I have had two abortions. I had my first abortion when I was twenty-three. I was employed, saving to travel the world, and madly in love. Unfortunately he was on the other side of the world that I wanted to travel to and a very bad letter writer.
One night, just before my birthday, I had a one night stand. I had always been careful about my sexual health, but we were both so drunk I really thought intercourse just wasn’t going to happen. He was inside for me a while but it went nowhere and soon he scuttled out of bed and I never saw him again.
This seems unbelievable but I didn’t realize he had ejaculated. I had only ever had lovers who used condoms so I never knew what ‘the wet patch’ was, and never gave this wet patch any thought at all. If I had I would have made sure I got the ‘morning after pill/ 72 hour pill’ immediately (I should have done more than that because a pregnancy isn’t the only thing that could have happened.)
I remember waiting for my period for day after day. My mood worsening, my breasts so sore, my heart in a constant panic. Finally my boss took me aside and asked me why I was in such a foul mood all the time. I broke down and told her that I was afraid I was pregnant. To her everlasting credit she ran to the pharmacy and bought me a test, took me to a public bathroom and sat in the cubicle next to me while I tried to pee on that stick.
The feeling when those pink lines came up. I just remember saying her name over and over again. ‘What am I going to do?’ I wailed, ‘I’m going to have a baby’. And she said to me ‘Don’t be an idiot, of course you’re not.’
I can’t tell you how relieved I was that she said that, that she made it seem as though pregnancy wasn’t my only option, and certainly not the best one. From that moment I knew I would have an abortion.
I never thought that I would. Although I am definitely pro choice I just felt in my bones that when I got pregnant I would stay pregnant. I told myself that the only reason I was going through with it was because I wasn’t in love with the father -if I was, that would change everything. Oh, the things we tell ourselves.
I had the abortion at the only clinic in my city and there were often regular protesters outside. I went with my mum. Now that was unexpected, not only because she is Catholic, but also because it turns out she took her little sister to the same clinic twenty years ago. Mum knew exactly what I should do.
In New Zealand when you have an unwanted pregnancy you have to visit your doctor and request an abortion. They then set you up with the clinic. Then you have an appointment at the clinic and they assess you psychologically and you must request an abortion. Then you have to return a second time to be physically assessed and then again request an abortion. Seems like three times is a charm, but I can’t tell you how stressful and humiliating it was. By the time I had done all three appointments and was scheduled for the operation I was ten weeks pregnant. I understand so well why other women in bigger cities, with fewer clinics, and massive waiting times would end up having late term abortions. It is so unjust.
I had to be at the clinic at six in the morning. I remember everything about it. Walking up to the big chair (like a dentist’s chair), the feel of the speculum, the feel of the injection as the doctor applied anesthetic to my cervix, the sound of the machine as it removed the contents of my womb. But what I remember most of all was the feel of the nurse’s hand in mine. She never let me go, she was there for me when I was terrified, and I will never forget how much that small but loving gesture meant to me.
Afterwards I remember vomiting, then sleeping on the floor in front of my mum’s fire for hours. And then this feeling of intense relief, that it was finally over. The sickness of being pregnant, the stress of waiting, the secret I was holding inside. It was all over. I imagined I was going to feel traumatized, go into shock, have such guilt, anger, doubt. But I didn’t. I just felt that I had done the right thing.
It’s funny, because no on really talks about abortion, or of they do then it’s couched in terms of regret or sadness. I never really felt that, I wondered what’s wrong with me, why am I not broken? Why am I not filled with sadness? Where are the women who say ‘I had an abortion and the only thing I feel is relief’ ? I think that was one of the reasons I wanted to write this, to say, if you feel relieved you are not a monster, you’re a strong woman, a lucky woman, and you did the right thing.
I had my second abortion at 39. I married that man on the other side of the world and we have four children. We always use condoms (still do) and three children were conceived when we decided to throw caution to the wind and risk it -only one was planned.
I still don’t know how this fifth pregnancy came about. We used a condom, and he gave it a quick check afterwards to see nothing had spilled. Yet once again I was peeing on a stick and saw those two lines come up.
I think I held onto the fantasy of keeping that child for about half a day, but really I knew, and he knew, that a fifth child would hurt our family. We live away from our families and have raised our kids with no support but what we have created between the two of us. I love our kids to pieces and I knew that another child would begin to take away what we could give them, in terms of energy, attention, and happiness.
Again I never expected to feel this way. As I said I had justified my first abortion by telling myself that I wasn’t in love with the father. Well here I was still in love with my husband, yet I knew I would have an abortion. It’s a strange thing to feel like you don’t know yourself, but it’s also so freeing to be honest with yourself. And finally at 39 I was.
This abortion occurred in Australia, and what a difference. I searched for a clinic online. Rang them the next minute, and had an appointment the next day. ‘Bring sanitary pads and warm socks,’ they told me. ‘See you at eleven’. No waiting, no secrets, no worry.
My husband took the day off and dropped me off in the city, and took our youngest to the park while I had it done.
I remember having a twenty minute conversation with a doctor about why I wanted an abortion, then an exam, then having to wait an hour for the operation. That was the hardest part of course, because I was alone and scared and had no one’s hand to hold.
I remember being told to go into a cubicle and undress, and put on a gown, and then waiting, waiting, waiting until I thought I would scream. The had a botanical print on the wall and I just stared at it, willing myself to stare and stare and not think.
Then I was called into the surgery and they had that chair there, the same dentist looking one from before, and that’s when I started to cry. The staff looked concerned and all said to me, almost hopefully, ‘Have you changed your mind?’
It was so hard to hear that question, because part of me wanted to. I have four kids, so I have a fair idea exactly what I was terminating, and that is hard to bear. But I said ‘no’ as firmly as I could and sat down.
This time I was given a general (which I wasn’t expecting) and I woke up in another room, in the cozy sort of chair you sit in to get your nails done. Later as I came round I would see other women and girls being walked into their chairs, and later still was given hot tea and cookies.
I listened to other girls chat quietly, some quite matter of fact, others tearful, all relieved. Then it was time for me to leave. My husband met me outside with our little boy. He told me that he half expected me to say I couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. But I did.
Yes there are times I think of the possibility of that pregnancy, you can’t help it when you see your other children. Sometimes I admit I feel a presence, or equally an absence, or wonder what I would do if I fell pregnant again. But then I think what I could have lost too, how much it takes to parent four children, and have time for each other and everything else, and I know I did the right thing. Sometimes the right thing to do is hard, but I have no regrets.
It’s been four years since that happened, and since then I’ve told my own little sister, and my teenage daughter about my abortions. They know that if they ever need me that I will be there for them, and I wish for a world where every woman could have had the safe, respectful abortion experience that I have had.