By Oakley Ayden
We called the nurse Ham Hands after she’d left the room. Moments before, one of those hands was pinning my pregnant body to the hospital bed with hammer-like heft while the other rammed through labia folds attempting to reach my cervix, which was apparently stationed way on up there, according to Ham Hands. Although pairing nurses and patients based on similar heights may have been completely unnecessary in most parts of Providence Tarzana Medical Center, in the Labor and Delivery wing it should perhaps have been the standard.
Beyond the hospital’s walls, Ham Hands and I would have made a whimsical duo. She stood no taller than five-feet-flat. I hover around five-foot-nine, easily capable of clearing the six-foot mark with even a modestly-heeled shoe. Both of us were unapologetically blunt. Turned loose on the world together, we would have been good for some crass-yet-comical banter, no question. But in terms of her short-fingered hands and my internally lengthy vaginal pipeline, the pairing was far from idyllic.
At the height of the ordeal, Ham Hands was fisting me. I laid there, legs spread, watching her fingertips press together to form what looked like the silhouette of a closed-mouth hand puppet when viewed from the side. She proceeded to plunge her puppeted hand up into my body with no warning, and continued the upward, entering movement mercilessly, not responding to the sight of me visibly writhing in a bodily pain that stretched far beyond the expected discomfort that comes from having a cervix checked.
She forced. With her full body weight bearing onto my pregnant body, she forced. When I asked her to stop, she changed nothing. Her focus sat fixed on forcing.
It was only after her upper forearm had passed my vaginal opening that she withdrew from inside me, surrendering the pursuit. Laying there in the moments after, I was stunned silent. My then-partner (my unborn baby’s father) had been sitting in a cheap-fabric armchair directly in front of me during the exam. He sat speechless, hand across his bearded face, eyes wide with disbelief. Neither of us knew what to say, do. I felt violated, but between my pregnancy-related exhaustion, autistically-slow processing time, and general desire to “not make a big deal out of things,” I had neither the energy nor the mental capacity to fully comprehend what had happened. Certainly no bandwidth with which to actionably address it then and there.
I didn’t see Ham Hands for the remainder of my hospital stay, though the memory of our moment together lingered for a decade after, refusing to fully settle, never quite feeling okay. In that moment, my body had become a mere body to her, rather than the exterior shell of a holistic human being. And never is a breathing body merely a body. When humans enter a space—medical or otherwise—they bring with them the full scope of their experience: triggers, traumas, invisible histories that dwell within the cells, within the memory. No lone piece can be separated out for convenience, left downstairs to wait in the lobby while the body lays partitioned, able to deadenedly sustain all modes of ham-handed touching, taking.
A tall blonde nurse was sent in a few minutes after Ham Hands’ departure. I heard you need my fingers, she said, smiling. My cervix was checked quickly, consensually, with ease, without defilement. After the nurse left the room, I sat quiet. One hand rested atop my swollen belly as I asked my mind to still its unease, if only for a few moments. To bury it somewhere deep beneath the numbing, repetitious count of unborn baby kicks.
Oakley Ayden (she/her) is an autistic, bisexual writer from North Carolina whose words appear in South Dakota Review, Bending Genres, Maw: Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. She lives in Greensboro with her two children.