So much became daily business-as-usual while working at an abortion clinic year after year: the tears, the shouting parents and boyfriends, the drivers who accompanied abortion patients who said they were “going out for a cigarette” and then disappeared—abandoning the pregnant mother they’d brought in, the jokes in the lunchroom about the one who showed up with her multiple other kids in tow (we did not allow children in the waiting room. Ever.)
Even the macabre became commonplace. The gallows humor I’d seen in movies about medical staff that work around disease and death day in and day out was right at home in an abortion clinic.
I vividly remember the cleaning lady who quit after finding a foot in the drain of the one of the sinks in the autoclave room (where the medical instruments were cleaned and sterilized after abortions) and how we all laughed and joked about it in the staff lounge for days and weeks afterward.
When the power went out one time for hours and we were all explicitly instructed NOT to open the freezer where all of the medical waste was stored (read: dead baby parts in bio-hazard bags) but inevitably, someone did open that freezer and I will never, ever forget the stench of decaying human flesh for as long as I live—but we all laughed as we gagged and joked how at least “they” had it better in that non-functioning freezer because at least they couldn’t smell it.
But one thing about the clinic never sat well with me, and maybe this is because in my heart I always knew it was wrong. All of it was wrong. Especially this: the dead baby in the refrigerator in the lab. It was touted as a “teaching tool” and a “medical anomaly” that this perfect 10-week-old fetus “survived” the suction abortion procedure perfectly intact. So he (I thought I could tell it was a he) was given the dubious honor of being preserved in formalin in a translucent plastic jar in the laboratory refrigerator. I think we called him Charlie, but I can’t really remember. I know he had a name, but blissfully I have either forgotten or repressed it. But he was there. Every day I worked there.
Occasionally I peeked in on him, fascinated by the bizarreness of it all, but also with a scientific curiosity—every other abortion resulted in parts, bits and pieces of human in the jar—but this miraculous little creature was perfectly formed and complete in every way, with the heartbreaking exception that he was dead. There was no amniotic sac, no placenta, just teeny-tiny perfect little baby. Floating in the jar. In the fridge. Forever silent witness to the march of death of his immature brethren.
How I now pray his soul rests in peace, and that someday he is given decent burial—or at the very least tossed out with the rest of the bio-hazardous waste—for that would be far more merciful than where I knew him to be.