniforms came into my little room from time to time, poked around between my legs, and explained that they needed to see how relaxed I was. I guessed this must have been some sort of cervical relaxation medication, which would explain the fact that I wasn't feeling sleepy or dizzy.
I asked if I could have the gas, too, and they told me that would come later, right before the proceedure. I asked to meet the doctor, and someone supposedly went out to find him for me.
Gradually, my stomach started to hurt. I thought it was nerves, at first, but after a little while, it started to hurt VERY bad, and it felt familiar to me somehow. When the nurse came in to check my relaxation level after that, she stuck her head out the door and said to whomever was out there, "She's dialated to a seven, time to get moving here!"
It was then I realized that I had been induced into labor. I panicked horribly, and was immediately given an injection that made it nearly impossible for me to speak, and very sleepy. Someone explained that this was to calm my nerves, that the doctor "needs me to be calm if he's going to do a good job." I was lifted from the cot and put onto a bed with wheels, and they rolled me down the hall to the proceedure room.
Once inside the room, the doctor shook my hand and told me his name. That was all he said to me. A friendly-looking woman held my hand and talked to me about anything and everything except for what was going on. I asked for Linda, and she explained that Linda really wanted to be here, but she was called away to be with another patient at the last minute, so I was "stuck" with her. Someone put the gas mask over my mouth and nose and instructed me to breathe deeply, inhaling through my mouth, exhaling through my nose. In no time flat, I was high as a kite, and laughing at everything in the room, cracking jokes with the woman holding my hand. Even the good doctor himself joined us for a giggle or two.
Then I heard the vacuum start up. It was awfully loud. It was also a familiar sound. I pondered this with my dizzy mind, and came to the conclusion that I'd heard these machines in action while I waited in the relaxation room. It freaked me out, and the hand holder looked to the assistant, motioning her to turn up the gas. Fine by me. Make me just as stupid as I can get. Make it so that I don't even remember my name. Please.
The Deed and The Damage Done
The suction proceedure seemed to last forever, but in truth, it was probably only a minute long at the most. It was painful. I could feel some sort of movement inside of me, and though I tried to tell myself it was only the vacuum, I knew intuitively that my baby was screaming-trying to wriggle away from death. The gas didn't help at this point, and I tore the mask from my face, only to replace it again seconds later, because the pain was unbearable. The woman holding my hand kept saying, "It's almost over with now, just a few more seconds. Hang in there Katie, I know you can do it."
I felt that if she stopped speaking in that deep soothing voice, I would want to die, and every time she paused for a breath, I begged her to keep talking to me.
When the suction finally stopped, I started to sit up, thinking it was over with and I could go home. The hand holder instructed me to lie back down, "The doctor just needs to break up the tissue a little bit now. We're almost done, honey, you're doing great."
The assistant who'd been standing next to the doctor left the room briefly, and returned with two metal pans that were roughly the size of 9x13 cake pans, only deeper. I wanted to ask what those were for, but in the next horrifying minutes, my question was answered.
The doctor reached inside of me with his hand, and once again, I could feel my baby desperately trying to squirm away. I guess that even a lump of cells knew enough to fight for it's life. The next thing I remember, I felt something like a balloon popping, and then stillness, and the sound of the vacuum again. I was crying hysterically, and kept groaning, "My baby. That's my baby in there. You're killing my baby."
The eyes of my hand-holding comforter filled with tears, and she didn't speak any more.
The doctor went about his business, hastily ripping off chunks of "pregnancy tissue," and dropping them in the pans. They were both full by the time it was over. I watched with frightened eyes as the assistant literally slumped against the wall, and then exited quickly, taking the barely covered pans full of dead baby parts with her.
Next was more suction and an agonizing scraping session. I didn't know or care what he was using to do it; I was praying he would mess up and kill me, too. I deserved every single agonizing pain. I deserved to die.
When it was over, I could barely walk, but no one was there to help me into the relaxation room. They just told me to go. I lay on the cot and and cried until my tears ran dry. After maybe 10 minutes, Linda came in, sat on the edge of the cot and asked, "Well, how did it go?"
"I just killed my baby," I responded, "so it's dead now."
"But what a relief, huh? I tell you what. We need to keep this room open for our other patients, so why don't you go ahead and take another two or three minutes, okay? Here are a few things you should know about caring for yourself when you go home." She gave me two pills to swallow, explaining that these would help contract my uterus back into shape. She handed me a prescription to fill as soon as possible for more of the pills, and then she was gone.
I didn't know what to do. I had just paid someone to rip my baby limb from limb, and nobody cared. I could still feel the effects of the gas and the shot they'd given me, and I didn't feel safe to drive home yet. Wasn't I supposed to be taken to the recovery room to watch TV and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Where was the phone so I could call for a ride home? Was someone calling a cab for me already?
I struggled to sit up and pull my clothes on. Hopefully, I would crash my car on my way back to Lori's house.
I walked down the hallway and out the door like a ghost.
Lori didn't ask me any questions when I arrived at her house to pick up Zack. I'm sure she could read everything she didn't want to know on my face. I couldn't seem to relax, and we decided to go to KMart and bum around for a while, to take my mind off of things. Lori, Zack and I were in the store for no more than five minutes when I suddenly broke out in a cold sweat. I was nauseated and dizzy, and I passed out on the floor. An ambulance was called, but I was conscious by the time they got there. I was able to pacify them and I wasn't taken to the hospital.
The next day, or perhaps the day after that, the three of us were driving to the beach. I had to pull over at restaurants and gas stations repeatedly, as I was passing blood clots the size of grapefruit. In my "home care" instruction pamphlet, it said that clots the size of quarters were to be expected, but anything larger than that could be a sign of danger. It said to call the clinic immediately, which I did. The woman I spoke with told me to just keep taking my pills, and refused to discuss it any further, except to say that if it really bothered me that much, I could go to my regular doctor, if I so chose. On my way back to the car from one of these restroom stops, I collapsed and went into convulsions. Lori drove me to the emergency room.
At the ER, I underwent an emergency D&C, and when it was done, I asked the doctor what was going on. He explained that when I'd had the abortion done, they had missed some tissue which was causing me to hemmorhage. I was angry with myself and angry with the world, and I demanded he tell me what they missed. After much pressing on my part, the ER doctor told me that it appeared to be an arm. It was still partially attached to my uterus, holding several vessles open, causing the massive blood loss. He told me that because of the extensive damage done and high volume of scar tissue, conception was not likely going to be an option for me in the future.