Thirty grams of membrane, placenta and fetal parts smooched together in a bowl. It was 1:53 in the afternoon. The Valium kicks in her body, making her lethargic. The nitrous oxide makes her feel shaky, frail and disoriented. Nov. 29 is a day marked in Pearl’s memory forever.
An hour earlier, Pearl* drove to the All Women’s Health Clinic on N.W. 23rd Ave. with her friend Grace*. Slowly, she walked up to the clinic’s door, hesitating on whether to open it. Once Pearl entered the clinic, she felt a tension most feel inside an abortion clinic.
After filling out the paper work, a nurse called, “Pearl Nardini.” Her stomach sank. Pearl walked into the back office to sign more papers and pay a fee of more than $350. Her hands were shaking as she signed the papers, but she tried to act normal to cover the overwhelming fear inside.
Pearl was sent back out to the waiting room. The beige wallpaper was covered with pink and purple flowers. Plastic flowers decorated the room. Soap operas blared from the television, though no one paid attention to it. Right next to the TV stood a small candy machine that no one had touched in years. The worst thing about the place was the sterile scent, Pearl thought to herself. She sat there with the rest of the people waiting. Some were there for birth-control pills, others awaited pregnancy check-ups, but most were there for a termination. She could see it in their faces.
Everyone whispered amongst themselves. Everyone was uncomfortable. The chairs faced one another, but no one dared look into each other’s eyes. Were these people afraid to handle a challenging responsibility, or were they simply too lazy to deal with a life-altering event? It was impossible to tell, she thought.
Pearl had just turned 21 years old when she got pregnant in the middle of the fall semester. Her circumstances just weren't right. She tossed the question back and forth for a month or so. Emotionally, she felt ready but nothing in her life— her boyfriend, money and school—fit into place. Although her boyfriend tried to hide it, something in his voice hinted that he wasn't ready to become a father. He said that he would support whatever choice she made. Pearl was confused. Everyone advised her that the best choice was to have an abortion. She found this disappointing.
Again, she was called into the back. This time, a blond, tall nurse in a colorful scrub greeted Pearl with a serious face. The nurse asked her a series of personal questions, weighed her, measured her blood pressure, and checked her urine sample to see how far along she was. Eight weeks. The nurse gave Pearl a Valium, which she happily ingested, and a promotional pen for the clinic. Pearl accepted.
The nurse then lectured her on practicing safe sex.
“Why didn’t you
use a condom?” the nurse asked.
“You should be more careful from now on,” the nurse continued.
“I took the morning after pill,” Pearl answered back. “It didn't work.”
The nurse looked at her and said, “It’s not 100 percent effective.”
That's what they tell you afterward, Pearl thought to herself.
A few minutes later Pearl was sent even farther into the back to a room with yellow wallpaper, or maybe it was the same beige color from the waiting room. She couldn’t remember. There were motivational pictures on the wall with oceans and dolphins talking about serenity and faith, like in most doctors’ offices. There was an even sharper sterile scent. She was instructed to take off her clothes and sit on the steel and leather bench.
“Are we doing this right now?” Pearl asked with a frightened voice.
The nurse turned around with a mundane look and said, “Yes.”
Pearl sat there for a minute, trying to be strong and fighting back the tears. She placed her hand on her stomach and said, “I’m so sorry. You’ll come later. I promise.”
Another nurse walked in moments later—this one older than the other— and sat down in front of Pearl. She looked Pearl in the eyes. “Are you sure you want to do this?” With the Valium overtaking her senses, Pearl said “Well…” in an ambivalent voice. She wanted the nurse to know that she wasn’t heartless, and that this was the most difficult decision she had ever made.
The nurse suddenly stood up and came real close to Pearl. “There are many options for you if you don’t want to go through with this,” the nurse said. Pearl panicked and said, “No, no—I want to do this.” She laid her head back on the bench. The nurse didn’t argue with her.
The nurse went on explaining the procedure to Pearl and handed her the rubber mask she had to breathe into. The nurse turned on the nitrous oxide. “One, two, three…breathe” the nurse counted. “One, two, three…breathe,” she repeated.
“This feels weird,” Pearl said.
“Most of the girls start laughing and forget all about the termination,” the nurse said. A little startled by the comment, Pearl decided to ignore it.
Her whole body numbed up immediately, but her mind was still very much awake. It was as though she was covered with a white, fluffy cloud. Her body was soft, but the drug made her emotional. She started to cry with the mask over her mouth. Through the gases she said, “I feel so guilty.” The nurse looked down at her with sympathetic eyes and said, “Well, honey, you should have thought about that before you had premarital sex.”
Instantly, Pearl's face flushed with anger, but between the heavy breathing and the crying, she didn't have the energy to respond. The doctor finally came into the room. He introduced himself as Dr. Paul Sibley and sat down facing her legs. He pulled out the operating tools, while he made jokes about his two brothers during their college days, obviously trying to make her feel better. Her white, shaky legs were spread apart on the cold metal bars. She had one hand squeezing the side of the bench, and the other placed in the nurse’s hand. Tears flowed down her cheeks uncontrollably. She cried without making a sound.
Then the vacuum began sucking… Pearl couldn’t feel the rest. She tried to crack a smile through the tears. In less than five minutes, it was over. The doctor and the nurse left the room. The nurse then came back into the room.
“Do you want to see the product of conception?” Pearl looked up and said, “Yes.” Minutes later, Pearl was looking into a bowl of bloody, mushy goo. She was relieved she had not seen a small human being. At the same time she realized eight weeks of her had been thrown into a trashcan.
The nurse turned off the lights and Pearl got to lie on the bench and relax, but she didn’t stop crying. A different nurse walked into the room 10 minutes later. She helped Pearl sit up. The nitrous oxide almost tipped Pearl off the bench. “How are you feeling?” she asked. Pearl’s chin started shaking. She tried to stop crying, but it was impossible. She had a headache. “I just can't stop crying,” Pearl said in a shaky voice. The nurse helped her off the bench. Blood leaked down the inside of her thighs. Her heart started beating faster, and she lost her balance. The gas overtook her body. Her legs shook uncontrollably, and the nurse helped Pearl put on her clothes. It was as though there was a hole in her body.
She walked slowly out of the room. Grace was in a different room waiting for her. The nurse went over some bureaucratic information with Pearl, who sat holding a heating bag over her stomach. When they stood up to leave, the nurse said to Pearl “It’s good to cry.” Pearl sobbed even more. Walking out of the clinic, she felt her body’s soreness. Her legs were so spread apart that it looked like she’d been riding a horse for three weeks.
Pearl walked out the clinic
that day with a broken heart after going through the worst experience
of her life-holding a pen bearing the clinic's name on it and a brochure
stating: “Our staff is committed to your best interest.”
Story by Hanna Eiriksdottir