December 3rd, 2007

Mr Jones

From an article by Stephanie Brown, In These Times, July 19-August 1, 1989.

“Just take off your panties an’ lie down, darlin’,” “Mrs. Jones,” my “obstetrician,” told me.

I did it.

She went into the other room and came back with a long, red tube. Later my friend explained that this was a surgical catheter with one end sealed. The catheter was supposed to be inserted into my womb, and a few hours later the presence of this foreign body would cause me to abort naturally. I would “have” the baby.

I opened my legs, and Mrs. Jones went to work. She sweated and grunted. She couldn’t seem to find my cervix, where the tube needed to be inserted. I felt no pain. At last she said that the tube was in place, that I should go home and wait.

I gave her my $150.

Ida took me home. I paid off the baby-sitter, gave my kids supper and waited. Nothing happened.

So I called Ida. She said it had been too long, maybe we’d have to go back to Mrs. Jones, but that she would almost certainly want more money.

I hung up the phone and went into the bathroom to check the tube. It had fallen out.

I thought it over. I now had the tube.I knew where my cervix was better than Mrs. Jones. I, moreover, understood the value of sterilization and the danger of infection. And, most important of all, I cared whether or not I survived this damned procedure. I decided to do it myself…

Then, I went into the kitchen and put a big kettle of water on to boil. I took some picture wire from the kitchen drawer (to stiffen the catheter). I boiled the catheter and the wire for half an hour and took them, still in the kettle, into the bathroom to cool. Then I washed the toilet seat, my thighs, arms and hands with liquid Phisohex soap…

I sat down on the toilet seat and threaded the wire into the tube. Then I put my feet up, one on the towel rack and one on the sink, and leaned back. I reached a finger up my vaginal canal and found my cervix. Then I took a deep breath…and started the end of the tube into my cervix…I carefully withdrew the wires as I inserted the tube further and further, never allowing the wire inside my uterus, where anything rigid might cause a fatal puncture.

The tube seemed miles long, but finally it was all, except for a short tail I left dangling, inside me. I optimistically put on a sanitary napkin. Then I laid my will on the pillow next to me and went to sleep.

I awoke early the next morning with cramps. I smiled to realize that I was, so far, okay-no fever, no hemorrhaging. I went into the bathroom and found that the bleeding had started. I slowly removed the tube…

The bleeding was heavy now, and unusually large clots were coming through… I felt a bit lightheaded but kept going… The bleeding subsided and I recuperated without event…

For years after that I hung onto my precious red catheter. Catheters were hard to come by then, as surgical supply houses knew that midwives and registered nurses were using them to perform illegal abortions.

I hid mine under the lingerie in my top drawer until abortion was legalized on January 22, 1973. Then, glad to be rid of the thing that I had so both hated and needed, I took it out to the incinerator of our apartment building hallway and burned it.