I worked in the pathology department of a hospital that summer, and my job was to catalog the body parts from surgeries, and then to dispose of them once the reports came back.
On one occasion, I opened up a sterile plastic container, dumped out the contents (and formaldehyde) into the metal strainer, and saw not an appendix, or a gall bladder, but a baby; a tiny little baby.
I had forgotten about this, not forever, but for a long time, and it wasn’t until tonight that I truly felt what it was that I faced all those years ago.
Recently, some of my anti-abortion friends on Facebook have been posting abortion videos and images, suggesting that those who support the choice of abortion should watch it; and I thought to myself, they’re right; if I believe that abortion should be legal, which I do; I should be able to face what it looks like.
So I did, I clicked on a tab that said “Abortion Pictures.”
And suddenly I remembered…
the baby in the plastic cup.
At the time, I thought she must have been only a couple months old, but now I realize that she was at least 5 months old; because although she could fit into my hand, she was perfectly formed, legs curled up and all.
Though I had easily disposed of hundreds of bodily organs, I left her waiting on the shelf for some time.
In retrospect this job at the hospital was too much for a 16 year old, but I didn’t know it then. I even said, “Go ahead, I don’t mind,” when they asked if they could do an autopsy in the room while I worked at the sink (because Pathology was housed in the Morgue at the time.)
There were jars of organs on shelves; one jar of someone I knew who had died in a recent plane crash. There was a man in the freezer on a stretcher with a single shoe. A sneaker. Was he hit by a car while crossing the street? I remember his big belly. He wasn’t wearing a shirt.
I did my job every week, and I was paid well, and for the most part I thought myself lucky, even if I did have to dump body parts right after lunch while nauseous with early pregnancy.
It was the prostates that bothered me the most. They looked like ground up hamburger, and I dumped them as fast as I could, without looking, while I gagged.
I’ll never forget the hard yellow tumor that I saw the Pathologist slice out of a large breast. The woman to whom it belonged must have been old and must have been too afraid to see a doctor until it had grown almost as large as the breast around it. I had a hard time rinsing that breast and throwing it away.
But in my imagination, the baby is still there, on the shelf, because I cannot toss her into the trash. She is not sitting in a strainer while I look at her, wondering what to do.
Instead I’ve taken her home, in a tiny box, and placed her deep in the earth, with a beautiful rose quartz stone.
I’ve said a prayer for her soul and for her parents who must be grieving.
And now I wonder what becomes of the aborted.