Heavy or Prolonged Bleeding

By Michelle Morrison

The baby I aborted was conceived in Germany, on leave from Iraq, when I was twenty-one years old. I wondered when it happened and why I couldn't immediately tell. I wondered if it was in the woods under the strung-up poncho and combined sleeping bags to hide us from the wind and soldiers and God. You'd scattered glow sticks around us that pulsed in pale orbs of green and blue, because we'd been granted two weeks freedom from sand. I thought it might have been in the shower at that rest stop we found after days of going without, listening to the man singing in German while sliding against a wall dirtier than we were, our fingers pruney, our feet burning from the water. I knew it didn't matter. Of course, it didn't matter, but I found myself wondering about it all the time.

I was young then. Just as I am now, but more so because I didn't realize that murder wasn't that easy, that the person never left you. Ripping her out of my stomach didn't rip her out of my head or my blood or my fingernails.

You weren't there when it happened. I refused to say it was you, to accuse you and destroy you, and I went alone. You hugged me. "You'll be fine. It'll go perfectly," you spoke into my hair. "You made the right decision. This is the only way. I mean, it would be crazy to think we could be parents. I wouldn't have had anything to do with it. There's too much ahead, you know. I mean, think about Germany. The guy who saw our fire and came over to roast marshmallows with us, wasn't that great? Think about running through Paris with those gold masks on. I want my whole life to be like that. An adventure. Plus, think about art school. You'll have a hard enough time, as it is."

Tell me not to go. Tell me not to go! Tell me we can work it out. I want to be whole. But you couldn't hear me, and I didn't listen to you. We were each deaf and afraid.

I boarded the plane without you, scorched by the scorn and disgust of my fellow soldiers, the weight of my decision, the one I didn't really ever make, and something worse than the nausea and body aches--dread. It was heavy and crushing. It made my heart beat too fast and my palms sweat. I wanted to die and thought out ways to do it. The flight was rough and long, with more stops than I remembered on the way there. Other soldiers asked why I was leaving, and I lied, telling some of them my mother died, others, later, that both my mother and brother were killed in a train wreck. After awhile, I just didn't answer, or maybe people stopped asking.

You told me you'd split the cost with me, and then when I seemed not to protest too much, that you'd pay for the whole thing. You watched my face, I guess expecting some sort of gratitude. "Wait, how much is it?" you asked.

I shook my head. I didn't know.

"Well, I guess that doesn't matter. I've made enough money here, and you're the one who has to fly home and then wait for us in Kansas, plus go through with it all." Maybe here you noticed my face. "Look, hey Claire. Look, it's going to be fine. I've got the whole thing. Don't worry about anything, okay? Shh…you're alright."

Q. When you perform an abortion by the suction curettage method does it ever happen that a portion of the fetus is extracted from the uterus while the fetus is still alive?

A. Yes.

Q. And how does that happen?

A. When a suction curettage abortion is performed, one of three things is going to happen. One would be that the catheter, as it approaches the fetus, tears it and kills it at that instant inside the uterus. The second would be that the fetus is small enough and the catheter is large enough that the fetus passes through the catheter and either dies in transit as it's passing through the catheter or dies in the suction bottle after it's actually all the way out.

In the bathroom, at the airport in Ireland, there was a pamphlet on choices, women's choices. There were a few of them in an untidy pile under the sink. I saw them while vomiting. They felt secret. They instructed women to clinics in England. They were full of descriptions and stories. I kept one, pushed it into my pocket just before someone came in. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and watched the woman in the mirror. "Why are you leaving?" I asked her.

She didn't look up at me, only at her blond hair and the bobby pin she was attempting to insert into it. "I'm pregnant," she said.

She walked around me and into a stall. I re-boarded the plane.

Q. How is dilation and curettage performed?

A. Dilation and curettage is a surgical abortion procedure performed during the first twelve to fifteen weeks of gestation. Dilation and curettage is similar to suction aspiration with the introduction of a curette. A curette is a long, looped shaped knife that scrapes the lining, placenta and fetus away from the uterus. A cannula may be inserted for a final suctioning. This procedure usually lasts ten minutes with a possible stay of five hours.

I was about thirteen weeks pregnant when I stepped onto the plane, the big C-5, and about thirteen weeks and four days when I walked into my mother's apartment in Council Bluffs, Iowa, loaded with gear and wondering how I would pay the cab fare. She didn't know I was coming because she hadn't answered the phone in months. I pounded on the windows until two knuckles on my left hand were bleeding. "Oh, hi, Claire," she said, turning away and leaving the door open for me to follow.

"Do you have money for the cab?" I asked, looking over my shoulder at the anxious man in the driver's seat.

She threw her head to the right, toward the kitchen table that was covered with stacks of paper and dirty dishes, and sat down in the living room where the TV was on a little too loudly. I dug around and scrounged enough money in a twenty and change.

"Good luck," the man said, as I handed the mess to him. He smiled, but when I looked higher, I saw the shadows around my eyes and my tight, cracked lips reflected in his bald head.

I walked back up the stairs slowly, feeling desperate, looking up and down the street for an escape. She made me feel more alone than being alone. I laid my bags in my old bedroom, in the doorway, actually because the room itself was full of boxes, trash and dying plants. "What's going on with you?" I asked.

She looked up from filing her nails. She was wearing an old, once white bathrobe barely closed over her skin and fat. Her hair was slick and flat with grease, her face puffy and lined with the creases of sleep. The apartment smelled of death, and she herself permeated unwashed crevices and defeat. "I'm not doing too good, kiddo," she said and looked guilty.

"Are you working?"

She shook her head and started to cry. "I've spent all of Grandma's inheritance money. Your share and Ted's."

I was sickened but also exhausted, too tired to battle with her self-pity, too tired to battle my own. "Is there any food?"

She looked a little wild and wiped her eyes. "I'll give you money if you want to go to the store. We could use some food around here. I've been eating chocolate frosting for two days."

"What? What the hell are you talking about?"

"You know, that stuff they gave us from the missionary."

"Mom, that was six years ago!"

"I know, but it's all that's left." She was looking more frantic now that someone knew.

My head hurt. "I am not going to the store for you. Get up, shower, get dressed and get some fucking food. I'm going to bed, as soon as I uncover it. When I wake up, if there's no food, I will go and pick up some for ME."

I started to walk away. "Don't you want to know why I'm home? What happened? Anything? A year, Mom. A fucking year," I said, looking back at her hunched over in the brown armchair.

She started crying again or harder, I'm not really sure which. "Of course! I know how disappointed you are that I didn't write, but I thought about you all the time." She tried to stand up, maybe to hug me but didn't follow through. "Is it over, then?"

"No, it isn't. I'm pregnant. I'm having an abortion in five days. Get up! Get dressed! Get some food!"

I shoved everything on my bed to the floor and went to sleep.

Q. What are the side effects and risks of dilation and curettage?

A. Common side effects that most women will experience following the procedure include cramping, nausea, sweating, and feeling faint. Less frequent side effects include possible heavy or prolonged bleeding, blood clots, damage to the cervix and perforation of the uterus. Infection due to retained products of conception, an STD, or bacteria being introduced to the uterus can cause fever, pain, abdominal tenderness, and possibly scar tissue.

"That's why I'm here, too," I said to the couple sitting next to me in the waiting room.

They glanced over, noticing me. They'd been speaking to each other. The girl moved her blond hair out of her eyes and smiled weakly at me before turning back to her boyfriend. My legs jiggled under the chair, and I looked around. I still wanted to kill myself, not for any anticipatable reason, just to end the heavy, heavy dread sitting on my chest, welling up from my stomach. Just to not be alone.

I closed my eyes to block out the pastel wallpaper and the crying of babies, then took off my sweater and made a pillow of it. The blond girl was lying on her boyfriend's lap. He was stroking her hair and watching the door to the parking lot. I wanted to scoot over and lay on her, laying on him. I wondered if I scooted slowly enough, if they'd notice.

A nurse was standing over me. "Ready?" she asked. Her face was heavily rouged and one of her canine teeth was missing. The top left. She made me think it was sunny out, she was so happy.

I stood up and followed her to another room without answering. I wanted to hug her, and I wanted to vomit. She did an ultrasound, rubbing cold gel on my small belly. The monitor faced her, and when I decided she wasn't likely to show me, I asked. "Can I see?" Her eyes were greenish brown and, at my request, screwed up a little in surprise. "Uh, sure. I guess that's all right."

The monitor was small, and the screen reminded me of pictures of the Loch Ness Monster when it swiveled in my direction. She showed me the heartbeat. It was fascinating, and I watched, leaning forward toward it, until she turned it off. I wondered if they would print me out a picture like they do for all the other women. I figured they'd give it to me when I left.

"Now, Claire, we just want to make sure this is what you really want to do, that no one coerced you into it and you are very comfortable with the whole thing." She was looking down at her clipboard, shuffling around papers, speaking fast. She stood up to leave before I'd answered. She glanced back at me. "All set?"

I followed her. In this second room, a second nurse, Tracy, took my blood, and then the doctor was there with a gray crew cut and thin exposed ankles, facing me with a syringe of Valium.

"Left arm, please," he said.

I could see the blond girl and her boyfriend in the ultrasound room across from me. She was crying, and he was kissing her head, holding her hand.

"Don't you need to wait for the blood test to come back?" I asked. My voice was high and tight. It didn't sound like me.

"Shhh. Your blood is fine. This will sting a little," he said.

The nurse was there – the first one. She held my hand when it hurt and whispered how brave I was. I thought I might love her. "There. See, all done," she said.

I didn't feel normal, slow and clouded, like I was surrounded by cotton. I couldn't believe it was done so quickly, but the cramps made it real. I couldn't keep from crying, they hurt so bad.

I told her I wanted to see the remains. She didn't want to at first, but a few minutes later she brought a tray over to me. I thought she was supposed to be carrying a baby. It was supposed to be crying, and I would secretly think it was ugly, but hold it and name it and love it anyway.

What was on the tray looked like a piece of disintegrating white cotton gauze and a lump of mucus. I looked up at her. She didn't look as happy as before.

When I was ready to leave, I asked the lady at the desk if she had my picture — the one of my baby.

"I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about," she said.

"The ultrasound. Where's my ultrasound picture?"

"Didn't you have a termination, Miss?" she asked.

"Yes." I didn't see what that had to do with anything. I'd still seen the picture.

"Um, we don't give those out."

"Oh," I said. "Well, I want mine."

"No, what I mean is, we don't save those. It's gone."

I thought I might hit her. I needed something. I couldn't walk out of there empty. I wanted to go and get the remains. I started to move toward the door, when the receptionist stepped in front of it.

"Miss, do you need to talk to someone?"

I looked at her, really saw her. She was round, like a ball with fluffy dark hair and too little make up. And I shook my head.

She didn't get food. I didn't know that for a couple of days because I'd been sleeping in a friend's basement, but when I did go home I discovered her asleep on the couch, fat and 50 something clutching an empty microwave popcorn bag, a bottle of gin lying near her hand. I didn't wake her up; I just watched her. She lay on her left side with one arm draped over the edge, the other somewhere beneath her. Her mouth was open, and as she breathed in and out her head shifted a little up and down. I sat down on a pile of papers two feet in front of her, cross-legged and reeking of smoke and alcohol, to watch her breathe. Three failed marriages, estrangement from her family, fired from almost every job she'd ever had, and two children who not only didn't like her, maybe didn't love her, either.

I took a shower and packed. I drove to Kansas that night, and checked into a hotel. I was due at Fort Riley in two days. I spent them at a conservatory there, at first just sitting and the next day helping them move seven-foot tall cacti. At Fort Riley, I answered phones and read a fantasy novel about enchanted cats. I slept with a Specialist named Stevens once at his barracks. Afterward, he told me he had a girl "back home" and cried into my t-shirt. That was how I spent the time until I saw you again.