“Did you see my baby?” wails a young girl to the nurse.
I can see her face through the curtain. She’s lying on a gurney in the post-op recovery area of the abortion clinic. It’s the size of a kitchen pantry. In this area, women convalesce on reclining chairs. It’s like they’re here for pedicures except they all wear heating pads and bleak expressions.
My friend whom I’m accompanying doesn’t have to sit in a pedicure chair. She has a fetal abnormality, so she and her spouse actually get a room. It might be the only room in the clinic, and they are beyond grateful for it.
We sit there for a couple of hours, listening to the clock tick and the sounds of chatter and crying in the hallway. My friend tells us she’s in pain, and it’s only getting worse. We watch her grimace and try to manage it, but she can’t; it’s unbearable. I think she must be the bravest person I know.
Finally, the nurse with caked-on foundation and fake eyelashes comes in and administers some kind of chill-the-fuck-out Michael Jackson drug. My friend doesn’t fall asleep, but she feels much better.
We spend the next several hours staring at the green floral wallpaper and artwork of a horse race that took place in 1986 called “The Mason Dixon.”
“I think they used every letter in the alphabet on that poster except for Z,” says my friend’s spouse.
“I don’t see a W,” I reply.
“No, it’s right there.”
More waiting goes by, and we ask the nurse when they’re going do it. She tells us that “her body’s not ready yet.” We don’t know what that means, but it’s not soon enough.
I decide to go on a Starbucks run. Frankly, I need to get the hell out of there. When I told my friends I’d be there for support, I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into—just how hard this was going to be.
On the way to the exit, I walk by the girls in the pedicure chairs.
“No wonder people are anti-abortion,” I think. “I bet some of these girls have been in here more than once.”
And as I pass through the front door and am greeted by pro-life protestors, I mentally kick myself: “Our abortion isn’t holier than theirs, you fucking idiot.”
In the car, I call my mom and tell her about the girl on the gurney. She puts me on speaker so my dad can hear.
After all the “oy’s,” my dad tells me he’s proud I’m there and that it’s important to “walk the walk.” I smile—not because I love a good compliment (I do)—but because I have a dad who thinks women are equal to men.
It doesn’t take long for me to get to Starbucks and back, and when I pull into the lot, I realize that there are a few more people with a few more dead fetus signs. I also notice one of the pedicure girls sitting inside her car.
Hesitantly, I approach and knock on her window. I hold up one of the bottled waters so she doesn’t think I’m one of the protesters.
“Are you OK?” I ask.
“Yeah, someone’s coming to drive me home.”
I hand her one of the $5 Starbucks bottled waters, the piece of coffee cake, and a fresh banana that I brought from home. I tell her to take care of herself and not to pay attention to the crazies. She gives me a weary smile, shuts the door, and puts her ear pods back in.
Not long after returning to our room, the nurse comes in to tell us it’s time. My friends go to get ready for the procedure, and I stay behind in the room and wait.
When her spouse returns, we look at each other and start to cry, but then point fingers at each other and tell one another how ridiculous this is. It was a good, end of “Steel Magnolias” type of cry; you know, the kind mixed with hysterical laughter.
“It’s all so fucked up,” one of us says.
And no shit it is.
Because none of this should be happening here. In a building like this.
No woman should have to recover from her abortion in a pedicure chair.
We should be in a hospital with insurance footing the bill, because this fucking place, well, it’s the worst place on earth.
But then the doctor comes in. She’s a slim, dignified woman in her late 50s/early 60s. She tells us that everything went well. Full of relief, we thank her for everything, and we tell her how grateful we are that she does what she does. She hugs us and tells my friends that they are why she does what she does.
Then she tells us that my friend was “an honor to take care of.”
Like two proud parents, we press our lips together in a tight smile and try to fight the tears.
It’s then that I realize this dinky, eye-sore of a clinic is not what I thought. As one of only places in Ohio where women can get the care they need and deserve, I realize that the worst place on earth is actually a sanctuary.
And hopefully a sanctuary it can remain.