I remember the day a baby who was taken from his mother’s womb at 19 weeks and six days was placed in front of me. As I looked at him, his face was serene, and his lips and eyes were closed, giving him the appearance that he’d never had a chance to cry, like I was doing at that very moment.
While on a retreat given by AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, I was free to let everything out, to purge, confess, pray, and ask for forgiveness in the presence of so many other ladies who were doing the same. And yet all the while there he was, etched in my mind, his mouth closed, stifled, and silenced forever.
It still gets to me.
Four years earlier, as money had become a pressing issue, a friend suggested I get a job where she worked at a women’s health clinic. When I took the job, they told me I would be working in the lab taking women’s vitals, and, most importantly, to never forget that I was working in “the service of women.”
No problem, I thought. I was all for that.
I got right to work, feeling good about it, and enjoying the patients I met. A few weeks later they asked me to help in the recovery room. The recovery room? I wondered. For pap smears?
When I got there, I was directed to care for women who had been sedated and were wearing big pads to control lots and lots of bleeding. I thought to myself, what is all this?
From the next room I heard a machine making a terrible noise. It got me very curious. I opened the door to peek in and saw a vacuum aspirator. I put two and two together. The clinic was providing abortions. Until then, I had no idea.
“It’s time you worked the POC room,” my supervisor said once she knew that I understood what we really did.
It was on my first day in the POC (Products of Conception) room that everything changed for me. I was responsible for assembling the dismembered babies, as well as cleaning the dryers, hoses, the speculum, and other instruments—all of it awful, bloody business—and putting me on edge immediately. But that was also the day they brought in a full baby on a tray, the one whose lips seemed sealed in permanent silence. I gasped when I saw him—a whole and perfect baby, like a doll. As I looked at him lying there, he suddenly moved. He was the first of
many babies who came to me whole and moving their little arms and legs until they were taken away and put in a freezer. That was the extent of these babies’ tragic lives. They were poisoned, plopped in a cold tray, taken away in a bag, and frozen to death without ever being allowed a proper birth.
I ran outside and cried my eyes out that first day. It broke me. I thought, Dear God, what am I a part of? There was only one way I was going to be able to go back into that room, and that was by repeating what they had told me was my true north; I was there in the service of women.
Wiping away my tears, I went back in and endured daily tragedies, such as babies who were supposed to be dead, but were still moving and struggling to survive, and piecing back together ripped-apart little bodies. I did this dutifully until one of the attending nurses in the procedure room, who was pregnant, began to show. The clinic couldn’t let those young girls be tended to by a woman who carried with her the miracle of life; it might encourage them to change their minds. So, they moved me in there to replace her. That is when the indignities got even worse.
I saw the doctor consistently fondle the girls under their gowns, treat the sedated, white women with kid gloves while treating the black women with disdain, and slam babies down on a tray where he would crush their skulls with his hands.
I began to speak out against what I was seeing, and the doctor did not appreciate that. He began making threats against me to shut me up. In the meantime, the “service to women” thing had worn off. I knew we were murdering for money.
And yet, I couldn’t quit. I had a very sick son at home who was going to need lots and lots of medical care. Where else was I going to find a steady job?
But it was in the clinic parking lot one day that I received clarity. A woman passing by pushed her toddler in front of my car, and I nearly ran into him. I got out screaming mad. “Don’t you ever let your mother push you in front of a car!” I yelled at the little boy.
“Why do you care so much about my baby? You in there killin’ other babies,” she said.
Me? A killer? Wow. It hurt, but it resonated. She had called me out.
Soon after, a sidewalk advocate told me about Pam Whitehead and gave me her contact information. After all I had seen and been through, I was in the frame of mind to call, and when I did, Pamela said that I could quit because AND THEN THERE WERE NONE would help support me in the transition. All I had to do was trust that they would be there.
And they were. ATTWN, along with Mattie, did exactly as they said they would do. By God’s grace I was able to walk out of the clinic, and put my life, my entire life, into their hands. It led me to freedom and forgiveness, and the healing retreat where I got to say all that was in my heart.
How I wish that baby, and all those babies that came after, could have been able to do the same.