Kelly Anjon had called the San Diego Institute of Pathology in Solana Beach, and a woman there had told her the results of a test: she was pregnant. That was July 8, 1982, the same day Kelly had rented us a home in Cardiff. The home was our first together, Kelly was my girlfriend, and the pregnancy was a mistake. The two weeks that followed were so intense that actions were forced, distorted, as if only a day remained in our lives. What to do about the pregnancy became the inescapable center of Kelly’s life. She had never imagined that the decision whether to have an abortion could become something so confusing and emotionally painful. During that time I learned a great deal, nothing of which was moral in the sense of whether abortion is right or wrong, but about feeling sympathy for a woman who must make such a decision, and how best to support her. What I learned I wish I had already known. The story is true; only the names of the women have been fictionalized.
The first person Kelly called was Robin Aswell, one of her best friends. Robin was a Grossmont College nursing student, and she had gone through two abortions herself. Earlier in the week Kelly had told her she could be pregnant, but that she hoped she wasn’t. Now that Kelly knew she was pregnant, Robin was a good person to call; she understood.
“Oh my God,” she said. “What will you do?”
“I’m not sure.”
“How many weeks pregnant are you?”
“Nine, I think.”
“I feel so badly for you.”
I was in Los Angeles when Kelly called. My decision was made: I wanted the abortion. However, I wouldn’t tell her what to do, not because I’m benevolent, but rather I was certain that without my saying anything, she would quickly opt for the abortion. I assumed a liberal attitude and asked, “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you tell your parents?”
“I can’t. I’m embarrassed to tell them. I feel that they’ll think I’ve done something terribly wrong.” She hesitated. “I told Robin.”
“Great.” Her friends had always been a sore spot between us in the nine months we’d known each other. “Couldn’t you have waited to tell me first? Maybe I don’t want your friends to know. Did you ever think of that?”
“I just wish you’d let me know these things first.”
“All right already.”
I was mad and frustrated. She was always telling me she knew intuitively when she could get pregnant. Bull. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. I’m going to Elario’s to hear jazz. I’ll be back before 12. We can talk then.” She wanted to change the subject. This one was too pressured. “By the way, I rented us a home in Cardiff today. Aren’t you happy?”
“Only there’s no bed. But I know where we can buy a futon.”
“No. I can’t afford to buy a bed and pay for an abortion too.”
“Hey!” Her voice rose in pitch, tightening. “I never said I’d have an abortion.”
“All right. But I don’t want to buy a bed.”
“But aren’t you at least glad we have a home? We can make our place really nice.”
“But I don’t want to buy a bed. You have one in storage we can use.”
“I’m tired of talking about beds.”
As it was, she arrived home too late to talk. But she later described the dream she had that night. In a doctor’s office, she lay on a metal table, her skirt drawn past her hips, her belly big and round like a hill, her body sopped in sweat. Lights glared. The doctor came holding a long needle. He stuck it inside her vagina and pulled a bloody mass from her. But he couldn’t sever from her body what he pulled. He pulled and pulled, and the pulling hurt. She screamed and awoke. She stayed up through the night.
Almost all of Kelly’s friends had been pregnant and unmarried. All decided to have abortions; none seriously considered having the child. Mary Tomkovich’s abortion was in 1977 when she and Kelly were each 22 years old. Mary lived with a jazz musician in a studio in Carmel Valley. He was like a child. He assured her everything was all right when everything wasn’t all right. A big, strong woman, still Mary had cried after it was over. But the bad feeling — that the baby had been ripped out of her — didn’t last long.
That night Mary and Kelly went to dinner in Encinitas, at the Shepherd. They talked about things other than the abortion. They joked and laughed. To Kelly, Mary’s abortion wasn’t a big thing. That a frequently bitter national controversy raged over a 1973 Supreme Court decision — which nearly completely unfettered women from legal restrictions to obtain abortions through the first six months of pregnancy — hardly made a dent in Kelly’s consciousness.
Robin underwent her second abortion in 1979. She didn’t know whether the father lived in Hawaii or California. The first abortion had been physically painful. During Robin’s second abortion, performed by a North County gynecologist, as she lay on the metal examination table, she tried to get up and walk away. The nurse held her hand and said relax, that she had already made her decision to have one. Kelly paid scant attention to Robin, when after the second abortion Robin continually questioned social mores — why couldn’t she have a baby and not be married? Even in 1981, when Linda Covici — an artist friend from Carlsbad — had her abortion, Kelly intellectually understood that her friend needed support, but Kelly talked with her about the decision more from duty than emotional empathy. Abortion was just a thing people did when they got pregnant.
Kelly’s pregnancy, however, wasn’t an isolated crisis in her life. She had undergone surgery in early April for an ovarian cyst, but her whole ovary was removed. For three months following, she was depressed. She had given up her home in Solana Beach because with the surgery she couldn’t work and thus couldn’t afford the rent. Being forced to live again in Del Mar with her mother and father only made her feel worse. I did what I could to support her during that period — I cooked for her, I loaned her money, I spent a lot of time sitting with her inside the house. I should say I also intensely felt the loss of her ovary. In reaction, in fear of losing my own health, I began to run five to ten miles daily.
Slowly I built up my physical stamina to a level equal to that when I played basketball six years earlier. My daily running routine worked to discipline my mind as well as my body. Also, at age 26 I was involved in the newspaper and magazine business as a writer, and that, I came to understand, has little to do with softness or sympathy or paying heed to the feelings of other people (sometimes even one’s lover) but a lot to do with meeting deadlines. That kind of tension was transforming me the way boiling water hardens an egg, and about as quickly. I put intellectual pragmatism above the freedom (or natural inclination) to follow one’s emotions and feelings. But Kelly never felt pressured to succeed in a career; she was born into a wealthy family and knew she could always turn homeward when in need of money — if she were desperate. Many evenings when Kelly went with friends to the Triton to listen to jazz, I would stay home to work. What I denied she embraced.
I had wanted life to go smoothly after the ovarian cyst. But now in July, when Kelly was finally happy and active again, enjoying walks and running, came the pregnancy. While I wanted children — maybe even five of them eventually — our first wasn’t to come for another year, with one to follow every 18 months. That was the plan. The baby she now carried was not part of the plan, a road hazard in need of removal. In my journal I wrote of the resentment and anger I felt that such complications — and her need for my emotional support — took me away from my work, work that produced the money for us to have such things as a home of our own. That second week in July I felt my anger all the more intensely, because she said she felt no anger or resentment, yet insinuated little things about me, quick stinging barbs — I cared more about money than about her and the living thing she carried.
At the same time, something intriguing and provocative was also occurring. What was inside Kelly was more like a human than I had imagined. By the tenth week, a little miniature person had formed, half the size of my thumb, a bump on the wall of Kelly’s uterus. The head was inordinately large compared to the rest of the body, the eye orbitals forming, little dots for ears, tiny arms and legs. And I wondered: was the embryo cognizant on a human level? A brain the size of my fingernail. Could it function? What is human cognizance? How do you judge functionality? I wondered whether what was inside her possessed a soul.
Did the soul arise as the result of earthly living, a collection of one’s experiences in the world? Perhaps the soul preceded earthly living, from the moment of conception. Or maybe the soul came when the fetus “quickened,” when the mother felt its movements, a belief commonly held in this country 250 years ago. I wondered if the soul survived after the body’s biological death. I thought that, even if the soul were immortal and appeared sometime during the embryonic or fetal stage, it wouldn’t be too badly upset at having to go directly to the soul world and not having the opportunity to exist in the earthly world.
Even if there were such a soul (what is a soul?) and it would be upset by an abortion, no guilt plagued my conscience. War and abortion. Some people may say both are forms of murder. But how easily they’re accepted by society as natural phenomena, despite the sorrow each may bring. And since the spiritual questions couldn’t be empirically proven, rather requiring some degree of faith, of which I have very little, I put aside that question. I decided to get on with more pragmatic matters, such as the cost of having the child, or how long Kelly would wait before an abortion would become quite expensive. Maybe my thoughts and words qualify me as a perfectly horrible and evil person. Some right-to-life proponents, in fact, may want to stone me, which wouldn’t be very forgiving or Christian of them.
I much prefer those right-to-lifers who would choose to pray for me. Kelly probably wondered what the hell was wrong with me. Regardless of my feelings about abortion, she questioned why I couldn’t at least give her more emotional support and be more patient, since she wasn’t positive, but was pretty sure that if she had the abortion, a murder of some sort would be committed. And there was something else. She felt guilty that she could entertain thoughts of disavowing motherhood.
“Part of me embraced the pregnancy,” Kelly wrote in her journal in the first days after she learned she was pregnant. “Yet now I had a living entity who in nine months would erupt from my body and start a chain of demands, beginning with feeding and changing, etc., and never ending until the day I died, asking for money, cars, etc. I disliked myself for the hesitation and anxiety. After all, my mother had four children by the time she was 27 (my age) and I couldn’t even caress one.” But as Kelly had been with her friends who had undergone abortions — giving them her compassion mainly out of duty — I didn’t know how guilty a woman could feel or how hard the decision could be for her.
I drove from Los Angeles to Cardiff on the 11th, which was a Sunday, and I planned to stay until the 14th, a Wednesday. Kelly that day wore a cowboy shirt that had become very tight and accentuated her breasts. I liked the shirt on her; she looked sexy in it. But she said she felt embarrassed that people might know she was pregnant. On the couch she insisted I sit close to her. The tension between us lifted. “What do you want me to do?” she said.
“I want you to decide.”
“If I want to have the child?”
“My baby must be almost ten weeks old.”
“Is there anything to feel?”
“Like I’m carrying the ocean in my belly.”
We went for a walk along San Elijo Lagoon. The trail went down near Seabright Lane, in Solana Beach, and we walked past the broom thistle and castor brush. She walked barefoot, and the skirt she wore was patterned with blooming flowers and leafy limbs. We walked quietly, I think, because of the unspoken anxiety and that many of the words we each spoke were cruel, and that we were afraid those spoken with apparent understanding and sympathy would be misconstrued as spitefully intended. Also, although I didn’t know it then, Kelly had made an appointment for an abortion. Her dramatic sense told her that if she were quiet now, when she told me about the appointment, the impact would be even greater. Where there was sand, near where green salt grass grew in the watery mud, we lay down and closed our eyes and lay quietly in the warm sun. We heard each other’s breathing and splashing birds skidding down into the shallows to feed. “I made an appointment with Dr. Silver on the 21st,” she said. “But if I have the abortion, that’s also the first day of work for me at the racetrack. I may be fired if I miss the first day.”
“You can always say you had a tooth pulled.”
“I can’t tell them that.”
“Right. They’ll expect your mouth to be all swollen. Say you had a wart removed from your foot and you need a day to stay home and mourn its loss.”
“This is serious. All you’re doing is joking.”
I poked my finger into her ribs.
“Don’t. You’re acting like a child.”
She sat up and looked across the lagoon at the homes on the Cardiff hills. “It’ll never be right for us to have a baby,” she said.
“But I can’t afford a baby. We haven’t even got a permanent home. We need to have our own home first, but that we can’t afford. We can’t even afford the bill for you to have the baby in the hospital. Do you want a welfare child? The baby’ll have to wear rags and newspapers for diapers.”
“Money!” She spat out the word. “All people are concerned with is money. They say they don’t want a child yet, because of the money. But what about caring for what two people in love have created? People are so selfish. It’s not that you think it would be unfair to the baby to be born. The baby would be unfair to you. That’s what worries you. We could eat less. We could give good enough care. When do you think we will have the money? It’s always so well planned with you that you completely lack spontaneity. Well, I’m going to tell you something. Things don’t go like how a clock ticks; they’re not ordered. You have the baby and that adds incentive to make more money. You’ve got to loosen up. And feel. Can’t you understand that this isn’t a business proposition we’re talking about? That this is something alive that we created out of love? A living thing.”
“But how do you know it’s living?”
“Inside I feel a child just beginning its life. What’s inside is something spiritual and in that way is alive.”
“But how alive?”
“I don’t know, I can’t prove it, if that’s what you mean.” We had begun to walk back. “You’re always so practical; all you think about is money. You don’t see the beauty in what our love has brought.”
“I’m getting awfully tired of you putting me down.”
We drove in silence back to Cardiff.
That night, as we readied to sleep, she was undressing and let her skirt fall. She stood, rounded, very white and lovely, a delicate maiden who could have been painted by an Italian artist in the 16th Century.
But my fear that she wouldn’t have the abortion played on me. “Even if it is alive, you don’t need to feel guilty,” I said. “We’re not under Christian law and you can still have the abortion.”
“Something inside me is alive and part of me and I’m nurturing what could be our child, and you try to divorce yourself from what’s happening by calling what’s inside me an it. You’re so unfeeling of what I feel. Anyway, just because I think abortion is some kind of murder, and I feel maternal, that doesn’t mean I’m anything close to a Christian. Now, will you please turn off the lamp? And let’s go to sleep.”
She decided to have the abortion, although she wanted one sooner than the 21st. But that date was the soonest one could be scheduled with Dr. Allan Silver, whom she trusted; she was absolutely certain he was one of the best in his field in North County. When she had had the ovarian cyst, other doctors had made Kelly feel threatened by suggesting a hysterectomy might be required. Silver assured her the surgery would be far less severe. He was right. Although he had removed an ovary, Kelly was obviously fertile. Besides, the scar across her lower belly was a faint stroke that could hardly be seen.
That she was having the abortion now would make things much easier, since up to the 12th week either one of two simple procedures could be employed to remove the embryo. Dilation and curettage — D&C — was the traditional procedure and required that the opening of the cervix be dilated; that is, stretched (by tapered metal rods of graduated sizes known as dilators) until wide enough to accept a curette, which is a rod-shaped instrument with a sharp-edged spoon on one end that the doctor would gently use to scrape clean the uterine walls.
The newer, more commonly employed method is vacuum suction. The cervix is again dilated. Only this time a slender tube is inserted into the uterus, the tube connected to a vacuum pump that uses low suction to clean the uterus. Then a small curette would be used to clean up. Both procedures routinely take less than ten minutes and can be performed with only a local anesthetic.
But an abortion requires money. The cost for one with Dr. Silver would be about $125 to $150, an amount that, with our tight budget, would make the rent, telephone, other utilities, and food bills much harder to pay. Kelly, too embarrassed to ask her parents for help, went to apply for MediCal. She called the downtown central office, and was then told to call the Oceanside office, where she had gotten MediCal earlier for her ovarian cyst surgery. Somebody at that office said Kelly needed to make an appointment. But none could be scheduled until after the 21st.
The best Kelly could do would be to drive to the Oceanside welfare office and wait until a caseworker squeezed her in on an emergency basis. On the day she went, while she flipped through magazines, brown-skinned women bounced their babies. Other children ran around the spare room. Other mothers dressed in patched blue jeans, raggedy clothes. Three hours later somebody missed her scheduled appointment and a caseworker called Kelly in. The caseworker said the abortion couldn’t be considered an emergency, so the paperwork wouldn’t possibly be finished before the 21st. But after the 21st, Kelly said, I’ll be past my 12th week. Exactly, the caseworker said; past the third month an abortion is considered an emergency and MediCal can be obtained quite rapidly. But then the cost would rise to $400 at least, and the procedure would be far more serious and susceptible to complications; a saline solution would be injected into her amniotic sac by a hypodermic needle inserted through her stomach, thus forcing the body to expel what was now technically a fetus. Nothing made sense. “Forget MediCal,” Kelly said later that day. “We’ll pay ourselves.”
I left again for Los Angeles. Kelly continued to worry that she would lose her racetrack job if she had the abortion on the 21st and missed work. She badly needed money, too. So she scheduled an abortion for Friday the 16th with Family Planning Associates Medical Group, on Alvarado Road in San Diego. She called to let me know. It was Thursday evening.
“What time do you leave?” I asked her.
“Do you want me to come?”
“If you want.”
“But I’ve got appointments Friday. They’re important.”
“It’s not like I want you to meet me for coffee.”
“You talk like I’m deserting you.”
“Is that what you’re feeling?”
“That’s what I’m trying not to feel.”
“Then you really feel you’re deserting me?”
“Don’t you understand I have to work?”
“No. Don’t you understand?”
In her journal, Kelly described the day she went in for her abortion: “I drove to Robin’s home to pick her up. On the way to San Diego I looked at a couple walking down the street. I began to cry. I said to myself, how can anything conceived out of love be ripped out of me? Why can’t I just have a baby? I told Robin I was afraid. She held my arm while I drove. My voice was shaky. I felt a lump in my throat. I said that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be.… I didn’t want to go through with it. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My emotions were all confused. I wished I weren’t pregnant. I wanted to go home and eat lunch.… The clinic was enormous. Thirty women were in the lounge all waiting for abortions. I filled in forms. A woman and her boyfriend sat across from me. She held him. He comforted her. When the door opened from the abortion room, a pretty girl in a Levi’s jumper wobbled out and held her stomach and cried. She just stood there. Her boyfriend came to her and held her and put his arms around her. One of her parents came toward her and caressed her. I looked at the woman across from me. We were both afraid and smiling. I felt like I was watching a horror film.… I was called by the counselor. She was a Mexican lady. I began to cry. She was very nice and handed me a Kleenex and asked me if the abortion was my decision? I said yes, tears streaming down.… Other questions she asked I was too choked up to answer. Afraid, and sick. Dizzy. The Mexican lady said to follow her. She led me back and gave me a cup to pee into for another pregnancy test. I looked down the hall. A room with benches attached to the walls was filled by women who all had surgical clothing and caps on and who waited for their abortions. They were all silent, lined up like cattle. Other women who were undressing were lined up in front of lockers they put their street clothes in. The Mexican lady kept asking if I was all right? I choked up again and said I wouldn’t do this. She said okay. She said she would give me back my money order and asked if I were going to have the baby? I said I didn’t know. I just wasn’t ready for this.… She said if I had the baby, I would need prenatal care and I should come back in two weeks. She calculated I was nine to ten weeks pregnant and that if I didn’t want to pay $400 for an abortion, I would need to take care of the matter before 12 weeks.… Leaving the clinic, although my problem wasn’t solved, I felt good, like I had won some sort of battle. The people there for their abortions seemed so dissociated from life and love. Abortion seemed like a concentration camp at the clinic, everyone ready to be gassed to lose life. I feel abortion is up to the individual but this day felt like we lacked love and responsibility to our children. No wonder we are a nation of ice blood. No wonder we look at starving children of other nations indifferently. I know all the arguments for pro-life and yet still feel those things are up to the individual, but, please, let’s wake up. These women were silent. Maybe they were resolved. Or maybe they were feeling guilty and frightened into quiet submission. But I felt as though this was cruel. That their maternal feelings were dead sensations. The animal’s emotions gone from us as women and the rational, civilized were in control to make us like robots, instruments of society.… I feel as though we have lost touch with something.… It’s an intuitive self that knows modern technology and civilization have set us up in some confusing situations.… Women are very different from men. Women are creatures that create. We are earthy and our natural selves want to protect. It’s natural to have babies. For a woman who is really in touch with herself, it has to be difficult to have an abortion.”
Later in the day I called. I had worked hard all day and now was filled with nervous energy, saturated with adrenalin. I asked stupid questions over and over, like what would she do now? She kept saying she didn’t know and get off my back already, because I’m tired of you harping on me having to get an abortion. I wasn’t too understanding of her complex feelings at that moment. I kept telling her I was objective and she was too emotional. But all I had were simple answers to explain my own very unsimple emotions. Long silences ensued. It cost a lot to talk this time of day. She wasn’t talking. She was so emotionally confused, she couldn’t. Then we ought to talk another time, I said, because this is costing too much if all we’re going to do is be silent. “But you don’t understand,” she said. “How could you? You’re so far away.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Nothing. You’re just far away.”
“What do you want from me? I can’t pick up on what you mean if you don’t say anything.”
“I didn’t know I would need you so badly.”
“If you didn’t know, how am I supposed to know?”
“I asked you to come last night.”
“You didn’t say it very strongly. It just didn’t get through to me. Look, I don’t want to argue with you. I can’t talk too long now.”
“Go ahead and put money first. You just want me to be an automaton. You should be glad I have feelings. At least one of us does.”
“Hate me if you want.”
“You should look at your values more closely.”
“Why? Because you think I’m cheap? Say it if that’s what you believe.”
She refused to say she loved me when she put down the phone. I slammed down my receiver.
I came down Saturday morning. On Monday, Kelly decided she wouldn’t take the racetrack job at all and would have the abortion. She went to Dr. Silver’s office, on Lomas Santa Fe Drive, on Tuesday, so her blood type could be taken. “What time is your — uh — appointment?” the nurse asked as Kelly filled in a form.
“Thank you, Mrs. Anjon.”
We went to her parents’ home that afternoon. They were still unaware of the pregnancy. As we sat Kelly felt slight cramps and noticed a bit of blood trickle down her legs. Unexpectedly, Kelly’s mother said we should have a baby and then sell it for $10,000. Then she said, “No. I’m only joking.” Actually, she went on, she had been thinking of breeding her miniature terriers and selling the pups for $350 apiece. Kelly’s grandmother — also living in Del Mar — called: “When are you going to have babies?” An hour later, Judy, a family friend, and her three children came by. Kelly’s mother joked with Judy, saying Kelly was pregnant. (Does she know?! How could she?) “Kelly pregnant!” Judy said.
“I’m only kidding.”
“I remember when Kelly was just a little girl.”
At home in Cardiff, Kelly grimaced. She felt more cramps and blood. We went upstairs to change into running clothes, then drove to San Dieguito High’s athletic field. I ran sprints; she walked slowly around the track. I looked angrily at her, not knowing how badly she bled. I heaved the shotput. She sat on the grass and talked with a woman, then she stood and jogged to the track, but again she slowed to a walk. Blood trickled down her thighs. She thanked God she had worn purple sweats. At home she went into the bathroom and tore paper off the roll to put between her legs and scoop up the blood. It was thick, coagulated blood she felt run down. Too much fell. In the mirror she saw a ghost look back, with tight lips and furrowed brow. “Are you all right?” I called.
“It’s not too bad.”
She went to the telephone and dialed Robin, who said none of the pregnant women with whom she had spoken bled or experienced cramps.
“I’m not bleeding too badly.”
“It just doesn’t seem normal. Call if you need me.”
“Kelly, are you all right?” I asked.
“I’m all right.”
“No you’re not.”
She lay across the length of the couch. I held her. She turned away from me and dialed Scripps Memorial Hospital, in Encinitas, and she talked with the emergency operator.
Did she feel cramps?
She should call her doctor. Dr. Silver wasn’t in, but Dr. Alan Blank, an associate, was on emergency call. He said meet him at Scripps, in La Jolla.
Would she want me to drive?
“Yes, that would be nice.”
She slowly climbed the stairs to our room. She put on her blue prairie dress that showed her so tightly, and brushed her hair. It was very important to dress pleasantly and look nice for the doctor. I had a bad feeling. My whole routine for tomorrow was shot. I also knew something bad was happening to Kelly.
In the car I was quiet. I just looked at the speedometer. I try to stay healthy, go to bed early, wake early, run, stay trim, make enough money for us to live comfortably. But what Kelly was going through was ripping away from me all the protections I had carved for myself in 26 years, habits and a way of life, little things done daily that enabled me not to feel lonely and helped me function in the world. Now I had to peek out from the darkened cave in which I had lived before we met. Kelly needed me to give up my cave, surrender, compromise my values. She held my arm and asked me to look at her, not the speedometer. “Please help me, because I need you. And don’t be dark and resentful of what I can’t help.”
I was very familiar by now with the hospital and easily found the emergency entrance. We took chairs in front of the admitting desk. A dark-haired man on the telephone talked about the chicken dinner he wanted after he got off work. The man put down the telephone. Fluorescent lights brightened the room. “Name?”
She put her hand on my leg and closed her eyes and swallowed. The cramps surged through her. He filled in a form on the computer screen.
“Do you have MediCal?”
“Mrs. Anjon, we will have to consider this a cash account then until you make other arrangements. Do you understand you’re to pay the full amount?”
“I can’t right now.” “Perhaps as you leave.” The couch we sat on was a thin one with a metal frame. In came Dr. Blank, bearded, wiry haired, intellectual looking. “Mrs. Anjon, I’ll see you as soon as you’re brought into emergency.” He disappeared behind the double swinging doors.
Kelly and Dr. Blank described what next happened. There was a nurse and attendant in the emergency room, which was spacious and spotless. There were bright lights. Somebody said it was a slow night. The nurse took Kelly to a small room, an alcove, curtained off from the bigger room with all the beds. “Take off all your clothes and jewelry,” she said and brought her a plastic bag for her silver and ivory bracelets and earrings and necklaces, the barrettes in her hair. Kelly put on a papery thin gown and lay on the metal examination table, quiet, a wounded animal, feeling pain, wanting to fall asleep. She was also very angry. The whole pregnancy had become a matter of submission. Dr. Blank walked in. “How much blood do you have?”
“I had to change my pad 20 minutes ago.”
Her back on the cold steel table, her legs angled toward the ceiling, her feet in stirrups. He picked out blood and bits. “You’re having a miscarriage. You’ve got to have a D&C. In about 20 minutes.”
Just Dusting & Cleaning, Kelly’s older sister used to joke when she underwent them. But her sister always joked about serious matters. This was serious. These cramps were at least a hundred times worse than the menstrual kind.
Kelly had broken her arm when she was a child. The doctor had moved the fractured bone pieces for X-rays. That pain had made her scream and was more painful than these cramps. But the cramps, which came in waves a few minutes apart, were the worst pain in her adult life. She didn’t scream now, she thought, because she was older. But she wanted to scream. She dearly wanted to scream. Dr. Blank returned to tell Kelly what he had told at least a hundred women before her: “There is no way you can cause a miscarriage. They happen because of chromosomal problems at the beginning of conception. A miscarriage isn’t the woman’s fault. There are approximately 15 miscarriages that occur for every 100 pregnancies. Each pregnancy you have a 15-percent chance to have one. With so many chromosomes joining and DNAs involved, it’s surprising there aren’t more miscarriages. A miscarriage, I repeat, isn’t the woman’s fault — cannot be caused, for instance, by a fall down stairs.”
Dr. Blank led me inside, assuring me that Kelly would still be able to have children when all this was finished. Someone from the lab came to take blood. She was nervous, her veins difficult to locate. “I know you won’t do this right,” she said to the lab technician. Twice, sticking in the needle, he couldn’t locate the vein. “I just knew you wouldn’t. Oh please do it right.”
“It’s okay, Kelly.” I brushed the hair off her forehead.
“There we go,” the technician said, filling pint bottles.
“I wish my mother were here.”
She lay on the table an hour. The lights that glared from the ceiling cut her body into different angles and surfaces, like a diamond being shaped. All the blades and scalpels that had cut into her had cut her into different angles and surfaces, making her into somebody she hadn’t been before, each crisis making her wiser, weakening her, too. The table she lay on was hard. My eyes, like the scalpels, cut into her, frightening her that what she was going through was taking me down along with her, and maybe I would leave, a hard knock, but if I left, she said to herself, she would survive. Though that would be bad. An orderly came to take her to the second-floor ob/gyn. She requested a painkiller. He was gentle-voiced and said he would ask the nurse. He returned, saying sorry, no. “You’ll be in surgery too soon.”
“It’s my body, why can’t I have one?”
The orderly rolled her onto the gurney and took her to her new room. A new nurse came inside. “Do you still have cramps?”
“All right, that’s because toxic remains from the fetus are being flushed out of your body. But when the cramps go away, that doesn’t mean all the toxic remains will be gone. They may make you bleed for days or poison you, which is why the D&C is needed.”
Another orderly rolled Kelly onto a gurney at 12:30. The bleeding had soaked her gown dull red. On first-floor surgery, I kissed her good-bye. The surgery room was bright as the beach in August. Kelly told the anesthesiologist she was frightened that she wouldn’t awaken when he put her to sleep. Dr. Blank put his hand on her stomach. “Anybody who wouldn’t be nervous before an operation would be insane.” The nurse put electrodes on her chest. Kelly told the anesthesiologist the syringe he used was too large, and that she didn’t want the shot.
“You’ll feel a peculiar taste in your mouth,” he said.
“I feel it.”
“Tastes like garlic.”
“Garlic never tasted so bad.”
All the people standing above her were now joking, making jokes about her, saying good-bye, laughing. Kelly couldn’t remember why they laughed. The room turned very fast in circles and became very white and bright and the lights pressed in against her eyes, pushing them back into their sockets. Then she felt tired and closed her eyes.
Because the miscarriage had naturally dilated the cervix, the D&C had become simplified for Dr. Blank to perform. First he swabbed her vagina with antiseptic and inserted a speculum to hold it open. He used a tweezerlike instrument — a tenaculum — to grasp the cervix and steady the uterus. With the curette he gently cleaned her uterine wall. The anesthesiologist injected Pitressin — a synthetic pituitary gland hormone — into her uterus, which forced the muscular tissue to contract, lessening the postoperative bleeding.
In the recovery room, Kelly awoke before 1:00. Soon two nurses took her back to the second floor, where she tried to sleep, but her room was by the nurses’ station. They talked and laughed all night. Dr. Blank came at 7:30 in the morning. She thought that considering his late night, he looked fresh. Suddenly Kelly remembered the abortion. “I was to have one with Dr. Silver this morning,” she said.
“Just call and cancel.”
With the realization that she didn’t have to go through with the abortion, Kelly felt especially fine. She just lay in bed and slept and felt fine.
A few weeks later it was all over. The bill — close to $1000 for less than 12 hours in Scripps Memorial — would be paid for by MediCal. Nothing of what happened between us was forgiven too well, though a lot was forgotten. Her parents still are unaware.
In early August, Kelly went to dinner with Linda Covici and Maria Moreno at Maria’s apartment in Pacific Beach, near the freeway. They’re all very womanly and aesthetic and they love one another very much. After dinner they drank red wine. Linda and Maria sat on the couch in a well-lighted portion of the room. Kelly sat alone on the sofa where Maria hadn’t put any lights and it was shadowy. For what had happened — and what she now described — Kelly seemed oddly exhilarated.
At first Kelly said that she felt fine and wasn’t at all bothered by what she had experienced. But Linda couldn’t help noticing how nervously Kelly would laugh as she told about the day she went in for the abortion, and that her left eye seemed to have developed a tic. They drank more wine. Maria refilled their glasses. Kelly continued to talk and reached for her glass but spilled the wine, which darkened the carpet. “A woman goes through so much pain,” she said. “The cyst I had and the ovary I lost — that was very painful. Even our periods are painful, and pregnancy, too. A man goes through none of this. You know, if I were to be born again, and had my choice, I’d be born a man.”