Riding the Middle
article by Meredith McKinnie
Friday morning was not yet beaming with the July heat at 5:45 a.m. The streets were oddly silent yet in the way that suggests oncoming chaos. I drove myself to surgery, Boyfriend calmly riding beside me. We didn’t have much to say. We both just wanted it to be over.
When the doctor had confirmed four days earlier that the fetus was not viable, I felt a punch in my gut, though I’d long suspected the news. Boyfriend being there to hear it didn’t help as I’d assumed. He consoled me that afternoon in his calm, quiet way, knowing when words are a useless distraction. I prefer quiet to process. The doctor suggested a D & C. I agreed readily, just wanting the not baby out of me. It felt a violation to let it fester, as if I could erase the disappointment I felt in one twenty-minute procedure. I cried getting the news. I cried walking into my mother’s kitchen to deliver the news. I saw the hope on her face through the glass door. She was expecting an ultra-sound pic, a recount of hearing our baby’s heartbeat, but she wouldn’t get it. As she walked toward me, I could only shake my head no. Untelling her was too difficult. As my mother hugged me and promised that another baby would come, I heard the voices of the living room TV disappearing. My dad was listening, as he often does when he knows not to intrude.
Boyfriend and I checked in for surgery ten minutes early, and we sat in silence watching doctors and nurses arrive. They see women like me every day. Does it make them sad? I knew after hundreds of procedures, probably not. My case was no different than the other three women sitting in the waiting room. One girl looked to be my age with pajama pants and one of those overly large graphic T shirts one finds on the sale rack at Walmart. She had a friend with her and a toddler, a baby that hadn’t ended in a procedure. I smiled as he wobbled around, no idea where he was, not a care in the world. Another woman in the corner looked more refined, a husband beside her, cradling her tired, tear-stained head in the crook of his arm. He looked as tired as she was, emotionally exhausted, though trying his best not to show it. I thumbed through a local magazine as we waited. I read my own article in a past month’s issue.
They took the refined woman back before me, allowing her husband to accompany her. I was next, though Boyfriend was not shown the same courtesy. I wondered why, but was glad I was going alone. The gurneys were separated by cotton curtains on a bar, much like a dressing room. I was given a gown and a bag for my clothes. The aide came in and helped me into the awkward, tight surgery stockings that made me look tanner than I was. It made me smile, a little. And then I lay back and waited. I heard murmured voices to my left and the voice of an elderly woman complaining to my right. Whatever the older woman was having done would take 45 minutes, the aide told her. And then she left to let the woman undress. I heard the woman talking to herself about the difficulty of her pants button, the waywardness of her shirt sleeve. I got lost in her complaints of a task for me that only takes seconds. She didn’t want to be here either.
And then I noticed the anesthesiologist. He was handsome, and with a clipboard entered the curtained off section to my left, the section of the murmured voices. I had nothing to do but listen. The older woman to my right had gone silent in her frustration of undressing. As the anesthesiologist began asking questions, I realized the murmured voices belonged to the couple from the waiting room, the couple with the weight of the world on their faces. He asked the woman’s name. She answered. He asked her procedure. It was the same as mine, a D & C, the removal of an unviable or unformed fetus. I sighed and felt comforted by the shared experience. And then he asked her ever so quietly if this was her first one. It wasn’t. In an even more muffled voice, she explained it was her fourth. Her first failed pregnancy at 32, and then again at 34, yet again at 38, and now finally another at 42. She had been through this process three times before, and she had had no successful pregnancies. As he exited her room, I sat in silence, knowing something I shouldn’t, and fighting the urge to hug her. In the silence, slow tears streamed down the corners of my face, wetting the awkward hospital gown, a silent response to a fate too unfair to imagine, a fate bestowed on the refined woman I didn’t even know.
In the midst of my tears, a ruckus was erupting with the old woman to my right. The aide had told her several minutes before to remove everything except her panties. So when the aide returned and insisted she remove those panties, the old woman scoffed. “But you said I could leave them on. You lied.” The woman was getting more frustrated as the aide said, “That’s only if they’re cotton. You can’t wear lace panties in there.” I had to cover my mouth to keep from choking with laughter. The idea of the woman insisting on retaining her lace panties for surgery was too much. They debated back and forth, but the aide won, though the old lady put up a good fight. I silently commended her efforts.
I needed that moment. Before long they were rolling me back, covering my mouth with the contraption, telling me to count backward. I awoke 30 minutes later with little pain and a lot of blood. It was to be expected, they said. As we rode home hours later, I recounted the story to Boyfriend. We felt together for the woman with the fate worse than ours and laughed about the elderly woman and her lace panties. That is life, the colossal disappointment and heartbreak of someone to our left, and the frustration at trivial follies for someone to our right. That day I felt lucky to be riding the middle.