I dreamt about being pregnant, how I would watch and marvel as my belly grew. I thought of the rush of love I would feel when I first set eyes on my own child and how desperately wonderful it would be to hold them in my arms. Until the evening I found out I was accidentally pregnant I felt as unprepared and overwhelmed as I could possibly be.
Last month I peed on a stick and two lines appeared, letting me know that I was expecting a baby. A baby with a man who I had only been dating for a few months, who I didn’t really see much of a future with. A baby which would be due in early September, the same month that I planned to start my first teaching job, a qualification which I have been studying so hard for since last year. The first thing I did was hysterically laugh. I was sitting in the toilet at my old office, doing night shifts trying to earn extra money because I could barely afford to pay my rent. What was I doing peeing on a stick here anyway? Was I completely sure that two lines meant you were pregnant? I buried my face in the instruction manual, looking for any kind of indication that it could be wrong. But in the back of my mind I knew that it wasn’t. A flashback to an evening a few weeks ago, thinking ‘I’m sure it will be ok just the once’ lingered in my memory. My breasts were heavy, I felt exhausted and emotional, and my period was 5 days late. The painful truth substantiated the silence.
When life throws you a curveball, you don’t realise how isolating and scary it is. Not just because of the problem you’re facing, but the way it can ricochet off other aspects of your life, damaging your self-esteem and your sense of identity in the process. One minute I was a semi cash strapped student, working long hours, going out for drinks with friends at the weekends, running in the park, browsing shops and scrolling instagram in my free time. Next minute I had 9 months to prepare until I would be pushing a buggy and breast feeding, checking my child into nursery and dealing with late nights, early mornings and stretch marks. Suddenly everything I thought I knew about myself wasn’t real anymore.
As the days went on the reality of what was happening sunk in slowly. I thought about the year ahead and felt so overwhelmed I could burst. A baby was growing inside me, and I had no doubt that I loved it with all my heart. I had always even loved the idea of it. But every time I tried to imagine a space in my life for my unborn child, a new barrier materialised out of nowhere. I was due to interview for jobs in June. At that point I would be 6 months pregnant. Who would hire me knowing I would need to take maternity leave straight away? How would I pay for my child? I thought about graduation in July, images flashed into my head of a bump sticking out from underneath my robes. I thought of how difficult I was finding this year, and how the responsibility of a baby would multiply that by ten. I thought of the father, and how unreliable and distant he could be, how we were probably breaking up soon. I felt sick.
I remember being 16 years old and my teacher asking us to stand in four corners of the room to show our opinion about abortion. I stood in the ‘disagree’ corner. I didn’t get it, why did women need to get abortions when there were so many ways to have safe sex?
I feel sad that I ever thought that, and ashamed that a very naïve 16 year old me would have denied a woman the right to make this choice. It is a choice that after much back and forth, I have decided to make too. And it has not been easy in any way. I stay awake at night crying myself to sleep. I rub my stomach and imagine the little heart of my baby beating inside me. I turn away in the street when men and women with prams walk past me. My eyes fill with tears when my 6-year-old students take my hand or give me hugs. This is a stark and horrible choice, to terminate a life that from the start you feel such a robust instinct to protect.
As my pregnancy has continued, and I have been flung into the throes of morning sickness, (it definitely should be renamed all day and all night sickness), exhaustion, food aversions, cravings, and hormones, I have realised the genuine dedication and energy it takes to grow a baby and give birth to it by the women who continue with their pregnancies. But also I have realised the courage that it takes to call halt on a pregnancy. Now more than ever I salute the women (or couples) who make this difficult decision for whatever reason. I now know from personal experience this is a harrowing and draining decision, in which absolutely no one is a winner.
To say these have been the worst days of my life might be true. I have never felt so enwrapped in guilt or more conscious of the dichotomy between my heart and my head. But I know that my chance to have a child will come along again one day, and when it does I will make sure I am in a position to be there for that child, and pay for that child, and give that child a roof over its head, and clothe them, and give them my time. All things that right now quite frankly I would struggle to do.
As I write this, now a few days later, I have been through with the termination and I am no longer pregnant. I have waited in the clinic, watched as a nurse did an ultrasound with the screen turned tactfully away and the volume down as I gasped back tears. I have taken the pills, walked home slowly with nausea rippling in my stomach, lay in bed and rolled around from the agony of the cramps. Finally in the middle of the night, amidst a lot of blood and pain, I have felt my baby leave my body. As the physical toll of this gradually stops, the emotional one, I suspect, is only just showing its face.
Despite everything, I feel grateful that I live in a country where I was able to terminate this pregnancy safely and legally, and that my choice not to be a mother right now was respected and listened to. I feel happy that other women have access to these services should they need them. I don’t honestly know what I would have done if I had been required to travel by plane, or boat, or pay lots of money in order for this procedure to happen. The fact I was able to walk home afterwards and sleep in my own bed in a place I felt comfortable and safe, meant that I was one of the lucky ones. Still I am sitting here today in tears, and still I have moments where wish I could go into a time machine and undo what I have done, but I am healthy, I had this procedure done in the best circumstances, and I have faith that in time I will hopefully move on from this.
To anyone like me who is going through this right now, know that you are not alone. To anyone who has scoured the internet looking for support and has been confronted with websites which tell you that you are a murderer, or irresponsible, please trust me, you are not. People make mistakes and things happen, and sometimes no matter how much we love our babies, we are just not ready for them. I would urge any woman going through this to speak as openly as you can about this with people who you trust, to let them know what you are going through and let them support you. Whether you have had an abortion, or if you are still pregnant, just know that whichever choice you make, you matter and you are loved, and you will get through this.