quickening

Last night in my dream I stepped through the bullet-proof doorway of an abortion clinic.

(Nine years ago I walked into a Planned Parenthood in Savannah, Ga, newly 20 and nearly three months pregnant. Irregularity of uterine cycles then a common practice of mine, I didn’t know that I was pregnant until the nausea hit during my morning biology class, hailed first by a nasty odor. [Farts. It smelled like an accumulation of stale, stagnant flatulence.])

In the dream I stepped through the doors of the clinic I worked at in Atlanta. Flanked to each side by my mother, my partner, I stumbled over fat feet, anxious, the lights too bright on glass, the reflections of taupe walls, wood beams, green plastic chairs distorted, pulled to a thin ribbon of forest colors as the door pushed open. I was six months pregnant and had not known until that day, literally the moment that I crossed the threshold of the clinic, holding my stomach, searching. My former co-workers checked me in for a second trimester abortion, 24 weeks, a two day procedure. I couldn’t remember the word for the thin seaweed rods that were to be inserted in my cervix (I remember today- laminaria), nor their purpose (they absorb fluid and expand, slowly dilating the cervix), and I blushed, chewed the inside of my cheek, embarrassed to have forgotten. Assuming that I remembered, no one explained. I knew that my mother could not afford to pay for the advanced week procedure, although she insisted she could.

(Years ago, I’d drunk rum- a lot of it- and smoked- a lot of cheap cigarettes- the night before I discovered that I was pregnant. And that was not the first time that I’d gotten shit-faced in the three months that I’d carried unaware.)

My mother, partner, previous co-workers understood the fetus to be deformed. Unaware of its presence, I’d flooded it with alcohol and smoke. Unmindfully carried, nurtured in toxins, the fetus developed awry in an ignorant, insufficient womb. Extra limbs, multiple eyes, weak heart, a bad attitude- I had fucked it up and it could come to no good. No one asked if I wanted to abort. None of us knew how it got there; the expediency of termination seemed the best option for a poisoned miracle.

(When I called my step-mother to announce my pregnancy, she immediately asked, in hushed tones, how much money I needed for the abortion. My best friend assumed; my then-partner begged; his brother threatened with unspecified violence if I chose to carry.)

For years I have dreamed of my second child. Not day dreams, not fantasies; in my sleep a real child, the same little boy, has come to me; I’ve held and nursed him, changed his diapers, taught him to walk; he’s played with my first child, radiant with love and all the warmth and sunlight of his grandmother’s back yard. My mother knows of him; we’ve waited for him together, through many years, assuming that someday, I’d be ready to carry him.

(I worked at the Atlanta clinic to support bodily autonomy and holistic wellness, including for those who wish to carry to term a pregnancy that no one thinks worth birthing.)

In my dream last night I felt that child move in me, there at the check-in desk of the abortion clinic.

His quickening, as with my first child, felt like all the mystery and chaos of the universe gone a-flutter in my gut. I grabbed my stomach, caressed him through skin, fat, muscle- I felt his head, round and hard, his legs, little jack-rabbit stretches, folded-wing elbows, sharp flat feet; he swum, nascent bone and flesh aswirl in heart-beat dark.

He’s moving, I shouted, I feel him! Flooded head to toe with joy, glowing with the mysterious eureka of him, I left the clinic at a run.

(It’s your body, your choice, the Planned Parenthood NP told me, firmly holding my gaze as I cried on the exam table. Cold gel smeared my thigh, the thin medical gown a lit-up tent between my legs; J. leaned against the wall, shoulders rigid, tears darkening the red of his beard. Your body, your choice.)

My partner drove me away in a white van.

But what if– he said. I don’t care!, I said, and pulled up my shirt to cup the coming of my beloved second child. He’s here, he’s finally here! I crushed my grin against my fingers, filled my palm with radiant tears, awoke.

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