– Non-fiction by Kat McNichol – June 13, 2018 –
Once, in an ultrasound room, a technician in a faded grey frock asked me which pregnancy this was.
“My ninth,” I said in a flat voice. I was there because I was bleeding and I knew what that meant.
A look of shock flashed across her face before professionalism took over and she wiped the look away.
“How many living?” she asked in a neutral tone.
“Two,” I said in the softest voice possible, a part of me analyzing that voice, the quiet numbness of it, the otherworldliness of it. It had a hollow sound that surprised me.
The technician paused, shutting her eyes against my pain. The ultrasound wand shook gently on my stomach.
“Well, you’re definitely persistent,” she finally said.
She was sympathetic, and I didn’t correct her assumption that I’d miscarried every time. Most were miscarriages but two were abortions. I was usually upfront with healthcare professionals, but if I was losing another one, I wanted her sympathy.
As she pushed the wand against my aching bladder, I lay staring at the wall, anticipating the familiar words, “The doctor will tell you the results.”
That means I’ve lost my baby. If my baby is alive, the technician lets me hear the heartbeat, shows me pumping flashes of blood like psychedelic tracers on the screen, points to a circular shape, or maybe little arms and legs that wiggle, and we both smile. But if my baby is dead, they wipe my belly clean while turning the screen away so I can’t see its silence, say, “You’ll have to speak to the doctor.”
Once, when a different technician, a male technician in a cheerful blue frock, said that for what was my fourth time, I knew my baby was dead.
In Canada where I live, when your baby is dead, you leave the ultrasound room and wait until the doctor can fit you in for an appointment. Then you’re told. It’s not an emergency. Physically, you’re fine. Mentally, it’s torture. Imagine knowing you are carrying a tiny human whose heart is probably not beating but you’re told to wait.
No! He needed to tell me. Knowing the truth would dispel any false hope I might cling to until the doctor finally confirmed what I felt in my heart. I couldn’t – I wouldn’t – go through that torturous waiting again.
So I begged him. “It’s inhumane to let me leave without saying it… I already know, but please just say it!”
“Promise not to tell anyone I told you?” I heard fear and pity beneath his stage whisper.
Nodding, I felt the smallest pang of guilt. He was young, obviously new, and I’d made him uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.” Turning his eyes from mine, he wiped his wand clean.
So the next time, in the room with the sympathetic technician and her gently shaking ultrasound wand, I decided to be strong. I wouldn’t make her tell me my baby was dead. I’d just walk out, carrying my dignity if nothing else, and wait until the doctor fit me in. Then I’d schedule another dilation and curettage and let them take my baby out.
Did you know curette is French for scoop?
But, she said something different. “There’s a heartbeat.”
I twisted to look at the screen she hadn’t turned away, saw the blood-lines flashing. She spun a dial and the sound of galloping filled the room.
“I don’t know what to do with that.” My eyes filled and her eyes became glassy too as she gently wiped my stomach clean.
Today, I am playing with my son, who turned two last Saturday. I brought him to my bed after his nap so he’d wake-up easy. We’re hiding under the blanket. It’s a white feather-blanket and the late afternoon sun from the window shines through the puffy pockets in places where the feathers are thin, like a cloud, like heaven. He’s happy here, tucked underneath with me. I am his mother and he loves me unconditionally.
I cuddle him close and realize his diaper is wet. “You have a yucky bum. Pee pee in there.”
His face fills with glee. “Pee pee!”
“Yup, pee pee.”
Something about the way I say it makes him laugh from the deepest part of his belly, his head rolling back, teeth showing in a massive grin. “Pee!” he says, “pee, pee,” and giggling, I say, “pee pee,” and then laugh from the deepest part of my belly.
And I think then of all my babies: my son, my two daughters, the four I miscarried, but especially the two I let go.
They don’t use curettes in abortions anymore. They prefer vacuum extraction now. I think scooping seems more humane, like gently removing them with a ladle.
It’s not that I regret it exactly; I was a child in a woman’s body and I’m definitely pro-choice. But, back then I didn’t know that I could belly laugh under a cloud blanket talking about pee. I didn’t know, and now I do, but I can’t undo the choices I made.
I can only mourn them.
“Vacuum Extraction” by Kat McNichol was longlisted for Pulp Literature’s Bumblebee Flash (non) Fiction Contest and was previously published in Echo: Journal of Creative Nonfiction, a literary magazine by Paragon Press.
About the Author of Vacuum Extraction – Kat McNichol
Kat McNichol is the Editor-in-Chief of Dreamers Creative Writing and the Co-Editor for the Journal of Integrated Studies. She is also a Director of Marketing-Communications in Waterloo and has spent the past 12+ years writing marketing copy for the high-tech industry. She holds a B.A. in English Literature, and an MAIS in Writing and New Media, and Literary Studies, and she is working on a PhD in Career Writing at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands.