Leah Rogin-Roper: Abortions

Fall '10 TOC

“So,” Dr. Ramirez said, her gentle hand on my shoulder, “So, are you ready?”

***

Gerald and I grew up together in the same small Southern town our whole lives, and all those years his mom drove the abortion wagon around town.  It had close-up pictures of aborted fetuses all over the side of it.  It was a mini-van and she was a mom of three, and she drove the abortion wagon to the grocery store, to pick up her kids from school, to recitals and plays and girl-scout meetings.  Sometimes Gerald would bring anti-abortion pamphlets to school.   

After one of those days I came home and asked my mom “What is abortion?”  She was an OB-GYN and she wasn’t the kind of mom to shy away from those types of questions.  I pictured the tiny white skeletal blurs of fingers that curled in on each other in the pamphlet Gerald had brought to school that day. 

“Well, you know how I told you about how women get pregnant and have a baby inside them?”  My dad was a pediatrician and my mom delivered babies.  I was probably the best informed fourth-grader in our county.   

“Yeah.” 

“Well, sometimes when a woman gets pregnant it can be dangerous or too difficult for her, or for the baby, and so they have to get a doctor to come and take the baby out.  Early.  Before the baby can live on its own.”  

“But isn’t that wrong?  What happens to the baby?”  She cleared her throat, her grey blue eyes (that was the color they were when she spoke in her doctor voice) looked away from mine, the spot between her eyebrows deepened, and she reached far back in the closet for something on the top shelf. 

“Well, honey, you have to understand that it isn’t really a baby yet.  It doesn’t look like a little person with hands and feet and legs.  When a woman has an abortion, she isn’t really having a whole baby taken out of her.  It looks more like a tadpole.”  She turned back to me, meeting me with the full force of her grey purple eyes (that was the color they turned when she got emotional).  “Remember when we had those tadpoles last spring and some of them lived and became frogs and some of them didn’t?”

I pictured the tiny shriveled-up bodies of the tadpoles that had died.  I didn’t cry or even feel sad about their deaths.  I was too excited about the ones that were turning into frogs, developing tiny legs and half-formed toes.

***

Jeannine called herself Moonbeam then.  That was her Rainbow name, she said.  I don’t know what exactly happened with her and my roommate, Josh.  Josh said she came over drunk one night and climbed into bed with him.  That’s not how she told the story. 

She told Josh she was pregnant, asked him for money to help.  I think he promised her some money, but as far as I know he never came through with it.  She told me about the doctor, how he had gentle eyes and hard hands. 

A couple years later Jeannine was trying to get pregnant.  She’d been trying for awhile, a year maybe, when she went to get some tests done. There’d been a quiet infection, advanced endometriosis, no chance of conceiving.

“If only I’d known, you know?  That was my one chance to have a baby and now it’s gone,” she told me over the phone.  Her hair no longer had the purple streaks, she had grown out of her cocaine habit, and never asked anyone to call her Moonbeam anymore.  “I mean, those weren’t the circumstances I wanted to have a baby under, you know?  But it would have been better than never having a kid at all.”

***

Selah had an abortion with Gerald’s baby, and I think everyone in town knew it except for Gerald and his family.  Gerald was in the military then.  They just had some kind of summer fling going.     

I didn’t even know she was pregnant until I saw her after, her face was light gray and she looked like she lost 20 pounds.  I had just seen her less than a week ago.  I couldn’t believe how much she’d changed in a week.  She looked so old, her shoulders stooping in and her usually well-groomed hair lank and in her face. 

“Selah, what the fuck happened to you?”  I asked as she opened the door.  I was too stunned to even try to pretend like she looked decent. 

She sighed and pressed her body up against the door as she pulled it towards herself to let me in. “I’ll make you a cup of tea,” she said and she drifted towards the tea pot.  “I had an abortion,” she said as she scooped her body into the chair. 

“Holy shit, Selah!  Why didn’t you tell me?  I’m so sorry, I didn’t know.  Is there anything I can do to help?”  I stuttered through, unsure of the right thing to say. 

“It was terrible,” she shuddered and her face got a little more gray.  “Something bad happened.  I kept having to go back to the hospital.  At first they told me that was just how it felt and they sent me home.  I started hemorrhaging.  It was the middle of the night so I didn’t want to call anyone”  The tea water started a shrill boil, and I jumped up to get it, glad to have something distracting me from meeting her yellow, tired eyes.

***

“So,” Dr. Ramirez said, her gentle hand on my shoulder, “So, are you ready?”

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