My mother would not look at me, but I could see it in her eyes—a combination of disgust and an ever so slight glimpse of fear. Fear of what, I could never figure out. I assumed that it was fear that she would be stuck with not only me, but with an infant as well.
Being only thirteen years and five months old, the seriousness of my situation bypassed me like the punch line in a bad joke. So did the irony of having had only one menstrual cycle so far in my entire life. I sat next to my mother in the doctor’s office while she explained the reason for our visit. My pediatrician, Dr. Woods, a kind man who looked like Dr. Ben Casey from the 1960s TV series—thick, brown hair, stocky build, and baby-faced—asked me how many periods I’d had.
“One,” I mumbled, staring at a knot in the wood on the front panel of his desk. My mother had never talked to me about such matters, and to have a man ask me such a personal question unnerved me.
He raised his bushy eyebrows. “Only one?”
“Yeah,” I shot back, finally looking at him squarely in the eyes. His tone sounded like he was calling me a liar, and that made me mad.
He then turned to my mother and summarily dismissed the probability of my pregnancy. But to be sure, he said he would order a pregnancy test. A nurse came into his office, took me to the bathroom, and gave me a cup. I’d never had to pee in a cup before. Well, that’s not true; there had been one other time, but I tried to block that from my memory.
This time the pee splashed on my hand while I held the cup between my legs, and that pissed me off. After setting the cup on the sink, I scrubbed my hands and then opened the door and walked out, leaving the cup. I wasn’t going to touch it again.
From there I was taken to an examining room, where my mother was waiting. It was cold enough in the room as it was, and my mother’s presence didn’t help the temperature any. She could flash freeze anyone with only one look. Dr. Woods kept us waiting there until the result of the test was determined, and when he walked in, his face looked grim.
As surprises go, most are good. This one was not. The test came back positive, and Dr. Woods, embarrassed by his premature prediction, ordered a pelvic exam. Shortly after my mother and Dr. Woods left, the nurse came in. A quick glance into her eyes revealed nothing. I wondered what she thought of me. I don’t know why I cared, but I did.
“You will need to undress completely. There is a sheet on the table there,” she said, pointing to the examination table. “After you undress, take that sheet and wrap it around your front, and hop up on the table. The doctor will be in shortly.” After leaving me with those instructions, she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her.
After slipping off my shoes, I removed my pants and t-shirt, folding them neatly, and then I removed my underwear and bra, which I carefully hid underneath the pile of clothing. The examination table itself wasn’t unusual, but the metal stirrups protruding out at the end of it concerned me. I’d not seen anything like those before, except maybe on a saddle at the Greenville Riding Stables, a place I used to go to one weekend a month to ride horses. My mother used to take me there, before everything fell apart, and sometime she’d let me take a friend. Otherwise, I’d go alone and ride with the group-of-the-hour. The horses seemed to like me. I sure liked them. I never galloped much; it was too scary. And trotting was hard on my butt, so I mostly walked the horses I rode. The horses seemed to know when the hour was up, as they’d always head back to the stables with no prodding.
After climbing onto the table, I grabbed the sheet and wrapped it around me, tucking it under my arms to cover my nakedness, and waited. I hated being naked. I’d hated being naked for a long time. So much so, I’d begun to sleep in my clothes. Pajamas left me feeling vulnerable. I always felt that I needed to be dressed and ready to run at a moment’s notice.
The nurse popped her head in to the room. “Are you ready?” she asked.
Ready? Physically, maybe. Emotionally, I was not, but I nodded anyway. The doctor and my mother entered the room together.
I glanced up at my mother, hoping to see something in her eyes that said she loved me, anything. Nope, I was still invisible. She seemed as bored with me as the horses were at the end of their hour.
“Anna, I’m going to listen to your heart first,” the doctor said. When he slipped the stethoscope between my chest and the sheet, the defiance I’d felt earlier in his office vanished like the air in a popped birthday balloon. My head dropped and my shoulders hunched forward; the grip my arms had had on the sheet loosened, and the sheet fell to my lap. Without my insolence, I felt helpless. I’d not a shred of dignity left and did nothing to cover myself again. My mother merely stood there, oblivious to my shame. I needed her to raise the sheet for me, to show me that she would protect me, to help me regain my dignity. I looked at my hands. I could see my fingers move; I could see me. Why couldn’t she?
After listening to my heart, the doctor asked me to lie back, put my feet in the stirrups, and slide down to the edge of the table. That’s when my heart started beating like the drum solo “Wipe Out.” My breathing became shallow, almost as if my lungs had shrunk to a fifth their normal size. I wanted to run, but being naked, I wouldn’t get far. As I scooted to the edge, the nurse pulled the sheet up over my small breasts and then gently touched my shoulder. For a fleeting moment, I existed. Tears formed, but I fought them back.
“You need to scoot all the way to the edge,” Dr. Woods said. “You won’t fall off. I’ll tell you when to stop.”
I moved my bottom down another inch.
“A little more…”
Oh, dear God, please help me, was all I could think. I did not know what Dr. Woods was going to do. I took a deep breath, held it, and slid another few inches.
“That’s good. You can stop.”
Only then did Dr. Woods explain. He said that I would feel the cold steel of a medical device called a speculum enter my vagina, followed by pressure as he opened the instrument to look inside of me. I didn’t know my private part was called a vagina. That’s not what boys called it. I had asked my mother when I was five or six what it was called. I thought she had said “china.” She didn’t look at me when I had asked; she kept on washing dishes, and the curtness of her answer seemed to say, “Discussion over.”
I quickly glanced at the instrument as the nurse handed it to the doctor. It sort of looked like a platypus’s bill. I’d seen a picture of a platypus once; it was a small, furry, funny looking mammal with a mouth that looked like a duck’s bill. Seconds later, I heard the sound of clacking metal parts, and then I felt the cold he’d prepared me for. What I was not prepared for was the feeling of being opened up by a car jack. There was no way to prepare for this sort of thing. I had seen my father change a flat tire once, and the vision of him using a tire tool to expand the jack flashed through my mind with fear and disgust. Still refusing to cry, I once again held my breath and didn’t let it out until the car jack was removed.
After the exam, Dr. Woods, the nurse, and my mother left the room while I put my clothes back on. The nurse returned a few minutes later to escort me to Dr. Woods’ office where my mother sat waiting. The doctor walked in behind me and slid into his chair at his desk. He turned to me and clasped his hands together, like he was going to say a prayer. With deep concern, he told both of us that I was a little more than two months pregnant.
My mother said nothing, and after allowing the news to sink in, he turned to me and said, “Anna, what are you going to do?”
Without looking up, I replied, “Leroy loves me. He said so, and he said he would marry me.”
I had graduated from reading Nancy Drew mysteries to devouring those romance magazines found in 7-11 stores and local pharmacies soon after getting involved with Leroy. All the stories ended the same. If a girl gets pregnant, the boy always marries her.
Dr. Woods sighed, unclasped his hands, and leaned back in his chair. Prayer time was over. “Love does not pay the bills, Anna.” He then turned to my mother and said, “You’ll want to give some serious consideration to giving this baby up for adoption.”
I stiffened. His use of the word “adoption” scared me. This baby represented something, something I did not yet know, a way out, a new life perhaps. “Leroy will marry me and take care of me!” I snapped. “Everything will be okay.” My voice was high-pitched and fast-paced, and I looked at Dr. Woods with all the assuredness I could muster. I don’t know who I was trying to convince.
Dr. Woods shook his head and looked at my mother. “Talk to her. Let her know what having a child will be like. She’s too young to raise a child, Mrs. Manning.”
My mother, her lips thinned in a frown, wanting nothing more than a drink at that moment, replied, “Thank you, Dr. Woods. She’s a headstrong girl. I’ll do my best.”
With that said, she stood up. It was time to leave. I followed her out of the office with my head bent. I did not raise it, nor did I reply to the nurse who had been so kind in the examining room, when she said goodbye to me. I was afraid I would have run to her and cried.
My mother said nothing until we got in the car. “Well, Anna,” she said, as I shut my door, “I don’t think it would be wise to tell your dad anytime soon. I suspect he might kill Leroy.”
I did miss the Nancy Drew mysteries. They were good stories, but I couldn’t identify with her or her great life anymore. The romance magazines I’d read gave me hope. These were true stories, or so the magazines reported. Like I said, according to the ending of all those stories, life would be okay from now on. Boy meets girl, gets girl pregnant, boy marries girl to protect her honor, and they live happily ever after. That’s not exactly what happened, and I should have known better.
After all, I was thirteen, and I would soon be a mother.
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