Sunday, June 14, 2009

Me, My Health, and Joe (October 2008)

Fun fact: Did you know that a miscarriage is called a “spontaneous abortion”? Iiiiiit’s true! More unfortunate terminology from the folks who brought us “incompetent cervix” and “lazy ovary.”
If you’ve read much of my ramblings on here, you’ll remember that I’m a habitual loser of pregnancies myself. In a moment of gallows humor, my mom and I were joking about it, comparing my body to that old “Seinfeld” bit about the rental car office. “Your body knows how to take the reservation. It just doesn’t know how to keep the reservation.” Sigh. It’s funny because it’s true.

I’ve always been an avid supporter of a woman’s right to choose. The pro-choice movement is what got me interested in politics in the first place. My first rally – my first trip to Washington DC, in fact – was the pro-choice march in 1989. I’ve voted for a pro-choice Republican or two. But, in another of life’s delightful inconsistencies, I’ve always regarded my own pregnancies as a “life” that began even before conception. I was in my early 30’s and longing for a baby. Every sperm was, indeed, sacred.

Thus, I found some unexpected common ground with a fundamentalist Christian co-worker of mine. Let’s call him “Joe the Marketing Communications Writer.” Joe and I worked together in a tiny, demoralized internal communications department in the regional corporate office of a big box store. (Cue theme music from “The Office.”) It was a suffering department in a thriving company, threatened with reorganization from practically the moment I took the job. Not the happiest place to be working. Joe was as adamantly fundie as I was adamantly lefty. We spoke our minds, often depressing and confounding each other in the process. But we stuck together, too. We had no other allies.

After nearly three years, the inevitable finally happened. Corporate pulled the plug on our department. I was lucky enough to find a job downstairs in the advertising department. Better pay, more interesting work. Joe, who was supporting a family of five, decided to go work in one of our stores just to keep his health insurance while looking for a better job.

But my time in the internal communications department wasn’t the only thing that was coming to an end. It looked like my third pregnancy was about to culminate in a third pregnancy loss. Mere days after a faint positive home pregnancy test, bleeding and spotting began. I sighed and braced myself for the worst (again).

But then . . . the bleeding just stopped. A blood test confirmed that the pregnancy was still holding on in there, slowly but surely. The nurse’s advice? “Don’t go out and buy a crib just yet. But don’t drink, either.” Great. Turns out you can be "a little pregnant."

So, during those last days of my job, Joe and I worked quietly in our cubicles while I hoped for the best. But on our department’s last day, I got the call. Blood tests confirmed that the pregnancy wasn’t developing fast enough. They suspected an ectopic pregnancy, explained that if I didn’t miscarry soon, it could be dangerous. I might need the dreaded “a” word . . . the, um, not-so-spontaneous abortion.

I hung up the phone and tried not to cry. Pro choice or not, I couldn’t see that little sack of malfunctioning cells as anything less than my “baby.” The baby I had a list of names for. The baby I’d been hoping against hope for, through a year of trying and through two other miscarriages. To choose to put an end to it . . . well, I would if I had to. But the irony was just too bitter to swallow.

I looked up and saw Joe. He was leaving early, coming to say goodbye for good on our last day of work together. “Are you alright?” he asked. I cried and told him everything. That’s right. Before I could stop myself, I told the fundamentalist Christian that I might be getting an abortion. D’oh.

He just looked sad. He asked quietly, as respectfully as possible, if the abortion was absolutely necessary. I said I really hoped not. But I added that the pregnancy simply wasn’t going to “live” one way or the other. And my health might be in danger. Joe nodded his head sadly, sympathetically. We just sat there for a moment. “My wife and I will pray for you,” he said. “Hopefully it will happen naturally.”

It honestly wasn’t as cheesy and patronizing as it probably sounds. Joe hardcore believed in that stuff; it was the very best he felt he could offer. And, because he was a real Christian to the core, he accepted my “health of the mother” explanation with kindness and resignation . . . as opposed to, you know, the sarcasm and disgust a certain presidential candidate recently displayed on the matter. Joe’s offer to pray for me felt very touching and comforting in the moment, and I thanked him sincerely.

We said goodbye. That was the last time I ever saw him.

Later that day, I got up from my desk and felt that familiar rush of blood. Oh good grief, not here. Good thing it was a Friday and most of my co-workers had left early. I went to the ladies room and peed out steady stream after stream of thick blood into the toilet, wiping up the cherry-red slippery blood with wads and wads of toilet paper. Unbelievable. Even Ally McBeal never had a workplace bathroom incident so demoralizing.

When it was over, I bought myself one of those diaper-quality maxi pads from the machine in the ladies room, cleaned up, and went back to my desk. I called Mr. Black and let him know it was over. Sad as I was, I was glad to be done with it. Time to let my body heal and move on to other pursuits. Would we try again? Would we cash it in and just try to adopt instead? Mr. Black and I would hash that out in the coming months while I worked my butt off at my new advertising job. We had some unhappy, uncertain times ahead of us.

So . . . that memory is what came rushing back to me last night when I saw the clip of McCain disgustedly dismissing “health of the mother” with sarcastic air quotes. And yes, I get that the sarcasm and disgust was probably intended for his opponent’s rhetoric, not for actual health of actual mothers. Or was it? Is that tone ever okay when you’re saying the words “health” and “mother”? I’m going to go ahead and say fuck no.

AND another thing: If it was so hard for me, a life-long pro-choice advocate, to face abortion for an extremely early and clearly unviable pregnancy . . . well, I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to face a choice like that late in one’s pregnancy term. McCain’s disgust makes it seem like we skip through a field of daisies, whimsically deciding to abort a late-term pregnancy because we’re suddenly sick of stretch marks or something. And I find that attitude beyond reprehensible. No adjective could do it justice. Walk a mile in my uterus, asshole, before you decide that the phrase “health of the mother” is worthy of such contempt.

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