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What It Feels Like To Get An Abortion

Third place in Honi Soit’s 2015 Opinion Competition, as judged by Executive Editor of the New Yorker, Amelia Lester.

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Shortly after turning 19, I found out I was pregnant. The news was particularly shocking because I’d been taking the pill and using condoms, which I considered an airtight contraceptive regime. I don’t know why or how I got pregnant (well, I know how), but I’ve since learned that the pill has a much lower efficacy rate for people like me with Crohn’s disease, an intestinal disorder that can fuck with your absorption, amongst other things.

Early signs didn’t click. I was ravenous all the time. My boobs swelled and friends asked if I’d begun wearing push-up bras (my chest isn’t exactly my main asset. I’m constantly asking guys to stop staring at my face.) I couldn’t stomach a vodka shot – the mere smell made me instantly sick. I dismissed this aversion as a consequence of the six months I’d just had of over-zealous alcohol consumption in Europe during my gap year.

Then I tried to remember when I’d had my last period. I couldn’t. Every month, I have no idea when my period is coming. No idea. This might contradict images of hysterical girls on Sit-Coms being all homg imma a day late, but it’s just something I never tune into until the blood is literally staining yet another pair of my underwear.

Then I started feeling nauseous. I dismissed the idea of being pregnant as stupid. To put my mind at ease, I took a pregnancy test bought from a pharmacy I never go to in a public bathroom on my way to work.

Although debates on “where life begins” are important, philosophical questions are not what you think of when you realize you’re pregnant and don’t want to be. Your first response is disbelief. Then “oh, fuck”. Followed by disbelief.

My main job back then was looking after three small boys under the age of 5. They were adorable and I loved them to bits. That afternoon, I walked to work in a trance. Playing with the kids felt weird now I had one growing inside me.

What none of the pregnancy books I hadn’t read prepared me for was how hard the hormones would hit. I thought about children all the time. I dreamt about them. I was teary, feeling every emotion with full impact. It was like an elaborate method-acting empathy task into the daily experiences of pregnant women, except I was actually pregnant.

When I imagined keeping it, I assessed my personal situation. I was 19, just about to start a double degree at Sydney Uni. Completing that was unthinkable with a newborn. The ‘father’, my boyfriend at the time, lived in England. It was a bleak, isolating narrative – and in no way matched the quality of life I hope to be able to provide the children I one day choose to have.

Throughout this whole period, I felt intensely disconnected from whatever I was doing. I would have lunch with my friends, grateful for the distraction, but my mind was churning away constantly. Even now, writing this, my mind disconnects and I rely on casual humour to distance myself from what I was feeling then and what I feel now.

***

As the nurse walked me into the operating theatre, I burst into tears, sobbing like I hadn’t since my dog had been attacked and had her intestines ripped out. I felt cold, small. An older female nurse hugged me and said to another “I think she’s been holding this in for a long time”. She held onto my shoulders and asked me in a gentle voice if I wanted to go through with it. I nodded. I understood I could change my mind if I wanted to? Yes yes, I understood.

By the next day the hormones had left my body and my head felt clearer. The dreams stopped. I bought a bracelet with a tiny gold peace symbol on it that I would fiddle with. I used to wear it every day.

There’s a difference between privacy and secrecy. Keeping my abortion secret not only creates my own sense of shame, it adds an extra membranous layer to the already dense societal stigma that forces women to keep quiet about their experiences and says your body is and will always be a source of shame and something to constantly apologize for.

Having an abortion is a very private choice I hope none of my friends have to make. But, if they do, my hope is that they can make it without fear of stigma, shame, or a moralizing other. Abortion will always be a dirty word if women give it that power through silence.