When I arrive I cannot believe how crowded it is; young women mostly, many African American. Some wait with friends, others with boyfriends, a few with their mothers, which heartens me. I am closer to the age of most of the mothers and I am insanely grateful that it is me undergoing this procedure, not my daughter.
I am taken into the back for an ultrasound. It becomes clear how exceptional my case is when the physician is called in to look at the images. He is a wonderful man, calm, competent and clearly an advocate of a woman’s right to choose. I like him immensely and we have a great conversation about what an eye opener this experience has been to me as a professor, a life long feminist and pro-choice activist. He treats me with dignity and as if I have the intelligence to make my own decisions.
My gestational dates are further than I thought. I suppose what I took for a period one month must not have been. I’m still confused as to when I conceived since I bled every month until the last, but I suppose it does not really matter. Although I had not wanted any concrete details, I am not upset when I learn the exact date. I am more worried that because of my complicated medical history the doctor decides I must have a two day procedure. I know this means pre-dilation of the cervix today.
I then begin the long queue. I see a nurse who checks my vitals, pricks my finger to check for blood type and anemia. I see a financial counselor where I learn that had my insurance not covered the procedure, it would have cost around $1800. I wonder where some of these young women are getting the money.
I then somehow get lost in the shift from the one day to the two day schedule, so I spend three hours in the waiting room. During that time I have ample opportunity to observe the other patients. Most of the women look serious, but calm. A few are crying, or closing their eyes. One woman in particular catches my eye. She is visibly pregnant, accompanied not only by her husband but her parents. She cries silently the entire time. She so obviously does not want to be terminating this pregnancy that I can only conclude that it must be for medical reasons. I wonder what she is doing at this clinic rather than in a hospital. One of the ironies of my situation is had I undergone genetic testing and decided to “terminate for medical reasons” as they say in medical lingo, my physician would have performed the procedure in the hospital. Because I “elected” to terminate my pregnancy, she would not.
After waiting quite a while and speaking first to the nurse, then to the receptionist, they realize I am still waiting. I see the nurse who reviews my medical history. I thank her, as I do every staff member I meet that day, for doing the work that they do. I tell them that I understand how lucky I am to have access to such a place staffed by people committed to women. Like many of the staff, she tells me her reasons for working at the clinic. She is a committed pro-choice activist, who believes in her work. We review my history and she is thorough and calm, explains that I will need to take antibiotics starting tonight and that she will also give me a prescription for pain medication. She advises me to hydrate today to make it easier tomorrow when I will not be able to eat or drink. She laughs as I leave and tells me that she needs more patients like me.
I’m back into the waiting room, which is almost empty. By now I have identified the other patients who are also undergoing the two day procedure today. The crying woman and a young African American woman, also visibly pregnant, who has waited with her mother for most of the day. I hear her mother asking the nurse how much the prescriptions will cost. I hear the nurse tell her that the antibiotic is most important and then the pain pills. I wish that I had my wallet so I could slip her the money. This process is grueling enough without financial worries weighing too and I hate to think of the young woman in pain tonight. I hear the nurse explain to her that the ibuprofen rx is really just the equivalent of 4 OTC ibuprofen and that she can buy whatever brand is cheapest.
Next the counselor