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Thursday, February 26, 2009

I had the most awful dream. I guess it was a dream about the ruthlessness of time.

Somehow I realize I am pregnant, even though I have been having normal periods.

Oh no, what bad luck! Actually yes, I have heard of that. Believe it or not, it happens to about thirty percent of women during their first trimester. It's not an actual period, it's something called implantation bleeding; but it can happen at monthly intervals, so if your normal periods are pretty light, this light bleed can fool you into thinking everything is fine.

Well, my dream-self reasons, since even implantation bleeding is limited to the first trimester, I can't be more than twelve or thirteen weeks pregnant by now, and I can still have an abortion.

So I get myself down to the clinic and start my sonogram. My manager, who in real life is not a sono tech, is doing the scan. But in the dream this makes sense because she is like my aunt and I am being taken good care of. But the sonogram machine is not like a real-life machine: it has a "BPD counter" on it that is ticking upward like an odometer, telling me how far gone I am.

That's B-P-D: B as in boy, P as in Peter, D as in David [I always pause to wonder why these appellations are so male-centric and spring so quickly to mind]; it stands for bi-parietal diameter and it's a measurement of the size of your pregnancy. It's something you might hear if you're in your second trimester, when we go more by the actual size of your pregnancy than by the literal number of weeks you've been pregnant.

The counter clicks rapidly like I am pumping lots of gas, and I start to stress. It goes up and up, past numbers I am used to dealing with, and it finally stops at 70. "Seventy millimeters! I've never seen that before! What does that mean?" And they tell me, "it means you're seven months pregnant," and then slowly filter out of the room. I panic, realizing that no doctor in the country will provide an abortion for me at this point; "what am I going to do?!", but people tell me I'll have to "figure something out" and walk away from me.

I'm so sorry for the bad news. I know this isn't your ideal option, but at this point you may need to take some time to think about carrying to term and arranging for adoption.

In my dream I went around like a condemned woman after that. People either wouldn't look me in the eye or didn't understand why I couldn't just accept it. All I could think about was the fact that I was, somehow, a prisoner to this thing inside me, and I couldn't do anything about it, and the idea of waiting two more months to be free was intolerable. In my dream I knew I would rather die.

Most of the time when I start to talk about getting prenatal care and carrying to term, the response is No, that's not an option at all. Even when a woman is facing a travel time of twenty hours to the next provider, or a procedure fee of thousands of dollars -- sometimes, she just knows she can't stay pregnant. I can't fault her. I've had pregnancy dreams a few times per year since starting in this field, but this is the first time I felt the visceral panic and despair that I hear in so many voices every day.

Today on the bus every woman I saw was a woman who might be pregnant at that very moment, who might be calling me for an appointment in a few hours or might not know yet that she was pregnant. And today at work I signed off on the chart of a woman who said "have had regular periods during pregnancy" and who then had a sonogram reading of twenty weeks. I didn't even know that was possible, except in my nightmares.


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