After a weekend of making art, I awake Monday morning on three hours of sleep and as many Sunday-night bong hits. I’m glowing. I’ve never looked better. Clearly, something is terribly, terribly wrong. I head to the Women’s Clinic, where I pee on my wrist (and in a cup).
“Your urine tested positive for pregnancy.”
The news hits me like a sucker punch to the gut. Having never been in this situation, despite an adulthood of contraceptive laziness, I’m stunned. I’d assumed the torment I put myself through as a preadolescent gymnast had rendered me barren as well as broad-shouldered.
The decision to terminate is obvious. I’m single; I’ve been couch-crashing for over a year; I scrape by well below the poverty line with freelance crumbs and the odd gallery sale of my illustrations; I have no health insurance; and I’ve spent the last week stoned, which I’m guessing isn’t great for a developing fetus. The scenario of me having a baby is ridiculous. Should I go along with it, I’d be bartering pervy drawings for diapers and putting my pot-stupid welfare baby to bed in the back of my (veggie) car every night.
(Illustration by Dani Katz)
Logistics aside, I don’t want children. Never have. Even so, I always thought that if I found myself pregnant, my maternal instinct would naturally kick in and that I’d roll with it.
I check in. I feel no connection. I feel nothing vaguely maternal, aside from the sudden onset of the morning sickness I’ve been rationalizing away as a parasite. I envision myself having this unplanned child and equate the experience to a whopping failure, to a death sentence as an artist, a writer and an autonomous individual who values her freedom above all else.
The shock morphs into panic. My semiboyfriend, the conceiver, is in Southeast Asia. My roommate, Seattle. I call my best guy-friend for a ride to the clinic. He’s on a deadline. I call a girlfriend. She’s stranded in Mendocino. Maniacal efficiency kicks in. By the time I jaywalk across Pico to get to my car/potential nursery, I have four appointments at three different clinics. It’s all become strangely topical, with last week’s Supreme Court decision to ban IDX (intact dilation and extraction, a safe method of late-term abortion), a ruling that provides for no exception when a woman’s health is at stake and allows politicians and police to interfere in medical decisions that simply aren’t their business.
“Slow down, girl. This is big,” my girlfriend tells me.
My plan isn’t flowing. Clearly, I’m on the wrong track. I take her advice and cool out.
I think about skipping my 4 o’clock waitress shift, but figure I’ll need the money for the abortion. I fret my way through a moderately busy dinner and recall a yogi friend who found herself in a similar situation. The herbs she took didn’t actually do the trick, but the seed she planted in my mind is taking root.
I can take care of this myself — no chemicals, no hormones, no paper trail, no eager and heavy-handed Western doctors poking at my uterus in a dank downtown clinic whose files are probably raided bimonthly by a Patriot Act anti-terrorist squad. Something shifts. Lurking beneath the nausea, crouched behind the fear, loitering kitty-corner to the loneliness, stands my intuition, telling me I’m on the right path. I scour the Internet for herbal alternatives and find a gold mine at sisterzeus.com. I pore through the “herbal abortifacients” section and make a long list. I recruit my witchiest friend, Jackie (not her real name), as co-pilot and arrange to meet up the next day.
I stop into Nature Mart the next morning, lengthy list in hand. The girl with the punky hair and the blue eyeliner knows exactly what I’m doing.
“How far along are you?”
“It’s not gonna work. But I get it. Might as well try.”
She loads me up with supplies — vitamin C to weaken my uterine lining, blue cohosh to induce contractions. She sends me to Svetlana’s Herbs Ayurvedic for the dangerous stuff, and tells me to wear tight jeans. Tight jeans? I am wholly prepared to ingest massive amounts of toxic, possibly lethal herbs, but I shudder at the thought of denim hugging my thighs.
I call Herb King. I ask if they can give me a formula to bring on a late period. Absolutely. Come on in. Cool. Is there any chance you’re pregnant?… Um… I know I’m pregnant. Sorry. We can’t help you. Liability issues, you know.
Jackie makes me a ginger-garlic juice while we chart the day’s game plan. She is confident and firm, and reminds me there is no room for doubt — not a second’s worth.
“This will work,” she enthuses.
“It’s already working,” I reply, gagging down the spicy libation while my stomach churns and cha-chas.
Jackie takes me to a Korean acupuncturist on Crenshaw, who practices out of his house. We wait in his living room while a woman screams inside the treatment room.
“It’s gonna hurt,” Jackie laughs. “But it’s a good hurt, ya know?”
I go with the I-need-to-bring-on-a-late-period story. He wants to treat the underlying issue. I don’t tell him the underlying issue is a zygote. He takes my pulse and studies my tongue, then gets to it. He jabs needles into my sternum, stomach, ankles, knees and wrists. The treatment is painful; I’m reluctant to say it’s a “good” hurt, unless we redefine our terms:
Good-hurt adj. Bone-deep torment; agony.
Next, we head to Herb King anyway. Jackie uses her considerable feminine wiles/cleavage to distract the herbalist while I grab all applicable formulas that read Do not take if pregnant — my new favorite catch phrase.
We stop in at the Beverly Hills Juice Club for a Hot Tomato Tonic, then on to Svetlana’s for tansy (traditionally used to expel worms and treat nervous disorders; can cause violent seizures and death) and pennyroyal (a blood purifier and alleged anti-spasmodic; side effects include coma, seizures, shock and death).
Back home, I survey my supplies and chart an aggressive plan of action. I decide on a multitiered holistic attack against the uterine invader, spearheaded by an extra-strong brew of tansy, pennyroyal and blue cohosh every four hours, reinforced by triple doses of cinnamon and poria and an Herb King’s Invigorate Blood tonic for extra oomph. Because the herbs are so dangerous, I dedicate my attention entirely to my body, constantly checking in, making sure everything’s still working. Exhaustion is a key component, so I supplement my usual six-days-a-week yoga regimen with rigorous hikes, violent Hula-Hooping and tennis. I sleep as little as possible, helped along by my four-hour herbal-abortifacient program, and spend downtime between doses visualizing, meditating, praying and actively resisting the urge to freak out.
Returning to the Internet, I read that orgasm can bring on a miscarriage. I masturbate in steaming-hot baths infused with drops of ginger tincture that float like tiny yellowed oil slicks on the surface of the murky water. My vagina feels weird. My “condition” seems to be mutating my body in all kinds of disgusting ways. I stop, grossed out, not wanting to know myself like this. But what if I’m just one orgasm away from a bloody mess — from freedom? I close my eyes and think of my semiboyfriend. I climax. I open my eyes, expecting a tubful of pink and yuck. The water is clear. Deflated, I pull the plug, envisioning my life as I know it swirling down the drain along with the ginger-oil-slicked bath water.
I opt for a more aggressive tack on the acupuncture front. I find someone who is willing to treat me, as long as I pay cash, don’t tell her my last name and keep hers a secret forever. This treatment is infinitely gentler — needles inserted softly in my ankles, ears, forehead, wrists and belly. Back home, I do a little more Web research and decide it’s safe(ish) to add dong quai (a Chinese herb that causes uterine contractions) to my already jam-packed Operation: Bleed regimen.
By Saturday, my hipbones are black with bruises from my nightly Hula-Hoop session.
“How are you feeling?” anonymous acupuncturist asks during our second session.
“I look forward to feeling worse.”
She tells me my liver’s working overtime and that I should be careful with the herbs.
I stop by Erewhon on my way home. I brave interaction and eye contact for information, thinking a missing magic something is the key to persuading this thing to let go of its grip on my uterus.
I pull one of the tonic guys aside and tell him my story. He instructs me on the various ways I should be abusing my body — carbs, preservatives, alcohol and overexertion.
“You should starve!” he blurts in a moment of inspiration. “Skinny women often mis-”
It’s Ben from the Knittery. Where have I been? What have I been up to? He’s been dying to get ahold of the sweater pattern I’ve been working on. How’d it turn out?
I don’t tell him I’ve been busy having unprotected sex while ovulating. I don’t tell him I’ve been denying the nausea, forgetfulness and telltale lack of blood and am now consumed with this latest cockamamie scheme to kill my unborn child. Naturally.
Instead, I tell him: I’m starting a T-shirt line. I’m finishing a script. The sweater came out great, except it pills (Blue Sky merino/alpaca devotees be forewarned).
I pick up French fries on the way home, taking advantage of this glitch in optimal health to further pollute my body. I nibble Red Vines while in line at the video store.
The lone-warrior role is wearing thin. I need to connect with the conceiver. I’d wanted to spare him the headache and the worry, but after a string of nightmares indicating long-term resentment, I sent him a breezy version of the saga via Internet. I know he’s not ignoring me. He’s on a job. He compartmentalizes. He obsesses. He doesn’t check his fucking e-mail. I vacillate between hating his guts and wishing he were here to hold my hand and rub my neck and brew my 4 a.m. herbs and tell me everything is going to be okay.
Jackie texts me:
NO DOUBT. TRUST. LET GO.
I feel strong again. I can do this.
I no-show to the group art opening I’m in. I stay home drinking toxic teas and tinctures. I mash already peeved pressure points and Hula-Hoop furiously. I take a languid nighttime stroll to the park. I root myself. I invoke divine energy. I talk to the moon. I notice passersby dressed up for Saturday-night carousing and realize I’m wearing my nightgown. I head home to drink some herbal death and fall asleep.
Sunday morning, I wake up in a rage. I pull on my tightest tights with shaky hands and white knuckles. I speed into Silver Lake, blinded with frustration. It’s Easter — Christianity’s perversion of the pagan rites of spring, mocking me with its milk-chocolate eggs, its marshmallow bunnies and its every other tacky, pastel-hued take on fertility. I ujayi breathe my way through a maddeningly strong and flexible yoga practice. I’ve been poisoning myself for days. I should feel like shit. I should be exhausted. I should be doubled over. I should be bleeding. I’m glowing. I’m gliding. I’m pissed. I rip into my twisting poses. I dig my heels into my uterus in ardha baddha padmasana as I bow my head to the floor in hormonal upheaval, in systemic toxicity, in karmic confusion. I inhale divine energy; I exhale blood. My bravado crumbles into a soggy pile of defeated tears.
I take my last dose of herbs at noon, then officially throw in the towel. I am despondent. I am spent. I spend the day in my robe on the couch.
Why did the Universe throw this at me now?
“Oh, come off it!” my mother admonishes. “Not everything is a sign. If the Universe is telling you anything, it’s that it’s time to get yourself an IUD.”
I check in with my womb. I ask who’s in there and why it’s come and what it has to tell me and what it needs to let go. Not only do I get nothing, I feel nothing. I don’t experience a baby-in-the-making; I experience a leech sucking my life away. How can I be so cold and unfeeling? I call my psychic. She tells me now is not the time for a child and has no message from my uterus. I recall that Tibetan Buddhists believe it takes a fetus 49 days to attract a soul — the same amount of time it takes for the pineal gland (the home of consciousness) to make its appearance. Though the clinic estimates I’m six weeks along based on the date of my last period, I know I’m five — five and a half, tops. The numbers make it make sense. Sort of.
The boy finally calls, half a planet and 18 hours away. We’re on the same page. He insists I go to a real doctor, “not some clinic,” and says the things I need to hear, to soothe the sting of distance and this mess we’ve created.
Wholly defeated, I call “a real” doctor and schedule an appointment. I can’t believe it’s come to this. And then it hits me — the one thing I haven’t tried: mushrooms. Even if they don’t bring on the blood, they’ll lead me to the larger wisdom. Soon, I’m driving back from Echo Park armed with a bag of fungi and a shred of hope.
I brew a tea, gulp it down and hustle to the top of Griffith Park’s Bird Sanctuary and throw a blanket down on a spotty patch of grass just as the world goes wonky. I pull up my shirt, letting the sun beat down on my stomach. I sit in meditation, reasoning with the thing inside me, encouraging its graceful exit without the drama of doctors and drugs and cold steel instruments and vacuum aspiration. I sit quietly, massaging my belly, sending love, connecting to Spirit, and knowing it will all be okay.
I drive home, dirty and buzzing. I hop in the shower and notice a swirl of pink at my feet. Spotting is common for pregnant women. I’d like to think I’m hemorrhaging — dare to dream — but it’s too little, too late.
By bedtime my head is pounding. My stomach aches. My back hurts. Tomorrow I’ll be in stirrups, pumped full of chemicals and under the knife. The herbs have failed me. I’ve failed myself. Maybe I was too active and I metabolized them too quickly. Maybe I didn’t take enough. Maybe six weeks was too late for this cockamamie scheme to work.
I flip through a tattered copy of GQ in the waiting room. I fill out forms. I pay cash. A nurse weighs me and takes my blood pressure. I tell the doctor about the herbs and the acupuncture and the mushrooms and the pink swirl. The nurse rubs my back while he does an ultrasound.
A smile spreads across his face.
“Nope. No fetus here. I guess your herbs worked.”
The nurse hugs me. I get dressed and skip into the waiting room, catching my girlfriend off-guard with my beaming smile.
I spend the next week and a half cramped up and bleeding. A wince replaces the smile. The pain is a surprise — deep and cutting, a harsh reward for all my hard work. This is a miscarriage. Unlike an abortion, it’s not a 10-minute procedure. It’s not over the next day. It took eight days to bring it on, and 10 days later, I’m still bleeding, I’m still exhausted, I’m still in pain. But I’m deeply relieved.