2002 Anne Horton Writing Award
"A Life-Altering Choice"
Dave and I approach the office building hand in hand. We are in downtown Chicago, and this building blends in with hundreds of surrounding office buildings-brick and several stories high. Thank god there are no protestors here, as I don't think that I could handle that. We step into an elevator, and when the doors reopen I am struck by the sterile, antiseptic smell. I am surprised to see that the only sign hanging on the wall is for the office of a plastic surgeon of some type. I enter the lobby area and approach a group of receptionists to give them my name and appointment time. A receptionist asks if I am going to want a shot of something to help me relax during my procedure." This will cost me extra, she informs me. I tell her yes, and Dave pays the bill. I am so grateful that he is here and able to pay for this. I don't know how I would've ever come up with the money myself.
Dave takes a seat in the waiting area, and I am sent to a lab for a test. I pray that the results will be negative, that I am mistaken. But, I am handed a plastic bag to put my belongings in, a gown to put on, and directed to a bathroom. There are several other women changing, but nobody talks, and we all avert our eyes. Are we all embarrassed to be here, or are we ashamed? I am trying to process what I am about to do. I can't believe that I was so stupid as to get pregnant. I am just seventeen, some might say, but 1 know that I am old enough to know what I was doing. I love Dave, and he loves me, but I know that this is what I have to do now for us both. I feel it is up to me to take care of things and move on with my life. I'm going to go to school, and I'm sure Dave doesn't want to be tied down yet. I am so ashamed though, and so sad.
I leave the bathroom and meet briefly with a counselor. She wants to know if I understand what I am about to do, and I tell her yes. She tells me that they can give me a note to get out of P.E. if I need it. and that I will be getting a couple of prescriptions to fill for the pain and bleeding. She says to be sure to follow up with my regular doctor in a few days. Yeah right, I think. I wonder how many people really do that. As far as I'm concerned, nobody, including my regular doctor will ever know I've been here.
I am taken to another waiting area that is overflowing with women. There is no room for me here, so I sit on a cot in the hallway. I am struck by how many of us are here. What are all of our circumstances? I wonder. Some here are even younger than I, but many are older. There are women with wedding rings on! A girl, not much older than I, clutches an ultrasound photo. Oh God, why does she have that? One by one, names are called, like an assembly line. I sit, closing my eyes, thinking about what might have been. Is this a girl or boy? I feel so guilty, and I am terrified. I worry about the pain, but I worry more about whether I will be able to forgive myself later on for what lam about to do.
My name is called, and a nurse takes me to a cold exam room. I sit at the end of the table while she injects whatever it is that is supposed to help me relax. She leaves me alone for a few minutes to let it start to work, and I start to look around. I'm not feeling any more relaxed, just more anxious as the minutes tick away. I look at the instruments that will soon be used on me, and I start to feel sick. '[he nurse returns and explains the procedure to me. It will only take a few minutes, and there will be little pain, only mild cramping. She instructs me to lie down and scoot down as far as possible. I do as I'm told and turn my head to the wall, trying not to cry. She swabs me down with something cold and coppery smelling, and inserts a speculum. She tells me to try to relax, that it will be easier if I do. She drapes a paper blanket over me then and comes up to stand next to me. She takes my hand, looks into my eyes, and tells me that it's not too late to change my mind. She says she doesn't think that I have thought this through enough, that she can tell how torn I am, and that maybe I'm not making the right choice. I am not sure anymore either. If this was the right choice, why do I feel so awful? She removes the speculum and sits with me quietly. I place my hand on my still flat stomach, starting to feel protective of this baby. She tells me that she thinks that I shouldn't be here after all, and I finally agree.
She gets my belongings, and I quickly dress. What is Dave going to think? Will he be angry? Will he understand? She walks me back to the waiting area, where Dave is sitting, and I take the seat next to him. He asks if I'm okay, and he takes my hand. I tell him that I couldn't do it, almost holding my breath. I look at his face as he pulls me close to him. He is relieved! This is what he really wanted, he tells me, but was afraid to say. He thought the decision should be mine to make. He hopes we have a little girl, with brown eyes, like his. I am so relieved, so happy, and still really scared.