Ingrid felt unwell. She had felt unwell for a few days now. There was no particular reason for her intermittent nausea but it was persistent. Driving into work, she stopped as she stepped out of the car and took a few deep breaths. Starting towards the large glass office block she continued the deep breathing and then stopped again, pausing to inhale the cold winter air. Emma approached her and looking askance decided that to ignore and walk on past would be inappropriate, even though they scarcely knew one another.
“You okay?” she asked with as much of a casual air as she could muster.
“Yeah” she smiled “it’s just a bit of passing nausea. Must be something I ate last night.”
They walked on together and settled at their respective desks facing one another. The morning passed with Ingrid making a few extra trips to the photocopier by way of the bathroom. Emma smiled at her a couple of times and then tried to ignore her, without looking like she was ignoring her. She didn’t like illness, it made her feel uncomfortable. She kept her focus on her computer screen, or on her notebook, or on her mobile phone. As the day progressed, Ingrid felt better and soon she was so engrossed in her work that she forgot she had even felt unwell.
The following morning the nausea returned and again, she walked slowly from car to desk, taking deep breaths in through her mouth and out through her nose. It didn’t help. She wondered if she had that the wrong way around. Was it in through the nose and out through the mouth? That didn’t help either. This pattern continued all week and on reflection, had been the pattern last week too. Ingrid thought about an internet search for an answer to her symptoms, but by the time she finished work, had a brief session at the gym and got home, she was too tired for anything other supper on a tray, crashed out in front of the television. This extent of tiredness was new too, but then work had been extra pressured recently so that must be the reason.
Ingrid was on leave the following week and took herself off to stay with her sister. On Saturday she made the two hour drive to the country village where Amy lived, with her husband, John. Amy was a health visitor and Ingrid thought she may ask her for some advice if this dratted nausea continued. She parked up and walked down the garden path to the cottage. The roses were long since dead and the stalks clung to the doorway offering the promise of another beautiful display in the summer months. Amy loved her garden and Ingrid envied her the green fingers she had inherited from their mother. Ingrid couldn’t even keep a pot plant alive. By the time she arrived, Ingrid’s nausea had settled and the sisters had a pleasant afternoon gossiping and chatting about everything and nothing.
“I’ve been feeling a bit off colour recently.” Ingrid began as nonchalantly as possible. “I don’t suppose it’s anything to worry about though. Just some nausea and rather too much tiredness, that’s it really.”
“Nausea?” Amy questioned bluntly and to the point. Years of knowing her sister combined with a ‘second sense’ for her moods, linked to her medical knowledge came together in heady combination. “How long have you been feeling sick?”
“Oh, for a couple of weeks now,” she paused and considered the question adding “maybe a month. It’s only in the first half of the day and then it settles. I thought I’d eaten something off at first, but I guess not. I was going to ask you about it but you know how life gets in the way.” Ingrid tried to sound casual and blithe as she spoke. She disliked illness.
“I know it’s a cliché, but are you pregnant? Is it morning sickness?”
Ingrid palled; the thought had not crossed her mind. Genuinely the idea had never entered her head. All at once she felt incredibly stupid; it should have been obvious even to her with her busy work life and her lack of medical knowledge. She was suddenly flooded by an emotional maelstrom, guilt and anxiety, excitement, fear and bewilderment, and above all of these, as though written in letters large and bold was a blatant sense of confusion. Ingrid was not one to sleep with every guy she met; in fact sex was an extremely rare occurrence in her life. So rare that she had to focus her mind to remember the last time she….
Then there came a scramble of thoughts all pushing to be noticed first, to be of most significance. It was as though Amy’s half joking question had released the floodgates and allowed a deluge of thoughts and fears and anxieties to swamp her all at the same time. The single night she had spent with Steve following a works ‘do’, after which they had both agreed it had been a ‘mistake’, one of those things best forgotten and never mentioned again. He was dating someone else. She didn’t have time or the inclination to pursue a relationship – her focus was securing career pathway, the other stuff could wait. Then there was the sickness which only came at certain times of the day, the morning hours. Yes it was a cliché but these things must have some foundation in experience. There was a lack of appetite, so uncharacteristic and the sudden, inexplicable sensitivity to certain smells, particularly scents and colognes and also bacon. Her breasts had swollen a little and felt somehow more delicate, this she had thought to be the result of a little more time spent in the gym, toning anything and everything. Her periods had never been particularly regular so a delay did not cause alarm, until now.
“It is a tale as old as time.” Amy remarked, then thinking it too insensitive as she observed her sister’s face flinching with the onslaught of the thoughts of this new possibility, added “Sorry, I mean, you are not the first and will not be the last. I am not judging you, sis. But first we need to confirm the facts and then, if necessary, you need time to think and time to decide what you plan to do. If you’re not pregnant, then you need to see a doctor as something is surely out of kilter. Wait a minute.”
Amy left the room and returned with a home pregnancy test kit and handed it to Ingrid. Ingrid looked surprised.
“John and I have been hoping to…” her voice trailed off and she blushed. Ingrid smiled. John and Amy would make such lovely parents.
“Well that’s such fine news. I’m so happy for you… I mean I will be when the time comes. I think you’ll make great parents.” She hugged her sister momentarily thinking of nothing but her sister’s obvious excitement at the prospect of parenthood. Then she stopped hugging and looked at the package in her hand. Shrugging her shoulders she walked to the bathroom.
Pregnant and single, not just unmarried, but she was actually single. Ingrid had lived with this knowledge all week, supported by Amy and John, who were being remarkably kind and whatever their personal thoughts, offered no moral judgement. Ingrid spent her time thinking about what to do. She lived in an impossibly small flat in a city centre and worked long hours just to keep up in a competitive job within a financial company whose ethos was to demand much from their employees. In addition, she had no support network nearby and to be frank, was frightened by the whole prospect of parenthood. She didn’t even really understand why some women longed for a baby. She discussed with Amy every possible outcome from unfeasible dream-like solutions where she was the ideal mother, having it all, motherhood, career and coping without a man; the option to have the baby adopted; the problematic thoughts of struggling financially while she stayed away from work to raise a child which she had not planned; abortion. A series of emotions engulfed her all week, throwing her from elation to despair via every conceivable feeling in between. Nothing fazed Amy or John and they continued to listen to Ingrid, mop her tears and give her space to reflect. One thought did not waver, Ingrid was not going to tell Steve or involve him in her decision.
“For one thing he’s dating a girl from the sixth floor. For another thing, we agreed never to speak of our indiscretion. Besides, I don’t really like him and I don’t think he’s the type who would want to be a “hands-on” parent.” Ingrid justified to her hosts. “Whatever the morality of the issue, I’m not telling him anything.”
Ingrid searched the internet for solutions and there were so many sites to review from feminist sites demanding she take full control of her body and do what she wanted to do through to earth mother-types suggesting she yield herself body and soul to the needs of her child apparently indefinitely. Ingrid recognised these were stereotypical extremes and neither end of the spectrum was as it seemed on some websites. She stopped looking at websites, it was not helping her. Instead she wept. She ranted. She held her hand over her belly. She stuffed cushions up her jumper. She stared into space. She slept late in the morning and couldn’t sleep at night. She was restless and walked miles. She watched television to distract her and argued with it. She was uptight. She felt frustrated. She was sad. She experienced much confused.
“Time is not on my side, is it?” she asked Amy in a monotonously flat tone as her week drew to a close.
“Depending on what you want to do, then no, sorry pet, it’s not your friend.”
“I cannot have a baby. At least I cannot have and keep a baby. And I don’t think I could go through the best part of year bringing one into the world and then giving it away. I know there are many people who would be lining up to adopt a baby, but I don’t think I could go through with it. I don’t have the strength of character to do that. I cannot abandon a child into a ruthless world. I know it may have a fabulous life but it may not and I would always wonder what it thought of the woman who just handed it over. I think I would hate myself.” Ingrid was listless and lethargy emanated from every pore. Tiredness threatened to swamp her and she knew she needed to make a decision. “I think abortion is my only option. Perhaps I will hate myself less if I take that option.” The resignation she felt was screaming out as she spoke but she starred steadfastly at her shoes as she spoke.
The silence hung between them for a few moments. Then Ingrid lifted her face and whispered to her sister.
“You and John, you’re trying to have a child and here am I trying to not have a child. I’m not suggesting you are having problems but the contrast is stark, you have to agree. What if you do have problems? Wouldn’t this be a problem between us? Won’t you hate me? I’m sorry, I know I’m being unutterably selfish but I love you, sis, and I don’t want what I do next to be a barrier between us.”
Amy wept and held Ingrid.
“We’re not going to be broken by what either one of us does. We’ve weathered storms before and this is no exception.”
Continuing to hold Ingrid, Amy repeated softly reassuring phrases.
A few short weeks later, Amy drove Ingrid to the clinic. They sat side by side in the car park looking at the entrance door. The clock ticked by inexorably slowly. Once more there was silence surrounding the sisters, with a deepening intensity as time moved ever onwards. Neither of them wanted to be the first to move.
“Ready?” Amy finally spoke.
“Yes and no” the reply came, but the spell had been broken and Ingrid opened the car door. Amy reached to open her door and Ingrid pausing, leaned into the car and added “No, don’t come in. I’ll ring you when they let me come home.”
“Nonsense, I’ll wait with you. You don’t want to be alone in there.”
“Actually, yes I do. And what’s more important, I don’t want to be in there. Please don’t make this difficult for me, let me do this myself.”
Amy nodded and waited for Ingrid to pull her bag out of the car before starting the engine and preparing to drive away. She halted the car at the entrance and waited to see Ingrid step into the clinic, then drove away. She knew that Ingrid had and was still wrestling with this decision, wracked with guilt and fear. She hoped the nurses would be kind and the doctors gentle. She drove home and cried for the fate of the child who would never be allowed to come into existence.
The phone rang, Amy answered. It was Ingrid. Her sobs were so loud her words were all but inaudible as she repeatedly stated that she couldn’t do it. Ingrid wanted to explain but had no words. Nothing else was needed. Amy grabbed her car keys and went to collect her sister.
As the sisters sat that evening in Ingrid’s flat, Ingrid asked if she had made the right decision. But the question was rhetorical. It would be difficult but whatever was ahead, she had known, as she entered the clinic, that despite the kindness of those strangers inside, she could not stay. She felt she had stepped up to the brink and not fallen over it. It was a sort of moral victory for her and a sense of calmness filled her. For the first time in many weeks, she smiled.