Sep 062010

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It was spring when I realised I was still waiting on a period that should have arrived two weeks prior and when the white stick streaked with blue I found out I was pregnant and decided no one else would.

A covert mission began. This is my country, the land of saints and scholars? The land that forces women in this crisis to sort out their problem in the British Isles. So I made an appointment at a clinic on a street in Dublin I had never walked on before, a run down old area where you could get methadone on one corner and cheap fruit and vegetables on another. An elderly woman stood outside the building and as I rang the buzzer to gain admittance she snarled through yellow teeth, “Are ye getting the pill from in there or are ye arranging a jaunt to England?”

It was hard not to say to her “Mind your own fucking business” but I still possessed some old style manners, “Respect your elders” being one of them. I ignored her and the heavy door beeped and let me in just as she spat out “Slut”. The quiet speaking doctor inside confirmed what I already knew and after countless repetitions of “Are you sure you don’t want this baby?” made an appointment for me in the English clinic and gave me a folder with directions, the London tube lines, a map and a scan photo showing a 9 week old foetus.

How ironic. Seven years previously I had watched my son’s nine week old heartbeat pulse at me from a screen. I had willed him health and safety, gave birth to him and after separating from his father, brought him up alone. Post–separation I rebuilt my life, I moved in with my parents, I went back to college, I worked in a delicatessen, I even slept with a younger man (and why not, I was single, I was too still young). And now, I was 9 weeks pregnant and I didn’t want to be.

I maxed my credit cards, I booked the flight to London, and I had to come up with almost 1000 euros. Circumstances make a good actress—no one sensed what I was planning; no one noticed that I was wan and pale and haunted. My son snuggled up to me at night as he always did unaware of how stupid his mother felt herself to be.

I got through the airport without meeting anyone I knew, jumped on a tube from Heathrow to some station in London, Ealing I think, and walked to the clinic, slyly peeping at the map they had sent me. It was a warm day and I stopped on the road to take off my coat and stuff it in my bag. The clinic was on a quiet residential street with nothing but a number to distinguish it from the others. Inside it was all peachy walls and healthy looking cheese plants and couples holding hands and what looked like a mother beside a teenage daughter and no other woman sitting alone reading the in-flight magazine as I was. A litre of Jameson was half price for a limited time only.

A competent-looking young woman wrote down my details, took my money and patted my hand as she handed me a receipt. She’d broken one of her nails. Inside another room a plump nurse, name tag SALLY, squirted what looked like lube on my belly and pressed down with what looked like the till scanner they use in Tescos. A pulsing black and white blob flickered on the screen beside me.

“Ok,” said Sally, “looks to be about 9 and a half weeks.” I remembered Mickey Rourke melting ice cubes on Kim Basinger. Sally wiped my tummy with cheap crispy tissue.

“I know you’ve answered this already but it’s procedure. What reasons do you have for wanting the termination?”

“I got pregnant after a one night stand. I’m not in a permanent relationship … but anyway, even if I was I don’t want a baby. I cannot have this baby. I just can’t.”

The doctor told me I didn’t need to take off my socks, only my jeans and knickers and he yapped on while preparing his instruments, how lovely the weather was, how was the flight? I wondered if the soles of my socks were clean. I had opted for the non- anaesthetic procedure so I could leave as soon as possible and drive myself home from the airport. Another nurse, heavy with a huge bosom, stood at my head and offered her hand. When I looked surprised she said “this will hurt. It will hurt quite a bit, my love, but only for three or four minutes. We can count out the last minute with you if you’d like.” The doctor’s happy voice said from in between my legs, “healthy looking cervix you have.” I burst out laughing. Even now I don’t know why my cervix was a cause for humour. Why was I laughing?

When the procedure began the nurse was right, of course she was, the pain was terrifying. It ripped through my body and coursed upwards so I was forced to release a sound, a loud hum, high pitched. My legs, spread apart, knees sagging on the table began to shake and jerk. I focused on the shining glass cabinet just behind the doctor’s left shoulder. “Mmmm, mmmm, mmmmm.” Scraping, scraping, scraping my insides, I heard drips sliding into the bowl.

When name tag PATRICIA started reciting 60…59…58…I exhaled and chanted along with her, each number increasing in volume, the glass cabinet blurring behind one stinging tear. As I counted I received the agony as penance, as my punishment, (how could I be so stupid?) for lying here on this hospital bed and paying a man to scrape the inside of my womb and plop the contents into a small blue Tupperware style bowl. 15….14…13…12…a sliver of vomit rose in my throat. I swallowed it, the acid burning. And we’re nearly there; it’s the final countdown, the last hurdle, 5…4…3…2…1.

That night of good sex, that night where I felt desirable, that night where I thought the condom broke but was too embarrassed, too out of practice to ask, to say it, to ask the man, how stupid, how stupid, how sad and stupid … am I?

“Rest for a moment, Megan, and when you feel up to it you can get up. Just pop a pad in your pants and sit out on one of the beds in the waiting room.”

The other wounded sat in various positions on their reclining seats, one woman lay clutching her stomach, moaning unembarrassed, which irritated me. The worst part was over, woman, I thought, now go do your healing elsewhere. A steaming cup of tea was placed on the table beside me and a couple of those garish pink wafer biscuits that I didn’t think you could still buy anywhere.

“Now, we normally don’t let anyone go until they’ve managed to drink a cup of tea and eat a few biscuits. Just so we know you can keep something down, got the blood sugar levels back up.”

That would mean that the moaning Minnie across from me would be there all day. Her biscuits rested in the saucer, unnibbled, a wrinkly skin forming on her tea. I had no sympathy for her, or for the Indian woman who lay beside me, absently flicking through last month’s Marie Claire, or for the young girl who looked about 18 sitting up but quietly crying in the corner. I felt nothing at all then. For any of us. I swallowed the sweet pink layers, gulped the tea and willed myself to stand up and confidently announce to Patricia “I’m ready to go now, thank you very much”. Once the first lie is said, it’s easy to just keep coming out with them. The truth becomes a memory. I jumped into a taxi outside and arrived at Heathrow an hour early. I realised I had left my coat behind me. I pictured it hanging on the coat stand, unclaimed.

When I arrived back in Dublin, back at my house where my mother sat watching TV and my son played on his Nintendo and the dog jumped up to greet me and his paws rested on my stomach, I could not react, I could not falter. It had taken 8 or 9 hours in total and as far as they all knew I had been at an academic conference “Oh yes, it was great, very interesting…no, I got lunch there….hi sweetie, have you been a good boy?”

(Was it terrible that mostly I felt relief? It was the truth. It was my truth.)

I was sure they would be able to smell the dishonesty from my clothes, that they may be able to smell the scent of blood but mum just made me a cup of tea. I took my shoes off and I lay on the sofa, my son’s blonde head nestled on my chest, and I looked down at my socks, the two stripy cotton witnesses to the act that I had just committed. One I have never regretted.

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