Fight the stigma: my abortion story

Pregnant, 3+ weeks.

It was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still, the walls of the toilet cubicle sliding away as the world distorted around me, my panic a boa constrictor wrapping around my chest, my heart in my throat and I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t breathe. A weak hand on the cubicle walls to steady myself, I pressed my head against the door and closed my eyes. Opened them. I read it again. I read it again. I must have read it wrong. I read it again. I shook it. It still kept saying those words. Pregnant 3+ weeks.

I never thought it would happen to me. I’ve been pro-choice, in a very active sense, all my adult life and yet I never thought it would happen to me. Having made it to be a 27 year old woman born in a time and place where we are generally able to control our own fertility, I never thought I would get unlucky. But it happened. And it could happen to anyone.

On the day that my child would have been born, I’ve decided to share the story of my abortion. This isn’t a flippant decision, and it’s not a happy one. This post is not a celebration. It’s something that I feel indescribable sadness about, in spite of all my assumptions otherwise of what I would do and be like in these circumstances. But it is important to talk about. Abortion is something that 1 in 3 women need in their lifetimes, and yet the stigma about it continues to the extent that we just don’t know which of the women in our lives have had to go through it, how they may be affected by it, and the day to day inescapable reminders. So this is my story.

If it’s not already obvious, this wasn’t a wanted pregnancy. The timing was particularly bad. I was functioning on about 200% stress, and already felt that my life was falling apart. I was at the end of a work contract and due to be unemployed in two weeks. My boss at the time had a particular way of making you feel like less than something you’d scrape off the bottom of your shoe.  I felt like a failure after interviewing for two jobs, either of which would have been my absolute dream, and not getting them. I was going to have to move out of my house-share in London because I couldn’t afford the rent, and back to my parents, which as someone who takes a huge amount of pride in being independent, filled me with a sense of dread and uselessness.

I was also feeling heartbroken. The person who- it felt weird even thinking about it in my head- was the father of this would-be baby, had hurt me, big-time. Having pushed their way into my life when I was unsure it would work and dismissing my concerns at the outset, I had let myself be convinced by their promises, the grand gestures, the big talk about a future I so desperately wanted- and I felt tricked after I had got way more involved than I intended and they did a 180 on me, seemingly wanting nothing to do with me now, and worse, literally only a couple of weeks after we had been on holiday together, was now on holiday with the ex-girlfriend they had told me they weren’t even really friends with. I was still gasping from the kick in the feelings from knowing how many times they had told me a lie, even while trying to convince me that I was crazy for suspecting that wasn’t the case.

It was too much to process. Unemployed. Broke. Unwanted. Alone. Pregnant.

There is no saying truer than that when in times of crisis, you find out who your real friends are. I was shaking too much to type words, but within a minute of texting just the picture of the test, my best friend from uni was calling me, talking me through the hysterical sobbing, understanding why I could barely speak through hyperventilation. You are going to be okay. You’re going to get through this. We are all here for you. There are so many people who care about you. You have a circle of friends to support you. You don’t have to make a decision right away. And crucially, you are not alone. Within a moment of putting the phone down from her, another, relatively new friend from work, who already knew I was worried about my late period, was calling. She was particularly amazing as she was well connected in the reproductive rights world. You’re going to be okay. In the morning, call BPAS [The British Pregnancy Advisory Service], you’ll be able to be seen quicker than going through a doctor.

I realised I had to talk to the father, who was of course busy at the time on his holiday. He did call eventually  but it ended up making me feel considerably worse. ‘Oh, this sucks’. Was all he seemed to be able to say. And when he was angry and confused about why I felt so emotional, I had to put the phone down.

I barely slept that night, panicking about the (obvious now I understood what they were) changes in my body. I woke up and the test was still there, on the bedside table. Pregnant 3+ weeks. It was not a bad dream.  I was devastated. I felt invaded, confused, alien to myself. As much as an unwanted pregnancy is frightening to anyone, I’ve always had a pretty serious phobia about even the idea of being pregnant, and now it was true, and even worse, I was single. I wished I had a partner there to hold me, and make me feel safe. So that we were in this together, as hard as it was. But I was alone.

My imagination went haywire. What if we’re overtaken by a right-wing Handmaid’s Tale-style patriarchal regime before I can get help? What if I’m forced to give birth? What if THE APOCOLYPSE COMES before I can get help?! Oh my god, I’m going to be pregnant through the apocalypse, fuck, fuck.   

Calling BPAS first was some of the best advice I’ve ever had. A very calm and kind lady talked to me and, incredibly, booked me in for an appointment the following morning. Amazingly, they said that if I wanted to go through with an abortion then and there, I could. Or if I just wanted to have a chat about my options and talk to a counsellor, that was also fine. Whatever works for you, we’ll be there.

Those words are invaluable.  I went to work. I have no idea how I went through the motions of the day with the screaming in my ears, the buzzing. People were talking to me and I wasn’t really hearing what they were saying, all I could think about was the soreness in my breasts, the nausea, the stretching feeling in my body, the dryness that I could now not just attribute to anxiety. I was so preoccupied I fell flat on my face on the bus, hitting my head pretty hard, and had to scramble back up while the Londoners around me just tutted, assuming I was drunk.

The morning of my appointment I got ready shakily. I had messages of support from my closest friends, but from the father, nothing. In spite of everything between us, having told him I was having the appointment the next morning, I did think he might say something in acknowledgement of the fact that he wasn’t able to be there with me. They had made time to post on social media, but to me?

Silence. I got on a bus alone, feeling like a shell, and when I got in and registered, I noticed the feeling of dirtiness that overcame me as I sank into the cushions in the waiting room. This is how deep the stigma about abortion runs in our society, even in a country where it is thankfully free, safe, and legal. I am an ardent feminist and have even helped to coordinate pro-choice events (ironically I had chaired a panel on the subject just a couple of weeks before, not knowing that I was pregnant). And yet while 100% being behind other women who face this difficult situation, when it came to me, I felt overwhelmed with shame and guilt. I had become one of those girls even when everything I thought logically refuted everything in the judgement of the idea of one of those girls, which in fact could be any woman.

BPAS were the most supportive, professional, and kind service providers you could ever hope for, and I am fortunate that they exist. And yet, in spite of this, the next couple of hours were some of the most difficult of my life. The counsellor was amazing. Patient, understanding, respectful of my feelings and choice. But still, the questions shook me much more deeply than I’d ever expected.  How does the idea of being a parent making you feel? I had a blood test. I went into a room where an ultrasound probe is put inside you to confirm the pregnancy. As early in the pregnancy as it was, I wish I hadn’t seen the blip on the screen.

I realised I wasn’t ready to make my choice. I never thought that if this happened I would consider keeping it, but when I went away that day I faced the hardest decision of my life. Outwardly I was sure I couldn’t, and didn’t want a child. That’s what I kept saying to my friends, and even to the father, who I knew had no interest in giving up so much of his life right now either. But the doubt I cycled through in the next 24 hours was very real. It feels different when the potential for a person is inside you.

 I instinctively had become defensive of my belly, going to protect it when a random kid threw a firework at me in the street. It seemed ironic in the circumstances. I pictured what it would be like to have a child, to grow someone inside of you, to be able to pour all of your love into somebody. To fill that emptiness, the person-shaped space for love that kept changing and vanishing as the people I loved never worked out. And I was really thrown to realise there was a part of me that did want that, given that I had never been interested in motherhood before. The power of hormones is quite frightening.

I started talking to the blip. I wish I hadn’t but it was hard to undo once I’d started. Weirdly it was easier to talk out loud about what I was thinking and in talking to the blip I was trying to justify myself, to work out what I was thinking as I was saying it. But as I was talking and imagining a life with them I realised that what I said would be promises I couldn’t keep.

I didn’t know if I could love them and protect them. I honestly still don’t. I struggle enough with mental health and getting myself through each day as it is. What if the anger, hurt, and self-loathing I felt seeped into them, poisoning them even while they were in my own belly, and afterwards?

Inevitably the fact they weren’t wanted would end up impacting on the way I brought them up even if I fought to not let that come across. I would have to give up my independence, my love of travel, it would affect my career, and as much as I might idealise this new fantasy motherhood, in that moment I knew I would end up resenting them on some level.

 And how could I protect a child when I didn’t even have a job? When I was soon to be unemployed, when I lived in one bedroom in a shared council house that I wasn’t even sure I could keep paying for, when I had nowhere near enough savings to have my own house any time in the future. I had no idea if they’d have a father around either but realistically it seemed unlikely. The harsh reality of the situation hit me. I’m sorry, I sobbed to the blip I don’t think I can look after you. I can’t give you a life you deserve. I don’t want to make you as unhappy as I am.

I knew I had to make the appointment happen fast, or I might not be able to go through with it.

For a medical abortion, which is what I opted for, the ideal situation is to take the first pill a couple of days before the second one. It works to soften the lining of your uterus in advance of the second, which pushes the pregnancy out.  But, but. I had an interview the next day, and I had to drive to it. I had no choice but to go given my circumstances. There was a small chance that the miscarriage would start either on the motorway or mid-interview. Part of me still considered it, but thankfully the counsellor ruled it out. But if I wanted it to happen before the weekend, I’d have to take both pills at the same time, which gives worse side-effects.

I gritted my teeth and decided I had no other choice. I had already had to take time out of work, and I couldn’t let that drag into the next week. I also couldn’t spend all weekend thinking about it. If it happened Friday, at least I’d have two days to recover.

A day of hysteria. I can’t even remember the interview, have no idea how I drove back to central London, went through work. I’d become a robot. Saying the right words when people spoke to me. Smiling in the right places.

It was only by being a robot on the day that I went through the motions to make sure it got underway before any feelings started. That moment of looking at the pills in the two paper cups. Knowing that moment was make or break, it was irreversible. And it was done.

I got an uber back, too afraid it would start on the tube. I got a hot water bottle and crawled into bed, waiting for it to start. I put Friends on in the background to distract myself. The painkillers made me feel spaced out.

It took too long. I don’t want to scare anyone away from doing it because it’s undoubtedly one of the safest ways, but my god, they didn’t get across how painful it is. I hope I never again experience that much pain. And it didn’t stop, for hours and hours of the worst agony of my life. But the bleeding didn’t start. It’s meant to start in a few hours, but nothing, just pain. I called BPAS in a panic who said it can take different times for different people. I spent the longest hours huddled round a hot water bottle waiting until all the painkillers finally made me pass out. It was one of those ‘dark nights of the soul’.

I woke up suddenly, soaking wet in sweat and blood, somehow the pain had amplified by tenfold. I reached down and finally the blood had come but so much – it had soaked through two sets of knickers, nightpads, and my pyjamas. 

I struggled to slide out of bed, pushing through the agony. If I could clean myself up I’d be on top of this. I managed to stand. Is this normal? I thought. Am I dying? So much blood.

I made my way to the door. The feeling next is hard to describe, but there was a woosh of pain that seemed to charge through my whole body, making it contract violently, and then darkness. I woke up on the floor of my room. I must have knocked the mirror off the wall as I fell because it had landed hard on my head. Pain. My heart was racing against the cold floorboards. Pain.

I tried to get up, sliding the mirror off my back, stepping to my bedroom door again. Black. I hit my head again on the way down.

I came round. I lay for a long time, belly down, panting. It was the most scared I have ever been. I am actually dying. Something has gone very wrong. I thought. I breathed, and breathed, trying to control it, to steady my heart. I dragged myself on my belly to my phone to text for support in case I actually needed help. Thankfully this time the father did respond. My housemates didn’t seem to have been woken by the crash.

After a long time I decided to try again to reach the bathroom. It was on another floor. I crawled on my belly to the stairs, and then gradually slid down them backwards, too afraid to stand again. So much blood. I knew it had happened in that moment. I did my best to wash it away and then crawled back up to bed, where the painkillers took me away again to sleep.

The next morning seemed to dawn as though it was any old day. There was pain, but it had, at last, eased off. I touched my belly. Then looked at the covers to assess the damage. I realised all of a sudden there was pain in my finger- I couldn’t move it. I tried again. I had landed on it when I fell, and somehow hadn’t noticed in the shock. It was broken. Fuck, I didn’t know if I could handle A and E right now. Thank god my beloved friend Emily came to take me to the hospital and away from that house, that room.

The first day back to work I’d put on my clothes and make up and decided this was a new week. That was behind me now. I’d get a haircut, I’d start over. I hadn’t really processed anything yet.

The woman I’d been providing maternity cover for brought her baby into the office. It was obviously just really unlucky timing. I tried to keep it together, I smiled, hugged her, kissed the baby. Baby head smell. Bad idea.

I breathed while everyone fussed around them both. And I couldn’t stop my brain. What about my baby? What about me? Don’t we matter? We don’t matter because it’s gone and I’m too young and broke and stupid to be allowed my baby. And then. There is no baby. All that’s left of it is the blood in your pants. And it’s all. Your. Fault. You. Useless. Fucking. Cunt.

I wanted nothing more than to hold my baby like she was holding hers. And I wouldn’t. I never would. There was nothing there now. And I fell apart, head down, running through the corridor to the loos, hoping no one would see the tears under my hair. I broke down. I was sent home from work, a haunted face looking back at me through the tube window, mascara to my chin. I got off, bought a cheap bottle of wine and staggered back home, into that bed. And then the force of everything I had been blocking out since making my decision hit me at once.

The feelings didn’t go away, even in  the next weeks, as I learned I had got the job I’d interviewed for (how the hell I have no idea), picked myself up again, went to leaving dos and drinks and smiled at the right times as everyone gushed about how everything was alright now, even without knowing the half of everything in my head.

I was obsessed with babies for a long time. I seemed to see them everywhere, there were many more of them than I had ever noticed. I wanted to touch them, I wanted to hold them, I wanted one like I had never – ever – done before. I fantasised about the life I would have with my baby girl, us together against everything. I shouldn’t have indulged in it.

It took a long time for that to wear off, I guess because of the sheer volume of hormones involved in both pregnancy and abortion as my body and brain tried to adjust to the change and everything that had happened. Even by Christmas, a couple of months later, I was struggling when I went home to not think about it now I didn’t have the distraction of work. Put on the makeup. Smile in the right places. Wait until the door is closed.

As the months have passed since I was gradually able to go a day, maybe two, without thinking about it. Occasionally I’d look up how big the foetus would be by now. 15 weeks. Your baby is the size of a pear.  Your baby is a sweet potato. I’d have periods of being fine and then be hit by nowhere with a wall of sadness.

Time went on and I began to realise what I had known before I got unhealthily wrapped up in dark thoughts – that I had made the right choice. I might still feel sad about it, but I was glad I wasn’t pregnant. I am glad I haven’t had a baby.

The memory of what happened is always going to be a bit of a dark shadow in my heart. But as much as it was difficult, it was by far the better alternative. If I was having a baby today, it would not have been wanted or planned for. I couldn’t have afforded it. It would have robbed me of my life, my career, and we certainly couldn’t have afforded our own home. I would have resented it and I know that. And the world is too full of problems already, too full of children who have suffered, to bring any more of them into it. Let alone not knowing if the world I brought them would be a safe one as we seem to be hurtling ever faster towards nuclear or environmental apocalypse.

I want to stress this part because the large part of my abortion story is quite traumatic. It is not my intention to dissuade anyone from having an abortion who needs one. If you do, it’s the best option, and it’s your right, the right thing to do, and as much as it’s unpleasant you will get through it. I remain a staunch supporter of the pro-choice movement and women’s reproductive rights.

I shared my story more because I hadn’t really known anyone’s before this happened. But one in three of the women in my life will have had one. One in three women in your life. Because I felt ashamed about it in spite of myself and shouldn’t. 

I shared it because as much as I support and am a part of it, there are elements of the pro-choice movement that don’t acknowledge how hard it is. For some people it’s not as difficult a decision as it was for me, and that’s absolutely fine. But for a lot of women it is, and it’s hard to talk about when no one knows, no one seems to understand.

Even more so I shared it because of the bullshit anti-choice propaganda that wants people to think that women who get abortions are just sluts who get them willy nilly without a care in the world because they hate babies.

No one gets an abortion because they want one. Women get abortions because they need them, and because they don’t have another choice when they can’t or don’t want a baby. Whether abortion is legal or not will not affect this – it will only affect whether they can have one in a safe, legal, and supportive environment.

Right now in the UK, Northern Irish women are not able to exercise their right to abortion. And serious contenders for our next prime minister have expressed the desire to limit abortion access laws. The law change in Alabama will result in thousands of women like me not getting the help that they need and being put in dangerous situations. And in El Salvador, women are spending their lives in prison on the basis of the most draconian and evil laws controlling women’s bodies in the world.

I wrote this so that people would be more aware of what one in three women in their lives will go through, to try to combat the stigma, and also because the support and advice I had is not available to millions of women. Some of them are as close as Northern Ireland. There are British women who cannot get the help that they need when they are in a situation like mine. They are forced onto planes. Or they are forced into motherhood.

Thank you for reading my story.


2 thoughts on “Fight the stigma: my abortion story”

  1. That’s a difficult decision to make. No women can say they have not been faced with the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy. Thank you for sharing your story.


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