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The day after my 23rd birthday...

October 16, 2018

“The day after my 23rd birthday I took a positive pregnancy test. I immediately called the guy I had slept with a few times over the last 3 months (Lets call him Sam) and told him it was ‘not the result we wanted’. I couldn't bring myself to say the words ‘I'm pregnant’. He was unable to talk on the phone as he was with family at the time, so I had to deal with just me and my own thoughts for hours.

 

I rushed back to the pharmacy before it closed and bought three more tests which were all positive. The length of time on the digital one added up with the date of the last time we had sex. Through text I begged him to quit what he was doing and just ring me, I needed to be in bed early as I had a 5am start for work but it didn't happen. He told me over text that he couldn't do this and could hardly concentrate on what he was doing as he was so scared by my news. I urged him to just call me, so we could talk about it and told him I'd take his opinion on board. I knew he'd want an abortion and to my surprise, I was considering it.

 

I always believed that if I had an unplanned pregnancy I would keep it. It was after 11 pm by the time he called, and it was only after that I was able to get some sleep. When my alarm went off the next morning I knew I wouldn't be able to go to work, so I phoned in sick, saying I had a 24hr bug. I used the day to think about things and rang a family planning clinic to arrange an appointment with a counselor. Abortion is not legal in my country, so you must travel to another country. I wanted to find out how to arrange that in case that was what I decided. The main reason I wanted to speak to the counselor was because I didn't know if I wanted to terminate or become a parent. I got an appointment for a few days later.

 

The more I thought about it the next day, the more I thought abortion was the right decision for me. Sam and I spoke on the phone that evening and he was relieved to hear that I was leaning towards abortion. I told him I wasn't 100% but would be trying to make my mind up in the next 24 hours. I fell asleep that night thinking it was the right decision and woke up for work the next day knowing it was the best option. I told a colleague who was leaving, her going away party was that night and she was so relieved when I told her I was having an abortion. She stressed that I shouldn't feel guilty, that if I would support another woman's decision to make that choice, why should I berate myself? This was something Sam said to me a lot in the weeks that followed.

 

Once I felt concrete in my decision I wrote a letter to the unborn child. We had begun to refer to him as the little prawn as when we googled what a fetus at that stage looks like, it reminded us as a prawn in its shell. We were convinced it was a boy. I wrote a letter to him apologizing and explaining the reasons we weren't keeping him. We weren't together and weren't going to be. While we were getting along fantastically as friends with benefits, we had been seeing each other 2 years previously and he was not honest about things, the dynamics between us were strange sometimes. We lived 3 hours apart and 2 hours if I moved home with my parents. I would have to give up my job. It's stressful, emotionally demanding and sometimes it's dangerous. There's no way I could do it and be a mother. Changing career would likely mean moving home to my family until after I had the baby and was ready to go back to work. It would put a lot of strain on my parents and brother to live with a newborn. Changing career would also mean losing a big part of who I am right now. One day I want to change my work setting so I can become a mother but now is just too soon. I've only been in the field for a year and I love helping people improve their lives, I've even had the opportunity to save lives on three occasions in the year I've worked in this area. All these reasons made sense but I still felt guilty.

 

I went to the family planning clinic one morning before I went to work for an evening shift. The counselor was an older woman and during the session I found out she was the same age as my mother. She explained that if I wanted to travel, she would have to give me a letter approving an abortion. I told her all the reasons I thought abortion was right for me and we calculated how far along I was. I told her about my family, how I couldn't tell them as they were pro-life, and it was so isolating as for the first time in my life, I was going through something big and difficult but couldn't share it with my mother. I explained the history and dynamics of me and Sam. I explained the guilt of killing a potential human. She was brilliant at her job and got me to examine different perspectives without influencing her. I told her I wanted an abortion and she stopped me dead in my tracks when she asked if I would lean towards keeping it if that's what Sam wanted.

 

‘No. . . .if I really wanted this child I would do it by myself if I had to’. I was very confident in that. We then began to look at practical options. I wanted a medical abortion but didn't know when Sam and I were able to travel together. She offered to get a volunteer to meet me and take me to the clinic for support but when I hesitated to respond she explained that she understood it may be easier to travel with a person I know, especially when it was his pregnancy too. I wanted a medical abortion but when we looked at our schedules, the dates we could go would mean I was too far along for one. I had to book a surgical. I wanted to be awake for the abortion but the ones under local anesthetic were not performed on the day of the week we were travelling so I had to be totally out to have one that day. I ended up being grateful that I had to be put under general rather than local.

 

It was a long wait before we could travel. It was so hard knowing there was a heartbeat inside of me and that I would end that heartbeat. It goes against natural instincts. The worst time came when my friend sent me pictures of her scan at 17 weeks. My initial feeling was joy and excitement to meet her baby in January. But a few hours after, I felt immense guilt. How could I be so excited to meet the child she was carrying and yet be willing to kill the one inside of me? I also began to feel jealous that she was in a position where she was ready to have a child and I had made the toughest decision of my life and had to say goodbye to something. I felt so unlucky that I fell pregnant and that I lived in a country where abortion is not available. Unlucky that I couldn't tell many of the people closest to me. I had a dark few days and felt very alone. I didn't feel like I could tell the guy who fathered the child as I knew he was spending time with another girl and became very frustrated when he didn't notice I was upset. There was a point where I considered self-harm which was something I used to do in my early teens. Thankfully I had the sense to take my housemate's dog out for a walk to calm myself instead.

 

It worked but having those urges after being free of them for so many years was terrifying. When I did tell Sam a few days after, he was super supportive, and I knew I should have told him but my head was just so messed up at the time that I had difficulty expressing my emotions. I also felt like nobody, not even a friend as close as him cared about me or my feelings.

 

After that week, I had a few rough days scattered here and there, but never anything as bad. I loved my friend's unborn child and didn't love mine. And even though I didn't love it, I felt fondness and compassion for it. I'm a person who can sometimes struggle with loneliness but in the 5 weeks I knew I was pregnant I never once felt alone or lonely because I knew there was a person inside of me. I felt guilt for what I was going to do to him and hoped that the type of abortion I would be having would be the least traumatic for the fetus. Although I also know that medical science indicates the pathways to the brain that carry messages for pain aren't developed yet so that really put me at ease knowing science says it can't feel the pain of what is being done. In the last week and a half before we traveled, I was just eager to get it over with. Waiting for 5 weeks was so hard. It gave me too much time to worry. What if I never felt up to meeting my friend's baby when it was born? What if she had a boy and I found that hard because I was so convinced mine would be a boy? What if this turned me off babies? As well as that, there was a lot of practical things to worry about. What lies would I have to tell people about why I was going abroad? What if they couldn't get a cannula into my tiny veins? What if my iron was too low and they had to wait to do it another day? What if I had a reaction to general anesthetic? What if I fainted because I had to fast from midnight the night before?

 

On the last day before I had the abortion, I was walking past a historical building, was alone for the first time that day and my hand flew to my stomach. My eyes welled up as I realized this would be my last day alone with my prawn. This was the last time I wouldn't be the only person there when I was alone. It was a bittersweet goodbye. I silently thanked him for not giving me any unmanageable symptoms and never making me puke. We had about 3 hours sleep the night before we had to travel. Our flight was at 6 am so we had to get up at 4. In the airport I noticed a young couple who looked nervous and I couldn't help but think that they looked like they were travelling for the same purpose we were. Sam nudged me and voiced the same opinion. When we went to the lady holding the sign for the car to the clinic, the other couple followed us shortly after. Abortion cannot be made available in my country soon enough as there are too many women and couples making the tough journey every day.

 

It was about 9 am when we arrived. A nurse took my height, bp, pulse and iron levels. She checked I was there of my own free will. I then saw a doctor who went through the procedure with me and explained the risks. We had a brief chat about contraception and he explained that I should start a new pill pack the following day. The scan was the hardest part. The ultrasound technician asked me to unbutton my jeans and lie on the bed, she warned me that the gel would be cold and after that she said nothing. For the first time that day I cried silent tears. I'd often imagined having my first ultrasound for my first pregnancy and thought of it as a milestone in life, but I imagined it in a completely different way. I did not ask to see the scan and tried to hide the tears as I walked back into the waiting room because I didn't want to frighten any of the other women.

 

Sam put his arm around me and pulled my head into his chest, so I could hide my tears. He stroked my hair and told me how strong I was. He knew that was the part of the procedure I was dreading the most. It took the nurses a few attempts to get the cannula in and having that over was another relief. Not because of the pain (it doesn't hurt) but because I was so scared they wouldn't be able to do the abortion if they couldn't give me the IV drugs and I have very small veins. They also gave me a suppository with pain relief in it which I inserted. After that I had to go upstairs and wait for the procedure.

 

The woman in the cubicle next to mine had a person with her. I assumed she was under age and it was her mother. I was so hungry I felt nauseous but thankfully, I was so exhausted that I slept through some of the nausea. A nurse woke me to put a pill under my tongue to dilate my cervix and I dozed off again. You can have your phone in that waiting room so every time I woke, I was able to text Sam who was sleeping and watching crappy daytime T.V in the waiting room. He didn't leave the building once to get food even though there was no point in him waiting around. At 4 or 5 pm they took me and the girl in the cubicle beside me down to the area outside the surgery. She went in first and another 2 women came down to wait as well. We were all just dying to have it over with. We were all so hungry as we had fasted for 17 hours or so and were nervous. We just couldn't wait to have it over with.

 

I was called in next and the consultant who would be doing the abortion asked me if I was sure and if I was there of my own free will. It was after this when I lay on the bed and they wheeled me over that I began to feel nervous and started to shake a bit but the anesthetist put me at ease by asking me if I'd ever been put under before and joking that I was in for a treat, everyone should get to experience general anesthetic in their life. I woke up to nurses tapping my leg and saying my name very loudly. I looked around and was in a completely different room with other women who were treated around the same time as me. We were all relieved and most of us were smiling. We were all excited to have a cup of tea and a biscuit. A nurse checked if I was bleeding and told me that once I felt ready, I should go to the bathroom.

 

Just before I went into the surgery room I was waiting with the girl who had been in the cubicle beside me. She was from the same country as me and I was right that she was underage. ‘I'm only 16, I really shouldn't be here, but I was stupid.’ She told me. ‘I'm 23 and just as stupid, you're so lucky you could tell your parents. I can't tell mine.’ She told me I was lucky not to have morning sickness, all I could do was laugh and agree! After the procedure I got talking to another woman from my country. She was in her early thirties and had to travel alone as he husband was looking after their 2 children ‘I really shouldn't be here’ she told me, yet she told me I was right in my decision ad I'd know when I was ready and able to be a mother.

 

What I learned that day is that every woman there feels they shouldn't be there. They don't judge the woman in the bed or cubicle beside them, but they judge themselves. I did too but it really makes no sense. It's been 3 weeks since I had the abortion. I've only had 1 or 2 bad days. I mostly feel relief that it's over and excitement to live my life. I think I processed the guilt in the weeks I had to wait for the abortion. The one thing I'm struggling with is contacting my friend who is pregnant. Because her scan pictures triggered me so much before I'm scared it may happen again. I'm also scared I might get jealous of her because she is in a position where continuing a pregnancy is a real possibility for her and I didn't feel like it was for me. I've since told 3 more colleagues so 4 in total know. 2 of them are straight women, all of them say I'm brave. I don't feel brave. There is a part of me that thinks I took the easy way out. While I regret that contraception error led to me falling pregnant, I really don't regret ending the pregnancy. I still have the option of travelling, I can still save a healthy amount, I don't have to move back in with my family, I don't have to worry about developing postnatal depression or resenting a child for my career path changing, I still get to continue working in a job that I love even though it is hard and I still get to help people and save lives.

 

Sam is a huge part of my life right now and we are very close friends, but I'm not bound to seeing him weekly for the next 18 odd years. I'm not tied to any extra people bar the family and friends I have always loved. I can't share this story with all of them, but I still love them and I'm happy none of those relationships have to change. If you're reading this because you are pregnant and not sure what to do, try to think of how you'd feel towards a different person in your situation. Too often we judge ourselves far more harshly than we judge others but at the end of the day, we are all complex beings.”   

—Anonymous

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