I have had three prior pregnancies, all to full term.

I am forty-four years old.

The question about insurance is hard to answer. I used to have excellent coverage, but there are years when people vote in certain ways. The laws changed, so we lost our shirt, insurance and all, and now my primary care provider is my husband. That is crossing a line, I know, but we had to go underground and take the kids out of the all-boys school we loved and now life is all cash, cash hidden in the tool shed inside the orange chainsaw case and cash in the diaper pail we don’t use anymore and in the old paint buckets in the garage. I see you didn’t hang your diploma on the wall, of course, but you spent a hundred grand in school so you’d never have to enter a cash business, didn’t you? And here we are. Next question.

When people used to ask me what kind of physician I married—and the answer matters in a town like ours—I’d say, “a women’s doctor,” and then the inquirer would look away from me over to the hors d’oeuvres at the First Communion party or down to the cards on the bridge table.

People pretend they don’t want to know about my husband’s work, but they do. Our ears have grown used to the vocabulary of private parts, what with the TV advertising all manner of remedies for the inconvenience of being female. And no one can ignore those loud commercials telling us that if we’ve suffered from a cancer to our secret organs, all we have to do is call this law firm to join a class action suit against the company that made the drug we had to take, or the doctors that put us on the pills, or the cashier at Safeway who rang up the talcum powder, because unnamed studies show a possible link to this kind of illness, and we deserve payback.

No, I do not have cancer. Last year, a woman in my bridge club had a cancerous growth. She didn’t ask if she could talk to my husband about it and I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by offering. The rest of us said silent intentions for her during Mass and took her out to lunch after she went under the knife. We never spoke of it again.

My occupation is homemaker. I’m sorry, but I can’t give out my address. Like I said, my husband runs a clinic three hours away, but I cannot write his place of employment on this form. I will give you my phone number and our post office box. That is all.

I can’t believe you’re asking this, but yes, of course the answer is yes, I have only had one partner in the last two years.

I don’t think that’s a question my husband dares to ask. He says he only does the procedure on Fridays, and the rest of the week is regular preventive care appointments. I know that’s a lie because of the way he melts into his recliner and chews the skin around his fingernails most weeknights. Friday is not the only surgery day for him or for you.

Neither of you have to be so nosy about how many different men could have landed people like me on that table. Women of all ages know the right answer to this question, and we sure as hell know the difference between the examination room and the confessional booth.

I have questions for you, too. That’s why I’m here. You’ll have to forgive me, but I haven’t studied up on the procedure. My husband started to tell me once, in a post-coital moment of intimacy—which is something the books say we have to create more of to save our marriage from the dark silences—but I got angry when he did that, and I slept on the floor next to our youngest son’s bed that night. It was not the kind of intimacy I had in mind.

If you could offer a clinical explanation, I can handle it from you, a stranger, as I sit here on paper-coated vinyl under fluorescent lights.

Yes, I can answer more questions before I undress.

No, I have not discussed my situation with my husband. We don’t talk much at all since the laws changed. Talking about it wouldn’t help anyway. I need to go through with this. Put me in a room as bare as this one, with your ice-blue eyes and Listerine breath and wiry gray hairs sprouting out of your ears. Give me no reminder of how I got myself into this predicament.

Payment won’t be a problem. I’ve already skimmed a few bills from each paint bucket and chainsaw case and diaper pail. Salami slicing is the way to steal a little from here and here and here so that no one notices the cuts. I learned that in accounting. I went to college, too.

When we met in the back of that classroom, I was drilling myself with flashcards for the exam. Debit, credit, amortization. There he was, a pre-med student smelling of Tide. Ahhh, a doctor. Stability, solvency, return on investment. Maybe even a life of days spent wearing tennis skirts. It’s what your wife thought, too, when you met her at that party, or at the café.

You’re right. I am not your average patient. I have three teenage sons who could all be sitting in your waiting room any day now, holding the hands of your next patients, if they are not smarter than their mother.

Like your average patient, I’m smart enough to know how to avoid this place. I went to that quaint college over the state line because the high school guidance counselor said it promised a great social life—programs designed to help build lifelong friendships, which was her code for saying it was a good place to meet a husband—and that was what I needed, since I wasn’t much of a student. I was a wild girl, always rolling the waistband of my uniform skirt up, pressing my luck. She offered to find a way to get me in and a donor to pay the way. She peered over her glasses, down to my knees, which I’d let part almost a whole inch. “It’s what you deserve,” she said.

And I got it. Dumb luck if you ask me. Can you believe it? A wayward girl scores a fancy education and an upward marriage, and even a few intimate moments early on, like on the night when he said, “I was a mistake,” and I sat up and turned on the lamp.

“Absolutely not,” I said, but he didn’t hear me.

“I ruined my parents’ lives.” He rubbed his neck hard and let me wipe away the single tear he allowed himself. He laid his head on my lap. “I want to spare parents and children of that brand of misery.”

I will not list an emergency contact number. No one will come with me.  I will have dinner ready when the kids get home from practice. No one will know.

Here’s another secret just for you. I lied earlier on the number of partners question. It was my middle boy’s health teacher’s fault, for saying it point blank the way he did. When spring fever hit, he told the boys to spread their seeds. It’s natural, he said, at their age. If we were still at St. Regis School (“Builders of Boys, Makers of Men”), despite the comfort of not having girls around, there would be no such talk. A teacher like him would be crucified.

But that was later. He started out as a hero to most folks at the school, especially to me, for his careful attention to my children when they needed it most. On the day of my first parent-teacher conference with him, I arrived early and slowed down outside of my son’s seventh period health class. I smiled at the sound of role play exercises in resisting peer pressure and speaking up for oneself.

In that first conference, I thanked the new health teacher. “I appreciate a man my sons can look up to,” I said.

He stopped rolling up the sleeves of his crisp shirt, and his face went blank. His golden brown eyes looked right through me. I had shown my hand because he seemed like the builder and maker my boys needed.

“I mean, besides their dad,” I said. “A man young enough for them to actually listen to and respect. You know how uncool parents are.”

To connect with your young patients better, you should add a question here asking what they learned about all of this in school. If they were in my son’s health class, they would tell you they got explicit instruction on how to end up here. So explicit I wanted to poke my fingernail into the puffed-up chest of the only man in the building younger than fifty when he told my middle child and the little hussies he sits with to embrace their sexuality with caution.

I drove cautiously to the second parent teacher conference to take back my kind words about him. He said in his cool older brother voice, “So sorry, I’m all booked up. But I’m holding office hours at the café tomorrow.”

So I raced over there the next day. He had his bike helmet on the table and he was sipping some red concoction. He swept his long, curly hair out of his eyes, took my hand, looked at me square, and told me I have whip-smart kids. “Just dazzling, brilliant leaders you’ve raised, Hannah.”

No one else had ever said this to me, so I thought maybe I’d stand by my babbling praise for him. I had good reason to soften toward him once he brought me a cup of tea. He dribbled some of the red stuff onto his white shirt and he was just so adorable that I couldn’t help but feel safe. And then he asked about me, and now that I felt safe, I started talking. I talked so much, now that I had the chance, that soon we were strolling along Sweetbriar Street in the direction of that university rock garden where my oldest son could have been right then, strolling along with a girl. The teacher was walking his bike and I was sipping that healing tea and it was so hot it felt dangerous, but I finished it, and then we passed through the garden gate. It was a narrow place, with tall trees leaning over the edges of the fence, closing in on the gray sky above.

We admired the small maples and bonsais here and here and here, which were all maintained without power tools.

A squirrel skittered over the rocks.

“I walk this path every day,” the health teacher said. “I like the quiet.”

“Is it always this dark?”

He laughed and led me toward the pond, but before we made it there, a cloud burst open into a downpour.

We dried off at his apartment around the block. When he leaned down to peel off his drenched socks and then mine, his wet hair smelled like that all-natural shampoo made with exotic plants. I rolled up my skirt so he could squeeze water out of the pleats and underneath was the wild girl, awakening from twenty years of sleep, ready for attention from someone who had plenty to give.

In the final seconds, the health teacher gripped my arm so tight I turned my head and cried. This was it, the pain I deserved. If I closed my eyes, I would have seen my own bedroom, the whole house and everything in it that I had taken for granted, so I focused on his wet shirt, which lay in a heap on his bedroom floor. The rain had spread the red streak until it became a big pink blotch on white.

The health teacher’s hair was drying now, frizzing and clumping into stiff mats. His flowery breath had soured and only held the bitterness of the red tea.

There was no hope for the shirt to recover from such a stain. I dropped it in the trash on my way out, and the next thing I know I’m carrying a child who will inevitably be a boy, because that’s all my body knows to make, a boy born with curly hair this time and I’ll have to beg my husband for a slice from the paint bucket and the diaper pail to feed another child who will feel like a burden and make choices that lead him to your waiting room. Or maybe he’ll be a different kind of son, one who is led away from the guilt complex and toward healing cafes and peaceful gardens free of chainsaws.

Luck can change. You can put on your game face and play your cards right through twenty years of marriage—twenty years of cooking his meals and building his boys and stuffing the abortionist’s secrets into plastic containers—and the one time you slip up, you lay your losing hand on the operating table.

Every week I go to Friday morning Mass. I sit in the back pew, far from the confessional on the other side of the aisle. This is new for me, hiding in the shadows. My whole life I’ve chosen seats front and center, sometimes on this side, sometimes that side, but always near the aisle, in the beams that shine through stained glass. I never thought I’d be one of those women who hid in the back corner and left early, but here we are.

I say one rosary for each girl my husband will serve that day, and one for each child that won’t ruin their mothers’ lives. I don’t pray that the patients will ditch their appointments. There’s an army of women praying for that already. I pray that he says the right things to them, or that he says nothing at all.

And then, once I settle into the blurring whine of the organ, I pray for those girls sitting next to my sons in the health classroom, listening to a hypocrite’s advice about unspeakable things. I pray that they speak up to define what a mistake is, and that they let my sons know. I pray that none of my boys ever have to visit the confessional booth or the examination room. That they never send a girl to either place. That it is never my grandchild you drop into the biohazard bin. One more rosary and I’m off.

Last Friday when I was kneeling with my head down, trying not to throw up, I squeezed my eyes shut and saw myself sitting in my husband’s waiting room. The other chairs are filled with little girls in white dresses and boys in clip-on ties. Instead of a nurse’s voice calling out the fake name I used to book the appointment, it’s my husband’s voice calling me into the examination room. I stand and face him. There he is in the crisp white lab coat, hair slick with Groom and Clean, gloves on. Ready. In front of everyone, I confess to him that the child he is about to usher into that ring of Hell reserved for the unbaptized is not his own. He can go home and tell the boys where their mother got that bruise she tried to hide with long sleeves, and soon their mother will leave, if that’s what’s best for them. It is a fitting punishment for such a woman.

Enter St. Regis, patron saint of forbidden children, walking between the protesters and through the revolving door into the waiting room. He carries a tray of Communion hosts and a chalice of wine, or maybe dark juice. He holds a wafer over each child’s head before offering it, and the drink doesn’t stain their clothes at all.

I dropped the rosary beads into my pocket and pressed the stone I stole from the garden at the university, where most of the patients learn about choices and make them.

I opened my eyes and focused on the baptismal font, a point on my horizon that would calm the morning sickness. It was the same spot where my husband had once stooped so low that the priest got holy water over his entire head. All that to earn my parents’ marriage blessing. What a good sport he’d been, beaming as the backlight glowed around his wet hair. Finally, he had rinsed away his own parents’ sins. My children will never be able to do that for my sins.

This is the last question I will answer. Yes, I know there is a pill I can take that is legal here, that I can suffer at home during the school day. That is not why I drove this far. I want the procedure. I need to experience every painful step. Lay me on the table. I deserve it.

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