If you’ve read My Love Affair with Dunkin Donuts’ Bathroom, you know that I spent some time without running water during the renovation of my house.
It was during this period where I spent some extra time at a Dunkin’ Donuts, getting coffee, donuts, sandwiches, using the bathroom, washing my face, brushing my teeth, etc. I continued to go to Dunkin’ twice a day even after I got a working bathroom because I still didn’t have a kitchen, Bathroom or Kitchen Sink, Who Can Tell?, and anyway, it became part of my routine to go there, still is.
During my frequent Dunkin’ visits I was befriended by a Pakistani worker there, I’ll call her Sajida. True to being the stereotypical “Ugly American” I never felt like I properly pronounced her name, though I loved the way she said mine.
Sajida was there every night when I went in for the evening visit. She was very sweet. As soon as she saw my car drive up she fixed my coffee just the way I like it and filled a bag with free donuts. It was usually pretty empty at night, which allowed us to chat. Her English wasn’t very good; still, she asked me a lot of questions about myself and when I didn’t understand she made hand gestures to help me out. She met all of my children and asked if I had a husband. I told her “not anymore.” She told me I should get a new man. She always had a smile for me and usually a compliment, wondering how I stayed so skinny after having all the kids. See Confessions of a Skinny Mom. Still, she noticed when I looked particularly tired (it was a rough time) and would ask if I was “okay.”
“You tired? You look tired.” She’d say sometimes.
Other times she’d talk about herself, saying, “I’m so fat. I want to be skinny like you.” She wasn’t “fat,” by the way, she was shapely, and healthy looking. She was quite pretty.
I learned that she was 28-years-old and had two children back home in Pakistan who were living with her mother. She sent money to them. She lived here alone in a little apartment which she said she enjoyed because it was so clean and quiet, not like back home. She said she had been married to her first cousin, who wasn’t nice to her. “It wasn’t good,” she said, solemnly. Her children were both disabled, with birth defects, one was blind and I’m not sure what the other child’s challenges were, but she said they both needed medical attention. I couldn’t help but wonder whether being so closely related to her husband could have been the cause.
One day after getting my coffee I turned to leave and Sajida called me back. My children were not with me.
The men in the store were working in the back and largely ignored us.
She told me, “I’m pregnant.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t know what else to say. She hadn’t made this announcement as happy news.
She said, “I need help. I need pill.”
“Pill?” I thought it was a little late for birth control, but maybe I had misunderstood . . .
“Pill, I don’t want to be pregnant. Where can I get pill. Will you help me? Will you buy Pill for me?”
“Oh,” I said, again. Now I understood.
I haven’t had to think about pregnancy in years. My tubes have been tied since I last gave birth. “The Abortion Pill” or “The Morning After Pill” were not around in my unmarried youth. The only pills I had experience with were birth control pills. Still, my limited knowledge about these other pills was that they were something taken immediately after unprotected sex and/or at the very least, there is a small window of opportunity where such “pills” could prevent pregnancy or the continuation of a pregnancy.
I pondered what to say. There was a language barrier. I didn’t want to be responsible for or influence her decision, I didn’t want to misunderstand her intent.
I just wanted coffee . . . and some small talk. Truth is, I looked forward to seeing her every day. Though I didn’t really know and sometimes couldn’t understand her, I thought of Sajida as my friend. It was during a time where I had little interaction with other adults. My family refused to come to my home, as our living conditions were so bad. The friends and former neighbors — “angels” — who had helped me initially, had finished the first round of work, and I was waiting for the professionals to take over while I organized and cleaned. The children were tiring of the conditions, and I had to pretend that everything was okay. But Sajida smiled when she saw me. I needed that, truly.
Still, as I stood at the Dunkin’ Donuts counter, I wasn’t prepared for this.
Sajida added, “I asked another lady but she wouldn’t help me.”
That almost broke my heart. The thought of this sweet woman asking random Dunkin’ Donuts customers for help with an unwanted pregnancy — and that she had been refused?
Shit, I thought. I don’t want to be that lady, the kind of woman who would refuse to help another woman in trouble, someone reaching out for assistance.
“No one will help me,” Sajida continued, gesturing to her co-workers, also Pakistani, but male. “I don’t want to go to my people. I can’t have another baby. My children are too much. I’m afraid there will be something wrong.”
Here she was in a strange country, her challenged children far away, and pregnant when she didn’t want to be.
I decided I would help her.
At the very least I could get her to a doctor so she can know all of her options. Maybe she’s not even pregnant, I hoped; Maybe she’s too far along, I feared. I mean I didn’t know any of the details for sure.
I asked her, “Are you sure you’re pregnant?”
She said, “Yes,” explained that missed her period, and made the throwing up gesture. “Just like before I’m sick like before. Will you help? I have money. I can pay you,” she added.
Pay me? “No, don’t worry about that. Let’s get you to a doctor,” I said.
My mind was reeling. What if she’d asked someone who would have actually taken her money? And throwing up? God, I thought, how far along is she? No pill is going to help her now.
“Okay,” I said, “Just let me get some information. Please don’t take anything. I don’t think you can do that now. Just wait, okay?”
I left in disbelief, muttering to myself. Why, I thought, why do people feel comfortable telling me such private things? I couldn’t believe that I’d gone for coffee and was presented with a request for assistance in ending an unwanted pregnancy. But I guess I hadn’t just gone for coffee, I’d gone for company.
And I thought I had problems. I was broke, my house I shared with five children was barely livable and I was going through a nasty divorce. But at least I wasn’t pregnant.
This much I understood: It was clear that Sajida was not going to have this baby. The only question was how she was going to end her pregnancy and whether she would do it safely.
I’d told her I’d come back tomorrow. That night I called my best friend, who happens to be a gynecologist, and explained the situation. She confirmed what I already knew, that this woman needs to see a doctor immediately and will likely have to have an abortion to end the pregnancy, if that’s her intent. The next day I called Planned Parenthood and found out where she could go to see a doctor, confirm the pregnancy and talk about options, whether they might have a translator, and how that whole waiting period thing works.
It had been years, but I am no stranger to Planned Parenthood. I’d gone to Planned Parenthood to get on the pill before I lost my virginity. When I couldn’t go to my parents, Planned Parenthood was there. I had continued to use Planned Parenthood until well after I was married — until I eventually got my own private insurance. I felt comfortable sending Sajida there. I would have sent her there for affordable prenatal care if she’d planned on having the baby.
The next day I went to Dunkin’ Donuts and gave Sajida a telephone number and address, explained where she should go, and when, and that after she was seen by a doctor she would have to go back another day for the procedure. She was familiar with the location and said she could get there easily. She planned to take a bus to the clinic on her next available day off at the end of the week.
She thanked me profusely.
In the next couple of days I saw her again. She looked horrible, said she wasn’t feeling well and was still throwing up. She wasn’t as chatty as she had been on previous visits.
Days passed. The next time I saw her, I simply asked, “How are you?”
“Good,” she said, “Not pregnant. There was blood. ” She gestured to her lower regions, “There was blood, a lot of blood. I’m not pregnant anymore.”
“Oh, you miscarried? You — you — lost the baby?”
“Yes,” she smiled.
“And you don’t have to — do anything? “
“No, not pregnant anymore. I woke up, there was blood.” She seemed relieved.
“Still,” I said, “You should go to the doctor anyway, because you have to make sure you’re okay. Sometimes they have to — do stuff after you lose a baby. And you should go on the pill or get some birth control.”
Though the abortion talk had made me uncomfortable, I have no problem whatsoever telling a woman to get some birth control.
“Yes, yes,” she promised.
“Okay, you’re okay?” I asked.
I was relieved, for a lot of reasons.
We didn’t talk about it again. She did ask me for assistance later, this time in programming her cell phone. I was happy to help with that.
Over the months that followed Sajida’s English improved greatly. Almost a year later Sajida told me she was engaged and would be traveling back to Pakistan to marry. I must have looked shocked because she quickly explained, “No, it’s good. He’s nice.”
She added, “Someday you’ll meet someone, too.” She’d always encouraged me to date, one of the few who did.
I never saw her again. I think of her often, though.
Just the other day as I was leaving Dunkin’ Donuts, a very cute young Indian man who had waited on me called me back to ask me a question.
I was a little afraid.
Turns out he just wanted to know how much I pay for medical insurance since Dunkin’ Donuts does not provide it, even for full-time workers. For most people it may have seemed like an overly personal question. For me? Well, I was just relieved it was a question with an easy answer.
Just Me With . . . coffee, donuts and some information.
I’m a sensitive sort. I’ve delayed writing and publishing this post for fear of the criticism for assisting a woman who wished to terminate her pregnancy. Some might argue that I should have tried to talk her out of it, that I should have pointed her to an organization that would have tried to talk her out of it, or that I should have simply refused, like the “other lady” had. But the bottom line was, she was an adult woman in a strange country, already a mother of special needs children and her decision had been made — without me. She merely asked for my help.
Was I relieved that nature took its course? Yes, yes, I was, I admit that. But if it hadn’t, at least Sajida would have received medical care and not simply paid a customer to provide her with random medications to end her pregnancy — and/or perhaps injure herself in the process.
Where ever Sajida is I hope she’s found happiness and that her new husband is nice to her.