Merritt Tierce
Black and white photograph of a basketball hoop shot upwards from below
Tdorante10 / Creative Commons

It happened again when I was bleeding out in a hospital in Conroe, Texas. We had flown in from Colorado to visit my parents the day after Christmas. My husband and my dad didn’t get along so well, but my mom had begged, pleaded, and then bribed us to come, paying for the plane tickets and a rental car because she was dying to meet Leila, our toddler. Because of the pandemic and her diabetes, my mom hadn’t been able to come see us in Denver for two years, and she and Leila—her first grandchild—only knew each other from FaceTime. She had been coaching Leila to call her “G-Ma,” speaking in a syrupy third-person I found mildly appalling—G-Ma can’t wait to count all those teeny tiny little fingers and toes, no she can’t!—but Leila was an easy crowd and laughed at whatever Mom said to her in that tone. The kid’s mirror neurons seem to work, I said to my husband, Kaveh.

I was thirty-five when I got pregnant with Leila, so I was still on the young side of old for a first pregnancy. But technically it wasn’t my first pregnancy—I got knocked up in college, after a D1 victory orgy. I played basketball for UT in Austin, and my junior year both the men’s and the women’s teams won their respective championship games, becoming only the second school since UConn to dominate like that. The men won their game first, crushing Kentucky, and they all came to our final game in suits and ties, looking extremely fine. We were more of an underdog to beat Stanford, but they’d lost their star center to a concussion in the semifinals, and our nonstop full-court press wore them down. We’d made it to a ten-point lead with a minute left in the third quarter, and I got wide open for a corner three. When I went up for it, I was flagrantly fouled—basically rugby-tackled, and sent stumbling into the photographers—by their hotheaded point guard. As I walked back toward the free throw line, I caught Kevin Cordell’s eye; he was a forward on the UT men’s team, and he was sitting along the sideline behind our bench with all our guys. Without cracking a smile or giving any sign of recognition like he knew me, he held my gaze as he put his fingers around his mouth in a V, then flicked his tongue. I almost laughed, but I kept my composure; it could have thrown off my whole approach, but instead it made me so happy to be there in that moment. At the foul line, I knew the shots I was about to take could give us an even more robust buffer if I sank all three. The title felt like it was almost mine alone to clinch or lose. I closed my eyes, visualizing the swish as I exhaled, and when I opened them, for some reason I looked back at Kevin as I bounced the ball. He made porn-eyes at me as he subtly rubbed his nipples through his lavender dress shirt and I iced the first shot, grinning. When I looked over at him before the second shot, he had his large, elegant hand on his crotch, around the outline of his cock, and I felt a mightily distracting rush of energy into my pelvis. I was shaking as I bounced and spun the ball three times, and felt my own nipples harden. I had to concentrate more on that shot but put it in with a soft bank off the backboard. My teammates screamed and pounded their feet; even if I missed the last shot, it would still be some good work for Stanford to catch up. Now that Kevin and I had created a magic ritual, I couldn’t not look at him for the third shot, though I had to hesitate for a split second before I looked, to make sure I could manage whatever the escalation of arousal would be. When I looked over, trying not to let anyone see me staring in his direction, all the guys were standing. Kevin was right above Coach, pantomiming a slow, rhythmic push into an invisible woman from behind, his hands on her air hips. This time I raised my eyebrows at him, to say You promise? and when he bit his lip and nodded, I gave us the three-point margin that eventually won the game.

I didn’t want to diminish their sense of magnificent, fully consensual conquest by revealing my true identity as a basic E-ho.

The euphoria at the hotel that night was a high I have never experienced since, not even when Leila was born; when I finally pushed her out, I was flooded with love, but I was so unimaginably tapped by the twenty-eight-hour labor that it was all I could do to hold her and say Baby, baby, baby. But the first pregnancy my body made was Kevin Cordell’s, or maybe Matt Nowak’s, or possibly even A.J. Tucker’s; one of the girls on my team had enough ecstasy for the twenty of us who wound up in Kevin’s room, and we rolled from our triumph high into a love-for-all-mankind high. Everyone had sex with everyone, and everyone watched, and let me tell you, we all looked hotter than we ever will again. Coach had us running five miles every morning, on top of the endless suicides we had to run in practice, back when they still called them that. That was in addition to the weight training, not to mention the actual all-out games. Our quads and calves were formidably hewn, exquisite topographies of discipline and reps. That night I found myself between Kevin and Matt on a bed, the two of them passing me gently back and forth, talking to each other and kissing me. Kevin would thrust inside me just right a few times, and then he’d say something beautiful and dirty to Matt, and Matt would pull me toward him. It seemed like it went on forever, and I said things like I love you I love you I love you and We’re the winners, guys and I’ll never feel this good again, all of which were true.

Anyway, that’s how I got pregnant the first time, but it wasn’t a big deal. Kevin and Matt actually both went with me to the Planned Parenthood in Austin. I was on the pill, but Kevin joked that the pill was no match for our March Madness double-sperm, double-title baby. Guys, I said, it might be a triple-double baby, and the whole time in the waiting room at the abortion clinic Kevin and Matt kept guessing who the third was, but I never said. A.J. was a goofy manager, the only non-player who was part of the postgame debauchery, and that was accidental because he happened to deliver our pizzas after we were all cresting on the initial swell of the molly. While nobody wanted to eat anymore, we had never paid so much attention to A.J., hugging him and petting him and praising him effusively for how well he kept the guys hydrated all season. I had a dim memory of being in the shower with someone in the dark, after Kevin and Matt and I had had four or five orgasms among us. The person in the shower was not taller than I am and was not a woman, which meant A.J. was basically the only possibility. He was behind me, rubbing my body with soap and moaning, and then he was inside me, except I couldn’t tell if it was his fingers or if he just had a skinny penis. I didn’t care; I sensed he was having the best night of his life too, so I enjoyed it with him. But then when I realized I was pregnant I knew there was a small chance it might be his. Absent that A.J. factor, it’s possible that sheer genetic vanity might have deluded me into derailing my entire life to have Kevin’s or Matt’s offspring, either of which would have had a decent shot at becoming a supermodel from birth and/or playing professional basketball later on. My nascent mental construction of an alternate life as a young single mother struggling heroically to provide for her long-limbed prodigy was swiftly decimated by the Oh hell no thought of raising A.J.’s funny-looking, too-earnest spawn back at home with my emotionally constipated father and woe-is-me mother, or worse, with A.J.’s family, about whom I knew absolutely nothing. But pride kept me from telling Kevin and Matt all that. I didn’t want to diminish their sense of magnificent, fully consensual conquest by revealing my true identity as a basic E-ho. Kevin and Matt and I split the $425 cost of the abortion three ways and watched Ninja Warrior at my apartment afterward and then went on with our lives. And I got an IUD, since clearly my fertility was robust enough to require some contraceptive leveling up.

thirteen years later, when Kaveh and I decided we were finally ready to have a baby, I got pregnant as soon as I got the IUD out. We had waited through grad school, and waited through paying off grad school, and waited until we’d bought a house in a good school zone, and waited through a round of layoffs at Lockheed, where Kaveh worked as a systems engineer. Then we were waiting for me to find a new job after the Green Party candidate I was doing digital organizing for lost in the 2018 midterms. I took the loss personally, because it was so inexplicable—the candidate had been leading in every poll, and the series of interviews I created for him on the then-new platform called TikTok had gone viral. I got so hung up on how in the world my candidate could have lost that Kaveh, after listening compassionately, and then eventually finding it tiresome—especially after I started investigating the possibility of Russian or Chinese hacks—suggested first that I see a therapist and then that we get me pregnant. Looking back, I think he wasn’t wrong to realize I needed a distraction and a reset, or that from a more neutral perspective the timing for us to start a family was good. I didn’t have a job; I wasn’t in the middle of a campaign. But in the moment… let’s just say that if you could call a flagrant foul on a play in a marriage, they would have definitely blown the whistle on me when I started yelling at Kaveh by the water lilies in the botanical garden: You think because I’m legitimately worried that our democracy is being hijacked we should just stuff a baby in me and that’ll remind me what I’m for? I took off my sandals and screamed Why don’t you just bend me over right here by this fucking lily pad and grab my hair and bone me barefoot?

Of course my fears of disappearing into motherhood were real and profound and certainly part of why we waited so long—we both knew that Kaveh would have been happy for us to start a family much sooner, but that was one of those unspoken knowns you mysteriously collaborate to avoid talking about as a couple. To his credit, he was smart enough to track my need to wait and to know he shouldn’t cross it. At least until he did. A few weeks after my outburst, just as we had begun to joke about it, calling it Waterlilygate and referring to that day at the Satanical Gardens, without actually taking up the when of pregnancy again, Kaveh got word his father had died. Kaveh had never had a relationship with him and didn’t remember him. I came home from the new job I’d finally landed in the mayor’s office and found Kaveh in a state of disbelief and confusion, realizing that his whole life he’d told himself a lie, believing he’d seek out his dad one day. Later that night I told him we should have a baby. We both knew my invocation of a baby as a distraction and a new chapter was even more inept and bald than Kaveh’s, but he didn’t yell at me or pull away. It seemed so ordinary, to finally fully understand you’ll never be ready and you can’t wait, and for that understanding to come after a death in the family. We also realized that we were both tired of waiting. We saw that it was foolish and bourgeois to wait any longer when we loved each other so much.

Kaveh was not-so-secretly concerned that while I had some respectable proof of grit as an athlete, I was still your average coddled American.

Kaveh was with me when I took the pregnancy test in our bathroom, and when the second line appeared, he looked in the mirror, ripped his shirt over his head, and flexed. I have proven I am as much of a man as Kevin Cordell, he said. I laughed and laughed and then said Or Matt Nowak. Kaveh kissed me and said Or Matt Nowak, and I said Or A.J. Tucker, and Kaveh said Who the fuck is A.J. Tucker? And I said Not this baby’s daddy, and Kaveh picked me up and took me to bed.

We knew we wanted at least two kids, should we be so blessed—maybe even three. Leila was born in September 2020, so I had just passed twelve weeks when the pandemic started to shut everything down. I screenshotted the two notifications next to each other on my phone: Your baby is the size of a lime and “WHO Declares Global Pandemic” and sent the picture to Kaveh, saying You realize it’s our job to explain this trash fire of a world to an innocent lime?? I was expecting a meme or a joke in response and instead Kaveh texted I’m bringing you a mask. But get out of the office if you can, it’s not safe. You’re pregnant, and it was that last, as if I didn’t know, that made me realize how afraid he was.

I got a dispensation to work from home, writing the mayor’s speeches, and because I was pregnant, Kaveh also convinced Lockheed to let him work from home even before they closed the office. Overnight, my work went from frankly ho-hum, if well-meaning, homilies about affordable housing and carefully crafted letters about pot tourism to the life-or-death what-the-hell of the early days of Covid. It was enlivening, to say the least, and frankly great for our marriage, that we were home together talking through all of it, that we could experience the pregnancy together and Kaveh could take care of me, and then that we could stay put after Leila was born and just be besotted with her together. I felt guilty the whole time, but I enjoyed every bit of it.

And then there was also the fact that until the pandemic, Kaveh was not-so-secretly concerned that while I had some respectable proof of grit as an athlete, I was still your average coddled American. I hadn’t been tested in life, not in any real way. So I think he was relieved that his wife, rather than being the kind who retreated into a suburban castle and started washing the blueberries one by one, insisted we join the George Floyd protests, using her baby bump and her whiteness as a shield on the front line. I did wear three surgical masks and complete-seal lab safety goggles; by June of 2020 I’d written many a statement threading the needle of don’t-panic-but-this-is-serious, regarding proper PPE. But the events of that spring had given me the first real chance I’d ever had to earn something like Kaveh’s wartime regard, and I was damned if I was going to shrink from that, even if it was reckless.

Kaveh was born in 1985 in Borujerd, Iran, five years into the war with Iraq, the third son of a formerly relatively wealthy almond farmer. Kaveh’s mother had wanted to leave for years, since the shah’s exile, but Kaveh’s father had insisted they stay. He insisted they stay even after his brother’s entire family perished in a missile attack, and even after it was impossible to sell the almond harvest because the economy had collapsed, and even after the almond orchards were destroyed by a bacterial canker that would have been easy to contain if they had been able to afford the spray. He insisted they stay despite the increasing possibility that Saddam would use chemical weapons on them. The only reason Kaveh’s older brother Masoud, who was seven at the time, was not at the elementary school the day it was bombed was because he was having stomach pains, owing to some combination of malnutrition and severe anxiety and PTSD. But even then, Kaveh’s father insisted they stay, at which point Kaveh’s mother transformed from a war-weary, terrified, and submissive woman into a single-minded escape machine who managed to emigrate alone with her three boys to Golden, Colorado, of all places. I knew that, realistically, I could never surpass Kaveh’s mother’s heroics, and of course I hoped we would live out our lives without the kind of scorching trauma they had survived. But I wanted Kaveh’s trust and admiration more than I wanted anything, and the bar was high.

So that was partly why I insisted on joining the protests and also partly why I didn’t mention it when, as we boarded the plane in Denver, I felt momentarily dizzy. It came out of nowhere; I was just standing there, in line on the jet bridge, and suddenly I was seeing stars, about to black out, everything spinning. If I hadn’t been leaning on Leila’s stroller I would have fallen down. I clutched the handlebar so hard my knuckles turned white, and I broke out into a sweat. I think I knew something was wrong, but I suppressed it, trying to be tough. Kaveh was staring at his phone but looked up when he sensed something had happened. You okay? he asked. Whoa, I said, Maybe I didn’t eat enough today? Kaveh said Maybe you’re just really tired, babe. Our flight, originally scheduled for Christmas morning, had been repeatedly delayed because of winter storms and then cancelled. Spending most of the previous day in the airport with Leila and then going home and coming back had worn me out. Kaveh pulled one of Leila’s teething crackers out of the diaper bag and handed it to me. Mm, styrofoam, I joked, hiding the frantic internal assessment I was making. With Leila I’d had awful, round-the-clock morning sickness that ended the day the second trimester began, as if an exorcism had occurred. But with this pregnancy, I hadn’t been sick and sometimes even forgot I was pregnant, until I saw Kaveh staring dreamily at my absurdly swollen tits. I was almost fifteen weeks along, and I wondered if sudden-onset second-trimester morning sickness was a thing. I started to Google it but then Leila began to fuss, and after I calmed her down, I felt better and forgot about it.

But then when we got to my parents’ house—after the great meeting of Leila and G-Ma, which sincerely filled me with tenderness and joy—I was overcome with an intense fatigue that was so heavy and irresistible I think I briefly passed out, sitting on the couch. I had been trying to help Kaveh wade through an exchange with my dad that began with Dad’s saying, apropos of who knows, You see about Ronaldo? and Kaveh’s saying Who? But we were still working out whether my dad thought Kaveh followed soccer—which he didn’t; as far as I knew my dad didn’t either—or whether this was about some fake news originating with Erdog˘an and involving Palestine that my dad thought would be relevant to Kaveh in some very cringey You must know about anything that happens anywhere in or around the Middle East way, even though Dad knew Kaveh had lived in America since he was a baby. And then I felt a lurching wave of nausea as I opened my eyes. I didn’t remember having fallen asleep, but my head was on Kaveh’s shoulder. I leaned forward just in time to aim the puke into the diaper bag I was still holding. Godamighty, said my dad, and Oh shit, said Kaveh, and my mom said Uh oh! Mommy thwew up with an idiotic speech impediment, and Leila laughed. Oh no, I said. I barfed all over her diapers. I looked up at Kaveh, who didn’t seem to know whether to be worried or amused. I think I need to lie down, I told him, and he helped me into the guest room, which had been my bedroom when I was growing up. As I closed my eyes, I looked at a framed picture of all us Longhorns in our home-game whites, grinning and muscular like Greek gods and goddesses, A.J. Tucker on the edge in a burnt-orange polo, making the hook ’em sign.

i didn’t wake up until Kaveh was getting into bed with me, who knows how many hours later. He spooned me and mumbled something into my hair about how the long day must have taken a lot out of me. Disoriented, I asked if it was time for dinner, and he laughed and said they’d had dinner hours ago and my mom had bathed Leila and rocked her to sleep and he’d even done a Zoom call with someone on his team. But then he abruptly sat up, switched on the lamp, and said Holy fuck Britt, holy fuck. When I turned over on my back to look at him, I felt it too and looked down to see the bed was soaked in blood. It was an unbelievable quantity of blood, covering the entire space underneath me. Kaveh had blood all over his boxers and his legs from where he had pressed against me. I tried to sit up, to look at all the blood, because it didn’t make sense, and that’s the last thing I remember from that part.

i emerged from the groggy depths some time later, in a hospital, to see Kaveh looking at me with a look I’d never seen on his face before, not even when I was in a hole of unreachable agony with back labor, trying to get the very large infant Leila out of my body. He was holding my left hand with both of his hands, leaning forward on his knees, and his pupils were dilated with fear. Hi, he said and started to cry. I said Hey now, what happened? as if I were consoling him, as if he were a little boy, and he laughed and pulled himself together. Oh my God, Britt, you scared me so bad, girl. I still felt like I was somewhere far away, and I still had no idea what had happened, and my mind was trying to keep me from remembering all that blood, and then a doctor walked in before Kaveh could say more. Hi there. I’m Doctor Rao. I’m so sorry, he said at the same time that Kaveh said I haven’t told her yet. So then I remembered all the blood, and I closed my eyes and collapsed in on myself, simultaneously knowing and afraid to know. I couldn’t look at the doctor. I turned my head toward Kaveh to make sure I would see nothing but his face, and then I opened my eyes and said only Leila. I stared at Kaveh, my love, at his gorgeous, gentle face and his deep, soulful, chocolate eyes, and it seemed critically important that I never, ever look at the doctor who was standing somewhere near the foot of the bed. Kaveh said She’s fine, she’s safe with your mom. You’re having a miscarriage. I said Are you sure? and he said Yes, and I knew he wouldn’t say yes if it weren’t true, so that’s when what I think of as my second life started.

it felt like a long time passed, as I focused on some nurses chatting in the hall. They seemed so relaxed. One of them was wearing solid black scrubs, and the other was wearing purple scrubs with cartoon sloths and rainbows printed all over. I was looking at each cartoon sloth on her scrubs, one by one, like I had been assigned to study them, when she walked away, sending me back to my new reality. I thought about how that phrase had annoyed me, appearing as it did ubiquitously in the coverage of the pandemic; I had scoffed that reality itself could never be “new.” I repented, silently, for my semantic arrogance, as if I had lost the baby because of my coldhearted literalism.

We thought of ourselves as sharp, competent people, and we had made a catastrophic error without even realizing it.

I tried hard to think of something we could do, and I asked Kaveh if he had called Dr. Adeyemi, our obstetrician in Denver. The Texas doctor somewhere near the end of the bed said Your blood pressure has stabilized, for now, and I said to Kaveh Could you ask him to leave? and Kaveh said Can you give us a second, man? with a very forceful protector vibe that I felt so thankful for, even in my state of shock. The doctor left, and Kaveh called Dr. Adeyemi. She was an enthusiastic, nurturing obstetrician who had been right about everything during my pregnancy with Leila and was available for reassuring and informative video calls and text messages night and day. We hadn’t flown anywhere while I was pregnant with Leila, so when we’d booked our tickets I had asked her if she was definitely sure it was safe to fly at this stage of pregnancy, and she’d instantaneously texted the 100 emoji. Then she said Where ya headed, somewhere fun? and I responded Texas, so…no. She typed something, took it back, typed something again, took it back again, and then just added a tapback HAHA to my message. True to form, she was now already FaceTiming Kaveh, even though it was 2 a.m. there. Her warm face appeared on the screen of his phone. She was wearing a silk head wrap and sitting up in her bed. Kaveh leaned in toward me so she could see both of us. Hi Brittany she said to me, with so much genuine care, and I started crying. Oh sweetheart, she said. I know. I’m so sorry.

Why did this happen? I asked her, and she said It’s usually hard to say, but you’re so healthy and you did everything right and your body has carried a pregnancy to term just fine. I nodded. I can’t tell you more than that until— She hesitated and then said Listen, Kaveh. I need to talk to the doctors there right now. Brittany—if you were here in Denver, I’d be able to examine you and tell you what we need to do to manage this—whether or not we need to do a D&E and what we need to do to take care of you. But since I can’t look at you myself—chances are that even if the doctors there know they need to do a D&E, they’re being told they can’t, and if that’s the case then we need to strategize pretty fast about what to do.

I don’t understand, said Kaveh, and Dr. Adeyemi said They won’t do an abortion in Texas unless Brittany is about to die.

And then I think Kaveh understood, but I still didn’t get it. I already lost the baby, I said. I know, said Dr. Adeyemi, but the procedure we might need to do to protect your uterus and keep you from hemorrhaging is technically an abortion procedure. Kaveh and I had been following the news, of course, and donating to abortion funds and all that, but we were still dumbstruck. We thought of ourselves as sharp, competent people, and we had made a catastrophic error without even realizing it. That is, I had made a catastrophic error; was my brain really operating at such diminished capacity, due to pregnancy and being the mother of a toddler, that I had somehow forgotten this was a possibility? No, I discovered, I hadn’t forgotten what was going on in Texas. I had simply felt like my pregnancy was a normal pregnancy, and having exercised complete control over my fertility until that day had led me to believe that something like what was happening to me now could never happen to me. We didn’t live in Texas.

Kaveh and I hadn’t responded, so Dr. Adeyemi said It’s totally fucked up.

The doctor came back into the room, and Kaveh asked him if he would talk to our doctor back home. The doctor said Of course, so Kaveh handed him his phone and the doctor stepped out into the hall. Why did he leave? I asked Kaveh. Can you go with him? Kaveh looked torn, not wanting to leave me alone, but also needing to know what the doctor was telling Dr. Adeyemi, so he kissed my head and said I’ll be right back.

The thing about almost dying is, you can’t really know where the line is until you actually die.

I sat there, stunned, and noticed I had a tremendous headache. I think I was holding my breath, waiting for Kaveh to come back and trying to hear what they were saying in the hall. I could hear Kaveh raising his voice, and I could hear the doctor responding with defensiveness, but I couldn’t hear the words. The doctor came back into the room, and Kaveh followed him, holding his phone up and pointing the screen at me and the doctor. At first I thought Kaveh was still talking to Dr. Adeyemi, but then I realized he was recording. He was staring at the doctor like he wanted to kill him, as the doctor said to him I wish you wouldn’t do that. Kaveh said, aggressively, I don’t know what to do! This is wrong! and then the doctor said to me We’re going to discharge you now, and that’s when I began to laugh. This maniacal, open-mouthed cackle that I was powerless to stifle. It came out of me as if it were made of matter, just like the vomit had arced out of my face earlier that day. I couldn’t stop it. I laughed and laughed and laughed, even though it made the headache knife its way down to my brain stem; I laughed even though I could feel the compressions of my diaphragm forcing new gushes of blood out my vagina. I laughed harder than I’d ever laughed at reels of dogs getting caught being bad, which I could always count on to make me laugh so hard I couldn’t see. Sometimes if I needed to have a good laugh, I’d sit on the toilet just so I could pee freely if necessary while I laughed watching those dogs. But being ejected from the ER in this condition was, apparently, the funniest thing that had ever happened in my life, because I was laughing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath or open my eyes. The laughs had turned into crazy monkey shrieks, and though I could tell that Kaveh and the doctor were freaked out, they both half-laughed too, from pure contagion. Mirror neurons. I still hadn’t looked at the doctor, and then the laughing stopped. I felt cleansed and ready for a few calm seconds after the laughter subsided. But then I could feel myself starting to pass out again, and I searched myself to find that extra willpower I know how to dredge up from the void when I hit the anaerobic wall, but instead of needing the willpower to finish a triathlon I needed it just to force open my eyes. I was having trouble thinking. Slowly I assembled the thought I might be dying NOW, which let a spike of adrenaline come to my rescue, and I opened my eyes, concentrating on remembering the way Leila’s little neck smelled and exactly what her toes looked like. Kaveh was vibrating with rage, as the doctor looked at his watch and typed on the computer. A nurse came in with a wheelchair, and the doctor left. Kaveh was still recording, pointing his phone at the nurse, and the nurse put his hand up in front of his face, saying Hey man, don’t, as Kaveh yelled at him How can they send her home like this? Then I could actually feel my life force rapidly slipping out of me, so rapidly I couldn’t even say any words to Kaveh about it. I wasn’t going to be able to tell him I was dying or tell him I loved him. So I just looked at him, willing him to look at me, and when he did I let everything show, and I knew he could see it all on my face, because he said No no no and ran out of the room, his shoes squeaking on the floor.

now i’m in surgery having an emergency hysterectomy and a blood transfusion to save my life. Merry Christmas to me. While that doctor is deep inside my abdominal cavity, terminating my childbearing capability, I’ll tell you why I said It happened again at the beginning of this and how that whole story about Kevin and Matt is relevant to how I nearly laughed myself to heaven when this doctor here told me he had to send me away to almost die before he could make any attempt to save me and/or some of my reproductive organs. The thing about almost dying is, you can’t really know where the line is until you actually die. Then you know where the almost-dead line was, but you’re dead, so it doesn’t matter.

I was running some off-season conditioning bleachers with the team one morning about six weeks after our NCAA win, and I stopped at the top, dry-heaving, and then gave up some bile. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet because I’d felt queasy. As soon as I was like This is weird, what’s wrong with me? I was like Aw, fuck. I knew I was pregnant. I took the test after my poli-sci final that afternoon, and I wasn’t surprised when it was positive. I went to Kevin and Matt’s apartment. They were doing bong hits and playing GTA, heckling each other with wicked, politically incorrect slurs, punctuated by Bruh, bruh! I knew I didn’t have to tell them, since I knew I would have an abortion, but for some reason I didn’t want to have to know about it all by myself, and it wouldn’t have been the same to tell one of my friends. So I stood in front of them, blocking the TV. Kevin was 6'8" and Matt was 6'10", but they were sitting in their floor-rocker gaming chairs so we were at eye level for once. They yelled at me and ducked and leaned, trying to see around me, and then I turned off the TV. What the fuck, dude? they said in unison. I picked up the bong and took a big hit, pulling out the carburetor at just the right second. I held the smoke in my lungs as they stared at me like I was no longer cool. I counted to six and then I said, around the exhale I was still holding on to, Guys—I’m pregnant, and I blew the smoke out and coughed and coughed. Whaaaaaaaat? said Kevin, and Matt said Dude, for real? as he handed me a glass of water. They both looked so serious and young, and I could tell they were waiting to see how I felt, to know what to do. Time slowed down, and I felt super relaxed and nicely stoned. I had let myself imagine crying like a martyr at the clinic and talking somberly about my abortion down the years and feeling regret, but something inside me went Nah.

I realized it could also be hilarious that I made three crucial, nationally televised foul shots and got pregnant on the same day. It could be hilarious that I had no idea whose sperm had won the MDMA bracket for my egg, and it could be hilarious to think for even a second that I would drop out of college to have a kid when I’d never even really been in love with anyone yet and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, aside from winning the NCAA title again next year as a senior. And it could be hilarious that in this strange world you can go pay some professional person to slurp out the untimely contents of your womb, and I felt the most rock-solid confidence that whatever man I would fall in love with, one day, the man I’d want to be the father of my children, would find it hilarious and badass that I had gotten myself lusciously fertilized at a group-sex after-party with a bunch of drugged-out human giraffes.

I realized all that right as Kevin said, tentatively, So… what are you gonna do…? And I burst out laughing as I said I’m gonna have an abobo, duh, and Kevin and Matt laughed too, obviously relieved. I couldn’t stop laughing as I said I just thought you should know you impregnated me after you won the NCAA championship, and they kept laughing and making disgusting jokes and they both hit the bong again. I laughed and laughed; it got hold of me and then I was down on all fours, howling and snorting like a lunatic until Kevin snapped his fingers in my face and said Yo Britt! Cool out, mama. I caught my breath and sat back on my heels, wiping the tears from my eyes as I came back to myself. I tried to act normal as I said Y’all are gonna go with me to the place, right? And I could tell they didn’t want to but they knew they had to, and Matt said Fuck yeah girl, and Kevin said Sick. Just tell us when. It’ll be sick. Can we get back to our game now, please?

Merritt Tierce is the author of the novel Love Me Back, for which she received a Whiting Foundation award. She wrote for the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black and has published numerous essays about abortion, including a 2021 cover story for The New York Times Magazine called “The Abortion I Didn’t Have.”
Originally published:
September 18, 2023


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