On having an abortion
[10 years ago]
It’s 4.30am. I’m sitting on the side of the bath, watching as the moisture seeps up the stick. A line appears, dark pink, just as it should. The instructions said five minutes, so I continue to watch, and slowly, beside it, a second pink line appears, such a pale ghost of the first that I could almost kid myself that I am dreaming it. But definitely a line.
I’m stunned. This is an experience I never expected to have. Of course there is no question of me having a baby right now, I know that straight away; but I still feel strangely pleased and positive. It’s shattered my fundamental assumption that I can’t conceive, and that’s a huge deal. I feel sad that this is very much the wrong time, but completely astounded that I do have the option, after all.
My marriage ended a year ago, and I’ve been with my boyfriend for a few months. We’ve just made the big decision to reduce the 100 miles between our homes and live together. We have so much fun, so much in common, so many possibilities. We’re not ready to bring a baby into this relationship, there just isn’t room, yet.
I see my GP who points out that I’m 33 and it’s taken me months to conceive; what if I have an abortion and then never conceive again, won’t I regret it? But my priority is my relationship, and what if I go ahead with the pregnancy and the relationship doesn’t survive? I currently have no maternity rights and no savings, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my adult life.
Do I have a moral obligation to have the baby? No. I have a moral obligation, when I make a positive decision to have a baby, to be prepared. To have a body free of alcohol and antibiotics, a secure roof over my head, and a few more years to solidify this relationship, to give a baby a stable family. This is not a difficult decision, but nor is it one I make lightly.
I have to endure Christmas through morning sickness and hormones and a strange stab of conscience with every glass of wine I drink. In early January I am sent for family planning counselling, expecting to be judged or dissuaded, but none of that happens. It’s all very practical and I feel a bit scared, mainly of how I might feel after The Procedure. I notice that none of the professionals seem to use the word “abortion.” They tell me that there will be a lot of blood.
My boyfriend and I book a Friday off work and I spend a miserable night and morning feeling nervous and not allowed to eat in advance of the anaesthetic. The clinic looks like a large house on a residential street, inside and out. I’m taken to a bedroom with two other women, and the nursing sister talks to us all together about what will happen. We put on surgical gowns, then we wait for a bored, tense hour, to be taken through. We don’t chat.
I am the last of the three to be taken away. The staff are pleasant and efficient; it’s so clearly all in a day’s work. They check my temperature and my blood pressure, and give me a hairnet. The anaesthetist and the surgeon introduce themselves to me. I am not particularly bothered that they are men, but younger girls might mind, I suppose. As I lie on the bed being wheeled through to another room, a voice asks “is this our last one this morning?” It makes me feel like I’m being processed on a conveyor belt, and frankly the impersonal touch is exactly what I need.
I lie looking up at the lights, just waiting for the anaesthetic; at this stage, I really don’t want to know any more about it. I want to be out, I want that moment before unconsciousness, where I’m certain that the next thing I know, it will be over. They take an age to get the needle into my hand and I panic that for some reason it might not work. The last thing I remember before the feeling of numbness starts to creep through my veins, is them fixing stirrups to the side of the bed, a moment of knowledge that my pregnancy is about to be sucked out of me, and then nothing.
I wake in post-op, where a nurse is watching for me. I try to speak and my words sound slurred. I say I can feel terrible cramps, and the nurse tells me that’s my womb clamping down, and it will stop soon. I’ve been given painkillers and antibiotics but they haven’t kicked in yet. I gather myself up, and someone walks me back to my bed in the waiting room.
I lie down feeling tearful and lonely, wanting to be able to let my boyfriend know I’m alright, wanting to go to sleep, wanting a cup of tea. That wish is granted about twenty minutes later: tea and biscuits, and I sit up and feel a bit better. The cramps fade. I listen to the other women chatting quietly. One already has three children, she didn’t want to go through it all again. The other woman is Irish.
Finally I am allowed home, and I can spend the weekend feeling a bit delicate but on my way back to normal. It takes a little while for the hormones to seep out of my body. I still have this strange feeling of sad-happy acceptance of the situation, that I’ve had from the moment I took the pregnancy test. This is something I needed to do for me, for us, at this time. It was weird to be pregnant, without being a mum-to-be, and over the weeks I was pregnant, I did let myself form an odd detached attachment to my little clump of extraneous cells, knowing that I would have to say goodbye soon. I thought of it as a little bundle of potential which I was putting on hold until the time is right.