I chose to have an abortion.
And, just like that, I was lying on the exam table, my legs in stirrups where I stared at a picture of fuzzy kittens taped to the ceiling while the doctor prodded me with a transvaginal ultrasound dildo in order to determine just how far along I was so that we could plan the “procedure” accordingly.
Having seen so many romantic comedies, I had thought ultrasounds were all done over the belly while the mama beamed and the papa looked a little constipated. I remember wishing I had known that early pregnancy ultrasounds were more, involved. I would have shaved my legs and painted my toenails. I remember wanting to cringe and cry at the same time. I remember clinging to frivolous thoughts like a life preserver, not wanting to think about what this ultrasound really meant.
“Don’t look at the screen,” the doctor said as she turned it away. But I already had: I had seen a wriggling little blob with leg and arm buds. And a flickering heartbeat.
Still, it was almost too easy — after all, I convinced myself, this thing wasn’t a baby. It was just a clump of cells trying to take over my body.
I never wavered in my choice not to be pregnant. And that was that. The end. Period.
For the next several years, I was too busy boozing and bed-hopping to think seriously about babies, so I popped birth control pills like breath mints, and carried more condoms in my purse than chewing gum. Even though I wasn’t ready to become a mama, I could still hear the tick-tock-tick-tock of my biological clock, faint, but insidious, like a faucet dripping on the other side of the house.
And then I got a little older, and my biological clock got a little louder. I ditched the leather pants and halter tops, along with Dirk, and Chip, and Biff, for more appropriate clothes, and guys I could actually introduce to my parents without giving them a coronary. Eventually, I was domesticated. And that’s when the baby talk got all grown up.
“Oh, who knows. I mean, we aren’t trying to get pregnant, but we’re not not trying either,” I said cavalierly, as unbeknownst to me, a teeny tiny blastocyst was burrowing deep in my uterus.
And then, a few days after celebrating a pee-soaked plus sign on a pregnancy stick, I started bleeding.
“So, I see you have some spotting,” the doctor said when I went in for an urgent-care appointment. “Is this your first pregnancy?”
“How many other children do you have?”
“Did you have a previous miscarriage?”
“Yeah. Back in 2000.” I didn’t elaborate.
“Hmm… ok. Well, let’s take a look.” He said. “Scooch all the way down…”
The doctor stuck the transvaginal ultrasound wand inside me, wriggled it around, looked at the ultrasound screen and said “Hmmm.” (“Hmmm” is not what you want to hear when your doctor is looking for signs of life in your uterus. Just saying.)
“Well, I think that’s your baby” he said pointing to a blurry grey bean floating in a sea of black. “There isn’t a heartbeat, but it looks like you’re just really early. Come back here next week for another ultrasound. By then, we’ll have a clearer idea of what’s happening.” He printed out a picture of the ultrasound image and stuck it in my file.
“Can I have one, please?” I asked. I tried not to cry as I traced my finger over the fuzzy grey blob that might or might not be alive.
I took the picture home and framed it.
After a week of excruciating uncertainty, my doctor discovered that my baby-to-be was, in fact, alive. And while I exulted over my baby’s twinkling heartbeat and danced down the halls of the OBGYN department, it hit me hard: How could I see one fetus as “just a clump of cells” and another as “my baby.”
And I don’t think I ever will.