The trans-vaginal ultrasound wand really is as big as they say: faced with one, I flashed back to the scene in Marla Singer’s apartment in Fight Club where, sitting on her dresser, there is a dildo of unusual size. Tyler Durden may not have been daunted in the moment, but, eyeing the wand, I was. Before I could say anything, though, the doctor squirted the length of it with unromantic-looking blue lube and thrust it inside me.
Lying on my back in a putty-colored paper gown, I felt like one of those unfortunate souls who believe they've been abducted and probed by aliens. I squirmed, trying to find a less-uncomfortable position. Meanwhile the doctor kept her eyes on the monitor, trying to get a clear picture to appear on the screen. “Your bladder is full,” she said disapprovingly, manipulating the wand like a 13-year-old with a joystick.
Of course my bladder is full, I wanted to say. I’m pregnant! I spend my days peeing and then dream about peeing more, waking in horror only to breathe a sigh of relief that I haven’t actually wet the bed. Still, the feeling that I might need to invest in adult diapers wasn't the most unpleasant part of this adventure that is my first trimester: that would be the moment on a very nauseous Monday morning commute to work on a crowded, airless Q train at rush hour when I realized I wasn’t just going to keep thinking about throwing up; I was actually going to throw up.
Thankfully the doors opened and I made it onto the Union Square platform to vomit as demurely as possible into a trash can. Resigned, humiliated, and standing on my tiptoes, I let my breakfast cascade into the garbage while commuters streamed by on both sides. One man separated himself from the crowd and, paying me no attention, tossed a coffee cup into the waterfall of half-digested cereal coming out of me, and kept walking.
Surely that behavior goes against some moral code — like crossing streams at a urinal with another man who was there first? Two other commuters then stopped to ask if I was okay and if there was anything they could do.
“I’m pregnant,” I croaked, tears in my eyes. “There’s nothing anyone can do.”
That was the melodrama speaking, of course. I’ve always been an abortion-rights advocate: a marcher of marches, a signer of petitions, a carrier of signs. At my wedding, one of the charities my husband and I encouraged guests to give to, in lieu of a traditional present, was Planned Parenthood. If I wanted to terminate my pregnancy, had it been an accident or merely badly timed, I would feel that I had every right. And if I had stopped to help a girl in my position looking as miserable as I did, I would have asked, as gently as possible, if she knew that she did indeed have options.
I, however, didn’t need options; this, pregnancy, was my choice. I just had no idea how uncomfortable it would be, because (thank you, god; thank you, science) I had never gotten knocked up until I wanted to. Now, for the first time, I was actually carrying a potential human being inside me — one who destabilized the ecosystem by sucking up all available resources for itself like a tiny SUV — and I was unhappy. I didn’t want an abortion, but I did want to feel less wretched all the time. The commuters seemed to understand. One of them handed me a napkin and stood with me, rubbing my arm, until the R train barreled in.
Because I had never been pregnant before, I had to wonder, once my uterus went from Vacant to Occupied, whether I would feel differently about the pro-choice/pro-life debate. Would some switch flip in my animal brain to turn me into a primal mother-figure, half-sentimental, half-ferocious? The state senators who passed the mandatory trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement in Texas, as well as the ones in Virginia who have passed watered-down versions and other states considering even more horrifying ones (I'm looking at you, Oklahoma), seem to believe I would. They were betting on it, in fact: “[Sen. Clay] Scofield said he hopes that, if signed into law, his bill will stop some abortions. Though the bill states a woman can look away from the ultrasound image, Scofield wants her to see it. ‘So she sees that this is not just a clump of cells as she is told,’ he said. ‘She will see the shape of the infant. And hopefully, she will choose to keep the child.’”
I hate to disappoint Mr. Scofield, but constant nausea didn’t make me sentimental, and falling asleep at work didn’t create a strong bond between me and my little SUV. Neither did lying back with my feet in the stirrups at the doctor’s office feeling like a Frieda Kahlo painting.
“There!” said the doctor at last. “See? There it is.” She pointed at an area of the screen about as large as her fingertip. My main feeling was relief that the thing had settled where it was supposed to; vividly did I remember Cristina Yang’s ectopic pregnancy on Grey’s Anatomy.
A couple weeks later, I returned to the OB/GYN’s office as scheduled, and, without ceremony, got the toilet-plunger-handle treatment again. At least this time I was prepared. The doctor tuned some dial on her equipment to FM radio or something and just like that, I heard a heartbeat.
“Whoa,” I said. The image on the screen still didn’t resemble “the shape of an infant;” it looked more like something you’d see under a microscope in chemistry class. The sound was pretty cool — a rapid lub-dub, lub-dub that matched the pulsing you could watch on the monitor. But as trippy as it was to hear a second heartbeat inside me, the two ultrasounds hadn’t changed me emotionally: I hadn’t become a snarling mama bear or a serene Madonna. The probe was not a magic wand.
After I was released, a nurse came in to siphon off several vials of my blood to test for 15 different terrifying conditions I’d never heard of, which reminded me why it’s better to try not to get too attached at the early stages. Shit happens all the time: I could miscarry, or an abortion might still be necessary. No number of invasive, uncomfortable ultrasounds will change the fact that the little critter inside me doesn’t look like a baby yet, because it isn’t a baby yet. It’s working its way there, and I very much hope it makes it: I’m doing everything I can to cheer it on its journey, including eating my first cheeseburger in 15 years and going to bed this past Saturday at 9 p.m. But there are no guarantees. That being the case, and having realized exactly how difficult pregnancy is (I can only imagine how desperate I’d feel if this critter weren’t wanted), I am more devoutly grateful than ever for clinics like Planned Parenthood.