As a pre-abortion counselor, I occasionally had a pregnant mother ask me to come visit her in the recovery room once it was all over. Naturally, whoever accompanied her to the abortion clinic that day was not permitted in any of the medical areas, so requests like this were not uncommon. Some of the weepier women (who were scheduled to be awake with local anesthetic for their abortions) would ask if I could join them in the procedure room to hold their hands during their abortions. I would attempt to deflect this question by reminding them that a nurse would be there to hold their hands, but a few would persist in asking if I could be there to hold their hands. More than a few times, I agreed.
Both procedure rooms at the abortion clinic where I worked for more than five years when I was much younger, and much less wise, were small – and having an extra person in the room besides the pregnant mother, the nurse, and the doctor was difficult and cumbersome. Not every doctor permitted even a pre-abortion counselor into the procedure room during an abortion, but most did because if I was there to hold the woman’s hand, she would remain calmer and quieter, and was more likely to hold still for the abortion – and it would free up the nurse’s hand to more efficiently assist the doctor.
Holding hands was rare in my role as pre-abortion counselor, but it was always raw and unnerving. Most times it was the hand of a sad stranger that I held. Once it was the hand of a friend. Once it was the hand of an enemy. Most were young, some had wedding bands, all were scared, all were sad.
If the doctor allowed me to hold the pregnant mother’s hand during her abortion, I would be called into the procedure room after she was already prepped and draped. The nurse would open the door for me, and I would go straight to the head of the table, being sure to stay out of the way, and hold her hand and look into her eyes and murmur, “Everything is going to be alright.”
One young woman, who was about 9 to 10 weeks pregnant and nineteen years old (the same age my grandmother was when she had my mother, the same age I was as I held her hand, the same age my baby was when I had my abortion) squeezed my hand so hard it nearly brought tears to my eyes. And this was before the abortion began. “Everything is going to be alright.” She met my gaze and nodded, then squeezed her eyes shut and begin to quietly sob as the doctor put the speculum in place. The doctor was not oblivious to her, and he took a moment to get up from the stool to ask, “There is still time to change your mind, are you sure this is what you want to do?” She silently nodded again, squeaked out a small “yes” and the doctor sat back down and went to work.
You’re going to feel a pinch as I inject the local anesthetic into your cervix.
You’re going to feel some cramping as I use the dilating rods to open your cervix.
You’re going to feel some tugging, and a pulling sensation as I turn on the suction machine.
It’s almost over.
The sound of the machine was always the worst. For her and for me. The sound of suctioning water is abruptly changed when the cannula (the hard plastic hollow tube inserted into the uterus) hits something harder than water. There is a sudden stopping; a rapid decrease in pitch and timbre of the sucking sound. And it is heartbreaking.
It’s over now. Just lie still for a few minutes before you try to get up.
She has kept her eyes clamped shut the entire time. All five minutes of her abortion. Now she looks up at me again, but she is changed. Her eyes no longer pleading, she has aged, and now all I see behind her eyes is resignation.
With a pump of her hand and a forced grimace and a nod, I excuse myself from the procedure room so the nurse can clean up her patient and escort her to the recovery room. I walk down the hall, back through the locked steel security door that separates the medical area from the rest of the abortion clinic, and stop at the staff bathroom.
I am not surprised that I do not cry…