A Pox on the Patriarchy
The author of this post has asked to remain anonymous
I have asked Week Woman to publish this blog for me anonymously because it’s about my abortion and, while I have absolutely no pain or shame about what I chose to do, I have people very close to me who are unable to have children and who simply would not be able to comprehend how or why I made my decision. I am very publically and vocally pro-choice and, perhaps they have drawn their own conclusions. However, that is very different from them reading the reality of what I did. Out of sensitivity to their feelings and nothing else, I am therefore going to remain anonymous.
This is a blog I have been thinking about writing for some time; the recent attacks from politicians here and in the US on a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body and the increasing atmosphere of hostility towards those who support women through abortions has tipped me over the edge. Because I am one of *those* women who the anti-choicers love to vilify, the type who (at least on the surface) could easily have had a baby and chose not to for purely selfish reasons. For that very reason, I want to share my story.
So, first a tiny bit of back-story about how I got pregnant (and no, we’re not going to descend into a little light erotica); first date, one too many glasses of wine, split condom and a man who, it turns out, was so scarily controlling he would even deny that contraception had failed on him. I don’t know why I believed him, when I could feel that there was evidence which suggested otherwise, but there you go, I chose to believe him. If I knew (*knew*) that the condom had broken I would absolutely have taken the morning after pill and the whole thing would have ended then and there.
A few weeks later I realised that my period was late and I was craving peanut butter on toast. When I mentioned the peanut butter thing at work, a colleague joked that maybe I was pregnant and something inside me clicked into the chilling realisation that maybe I was. I use the term “chilling” because I remember I went really cold, it was like the horror literally lowered my temperature. That night, after a rather tense dinner with a friend with whom I did not share my fears, I took the test and that devastating, life changing, blue line, showed in the wrong fucking box. There was no question, no debate, no long night of soul searching; I just knew that I was not having a baby. I felt then, and still do, that I had been invaded by some alien creature whose permanent removal was my one and only objective.
I raced to the doctor’s first thing the next morning to demand an abortion – having very limited knowledge of how these things worked, I had bought into the perception that careless girls could just rock up to their GP and be ushered into a line of other silly girls all waiting for terminations and a bit of a ticking off. In reality that first GP meeting was one of the most frustrating of my life because in this country it isn’t simply good enough to say “I don’t want this foetus thanks” . I had to go through, in some detail, the emotional, financial and practical reasons why I did not want to remain pregnant. Having to tell a doctor that you got pregnant after having sex with a virtual stranger who will not be playing a long-term role in your life is humiliating. I am sure my doctor tried her very best to be non-judgemental, but the questions she was asking betrayed a system that was absolutely judging me and my suitability for a termination.
At one point I burst into tears out of sheer frustration and anger at the whole thing. The doctor’s reaction was to assume that I was crying because really, deep down, I wanted this baby and was finding the choice to terminate difficult. Maybe I should go home, sleep on it, talk to the father and then come back. She was a little shocked at my response, “no, I am crying because I am pregnant and I don’t want to be!” said with some unrestrained anger which I feel bad for directing at her. The assumption that, as a woman, really I would want a baby was staggering and unhelpful. From that point forwards I no longer felt that the medical professional was on my side and saw everything else through that prism.
Because of how early I had caught the infection, sorry, pregnancy, I should have been able to have the medical abortion. This is a non-surgical procedure, which involves taking medication which essentially induces a miscarriage. You have none of the side effects of anaesthetic and the second dose is often taken at home, which for many women makes it preferable and more comfortable. Needless to say, I was all in favour of this option as it seem so much more convenient. I live close enough to a Marie Stopes clinic to be able to walk there and back with my precious tablets and had friends lined up to keep me company.
However, due to an existing medical condition, there was some backwards and forwards about whether or not this was the best option for me. This debate between my GP and Marie Stopes took, what felt like, weeks. At no point was I consulted about this, no one took into account my feelings or even discussed the potential risks with me. The decision as to whether or not this treatment was appropriate was taken completely out of my hands. I had to stand on the sidelines while others decided what was best for my body, my life. Once again, my lovely fantasy that anyone could get an abortion with just a quick trip to the doctors’ was destroyed around me.
During this time my symptoms were becoming more and more pronounced. As someone who had no interest in being pregnant and who already felt as though their body had been invaded, morning sickness was the worst thing in the world. I was nauseous all day every day; the “morning” bit of morning sickness is a lie. Some days I ate nothing except a ginger biscuit or two, because ginger is supposed to help. I was exhausted, both from the pregnancy and the lack of food. Also, as time dragged on, the possibility that I might not be able to abort the foetus weighed heavier and heavier on my mind.
The morning the GP phoned to say that I would have to be referred for a surgical abortion and, even then, there were concerns about my suitability, I immediately booked myself in for some counselling. Having previously suffered from depression, I could feel myself slipping back into the darkest of places and I could not afford to lose what little energy and focus I had left. Pre-emptive measures were in order as my work was already suffering – as a single woman with a mortgage and no savings losing my job was simply not an option. Just as Maternity Leave and childcare were not an option. Just as bringing an unwanted, unloved, baby into this world was not an option.
I had friends who were being utterly supportive through all of this. But in the middle of the night, pacing around your house because the combination of insomnia and puking will not let you lie still, you really are alone. I was already self-harming in an attempt to force the foetus out, regularly punching my womb with all the strength I could muster, which wasn’t really a lot of force but it was making me feel better. Plus the lack of sleep and food were taking their toll on me physically and, to be honest, there was an element of self-harm in that too. I was falling back into the comforting control of an eating disorder. Skipping meals, lying to friends about what was happening, evading eating opportunities, the thrill of making it through 24 hours without consuming any more than coffee were familiar distractions to my own, deeply felt, unhappiness.
To get an appointment with a specialist took further weeks, with my symptoms and depression becoming more and more pronounced. My breasts hurt, constantly. Not just an ache, no, a real sharp pain that would bring tears to my eyes; tears that I was fighting back every minute of every day that I was with other people. My sense of smell was like an X-Men style mutation, if colleagues wore heavy perfume, aftershave or even strong smelling deodorant I might have to excuse myself to be sick. When I wasn’t at work I was pacing, crying, obsessing, harming and trying my best to talk to a counsellor who I knew could and would help but, as she couldn’t abort my infection, she was of limited help to me.
One night I came home from work to find a letter inviting me to my 12 week scan and congratulating me on my pregnancy. How could that have even been triggered? I threw up on the doorstep, curled into a ball and wept until a friend talked me down on the phone. Cue another night of self-harm, of trying to keep down enough gin to possibly trigger a miscarriage – no idea how much that is, or even if it’s possible, it didn’t matter anyway because it never stayed down. In my depressive, paranoid state, I was convinced this meant that doctors had decided I had to have the baby. Not that it would be my decision, not that I had a choice, but that someone, somewhere, who had never met me would end my life as I knew it with one stroke of a pen/keyboard.
Eventually I got to meet the specialist who, I have to admit, was a wonderful woman. She treated me with respect, never once questioned or judged why I might be making this decision and had fabulous shoes which I remember staring at intently as she examined me. Her reason for approving my abortion was simple; it would be more dangerous emotionally and physically for me to carry the foetus to term. That was it; I was booked in for the earliest possible appointment and sent home with a much more positive feeling and sense that the nightmare would be over soon.
On the day itself I was positively giddy; although still exhausted and prone to falling asleep without warning. I can’t say I remember a lot about what happened or what I was told. However I do know that the doctors and nurses in the clinic were fantastic. Once you move from the GP to the specialist team, the judgements seem to stop and the understanding kick in. Perhaps that was my perception because these people really did help me, while I felt my GP hindered me. I don’t know, but I can’t thank them more for the life they gave back to me.
I think these were some of the darkest days of my life, when I look back it is like a black fog surrounds the memories. Imagine being so desperate for an abortion that you would punch your own flesh? Imagine what that would be like if you couldn’t have the abortion. If legislation changed to make it harder for women to make that decision, how many would go beyond self-harm to suicide? I am scared by how close I was in those darkest moments. I could not see beyond terminating that pregnancy, in my mind there was simply no option available to me on the other side. Of course anti-choicers can list all of the other options available to me, but that disregards how I felt. If they stopped thinking about the foetus for a moment and thought about the woman carrying it, hating it, hating the effect it’s having on her body and her mind, I wonder if they would think differently.
I know not every woman who chooses to have an abortion feels the way I felt. I know some who agonised over the decision and some who remain heartbroken by that decision. I am not one of those women and that’s why I believe my story is important. I am more than pro-choice, I believe that abortion on demand (non-judgemental, no questions asked demand) should be available to every woman in the UK (Northern Ireland, I am looking at you). I believe that the whole process should be managed by the specialists and not filtered through the GP. But most of all, I believe that it is the woman carrying the foetus who remains the priority, she is the one I will fight for and I will continue to stand up for her and me against the bigots, the sexists, the misinformed and the down-right dangerous politicos until this becomes the norm.
EDIT: If anyone reading this is currently considering abortion, please contact BPAS as your first step, as they will be able to advise you on your options.