Acknowledging Abortion

The topic of abortion often runs along the peripheries of what is considered taboo in society. Something we shouldn’t talk about, at least not openly. Something with a lot of stigma and misunderstanding attached to it. Generally, an emphasis is placed on the physicality of an abortion over the effect that termination of a pregnancy — or the experience of pregnancy itself —can have on an individual or their loved ones. This article will look to reflect upon ideas that go beyond the physical. Each section is a reflective note to the most significant people that were around me during the time of my own abortion and pregnancy.

During early February of this year, I found out I was pregnant. I took four tests frantically that night and I was in disbelief with each one. My period was over two weeks late and I had been feeling unlike my usual self, however, I didn’t truly believe that I could be pregnant. That night, a wash of anxiety poured through me… my stomach was knotted, my heart was thumping, and my brain was exploring about five incoherent thoughts per nano second. I felt alienated in my own body. My pregnancy was by an ex-lover and I was surely affected by the circumstance from the start.

To the One Without Much Understanding:

You were the first one to know. I had just found out that I was pregnant and was paralysed by shock. Fat tears rolled down my cheeks as I told you the news and I was surprised by your reaction. I guess without seeing my face, it may have been hard to tell how I felt but cooing over the situation and suggesting that you could look after the baby was not what I needed. I already felt alone but now I felt alone with vivid images of being a struggling single mum spinning through my frantic brain.

Unplanned pregnancy is nothing to coo over and a baby isn’t something one should fantasize about superficially. It felt like my circumstance was a joke to some people and I felt like it was all a novelty to you. Yours was the first reaction that fed my anxiety and quietened the concerned voice in my head.

To the One Who Could Relate:

When I told you, we had gone to a seafront bar in town that I liked. I bought us a drink each: I had a double and you had a single. We sat in a cave-like booth at the back where I felt safe and was able to speak freely without fear of people listening. You didn’t know me for as long as other friends of mine. Therefore, I felt there wouldn’t be prejudgment on your part. I was right to presume this. Your ability to relate and provide two different perspectives — as someone who had had an abortion but also as a mother to a young child — helped me more than you know. Your advice was pragmatic and exactly what I needed to hear, “Go to the doctor tomorrow… Really consider the sacrifices you would be forced to make by having a child at this stage of your life… Remember that you are the only one who matters in this decision.” You met every question with a practical and sympathetic answer. Plus, you openly discussed the pitfalls of being a Mum at such a young age. You were the cornerstone figure throughout my experience, even if you don’t know it.

I wish that everyone who falls pregnant finds someone like you. Someone who feels familiar and can relate whilst offering non-judgemental advice. Trust me; your advice and personal experience was what guided me during that conflicting time.

To the Apathetic Nurse:

Female nurses represent the calming, familial figure in general practises. At least, they usually do. You were quite the opposite. I am sure you remember my visiting you; it was late morning and I was clearly still in shock. I picked at the skin on my fingers and scratched at my arms, a nervous habit I often adopt when I am anxious. You must have known my long ongoing history with mental illnesses, as you had my medical files open on your computer screen.

I do believe that you attempted to spew out the regurgitated lines every nurse is supposed to advise a young, scared pregnant university student. When I relayed my story and the relationship I had with the father, you listened carefully. I appreciated that. What I didn’t appreciate was the word that followed and that rang in my ear for days, if not weeks, afterwards: “alone.”

You didn’t just mean during my pregnancy, you meant for the rest of my child’s life. Alone. I don’t even think you were trying to scare me when you told me that I would never have the career I wanted nor a real family. I just think that people should refrain from projecting their own beliefs onto people in a vulnerable position. Surely, as a middle-aged woman with more life experience, you would have learned to only provide impartial advice for your patients. You don’t know me, you don’t know the father. You know nothing about my life and yet you had such stern opinions about my pregnancy and my future, if I were to become a mother.

To the One Who Was Blasé:

With you, my mind unravels an assortment of conflicting emotions. You were the one who was adamant that you should drive me to and keep me company at the clinic. I am so unbelievably grateful that you did, even if I sat silently with worry throughout the most of the day. You were also the only one who regularly checked up on me and, although that frustrated me at times, I am appreciative of the way you cared for my well being.

Despite this, you also said some things that truly upset me and I wish I had confronted it but I was too fatigued because of the hormonal changes. Depressive moods also made me a passenger in my own body. I could not bear to address my feelings with you at the time.

When you said that, “Abortion wasn’t a big deal.” And, “A few of my friends have had it and they’re fine with it.” I doubt you realised just how emotional I was feeling. I am sure some of that emotion was partly due to the depression that grew each passing day and the weirdness I felt about who got me pregnant. Nonetheless, it made me feel like something was wrong with me and that it was odd for me to feel so emotionally attached at such an early stage. It also prevented me from being truly honest with you. I just wish you could have restrained from acting so nonchalantly about something you have no direct experience in. I also wish you hadn’t pressured me into getting the abortion so quickly. I didn’t want to. I wanted to sit with it a little longer and properly process everything. I had the time to.

To the One Who Knew Us Both:

Out of everyone who knew, you were the one who had known me longest. You also lived with him and I for a couple of years; present during the intense breakdown of my mental health and our relationship. You guys were still very close, potentially closer than you and I were. Therefore, if there was one person who I wanted to know, it was you.

I had hoped that you would provide the best advice on whether to tell him or not. I had assumed you would know exactly what to say. Approaching you with the information was not easy, though. Only a month and a half prior to our talk, you suffered a great loss and I did not want you to think I was burdening you with this as well. I was not expecting the greatest support, as I knew you were not in the right headspace but I also did not want you to wonder why I was not acting myself. So, I told you.

Your face froze over and became expressionless. I think I laughed nervously and adjusted myself in my seat. I had not anticipated your reaction, at all. The words that came out of your mouth did not match your eyes. I relayed what the nurse had said to me, expecting you to be dismayed like me, but you appeared to agree with her. Shortly after telling you, I regretted it and wished I hadn’t. You made cruel jokes about the father and how he would resent me if I told him about the pregnancy and the imminent abortion. I did not believe you, even now I do not believe that he would have resented me for telling him. But I was too scared to dare to tell the father by this point and too emotionally vulnerable to risk it if you were right.

The conversation quickly moved away from me and onto you and your family’s awful circumstance. I had been silenced and I didn’t try to express my true feelings.

You didn’t text, either. Not once. I reached out two weeks later and you apologised for your absence. I think it was sincere but I couldn’t tell.

To You All:

I felt so alone throughout that month. My abortion was a day before my birthday on Mother’s Day. I screamed into my pillow for hours, vomiting until my insides were raw. I writhed in agony and I have a decent pain threshold. I tried to drown everything out with a movie and someone was blasting music in their room, so that also masked the pain that I was in.

None of you know that I experienced phantom aches in my lower belly for months afterwards. I would delicately trace the skin above my knickers, wondering what it would have looked like at that stage… four months, five months after conception. Fortunately, the looming assessment deadlines at university kept me busy. Plus, the trauma caused by the abortion and the feelings of distress days afterward triggered dissociative amnesia.

It is only at times like these, when I carefully revisit that period in my life, when I remember how quickly my breasts swelled. How I would lace both hands protectively over my lower belly in bed, protecting the life form growing inside of me. Except for one of you, you all saw this through a scientific lens. I get it. I once did, too. It’s just cells. It’s not even a baby yet. Right? Well, only when you become pregnant and you feel your body change and your mind frame adjust will you ever have the right to utter those words to me again. It may have been a few cells, but to me, it represented much more.

Mental Health, Sex + DatingApril I.