Posted on December 28 2020
MY BODY MY CHOICE, THE CONVERSATION THAT SHOULD HAVE HAPPENED.
By Cassandra Kalley
Content Warning: Discussions of abortion
Behind the thick wooden door, there’s a small office. Barely big enough to contain the two chairs and L-shaped desk that are stuffed into it. Pinned to corkboards on the walls is nothing but baby announcements and baby photos from multiple families, all vying for the eye’s attention in their pale pinks and blues. Behind the desk sits a middle-aged woman, typing and clicking at a computer. She seems like she’s done this a million times, and I’m her million-and-first patient. I will present no surprise to her, she seems to know as she clicks and scrolls.
What she doesn’t know, or seem to acknowledge, is my fear and confusion. Other than I was told to by a nurse and the small strip of paper confirming my pregnancy, my reasons for entering this office to speak to this woman are still unclear to me. I’m a haze of question marks, but I have only one question to ask out loud. And the woman has barely looked away from her computer screen.
“So, someone can see you on the 5th,” she finally offers. The 5th is two, maybe three, weeks away. “Does that work for you?” She’s talking about how doctor’s appointments will work from here on out, verbally laying out my life for the next nine months. And she will barely let me speak, still having yet to register the pained look that must be etching deep crevices into my browline.
I KNOW WHAT I WANT. I KNOW I CANNOT RAISE A CHILD. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW I CANNOT TRUST THE PERSON WHO PUT THIS THING INSIDE ME TO RAISE A CHILD.
“What if I don’t want it?” I finally ask. And the woman looks as though I’ve just struck her in the chest with a knife, as though she’s never considered such a thing before in her life. Who could not want a baby? She sputters, and her body bristles, her whole demeanour changing. Look at the baby photos plastered around this room. Aren’t they adorable? Why don’t I want this baby?
She has barely said anything worth remembering since I’ve asked my question, but the searing shame in her eyes is enough to make my own eyes glass over with tears.
“We don’t do that here,” she says, now backed up by a nurse. And my tears win the fight against my wants. Suddenly, I’m sobbing. I know what I want. I know I cannot raise a child. I absolutely know I cannot trust the person who put this thing inside me to raise a child. And this office, this entire building feels oppressive and wrong, and I shouldn’t be here. Why am I still in this room? Why am I still talking to this woman?
They barely tell me what to do next. They only leave me with the feeling of guilt, holding court in my gut, as I try not to cry anymore or throw up due to the stress of it all. I walk back out into the heat of the summer day, my hand still holding the confirmation on that slip of paper like a much-needed reminder that this isn’t just a bad dream.
This was my initiation into being the carrier of an unwanted pregnancy. And I had my reasons for not wanting to be pregnant.
Medically, I couldn’t carry a baby to term without creating a slew of future problems for the child. When I found out, I was already 7 weeks along. Who knew what kind of damage the medications I was on could do by the time that appointment rolled around?
Financially, I was barely stable enough for me.
Emotionally, I simply was not ready. Plus not even 24 hours earlier, I had gotten into a fight with the man who had put this burden on me, and though it took me at least another year to leave him (a story for a different article), I knew in that moment he was not one I wanted a child with. He was not one anyone should have a child with.
But ultimately, my choice is all that matters. And some discussion, any discussion at all, would have been more medically sound than the assumption that I was going to keep it.
Thankfully, I was able to quickly find an OBGYN who had terminated his share of pregnancies. Thankfully, he didn’t judge me or try to talk me out of it. Thankfully, I won the fight with my health insurance, proving to them that this procedure was a medical necessity and had them pay for it. And yes, I know and recognize my privilege there.
It’s been about four years now since that happened, and still I do not regret my decision. For all the reasons listed above - plus I just don’t want to be anyone’s parent - I know I made the right choice.
But that initial doctor’s appointment continues to make me uneasy, and not just for myself. I’ve come to realize that the following are the only three options for how that initial conversation could have gone. And should have gone.
Option 1 (and this is the best case scenario for everyone involved): The door closes behind the nurse. “It’s positive. You’re pregnant.” A chair is dragged over and sat on, creating some semblance of comfort. “What do you want to do?”
“What do I want to do?” A flabbergasted but overjoyed grin appears. “Of course I’m keeping it.”
“Well then, congratulations, Momma!” An equally excited smile. “Go have a seat in the lobby. Someone will come talk to you about future appointments soon.”
Option 2: The door closes behind the nurse. “It’s positive. You’re pregnant.” A chair is dragged over and sat on, creating some semblance of comfort. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know.” Tears may or may not appear.
“Okay.” Only more comfort. “Do you know your options?” Here is where the conversation could have diverted a bit, depending on the answer. But either way… “We have someone you can talk to more about this right down the hall. Let me find out if they’re available.”
Option 3: The door closes behind the nurse. “It’s positive. You’re pregnant.” A chair is dragged over and sat on, creating some semblance of comfort. “What do you want to do?”
“I don’t want it.” Maybe a lip tremble, but it is the truth..
“Okay.” No judgement. “We do not do that type of procedure here, but here are some options for doctors that do.” This piece of 8 1/2” x 11” paper should have been ready to go, just in case.
But instead, they went with...
Option 4: The door is left wide open, so every nearby nurse and patient can hear the news. “New mommy…” is uttered by one of these nurses with a smile in her voice. And though - thanks to an at-home test the night before, this news is already known - it’s still private information. A slip of paper, confirming the ‘new mommy’ status, is handed over and back out into the lobby the patient is sent to wait. What they are waiting for exactly is unclear to the patient, just that they need to wait to speak to someone behind that thick wooden door.
And I think about that office a lot. I think a lot about that woman, sitting behind her desk, clicking and scrolling. I think about all of the people who have entered that room in the same state I was in, knowing they couldn’t and didn’t want to keep going down this path, but having no idea how to get off. I think about that woman, sitting in her office filled with baby photos. Though I barely remember her face, I think a lot about the disdain I felt in her expression when I finally spoke up, stating how I felt about my predicament. I think about all of the people who have done the same, who have been faced with this awful gatekeeper of womanhood.
And then I think about all of the people who didn’t. All of the people who simply accepted their fate because they felt they deserved it. All of the people who gave up so much of their lives because of that woman. And how many women in how many baby-photo-plastered offices are there all over my country, all over this planet?
“My body, my choice” is a saying that we’ve all heard a lot over the years. You might have even chanted it at a protest. Maybe you read or wrote it on a sign. But those words carry a lot of weight behind them and as such, carry a lot of value. If you want a child, that is beautiful and your right. But if you aren’t ready or simply never want to be a parent, you have the right to that as well. And you have a right to know what to do next.
So, to medical professionals, I say this: please do not assume. Not every person is happy to find out that they are with child, no matter how old or young they are. Please be prepared for every possibility. Please let them know that in that moment of high emotions, that their body is theirs and they do have a choice.
Her whole life, living in Central Jersey, Cassandra Kalley has immersed herself in many different types of writing, from Top Ten lists to poetry, and everything in between. She has had a one-act play produced by a college theatre program, worked for WatchMojo on YouTube, and is currently working towards getting a darkly humorous children's book published. In a post-COVID world, she spends her days trying to piece together strands of hope for a brighter tomorrow, while using her passionate fire to push a better world into existence.