Off the Shelf, Writers-in-Training
Leave a comment

Twelve Weeks

Editor’s note: This is a work of fiction.

September 4

There were two soft raps on the door.

“Come i–” Elizabeth was cut off by the physician entering the room.

“Ms. Halstead, I’m Dr. Sheryl Perkins.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Elizabeth responded gingerly without lifting her gaze from the floor.

“I understand you’re here to talk about an unplanned pregnancy. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth whispered as tears began to slide down her cheeks.

“This is difficult,” Dr. Perkins responded while sitting down as she handed Elizabeth a box of tissues. Dr. Perkins waited in silence for several seconds before asking, “What can you tell me about your decision at this point?”

Elizabeth stared intently at the floor, willing her tears to subside. “I can’t do it,” she said, looking up at Dr. Perkins with despondent resolve. “There’s just no way I can have this baby.” Elizabeth searched in Dr. Perkins’ eyes for some sign of her disappointment or perhaps judgement. All she could see was her own reflection.

Dr. Perkins held her gaze for a moment. “Many women make that decision,” she said. “Can you explain to me what’s guiding your thought process at this time?”

“Shame, mostly,” Elizabeth responded as she cracked a half-hearted smile, which Dr. Perkins mirrored back to her only as concern. Elizabeth quickly reverted back to her downward gaze. “I’m sorry, that was inappropriate. Look, I’ve never done this before. I’ve worked so hard to never be in this position. I’m probably the last person who should be sitting here right now.”

“What do you mean by that?” Dr. Perkins asked.

“Well…” Elizabeth hesitated. “I’ve been pro-life since before I even knew what an abortion was. I’ve gone to the rallies and the protests, you name it. I shouldn’t be telling you this. You probably hate me right now.” Dr. Perkins shook her head in disagreement, but let Elizabeth continue. “It’s just that this was never part of the plan, and now it feels like it’s going to ruin everything that Jeffery, my husband, and I had planned for our lives. It doesn’t feel fair. To my children at home, I mean. Having a baby right now, it feels so wrong. Deep in my soul it feels wrong, you know? After all that I’ve done, I don’t believe God would want this to happen this way.”

Dr. Perkins nodded. “You mentioned your children?”

“Yes, we have three.” Elizabeth smiled. “Ages one, three and six. I just don’t want you to think I’m one of those irresponsible women who doesn’t take this sort of thing seriously.” Elizabeth frowned. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.”

“It’s okay,” Dr. Perkins said. “That is certainly a hard thought to avoid in our society. But I can assure you, Elizabeth, I’ve discussed pregnancy options with hundreds of women. There are many reasons why women decide not to continue a pregnancy. By far, the overarching theme I hear is a sense of responsibility to others, much like how you are describing now. The obligation you feel to your family is entirely understandable.”

Dr. Perkins explained to Elizabeth that she had three options: continue with the pregnancy and parent the child, continue with the pregnancy and pursue adoption, or discontinue the pregnancy and have an abortion. If she elected for abortion, there were both medical and surgical options.

“What are your thoughts on these options?” Dr. Perkins asked. Elizabeth sat quietly, staring at her hands in her lap. “Elizabeth…?” Dr. Perkins hesitated.

“Don’t make me say it.”

Dr. Perkins sat calmly with her posture unchanged. “I can see that this is very upsetting for you,” she said. Elizabeth kept her head down actively avoiding eye contact. “Nothing needs to be decided definitively right now. I’ll be with you throughout this process. You’re not alone in this, Elizabeth.”

After Dr. Perkins performed the physical exam, Elizabeth sat alone on the cold, pleather table. With only a thin layer of wrinkled paper to cover her, she realized that any sense of control she had felt before was a facade. She was powerless; there was no way to deny what was happening and no default option that would allow her to dissociate. Every option required her to be an active participant, and each path was uniquely painful. Her arms and legs felt heavy. She wished there was a place she could crawl into if only to freeze time for just a moment.

The nurse knocked on the door and came in wheeling a heavy cart. “My name is Tracy, and I’ll be doing the ultrasound.”

Elizabeth kept her eyes closed as the ultrasound probe slid across her abdomen, leaving a trail of gel in its wake.

“Would you like me to describe what I see?” Tracy asked. Elizabeth squeezed her eyes shut tighter and shook her head side to side. “That’s fine. But I am required to tell you that you’re about 12 weeks along, Elizabeth. Here’s a tissue to clean up with. Dr. Perkins will be back in shortly.”

Twelve weeks. The words laid heavy on Elizabeth’s chest. Twelve weeks — an eternity, a distant deadline at work, a vacation still too far away to be excited about its arrival. Yet, 12 weeks had amassed in her womb in an instant. A few weeks of cluelessness, a couple more of uneasiness, a short time for denial and a little more just to think. The clock had started without her knowledge, and now it continued forward relentlessly, each tick striking louder.

Elizabeth scheduled a surgical abortion for the following Tuesday. The clinic was only open three days each week, and she was told that she was lucky to get an appointment so soon. Lucky. Elizabeth thought. An obnoxiously bright-eyed 20-something-year-old receptionist helped her schedule the procedure while rattling off a choppy script explaining the stack of documents Elizabeth held in her hands. Elizabeth didn’t hear any of it.

September 11

Elizabeth was dropped off at the far side of the parking lot. She was thankful nobody was outside of the clinic.

Inside the clinic, she waited. Elizabeth waited to check in at the desk and waited for her second counseling session. The nurse started an IV and sent her to a second waiting room where she waited some more. There were no clocks in the room, and no phones allowed either. Elizabeth observed the women around her. A few of them were young, teenagers maybe, but most appeared to be about her age. Some were there with others, a few with men. Elizabeth’s sister, Steph, had agreed to bring her home after the procedure, but Elizabeth knew better than to ask her sister to come into the clinic with her. Occasionally some of the women talked to each other, but mostly everyone sat silently and waited.

Finally, it was time for the procedure. Although she was hesitant at first, Elizabeth closed her eyes and prayed as everyone around her was setting up the instruments.

“You’re going to feel a pinch now, Elizabeth.” Dr. Perkins said. Elizabeth cringed as the tenaculum grabbed her cervix with its two metal fangs. “One more pinch now.” A nurse placed her hand on the back of Elizabeth’s head offering the other for Elizabeth to hold. Elizabeth squeezed hard as a needle was inserted, and lidocaine was administered to numb her cervix. Following the nerve block, Dr. Perkins inserted a dilator rod to widen the cervix. The lidocaine hadn’t taken the pain away but had merely changed the sensation. The intense discomfort made Elizabeth cramp in the pit of her stomach.

The rest of the procedure moved quickly and precisely. Dr. Perkins inserted the cannula, attached a vacuum aspirator and suctioned for a few seconds. With a final swipe of a curette, she ensured that the uterus was empty. And that was it. The instruments were withdrawn, and Elizabeth was taken to the recovery room. The speed with which it was all over seemed to contrast the significance of the procedure. Elizabeth laid exhausted in the recovery room. By the time Steph arrived an hour later, Elizabeth was cleared to go.

On the drive home, Elizabeth burst into tears leaning forward to put her head on the dashboard as she sobbed.

“Is everything alright?” Steph asked. “Should I pull over?”

“No.” After a few moments, Elizabeth sat back up and wiped her face with her sleeve. “It’s just … I spent so much time over the years wondering how all of those women could forsake God like that, whether they really believed in what they were doing, whether they knew if what they were doing was evil or if they just didn’t care. I never went a day without my heart aching, physically aching, for all of those children lost. I even grew angry with God for not doing more to stop them for even allowing this debate to continue.”

“Elizabeth,” Steph interjected. “Don’t do this to yourself right now. You have served God well, and I’m sure He–“

“No, Steph, it’s not that. The thing is, when it was all over, I was so relieved. I don’t know if I can explain it. I was relieved for my children and for Jeffrey. I was relieved for myself. I think I was even relieved for the baby. I know it sounds crazy, Steph, but I don’t think God is angry with me. I think He was with me the whole time.”

Steph and Elizabeth sat in silence as the city billboards and highway barrier walls gradually faded into the countryside. Exhausted, Elizabeth rested her head against the window and slowly drifted off to sleep.

Christopher Arthur Christopher Arthur (3 Posts)


Emory University School of Medicine

Christopher is a second year medical student at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia. He grew up in Virginia where he earned a Bachelor of Science in psychology at the College of William and Mary in 2014. Prior to medical school, he spent time working as a surgery scheduler in Seattle and enjoying the beautiful Pacific Northwest. He enjoys hiking, playing guitar, and bicycle commuting. After medical school, Christopher would like to pursue a career in primary care or palliative medicine.