18 July 2017
‘I want to arrange a termination.’
‘You mean an abortion.’
After providing details of how I’d gotten pregnant (‘I’m afraid I’m going to need a bit more information than that’), my current relationship status, last period, dates of any sexual activity in the last two months, average menstrual-cycle length, when I had taken the morning-after pill, where it had been administered, weight, height, second-to-last period, last visit to a sexual health clinic, NHS number (‘you must bring this with you’), contraceptive history, reasons for choosing a medical rather than surgical abortion, name and address of general Practitioner (‘you’ll need to find out’), date of pregnancy test (‘can you repeat that?’), date of pregnancy test, number of pregnancy tests consulted, and the results of the pregnancy tests, I am told there is an appointment at a nearby clinic later today, where the first set of drugs can be administered that afternoon.
‘You must drink a litre of water one hour before the appointment.’
24 June 2017
All day, desperate to touch each other.
We haven’t seen each other in five or six years, but there’s the taper down the back of his neck, the belt strap drawing steadily through the loop.
I don’t want to have to think about it.
25 June 2017
He wasn’t supposed to, but he did.
I stay up with my phone, trying to find somewhere I can get the morning-after pill on a Sunday.
I find a pharmacy that opens early. He walks me to the bus stop and offers to pay. I know he hasn’t got any cash.
In the pharmacy, there is a queue of people in yesterday’s clothes. We sit quietly, with our hands in our laps (no battery), waiting to be called in to explain ourselves.
18 July 2017
I’m pregnant, I message him. I wait a second, then add: not a joke.
There is no discussion. He apologises again. I tell him I’ve already arranged the abortion and that I’ll call when it’s done.
I message [ – – – – ] to ask if he’s free. A few minutes later, when I can see he’s read it but hasn’t replied, I add: not like, free for a pint free, but free to come to an abortion clinic.
I’m trying to be light-hearted, but I suddenly feel flippant and ashamed. I want to make another joke to cancel it out.
four agrees to come to the clinic with me. I send him the address and we agree to meet in a café nearby.
We look down at my phone and up at the building. We look down at my phone and up at the building. We’ve walked past the clinic hundreds of times before and never noticed it. I’m not sure what I expected. People at the bus stop opposite watch us figure it out.
There are security bars on the windows and a small sign above the doorway, which is half closed. We crowd into the little porch and I pull the handle. The door is locked. The receptionist glances up from the desk. I scan the faces in the waiting room. I press the buzzer.
‘I have an appointment at twelve thirty.’
The door is unlocked.
Everyone is drinking water. The blinds are drawn. The fan has been unplugged. The television on the wall whines faintly. I am handed a clipboard and some literature.
All the seats are taken, so we huddle together in the middle of the room. I rest the clipboard against four’s back.
EARLY MEDICAL ABORTION
The receptionist exchanges the information on the clipboard for a pink raffle ticket. I look at it blankly.
‘So there are no names,’ she says.
I go back to the middle of the room and four brings me a cup of water. We shuffle around each other, like showgirls, to face the television screen.
four tries to make a joke about the programme and I move my mouth into a smile, but I’m not sure if I should laugh or shush.
I’ve drunk so much I can barely walk. I waddle into the dark room. It is larger than I expected. The door is locked behind me.
‘Lie on the bed.’
The only light in the room is a medical lamp next to the ultrasound machine. The technician sits down at the computer and watches me get on the bed. I cast a huge shadow across the room.
‘Lower your trousers.’
I lean back, exhaling in sharp bursts. She makes it clear she is waiting. I unbutton my jeans and start to lower them.
She tuts and grabs at the waistband.
You’re going to piss yourself.
I pull my jeans back up. I try to work out what she wants me to do. I know I’m not supposed to ask. I fold the pockets of my jeans out and look across at her for approval.
‘No. Like this –’
She reaches for my jeans. I flinch, then apologise. She folds the waistband over and tucks a piece of tissue into the top of my underwear. I keep very still. She squeezes something onto my belly and presses the sensor down.
You’re going to piss yourself.
The screen is turned away. She says nothing. The wand ploughs back and forth. This is not about me.
‘When did you take the test?’
She pushes down harder. I exhale steadily.
‘Right. And you’re sure the test was positive?’
‘I can’t see anything. You’ll need to come back in ten days.’
I say nothing. She turns away and adjusts the height of her chair. It occurs to me that I already know what I’ll do if I’m pregnant for ten more days. I’m disappointed by how obvious it is. She fusses the machine.
‘Or we can do a transvaginal ultrasound.’
The probe makes a brief appearance, wearing an enormous condom. It is inserted into the vagina. I try not to think about why I’m crying. The ultrasound technician forces the probe against the cervix, then pulls it around the walls of the vagina. I don’t want her to know that it hurts.
The probe is removed. I await my next instruction. She says nothing. I close and flatten the legs. She types at the computer. Something is being printed. I button my jeans and sit up. I take my shoes out from under the chair.
‘Did that show what it needed to?’
‘What happens now?’
‘Go back to the waiting room and wait for your number to be called.’
No sex for four weeks. No exercise for four weeks. No swimming for four weeks. No – I wouldn’t ride a bike. No lifting heavy objects. No grapefruit. No grapefruit juice. No aspirin. No alcohol. Do not take this pregnancy test until four weeks after your last appointment. No mefenamic acid. No St John’s wort. No alcohol. Would you like the abortion to appear on your medical records? Why not? Do not use public transport after the procedure. You must not use tampons. You must call a taxi. Do not insert anything into the vagina. No bathing. No recreational drugs. No smoking. Avoid tea and coffee. Avoid tight or fitted clothing. You must not walk home from the clinic after the second appointment. You should have someone waiting for you at home. No sexual activity. When you get home, you will feel the need to push. When this happens: go to the toilet, sit down on the toilet, and bear down. When you’re finished, don’t look in the toilet bowl. Just flush.
I float to the café and sit down and exhale jaggedly and shake my head and try to stop crying. four asks what happened.
I have to go back tomorrow I have to go back tomorrow and then the day after that ‘why are you here?’ ‘why do you want an abortion?’ she said I would have to come back in ten days unless I had to say ‘don’t look!’ it was like I had to beg ‘just flush the toilet!’ what the fuck
The waitress circles past. I stop talking. four has never seen me cry before. I wish he wasn’t there again. I want to be humiliated in private. He asks if I’ve eaten. I wipe my face on my shoulder and get up to order something. At the counter, I notice that a wet smear of ultrasound gel has soaked through my shirt.
The sandwich arrives. I sit up to inspect it. There’s nothing to talk about anymore. I should never have told anyone. I consider the sandwich for a minute, then tell four he should have it.
I tell him not to come tomorrow.
This is an excerpt from Larger Than an Orange by Lucy Burns, out with Chatto & Windus. Shortlisted for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award 2022.
Photograph © Chuck Patch