I came to Washington in the summer of 1973; just after Roe V. Wade. I was 19 and in the middle of a divorce with 2 small children and I needed a job. Having never worked before, but with some medical receptionist training, I went to apply at a medical office next door. The doctor was younger; mid-thirties. The interview was going well, I thought, as I didn’t have any experience. “How do you feel about terminations?,” he asked. “I don’t know what that is,” I answered sheepishly. “Well, we are a family practice office; that includes doing abortions two days a week… how would you feel about doing that?” He studied my face waiting for my answer. “Aborting babies? I’m not sure I can do that.” – fearful I had just cost myself the job. “Oh, NO!” he explained. “We don’t do that! A baby is something that weighs nine pounds, has blond hair, blue eyes and bounces on a grandpa’s knees. What we do here is simply expose tissue… Just a blob of tissue. I am the son of a Baptist minister; if this were wrong I wouldn’t be doing it! Just remember…we do what we do for the women.” I needed this job. I knew what I needed to say…and I said it. “Well, it’s better than being an unwanted and unloved child like I was. “You’re hired!” I was excited to realize I was about to earn my first paycheck. What I failed to understand at that moment is what working for this doctor was going to cost me.
Even though my training was front office skills like making appointments, transcription, etc., I was hired to work in the back office lab. The three days a week of true family practice was mundane stuff. Taking blood pressures, helping with kids exams, re-setting exam rooms after patients had been seen. The real job was Tuesdays and Saturdays. These two days always began with the doctor coming out into the waiting room full of frightened or nervous women. He would always jump up on the receptionist counter and give his “pep talk”…. always giving his “disclaimer” that he was the son of a Baptist minister…”
My training had been simple enough. The doctor’s head nurse showed me how to sterilize instruments, arrange the procedure trays to the doctor’s liking and how to set up the buckets of red liquid to soak instruments before going into the steaming chamber along with filling syringes; small and big. I was comfortable, so far. It was explained to me that first “termination day” that I was also going to be responsible for disposing of the contents of the large, white suction machine before me. I watched dutifully as the nurse wrapped the jars with a sterile drape; securely taping the ends. “We don’t want to upset these poor women who are going through enough already!” Then came the unexpected threat, “Just remember one thing; it’s your job if even one woman finds even one drop of blood on the toilet when you flush the jars!” Message received.
And so it began. The women were scheduled like clockwork. A finely-tuned operation. Five rooms loaded up with women of every description. Some looking very poor and desperate; most looking very wealthy…and very blaze’. The first abortion was in the exam room right next to the lab. When I heard the doctor turn on that suction machine and I heard the horrific sounds… a slurping, gulping…high pitched… like a vacuum cleaner with something stuck in the hose! It was shocking and awful! But, there were worse things yet to come. Soon after… the used tray was shoved at me. “Here ya go!” the nurse said, laughing…was that a snicker?
When I lifted the drape off the tray, it didn’t seem that bad. Not too much blood I thought, I can do this…but as I began to do one tray after another I quickly learned that not all trays would be the same…and I began to systematically gag. Especially when I would unscrew the vaginal speculum and “blobs of tissue” would fall into my bare hands. I was never instructed to use or offered gloves. It was beyond disturbing… I had to find a way to endure this, so I would just turn my head away and quietly whisper, “I’m just washing dishes..Just washing dishes…”
But by far, the worse part of the job was emptying those jars every day; and more than once. “Tissue” by the handfuls plopped in the toilet every time, making quite a splash. I hated having to wipe the blood off with toilet paper, so I quickly learned to lay the jar opening down close to the bowl and gently pour. The most unnerving part was spying out the hallway to make sure I didn’t run into any of the women leaving after having their “procedures.” I had been warned of that as well. They clearly didn’t want these women knowing what we were doing to dispose of the “fetuses.”
Part of my duties in setting up the trays was the preparation of the syringes. The small ones were atropine; the numbing agent for the cervix, as I recall. But the big ones? I had to press them for an explanation. Well, we also do “saline procedures,” but I was told I would have no part in those since I was “new at this.” It took some time before someone finally explained it. This doctor also did late-term abortions removing the amniotic fluid and replacing it with saline to kill the “fetus.” A small piece of some kind of seaweed was placed in the vaginal cavity to assist dilation and then these women were sent to a local motel room specially set up for my doctor’s patients. Several beds in one room. The women were sent there to get bed rest and wait until they went into labor and then they were to meet the doctor at the hospital to deliver. I tried to imagine these women (8 beds to my recollection) all lying there waiting…what did they talk about? I decided I could not let my mind go there.
So, after a couple of months of gagging… it finally stopped. I took an almost robotic attitude about what I was doing…and kept reminding myself, “We do this for the women.” But there was one part of the daily “ritual” in the office I could never quite reconcile in my mind with that statement. The “count and the amount” celebration at the end of the day. How many? How much? After all women were “done and gone,” we all met in the reception area for the day’s tally. I would always stand back in awe and watch. Piles of cash…always cash…no checks accepted. We were doing an average of 50 women two times a week. The price varied according to how far along women were: between $200-$500 a head. At an average of $350, that was $17,500 a day. Times two: $35,000/week for a total of over $150,000/month NOT including the other 3 days/week…and this was 1973!
The goal was to make enough money to pay for the new building, under construction, that was to be a full time abortion clinic, set to open at the end of the year…just in time for Christmas! The holidays were busier, they said. So, this days-end celebration always had a happy air to it…. for them. I witnessed high fives with the office manager and the doctor…and his nurse…. they were especially friendly. Later, I was told she was the doctor’s girlfriend and I should watch out and not make her mad; especially no flirting with the doctor. “You are too young and cute for your own good,” the manager warned. “Watch out!”… No problem there. There was something about this man…no, it was all “for the women.”
About six months had gone by and while I would love to say it began to get to me…it did not. I actually got very accustomed to it all. Until that day…
I am ashamed. I have forgotten her name. I will never forget her face. She was blond, blue-eyed…and probably bounced on her grandpa’s knee. And afraid. Very afraid. She had lied about her last period. She had a “tipped uterus.” The doctor failed to recognize she was not the usual 8-10 weeks. She was 17 weeks pregnant. The doctor attempted to do the usual dilation “D & C” suction procedure… It went very wrong…horribly wrong.
My first clue was that the trays that I had waiting were backing up in the lab. No new trays that always “flowed like clockwork” were coming at me. I could actually hear voices “buzzing” in the waiting room. The front door of the office was opening and closing…and often. Angry voices at the front reception desk began to drift back down the hallway to me. I stood in the open door way…listening… what was going on? The exam room at the far end of the hall suddenly flew open and the head nurse came charging down the hall at me demanding I go in and “assist doctor…” I quickly did as I was told.
My accruing complacency was summarily shattered by what I witnessed when I stepped into the room. I stepped back against the door I had just closed behind me. The nice white exam room was awash in blood…splattered blood. Like some perverted artist who had dipped his paint brush in a gallon of crimson red paint and hap-haphazardly flung it all up and down the walls and across the ceiling…and this poor girl! She was laying there in obvious shock; shaking violently…and splattered all over with her own blood…and her baby’s! Doctor was in his customary position with forceps in both hands swearing up a storm and feverishly attempting to extract, “it.”
He seemed oblivious to me. My first instinct kicked me into action. I rushed to the sink and grabbed some paper towels. I leaned down close to this girl’s hear and began to whisper comforting reassurances to her. Words truly failed me as I tried to gently wipe the splattered blood from her face. All I could muster was to simply say repeatedly, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She had no response. Save the silent messengers pooling in her eyes and running down the sides of her face into her damp, bloody hair. Suddenly now, I was in pain! The door had opened and I felt a clinched hand firmly grabbing my elbow; nails digging into my flesh. “Come with me!” came a growling in my ear through clinched teeth. I was in trouble…but for what?
The doctor’s girlfriend dragged me back into the lab and shut the door behind her. She erupted into an effusive, explosive rebuke. “WHAT did you think you were doing?! I sent you in there to assist the doctor, NOT the patient! Have you ever heard the word LIABILITY!?… I’m sorry!?…I’m sorry”?… was THAT your idea of assisting the doctor…talking to the patient like we had done something WRONG!?”
Just as suddenly as it had begun. It was over. The door opened and the doctor darted in. He didn’t seem interested in joining in on her verbal assault. He reached up and threw open a cupboard door grabbing a small, white, garbage bag. He opened it with one hand and in the other hand held a small “single version” of the Gomco unit suction machine…and without any hesitation or reservation, unceremoniously dumped the contents of the jar into the bag. He ordered his nurse to go prepare the patient for transport by ambulance for an emergency surgery procedure to complete her “termination.”
He scurried around the lab grabbing some instruments from one of my clean trays, I was not happy. I would have to redo that whole tray… then…suddenly… that didn’t matter. My eyes were fixed on the doctor…as he systematically began to “inventory parts”… body parts… NO!… BABY PARTS!… One perfect little leg…snapped off at the hip… then the other… one perfect little arm…snapped off at the shoulder…then the other… I could not even speak… I almost fainted with what came next! The entire spine…all vertebrae in-tack with the spinal cord and little wire like nerves dangling from both ends… no skin in sight…just bloody parts torn out of the back of this little child! “Good!” he declared with great relief. “I have everything here but the head and the trunk!” My stunned disbelief was interrupted with the doctor’s hurried instructions as he rushed to peel off his grotesquely sullied, white medical jacket and doing a quick look in the mirror hanging by the lab door and straightening his now disheveled tie, he flew out the back door to his car! “Don’t touch that tray until I call you from the hospital to give you the “all clear”…got it?” as he exited… I was clear… I waited for the call.
Over the next several minutes, I listened as women were rescheduled. Some leaving in tears…a few…a precious few, deciding not to reschedule. Where some babies saved that day? I will never know… all I remember is the waiting. I watched in disbelief as I watched the nurse and office manager enjoying the customary McDonald’s Big Macs, fries and colas that I had to get two times a week as we were so busy “helping the women.” We were not allowed to take a lunch hour. It was my job to walk the 2 blocks down the road and get take-out for us to gulp down in between each procedure. (I have not been able to eat a Big Mac since then.) My stomach that day was so nauseous I felt like I had morning sickness. Watching those two devour their food like nothing had happened was too much. But no time to indulge myself. The phone rang. It was doctor giving me the “OK” to clean up and call it a day. He sent word that all was successful.
I approached that single, stainless steel, medical tray with great trepidation. I knew this was going to be bad…messy. I reached out with my left hand and ever so slowly picked up the very soiled drape covering the instruments. I gulped with one eye closed and head turned sideways before looking… I was dreading this. As I held the drape to peer over the top of it… I felt something drop into my right hand that was resting open under the drape. I scarcely recall the gore of the instruments for the vivid, so indescribable… horrid recollection. I cast my eyes down; head tilted to the side to see what was in my hand. There…it… was. One tiny little foot snapped off at the ankle… Perfect…and with five miniature little toes! Everything suddenly went into slow motion…and I could not hear anything around me… until… there was that brash and haughty office manager grabbed the foot out of my hand and flung open one of the counter drawers grabbing a stainless steel, metric ruler. “COOL!” she exclaimed with gleeful delight! “THIS one was a whooper!”… And incredulously began to place the frail, little remnant on the ruler to measure it! All I remember is her face…eyes lit like fire… I think she said it was 5 cm. I just recall checking years later and realizing it was larger than the little foot pins pro-life supporters wear.
I thought I would vomit that day, even without lunch. I begged off completing my usual shut down procedures of the lab and said I had to get out of there and go home. I was clearly very ill. The office manager barely noticed and doctor’s girlfriend was now there in the mix engaged in the speculations of that tiny foot. I slipped out the back door and relished the fact that I had Sunday off before I had to return.
Monday came too soon. I had a physical to do on a five-year-old little boy who had just moved into the area and needed to be seen before he could go to school. My job was to prick his index finger and draw one small drop of blood to get a reading on the health of his blood. That was all it took… the room began to spin…I stepped back, leaning against the wall, shell-shocked – like I had just witnessed a horrible crime! Suddenly the doctor was at my side throwing off his latex gloves and demanding I join him in his office!
I was ready. I knew what was coming…but this time I would have a few words to say for myself! I had barely gotten in the room and taken a chair when he began his tirade rebuking me for being so “unprofessional.” I summarily interrupted and told him I didn’t think I could do this anymore after what had happened on Saturday. He was clearly disgusted and offered me part-time work for “family practice” days… Most of that conversation is a blur, but I remember ending it with this: “Doctor, you said this was for the women… you said “they are just blobs of tissue! What fell off in my hand was NOT a blob of tissue!”… I hastened to finish my point before I lost it… “I can’t do this any more!” The doctor wasted no time in getting on the intercom and instructing the office manager I had quit and she should prepare my last paycheck, totally unaffected by my euphony. He tried to get me calmed down before I left his office, but it was no use. I think because he didn’t want any scene as I left… The tears began to flow as I walked through a waiting room full of people. My last words were more to me than the puzzled spectators… “And what happened in that room was NOT for that woman!” I ran out of his office breaking into sobs as I blew out the door, not bothering to pick up my last paycheck. I wept uncontrollably all the way home.
It would be only a few more months and I fled Washington state in the midst of my own personal crisis with my children. I wanted desperately to get away and never look back! I moved to central California where I swore I would remain and never return to Washington state. I began engaging in reckless behavior of my own. Smoking marijuana… bars… going home with anyone who would have me…married or not.
I soon began to have a dreadful, reoccurring nightmare. I was in the bottom of a big, white toilet…suddenly huge amounts of bloody baby parts and buckets of blood began pouring down over my head, running down in my face; leaving me gasping for air! “STOP, STOP. STOP!!!” I would shout… “SOMEONE HAS TO MAKE IT STOP!!!!”…and then I would wake up panicked, helpless and soaking wet…and wailing… this went on for years.
I would find myself pregnant again, four years later and standing in the same desperate shoes of the tragic women who had gone before me in Washington. I was engaged. I had finally found someone to “love me”…and willing to care for my two children…even if, as I knew, he couldn’t care less about them. I walked into his beautiful home that he owned out in the countryside and gave him the announcement–I was pregnant…. and without batting an eye he said, “Hold out your hand.” As he reached for his wallet in his back pocket; clearly annoyed. He counted out $178 and told me in no uncertain terms, “Don’t let me see your face again until this is taken care of! Go to the women’s clinic on the west side of town and get this taken care of!”…funny how he knew right where to send me and with how much cash! I couldn’t get there fast enough.
The woman seemed nice. That “sweet” countenance – too sweet – like I saw in Washington. I was immediately scheduled for an abortion. But, this had a difference. They offered sterilizations with their services. Ah, but alas, I was only 23; the minimum age requirement was 25. I knew what I was doing. I knew what this meant. It was wrong. But I could not end up with 3 children with 3 different fathers! I begged. I got a call later… it was all set…they would do it all… Women’s Hospital of Oakland.
My sister, who was 25, single, and unable to have children, offered at the last minute to take my baby. What?! How ridiculous would that be?, I thought. Seeing a child I had given away all the time? What if I wanted it back and she wouldn’t give it to me? No!
I showed up, and walked through the process like a zombie! I was told it was a good thing I would be “out cold” as I wouldn’t feel a thing and there would be no emotional trauma for me being unconscious and all. What a stupid lie! I woke up to a nice looking doctor telling me all was well…well… except for one little complication….”You were a little further along than we anticipated… you were not 8 weeks… you were over 10 weeks… perhaps 13.”… My mind flashed back to that girl in Washington… and the toilet dream continued. When I showed up at my boyfriend’s home to let him know I had followed his demands and we could go forward with wedding plans, he wasted no time making it clear where things stood. “Do you REALLY think I would marry a woman who would murder her own child?” Game over.
She then goes on to say that she received healing through a church ministry and her conversion to Christianity.