My Pro-Choice Agenda

I started writing again because Todd Akin is an idiot.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of other people who think exactly like he does. They sit in rooms and parse words and swap personal and governmental favors. Then they draft actual legislation designed to stop women from being able to make their own health decisions, even if they are the victim of a crime.

People like Todd Akin have convinced millions of people into thinking that pro-choice is the same as pro-abortion. They are not the same position.

Some of you may be thinking Yes they are!

I assure you: they’re not.

I didn’t spend years trying to get pregnant just so I could end a pregnancy. I am not “pro-abortion.”

I hope to have one more perfect (surgery-free, please!) pregnancy, though I recognize that may not happen for me, or at least not so easily.

never want to experience carrying a fetus with health problems so severe and evident that I’d have to consider an abortion later in the gestation cycle. I hope no one ever has to experience that.

How does that position make me pro-abortion?

The Republican Party just changed their platform to a “no abortions, no-exceptions” position.

No exceptions for rape (legitimate or otherwise).

No exceptions for incest (which horrifies me to my core).

No exceptions for the health of the mother.

No exceptions for the life of the mother.

No exceptions for the health of the fetus.

This is an extreme position. It shows complete disregard for all women, no matter their personal beliefs regarding abortion. At the core of this position is: once you’ve been impregnated, your life is not your own. A woman’s life is her own up until conception and once again following delivery. But in between, she is merely a vessel.

Women are too often treated like vessels. I didn’t stop being myself just because I was pregnant. I didn’t stop having rights. I didn’t stop having thoughts. I didn’t stop having health problems.

I didn’t stop.

—-

If you believe that life begins at conception, then you believe I murdered a baby when I terminated my barely-existent, barely developing, likely-ectopic pregnancy. You believe I am a murderer for ending a pregnancy that was never, ever going to be a person. It was never even going to be a fetus. At the most, it would be a cluster of cells big enough to destroy my fallopian tube and risk my life.

And because of how slowly my body was developing that pregnancy, even that might never have happened. I might have just cleared the ectopic pregnancy like I probably did the first one. Roughly half of all tubal pregnancies are cleared without medical intervention, which means the other half require assistance of some kind.

Why shouldn’t I have had the right to end that pregnancy? Why should I be forced to keep a pregnancy – one that will never result in a person –  until it endangers my health, well-being and life? Why shouldn’t I be able to save myself from any health problem?

—-

I once worked with a girl whose mom had cancer when the girl was young. The mom was a Christian Scientist and refused medical care. She died. The girl grew up without her mother because of her mother’s religious beliefs.

Those of you who are religious may be thinking But that’s what she believed in. She has freedom of religion.

Yes. She believed – despite knowing what would happen to her if she was left untreated – that going without medical care was a dutiful act of faith. Those were her beliefs and she had the right to them. It’s not the choice I, or many of you, would have made, but I respect her right to make it.

You have the right to your beliefs, too. None of you should have to be forced to go without medical care because other people believe it is a sin. None of you should be told that you can’t live as you want to live because of your beliefs.

I, too, have the right to my beliefs. I have the right to my own choices, no matter how immoral or silly or offensive or boring others may find them.

—-

Passionate second-amendment supporters often have guns in their homes. They want their guns at an arm’s reach so that they can protect themselves, their families, and their possessions from an intruder. They might have to use a gun to shoot an intruder to achieve that protection. They might even kill someone. Sure, the intruder isn’t an innocent in the eyes of a Christian God, but in the eyes of the law, you better have a good reason for killing someone. Protecting yourself is a good, just, legally-defensible reason.

But a woman who has a pregnancy in her fallopian tube, an intruder in her body that is threatening her well-being and life? She is supposed to accept it. She is supposed to let nature take its course. She is supposed to submit to “God’s will,” at least as according to law-making men.

It doesn’t matter to me that the pregnancy is an innocent soul, if you will. If the pregnancy is trying to kill me, I should be able to protect myself from it. If anything is trying to kill me and I’m not legally allowed to defend myself, then I don’t have the same rights as any man. That’s completely unjust. It’s also inhumane to force me to suffer what would be preventable injury, illness, or death.

If I have an ectopic pregnancy, and there is a law against abortions of all kinds for any reason, then I’m basically being forced into Christian Scientist-hood. How is this freedom?

—-

Extreme pro-life supporters, anti-choice people who think there should be no exceptions, will tell you that my position is extreme and pro-abortion. That I’m okay with babies being murdered. That I’m probably a baby-murderer. That I’m probably going to hell.

Some of these same people stand outside of abortion clinics and shout those things at women just like me, women who are facing a difficult situation and making the decision for themselves – like the free adults that they are – to terminate a pregnancy.

I can’t imagine cornering someone at their most vulnerable and screaming horrible, hateful things at them in the name of Jesus’s love. They claim they’re being hateful as a form of love. I’m glad that it’s never happened to me. I hope that it never does.

—-

Lots of people in my life are anti-choice: my dad’s entire side of the family, various friends. I didn’t hide my decision from them. I didn’t flaunt it, but I didn’t shy away from talking about my fertility issues. Just because I felt shame over my inability to develop a pregnancy doesn’t mean I should have felt it. Talking about it, when I needed to, helped me lance that shame.

Not one anti-choice person in my life stopped loving me. Not one of them stopped talking to me. Not one of them even told me that they thought I’d done something wrong. Perhaps they didn’t think I’d done anything wrong. It’s interesting how people will – temporarily at least – change their minds about these things when it happens to someone close to them.

The things we do for love.

My dad didn’t even seem bothered by my revelation that I’d terminated a pregnancy. I told him what had been at stake and he was very understanding and supportive. He told me about how when my stepmother was pregnant with my youngest brother, she’d had several tests* run at the midpoint of the pregnancy. The odds for Downs, spina bifida, and various ailments and serious defects came back quite high.

*Some people think the tests themselves are immoral and shouldn’t be legal. They think the only reason to have the tests is so you can decide whether to abort. A different perspective: if Tiny had problems, I wanted to know about them as early as possible so that we could prepare. Fortunately, Tiny had basically the lowest odds possible for chromosomal problems. That doesn’t mean I didn’t worry, though.

“What are we going to do? Do you think we should end the pregnancy?” my dad said.

“I’m going to have this baby,” said my step-mother.

“What if he’s got something horrible, something that will make him suffer?”

“We’ll love him as long as he’s with us,” she said.

He said he would’ve supported her decision either way. This is a man who proclaims himself pro-life. He’s been posting nonstop on Facebook about “abortionists” and “infanticide” lately, so he’s definitely sticking with his beliefs.

The rest of that conversation:

“Did you guys get a second opinion on the test results?” I asked.

“No. Once she made up her mind, that was that.”

“I wonder if your test results were switched with someone else’s.”

“Oh dear god I’d never thought of that,” he said.

Yikes.

Another anti-choice friend, a friend who has stated to me more than once that he believes that life begins at conception and who is against abortion, admitted to me that he and his girlfriend had used the morning-after pill. Twice. They were confident she was pregnant and they intended to terminate the pregnancy two times.

I can’t square their positions with their behaviors. On the one hand, my dad and his wife didn’t actually do anything beyond my dad suggesting abortion. But on the other, how is suggesting it pro-life? How do they even have that conversation if abortion isn’t a legal option for them?

And my friend? The morning-after pill wouldn’t exist in a “no abortions, no exceptions” world. If life begins at conception, as he asserts, then he attempted to stop a potentially existing life.

I know there are people who believe and do what they say. I just think that those people happen to be few and far between.

Hypocrites have the same freedoms as the rest of us.

—-

I worked at Starbucks for a long time. One coworker came from a very large family. They were charismatic evangelical Christians, and a few people from their church worked at my store. I became familiar with their beliefs and some of their practices. Anyway, this coworker was around 20 years old and he’d been home-schooled. He often said crass, unenlightened things without even thinking.

One day, not long after the movie “Juno” came out, the guy started talking to me about it. Business was slow, so we were leaning against the counter and talking. At this point, I hadn’t seen the movie.

“I love how Juno decides not to have an abortion,” he said.

I nodded. I was not surprised he felt this way.

“She just, like, wanted to protect her baby.”

I’d read differing takes on the scene he was discussing, so I reserved judgment and comment.

“I don’t understand how someone could do that,” he said. He was kind of staring out into space. I waited for this to be done so we could talk about something else.

“I just… It makes me so angry. What is wrong with people? Why would someone murder their baby?” he said, a little too loudly.

“Mike,” I said, putting on my best glazed-eyed look and staring out into the cafe.

“Yeah?” he said to my profile.

“I had an abortion,” I said, making my voice small.

“Oh my gosh,” he said. “I’m so sorry. Oh my gosh. Oh gosh. Really?”

He was visibly agitated, shifting his weight back and forth and wringing his hands. He looked like he was in agony.

“Nah,” I said. “I’m just fucking with you.” I grinned.

“Oh my gosh!” He started pacing the back line. “Oh my gosh!”

“Mike, you can’t talk about that stuff here.”

“I’m so sorry!”

“You just don’t know what people have been through so you should probably keep those discussions for when you’re away from work.”

“Got it,” he said, walking back over to me. “I’m sorry.”

“Go take a break, okay? Try to calm down,” I said.

He wandered off into the back room. When he came back, he told me he was sorry and that he was embarrassed he brought it up at work. He also told me that he wouldn’t have thought any less of me if what I’d said had been true.

After that, Mike stopped running his mouth at work.

I’ve told that story to people we worked with probably half a dozen times. Because they know me, because they know Mike, this story always garners laughs.

But when I typed it out, I started to wonder why it’s funny. I mean, I am incredibly funny in this little one-act play. However, Mike was nearly panicking.

Why?

I don’t know the answer, so I can only speculate. Mike had led a very sheltered life, and I wonder if he’d never considered that someone he knows might have had an abortion.

The reality is that one in three women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. We all know someone who has had or will have an abortion. All of us.

—-

If the issue of abortion is a continuum, then there are two polar extremes. At one extreme, there’s “no abortions, no exceptions.” The other extreme would be that of “pro-abortion, no exceptions.”

Pro-choice takes up a wide variety of positions – including pro-life with exceptions –  in the middle.

There is no one holding political office today that has a pro-abortion position. I have never met anyone who believes that all pregnancies should be terminated. Not one. I promise you this strange person exists, but I have yet to encounter them.

I understand that people say there is not a moderate position when it comes to murder. I get it. I get that they think the cells have a soul and that by terminating the cells, a person is being destroyed. I get what they’re saying. But I reject it. I reject that there is never a case for the termination of pregnancy.

I return to my question. Why should I be forced to keep a barely-developing pregnancy that is negatively affecting my health and could affect my life?

Pro-choice means: it’s my body. I decide when and if to do anything with it. I decide which pregnancy to keep.

I decide whether to have sex.

I decide who to marry.

I decide.

Without this right to choose, women do not have autonomy.

—-

Birth control pills have been a salve for my health.

I’m currently off the pill because it’s been almost two years since I’ve had a period, and that started to seem weird (and scary) to me. I’ve been waiting and waiting for my body to again start behaving as it should, but so far all I’ve had are migraines and some cramping.

I don’t have immediate plans to try to conceive again, so as soon as I can, I’m going back on the pill. Meanwhile, I’m suffering with near-daily headaches and weekly migraines. And even with decent health insurance, my migraine prescription is expensive. Without our insurance, I would not be able to afford my migraine medication.

If birth control pills were easily affordable and accessible to everyone, then there’d be fewer unwanted pregnancies. There’d be fewer abortions. I think that’s something everyone would prefer. Except…

There are people who are completely against all forms of contraception. There are people who are anti-birth control pill because some pills don’t interrupt conception, only implantation. Some pills do both. And if conception begins at life, then anyone taking the pill is a murderer.

Unfortunately, not all pills work the same for every woman. Some women take the pill perfectly and their bodies just get pregnant anyway. Some women get horribly ill taking one kind of pill while another causes no side effects at all.

Some women are taking serious medications – like long-term breast cancer treatment, Accutane, or certain psychiatric medications – that are known to cause severe birth defects. In fact, pregnant women are warned to not handle these medications. In order to prevent a tragedy, these women are switched to a pill that prevents both ovulation and implantation.

But if life begins at conception, and this type of birth control pill isn’t legal, then women who take medication for acne, breast cancer treatment (a course of pills taken for years sometimes), or psychiatric problems will be left with a choice: do I have sex with my husband? Knowing what I know, do I risk a possible pregnancy?

Whose fault will it be if those women get pregnant? Some will blame her for being “irresponsible” when all she really wanted, and deserved as a citizen of this nation, was the right to take actual responsibility for her health.

These are the implications of “no abortions, no exceptions” and the black-and-white thinking that goes along with that position. The Missouri House just passed a bill (HB 749) – overturned the Governor’s veto, in fact – that allows employers to pick and choose which reproductive treatments and medications they’ll allow and disallow based on their religious beliefs.

Imagine your sister or your wife or your cousin. She is covered under her (or her husband’s) employer’s health care. Let’s say that she’s diagnosed with breast cancer. The good news is that her insurance plan will cover her treatments – as long as she’s insured, that is, and as long as she’s under her lifetime limits for treatment – but she still has a hefty co-pay. The bad news is that her insurance plan won’t cover the birth control pill, which she now has to take along with her cancer treatment pills, for the next five years.

The good news is that she can always go to Planned Parenthood for more affordable birth control pills. The bad news is that Planned Parenthood is underfunded and they are not always easily accessible. And she may have to deal with the people standing outside the clinic screaming “Murderer!” and “You’re going to burn in hell!” while she goes in.

This is exactly the kind of nonsense women will be dealing with if all these restrictive laws keep being passed. Underinsured and uninsured women are already struggling with these issues.

Allowing an employer’s religious beliefs to dictate an employee’s medical care is ludicrous. No one consults a mechanic neighbor about their gimpy knee. No one talks to their chef neighbor about an ingrown toenail. So why would we allow the owner of a plastics company to control what kind of health care you receive for your reproductive organs?

Better hope your employer isn’t a Christian Scientist.

—-

I don’t know how we’re living in a nation that is restricting the rights of a full half of its citizens, but here we are.

When Josh and I were trying to conceive, I read a book called “Birth: The Surprising History of How We are Born.” Because I love history, I loved this book. But the contents were more than a little depressing.

For millennia, midwives assisted birthing mothers, but ever since medicine became a profession, men have been the ones deciding how women should give birth. From forcing women to give birth covered (so as to be less scandalous) and on their backs (because it’s easier for the doctor), to accidentally killing many women with infections caused by filthy hands (practicing medicine on corpses, and no hand-washing) and equipment (what are germs?), to the early days of forceps usage (horrific, deadly consequences), to the Twilight Sleep of the 20th century (“It’s better to not even be present at your own labor and delivery!”), men have been “fixing” what is wrong with women and their reproductive systems.

Men “fixed” women so well that, at one point, the maternal mortality skyrocketed to forty percent. That is not a typo. Today’s maternal mortality rates are astonishingly good, in part because lessons were eventually learned from those women’s deaths.

But how many women would die because of a “no abortions, no exceptions” policy before people see how wrong-headed, short-sighted, and discriminatory it is? How many women would face hysterectomies or infections or other serious medical issues? How many women, determined to have autonomy, would seek unsafe abortions? How many of those women – young, middle-aged, some of them already loving parents – would die?

There’s no way to know for sure unless “no abortions, no exceptions” becomes law. I promise you that it wouldn’t be an insignificant number of women. I promise you that you’ll know one of them.

—-

Society is moving backwards and women are beginning to lose control over their bodies again. I can’t sit idly by and let that happen. If you love any woman, then neither should you. The erosion of rights has to stop.

Even if there was a Republican that I wanted to vote for, there’s no way I could, in good conscience, do so. Not when the GOP and its platform is okay with me dying over an ectopic pregnancy.

I started writing again because Todd Akin is an idiot. I’ll keep writing because I’m still here.

I’m still here, possibly, because I have freedom of choice.

I am not pro-abortion. I am pro-choice. I am pro-woman.

I am pro-me.

Infertility, Part 6, or, Fertility, Part 1

Other than the fact that I had a high risk pregnancy due to recurrent miscarriages, the first couple trimesters were pretty normal. I had nausea and very specific food cravings. I was tired and my breasts ached.

The only abnormality was my ever-present anxiety. I was constantly worried I’d lose the baby, though there was never an iota of evidence that I would. Every ultrasound was perfect, every check-up routine, every symptom normal.

Still, I must’ve asked Josh everyday whether he thought our baby was okay. He never once got frustrated with me and always assured me that the baby was fine. At some point, I began to laugh at myself when I asked him, fully aware of just how ridiculous I was being. But I still asked him.

Everything was mostly fine for a change.

—-

One April afternoon when I was 29 weeks pregnant, amidst a two-week period of even enjoying my pregnancy, I began to have what I thought was severe heartburn. It rapidly evolved into some kind of attack. I had pain radiating into my left shoulder and painful spasming in the right side of my belly. I knew it wasn’t the baby, though. At least, I was pretty sure. She’d been moving around normally all day. She even moved around normally during the attack.

I grabbed my phone and texted a friend who works in medicine. She said it sounded like a gas attack and to get gas medicine. Since this was my hunch as well, I calmed a little. At least, I felt calmer until the pain got worse.

I called Josh to the bedroom where I was lying on the bed, making futile attempts to get comfortable.

After assuring him that the baby was fine, I sent him to Walgreens for Gas-X.

When Josh got back a short eternity later, I was pacing the bedroom. I was crying, but not in a way that was familiar to me. Tears steadily streamed out of my eyes, but I wasn’t sobbing. My breathing get louder and more rhythmic. I sounded like a TV actress doing “lamaze.” I heard myself whimper. I felt like a wounded animal.

“Are you okay?” Josh asked, clearly shaken by my appearance.

“Open them,” I said, walking back and forth.

“The pharmacist said to get chewable so you wouldn’t have to mess with water. Plus he said they work faster.” He handed me a tablet.

Even in my state, something about what he said stood out to me.

Josh asked for help, I thought. With that mid-attack observation, nearly all of my doubts about how he’d be as a father were erased. If he doesn’t know the answer, he’ll ask for help.

Within a few minutes, I started to feel better. I even dozed off on the bed.

But when I woke up in worsening pain a few minutes later Josh asked if I wanted him to call the OB. I said yes.

When she called back, I was again feeling much better, though quite tired. I told her that at one point I was probably at an 8 on the pain scale. She said it didn’t quite sound like a gallbladder attack or appendicitis.

“I felt panicky.”

“You’re worried about the baby,” she said.

“Actually, I don’t think that’s it.”

“Just try to relax. It sounds like really bad gas. Take another Gas-X and see what happens.”

“And if the horrible panicky pain comes back?”

“I guess head to the hospital and call me on the way. Don’t go to the ER, though. Go to Labor and Delivery.”

—-

I was fine for a few more hours. I even went crib mattress shopping with my mom. But while we were at the store, the pain came on again. My vision started to quaver.

“We have to go. Now,” I said.

“Do you think I can I buy this first?” my mom asked, pointing to the mattress.

“What? No!”

“We don’t know what’s going on with you. What if you end up having the baby?” she asked.

She had a point.

I paced the store near the registers while she bought the crib mattress. Then we loaded up the car and I started to drive us back to my house.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?” she asked.

“I’m sure,” I said.

“Okaaaay,” she said.

I made it about a mile before I realized how stupid I was being. I pulled into a gas station parking lot.

“Do you want me to drive now?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “But don’t drive like an old lady.”

She drove slowly, while I hounded her for it, all the way to my house.

Josh packed a bag for me and we headed to the hospital around 8 pm.

—-

The Labor and Delivery staff was expecting me. They told me my OB would be by later to check on me. I figured that meant she’d be there in a couple hours.

We were taken to a small room. I was told to put on a gown and get into bed. The nurse drew a couple vials of blood and hooked me up to a saline drip.

“Then you’ll be ready if you need surgery,” she said.

An automated blood pressure cuff was wrapped around my left bicep, a pulse monitor was clipped over my index finger. My pregnant belly was wrapped with an external fetal heart monitor.

Fetuses and babies in utero have very rapid heart beats. Through the monitor, it sounded like whoosh whoosh whoosh. The microphone is external, though, so every time I moved there was a much louder static sound as well. I tried to distract myself by watching TV, but I was having sensory overload from the beeping blood pressure machine, the wooshing baby and my amplified movements. Plus, Josh fell asleep almost immediately and he’s a world-class snorer. I yelled at him to change positions in his chair.

I was living the soundtrack to my personal hell.

For the next several hours, I suffered bouts of extreme pain. I couldn’t get comfortable, but I was supposed to be very still so the monitor could accurately record the baby’s heart rate. Every hour or so, the nurse would come and draw more blood. Because of the saline, I had to get up to go to the bathroom more than a couple times. I had to unhook the baby monitor and make sure that none of my cables or tubes were caught on anything. Then I had to wheel the IV stand to the bathroom.

Around midnight, the nurse told me that the doctor on the floor wasn’t sure whether it was my appendix or my gallbladder.

“Nothing in your bloodwork has changed,” she said.

“Really?” I asked. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know, honey. Sometimes it takes awhile for things to become evident. Are you in a lot of pain?”

“Yes,” I whimpered. I was soaked with sweat.

“I’ll see what I can get you.”

She returned a little while later with Tylenol with codeine. I took it. What’s a little codeine when facing surgery? I thought.

She came back an hour later.

“Did that help?”

“Not at all,” I said.

She didn’t say anything.

I don’t know whether it was the teenage druggie in me, or what, but I felt like she thought I was drug-seeking.

She checked all my vital signs and the print out from the fetal heart monitor and told me to hang in there. Then she left again.

I started to cry.

At some point, even though I was in pain, I fell asleep.

—-

I woke up in sudden, excruciating pain. I sat upright and tried to shift my weight around.

I was in so much panic-inducing pain that I didn’t even notice I was peeing on the bed until it was too late.

I woke up Josh and had him find the nurse.

When the nurse came in she seemed mad. I sat quietly while she checked everything and fixed the bed. Then she left again.

“What’s her problem?” Josh asked.

“I don’t know. She’s been like that the last couple visits.”

She came back a few minutes later.

“Your doctor should be here soon, maybe an hour or two,” she said.

It was around 3 am.

My doctor showed up at 6 am. I was drowsy when she came in. Josh was asleep. She started to say “How are you feeling?” but took one look at me and rushed over to me.

“I am so sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“I thought you were exaggerating because you were scared. You’re obviously sick.”

“It’s okay,” I laughed a little. Just a silly, possibly life-threatening misunderstanding!

“No. You obviously know your body very well. I won’t make this mistake again.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going to have them take your blood again. Hopefully we see something. If not, you’re going for a scan. We can’t wait much longer.”

“We could’ve done a scan?”

“We don’t like to do them when the patient is pregnant.”

I thanked her and she left. The nurse came in a few minutes later.

“Your white blood cells finally rose. I told them 5 hours ago that it was your appendix,” she said.

That’s why she was pissed. They didn’t listen to her.

“What do you know?” I said. “You’re just a nurse.”

“Exactly,” she said, smiling.

My OB came back in.

“Are you okay with me giving you morphine?” she asked. “It’s a category-“

“I’m fine with it.”

She pushed the morphine through my IV line.

“They’re setting up a room for you now. Your surgery is scheduled for 8 am.”

“Okay.”

“I think you may have the worst luck in the world,” she laughed.

___

I felt much better on the morphine. I was able to get comfortable enough to fall asleep for about an hour. The surgeon woke me to talk to me. After pleasantries, he cut to the chase.

“I’m very good at what I do. Very. But I am also a human being. I will do my best to ensure that your surgery is my best work.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“I do about two appendectomies on pregnant women every year. So it’s not a rare surgery, but it’s still relatively unusual. You’ll have to have an open incision because, due to the baby, we don’t know where exactly your appendix is.”

I laughed.

“I hadn’t considered that.”

“If you’d been less than 20 weeks pregnant, we could have done this with a scope.”

“Of course,” I said.

“Now, if for some reason there are complications – which are very rare even in your situation – I would focus on saving your life first. You are the patient. But I would also try to save the baby,” he said.

I nodded.

“All of this is in God’s hands now. I am merely his instrument,” he said.

I’m not religious. I refer to myself as agnostic, if only because there’s maybe not a good word for what I believe. But he was so genuine in what he was saying, so gentle and kind and confident, that I trusted him completely.

“I understand. Thank you.”

He left.

I had to have this surgery. There was no point worrying about whether I’d die on the table because appendicitis would kill me and the baby eventually anyway.

—-

About an hour later my bed was wheeled to the elevator, down a series of halls connecting new buildings to old, and into a curtained room in the surgical waiting area. A series of nurses, aides, and doctors – all wearing scrubs and those papery hats they wear – came and spoke with me.

I cracked jokes while answering questions. They poked, prodded, and wrote on me with marker.

“You’re in good spirits!” said one nurse.

“You seem like you’re feeling better,” said another.

And I was feeling better, though I wasn’t sure why. Is it the morphine? Nah – it’s been several hours. Maybe it’s not my appendix.

But I shrugged that off because obviously it was my appendix. If it was my gallbladder, then the other thing they were testing for would’ve spiked instead.

Josh and my mom hugged and kissed me and then it was just me, the nurses and the anesthesiologist heading down the hallway. He’d administered the anesthesia in the waiting area, but I stayed awake and talkative for several minutes after we entered the operating room.

I told them to watch the old Levi’s ad set to Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

“You’re still awake?” the anesthesiologist joked.

Then they all started talking to each other and I drifted off.

—-

“You’re okay, honey. Calm down,” said a voice.

I thrashed.

“How long has she been like this?” said another.

“Just a couple minutes.”

“[Spants], you are okay. You’re in surgical recovery.”

“Here,” said the second voice.

I felt something resting on my stomach. I opened my eyes. It was a small, paisley pillow. There was a written note attached to it. It took me a few minutes to be able to read the note, which said: “Get Well Soon! :)” It was from a hospital volunteer group.

“What is this?” I asked.

“You’ll need that later. To hold against the wound.”

I must still be out of it, I thought.

“I’m thirsty,” I said.

They gave me ice chips.

—-

I was in the hospital for two more days.

The nursing staff was nice, but one nurse in particular was outstanding. She was the only one who worked with me to learn how to stand up and get around again. It’s hard enough to sit and stand and get out of bed with a pregnant belly. It’s extremely difficult to do so when that pregnant belly has a 6-inch incision across it.

I was determined to do things on my own because I knew that I’d mostly be alone once home.

The paisley pillow came was more useful than I’d imagined.

—-

A few days after being at home, I noticed that my incision looked pink and puffy. It hurt about the same as always, but there seemed to be more pressure behind it. Of course, that might have been from Tiny kicking away at it from the inside.

Or maybe it was something else.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a cold and wet belly.

“The hell?” I said. I thought that I somehow got pee on my belly.

I reached over and turned on the lamp.

The wound had burst. There was blood-tinged liquid all over me, the paisley pillow, and my side of the bed.

Josh helped me clean up and change clothes. I called the OB’s exchange and waited.

The on-call doctor said that it sounded like a fistula which sometimes happens following surgery.

“It’s just a build-up of fluid, likely harmless. I think you could probably just talk to your regular OB tomorrow,” he said.

“Really? You don’t think I need to have this looked at now?”

“I think it’s probably fine, though I guess to be on the safe side…”

“I’ve got a history of miscarriage. I definitely want to be on the safe side.”

“How far along are you?” he asked.

“Thirty weeks.”

“You know, on second thought, maybe you should go to the ER.”

—-

We were at the ER for a few hours. I definitely had a wound infection.

The ER doctor told me to look away while he snipped and removed two stitches that were stretched so tightly they were cutting my skin.

Of course I watched anyway.

“I don’t know how your stomach is going to heal,” the doctor said.

“What do you mean?”

“Your stomach is going to keep growing and stitches don’t stretch,” he said. “The good news is that we caught it early. No signs of cellulitis.”

He swabbed the small opening so they could run a culture and find out which bug had gotten me. Eventually, he returned with the news that the infection was an extremely rare bug, so rare that he had to research it. He said it I most likely picked it up in the operating room.

He shuffled around in cabinets and drawers, collecting long tweezers, packing tape, wood-handled cotton swabs, and surgical tape.

“Will you be packing the wound yourself?” he asked.

“Uh…” I looked down. “I don’t know if I can see it well enough.”

“I’ll do it,” said Josh.

“Come watch,” said the doctor.

He showed Josh how to use the tweezers and cotton swab to shape and then guide the packing tape into the small opening.

“How tightly do I pack the tape?” Josh asked.

“She’ll let you know,” said the doctor. “Believe me.”

The procedure was mildly painful. More than anything it creeped me out to feel the dry tape and cotton swab rub over the inside of my partially open wound.

I was told to follow up with my surgeon in two days and to have Josh change the packing twice a day until then.

—-

Josh handled the wound packing for the next two days. My mom attempted to do it once. She took so long trying to handle the tape with the tweezers and cotton swab that I became nervous and requested Josh pack it instead.

For the next couple days, my wound continued to look puffy and red. More stitches began to tighten and cut grooves in my belly.

We went to the follow-up appointment with the surgeon and his nurse unpacked the tape. She told Josh he’d done a very good job.

The surgeon came in and apologized.

“I’m so sorry this happened. We do our very best to maintain a clean operating room. I can tell you that all the equipment we used during the surgery was sterile or new.”

“Oh, I understand these things happen,” I said.

He took one look at my belly and decided to remove the stitches.

“The infection clearly isn’t improving. I’m surprised they didn’t remove these at the ER,” he said, snipping the black stitches and tugging the threads with tweezers. My skin felt like a too-small shoelace eyelet with unwaxed leather laces being forced through. My stomach turned.

After he finished removing the stitches, he set his tools onto the table. He stuck a gloved pinky into the open section of the wound and poked a bit.

“Sorry to do this,” he said as he dragged the side of his little finger along the length of my not-healing, infected wound and unzipped me like a bowling bag.

“Oh my god,” I said. For once I couldn’t look anymore. I don’t know what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it. I thought about mealy, rotten peaches and wanted to puke.

“You okay?” Josh asked. Meanwhile the surgeon kept talking and poking about the wound.

“I’m really hot,” I said. “Really hot.” I knew my face was turning bright red.

“Do you need water?”

I shook my head. “I’m hot.” I was breathing heavily. I wanted to roll off the table and run, away from the fluorescent lighting and the sadistic surgeon and the recycled office air.

Josh opened the exam room door and started fanning me with his hands. The surgeon used gauze to soak up the fluid inside the wound.

“Nurse!” called the surgeon.

The nurse came in.

“Can you get her some damp paper towels?”

Josh looked scared.

I was gulping for air. The nurse began to dab at my temples and forehead. She told me to exhale slowly and completely between my inhales.

“I’m so sorry,” said the surgeon. “I thought warning you might make things worse.”

“I’m normally not very squeamish,” I said. I could feel my pulse slowing.

“It’s different when it’s your own body,” said the nurse.

“I guess,” I said.

Or maybe it’s because he just used his little finger to unzip my pregnant belly! I thought.

After making sure I was okay to proceed, the surgeon told me that the wound had to stay open indefinitely. This meant that I would need dressing changes twice a day until the wound closed.

“Which probably won’t happen before the baby comes out,” said the nurse.

We were given a list of instructions to follow regarding packing and cleaning the wound. The surgeon also gave us a large bag of supplies to use: gauze squares, paper tape, wood-handled cotton swab.

“And here’s some smelling salts. You might need to use these,” the surgeon said, handing the small white packets to Josh.

We went home.

—-

For ten weeks, with few exceptions, Josh dutifully and gently changed my wound dressing twice a day. After a few weeks, if he couldn’t be home, then I packed it. Once the wound was a little smaller, it was easier to use my fingers to pack the wound than to blindly jab a swab at it.

But that first week was rough. I was on the brink of tears with every dressing change, and exhausted after the few minutes I had to lie there and wait for it to end.

The procedure for cleaning the wound was horrific, and it was entirely up to me to do it. I had to take a cotton washcloth, lathered with Dial bar soap, and insert it into the wound. Then I had to gently scrub the wound.

Josh stayed with me the first time I did this, just in case I panicked. I didn’t. But I cried a little and shook. I could only manage to insert and remove the washcloth. There was brown and bright red blood on the washcloth.

“Oh, no,” I whimpered.

“It’s okay, baby,” he said.

I sobbed while letting water rinse the wound.

As most things eventually do, all of this got easier over time.

—-

There were lots of times in our relationship and marriage that I had leaned on Josh emotionally. I had even leaned on him financially. But I had never physically needed him like I did then.

Josh was awesome. He was never outwardly uncomfortable, and insisted that he didn’t look at me any different than he had before. He was always patient and gentle and kind. His horrible hand tremor was never an issue. I made sure I thanked him after every change because I wanted him to know how much what he was doing meant to me. I felt closer to him because I was so vulnerable and he handled it all so perfectly.

The more and more pregnant I got, the more I thought about the baby during dressing changes. She was usually active then. It was a little unnerving to watch my pregnant belly undulate and jerk around while my husband packed the open wound. I wondered what she thought about it and whether she was frightened.

Eventually we decided that maybe she could hear us better since there was a giant hole in the wall. She was just coming over to hang out with us by the temporary window.

—-

I gained way too much weight during the pregnancy, partially due to a much lower activity level in the third trimester. Unfortunately, my appetite didn’t diminish along with my activity level. Luckily, I never had gestational diabetes or any complications. The pregnancy itself continued to be normal.

Still, I continued to be a high risk case, so I had ultrasounds almost monthly. The ultrasound tech kept telling me that I was going to have an eight- or nine-pound baby. This sounded like a c-section in the making and I was hoping to put a few decades between the appendectomy and my next surgery.

As the month of June dragged on, and I continued to not be dilated at all, I entertained the idea of being induced. I had been resistant the whole time because I wanted to do everything as naturally as possible. There were so few things about my fertility and pregnancy that I could control, but this was one of them. I would think about induction and then rule it out. I did this several times. It’s so easy to be idealistic when you’re seven months pregnant.

Then, one day, my legs and feet were so swollen I could barely get around. My knees were in severe pain and I was worried I’d fall down the stairs if I kept trying to walk around like that. I’d had enough. My insurance required that I wait until about a week before my due date before I could be induced. We timed it with my OB’s schedule so that she’d be available to be there.

I’ll spare the labor and delivery details. Other than some horrible back labor the night the induction drugs finally worked, and a bad postpartum reaction to the induction drugs, everything was text book. The delivery itself was easier than I imagined.

And my 9-pound baby? She was actually six and a half pounds and quite long, with a full head of strawberry-blonde hair.

—-

Immediately after she was born, my OB placed my daughter on my chest. She was still attached to me by her umbilical cord.

“Hi, baby,” I said, patting her little bottom.

She turned her head and looked at me. I think she knew my voice.

“I’m your mommy.”

I kissed the top of her head.

Then I wept.