There are some things that we just don’t talk about. Some things that are topics so taboo that even I haven’t discussed them here… and I speak about everything here, taking a truth that is mine and speaking it to the world.
But some topics, we don’t discuss them. Even amongst friends with who we can talk openly about children and sex and money and relationships and life. Even with those people with whom we can discuss politics or religion or mental health or general philosophy.
Suicide is one of them, but that no longer applies here, not in this little corner of the Internet.
Abortion is another.
I read a post on MamaMia a while back that dealt with the amazingly silent taboo of abortion. Why it’s something we talk around– my standard line used to be “I don’t disagree with it. I can see how some women do it. But I couldn’t do it myself.”
And that continued to be my line. Even after I did have an abortion– a pregnancy terminated at nine weeks gestation– seven years ago, when I was twenty three years old, before I met Tony. Before I had the children I have now.
It’s not something I’m proud of. But that stems not from the the act itself, but because I allowed my decision to be influenced unfairly. While I was prepared to keep this baby, my boyfriend at the time was not. When I told him to just walk away, to leave me to have this child on my own, he said he could not. At one stage he threatened suicide– probably an idle threat, but terrifying none the less, even way Before the sky fell down.
Obviously, my body is my own– I could have, at any time, told him that I had made up my mind, that I was keeping my baby. But his insecurities, the million good reasons he had not to want this baby, the stress and tears and pressure… All of those things just exasperated my own insecurities, my own fears, my own weaknesses. I was financially living week to week, my boyfriend and I weren’t even living together– he was still living with his parents. I would have had little support, I wouldn’t have been able to continue as a performer heavily pregnant or for weeks after birth, and that was, at the time, my main source of income. Underpinning all that was the simple, gut wrenching fear that I would not know what the hell I was doing. No babies had been born in my family for years, and none of my friends at that time had kids. I had never even held a newborn baby before. And all I could picture was struggling as a single mum with a tiny baby, in a tiny flat, completely cut off from the life I’d once known.
That crippling fear became the major factor in my decision to terminate the pregnancy (a girl… just as I knew the gender of the children who own my heart now from the moment their hearts were beating, I know that the child I aborted would have been a girl). Making the decision; enduring a humiliating appointment with a GP I’d never met before who suggested it would be best to have the procedure done with simply a local atheistic; booking an appointment for two weeks time at a clinic in the city… The relief was palpable, tangible, enough to make me sob with the knowledge that, as difficult as this was going to be, I could soon go back to my life as I knew it– relatively easy and without a dependent mouth to feed.
I’m not going to make excuses here… There are none to be made. I’m not going to try and justify my decision. I am grateful that I live in a society where abortions are available, a culture where my right to my body is my own.
It wasn’t a decision I was OK with at the time. I cried the whole day of the procedure. At the time, it felt like the longest day of my life.
Taking a seat in an abortion clinic is a strange thing. It’s sterile and medical, gentled by carpets and potted plants and a lack of children’s toys and books- sometimes the absence of objects can speak more than their presence.
I think the process takes longer than I imagine it would– but maybe not, because I had no idea what to expect. The next few hours were a game of tag with the nondescript, stagnant waiting room, where time whirls and eddies around itself but goes nowhere.
Basic assessment– name, age, Medicare card. Tag back into the waiting room for twenty long, slow minutes, attempting to read a magazine which features happy people with lives a million times removed from this warm but efficient place.
Tag again, and next it’s a sociological assessment– am I homeless, a drug addict, under the care of the mental health system? No, no, no. Just another silly girl dating a man who’s really just a boy, another careless female who missed her Pill once too often.
Tag, back to the waiting room.
While the warmth of this place belies its purpose, the churning effect does not. Patients play duck and weave with clerical staff, nurses, social workers and doctors; one patient in one examining room while another woman, her appointment scheduled half an hour earlier, sees the next health professional in the chain of ‘Are You Sure?’. The links of that chain seemed so endless that day, one atop another atop another… How many times did I have to ask myself that question, that eternal Are You Sure? when I’d already made the decision, time and time again? And when I would never be sure, not even after it was all said and done, not even now, seven years later, with two babies I can feel and smell and touch growing in the space of my arms every day?
Within the duck and weave, there are women who become short comrades on the chain, other patients who’s game of tag syncs somewhat with yours. Appointments are staggered and some women are filtered off for extra tes
ting, additional barricaded links in the chain, but it is the same few women who were filling in their basic information forms while I was doing the same that ended up in the recovery room with me, thick sanitary pads between their legs, a packet of Family Assorted biscuits and a cup of instant coffee on their meal trays.
I am one of those filtered off, extra time in the game of waiting room tag, because I have suffered depression in the past, and been honest enough to tell the receptionist that. The social worker is worried about me, worried that having an abortion– the guilty grief combined with an unnatural push and surge of hormones– will be enough to spiral me into blackness once again. I stare at her, dumbfounded. In my naivety, my childless ignorance, I assured her that even if I do become depressed, there is medication for that. I can recover from this… A year at the most and I will have forgotten all about it, this heartache reduced in my conscious to the equivalent of a tonsillectomy– an uncomfortable, inconvenient and slightly painful medical procedure one endure for one’s own good.
The alternative was something there was no medication for. A child, for the next forever of my life. A baby born to a father who didn’t want her and a mother who was terrified, living alone in a tiny flat, her only real skills working a checkout or bending balloon animals.
I never thought that when it came right down to it, I’d be the one to back out. I had a tableaux in my head of what would happen if, heaven help us all, I fell pregnant when I was young, or alone, or eating two minute noodles and garlic bread for dinner every night because that’s what I could afford; I had an image of the stoically beautiful pregnant woman I would be. I had a script written as a single mum of a five year old, eating meals that were cheap but healthy, cuddling in front of a crackly TV set every night, being tough and proud and teaching my child the roughest life lessons in the gentlest way. “I have no issue with abortions,” I would say, in all my naive glory, “but I couldn’t get one myself.”
I found out exactly how much bullshit that was on the night my boyfriend– the baby’s father– threatened to drive his car into a tree if I didn’t get a termination.
I won’t say I was bullied into the decision…. I don’t believe he would have hurt himself, and don’t think I believed it then (but let’s not trust me to judge things like that, God knows). But in the face of his fear, any fantasy I may have reserved about being brave and selfless and strong evaporated. And what was left was a paralyzing fear of my own.
I cried the entire day my first pregnancy was terminated. I sobbed with fear on the drive into the city. I sobbed with relief when I read a pamphlet in the waiting room– we had been lucky that day. This three fold piece of green paper instructed patients on the what to do’s and what not to do’s if the semi–regular trickle of protesters– that some days became a violent flood– were in evidence.
I snuck a look at the turned screen one the sonographer and saw a tiny blob, and nondescript shape, with a perfectly discernible flutter of a heartbeat, and was inconsolable for the next round of tag, the sound of my chest heaving with a pain I couldn’t quite identify doubtlessly distressing to the other woman… But unable to be stopped. (It’s worth noting here that some pro–life groups advocate, among other things, a policy of ’informed decisions’, which involves abortion clinics being forced to give their patients a copy of their ultrasound photos and a fact sheet stating the age, weight and various developmental milestones of their fetus before the patient gives their consent to a termination. I don’t think I need to say I don’t agree with that. And not least because they’ve taken a term more commonly used in birth advocacy and bastardised it.)
I shook with tears as I filled out forms, as they drew blood, as I tried to read those pointless magazines in the waiting room every time I played tag. No wonder the social worker was concerned– she had every right to be. Unfortunately the best she could for me was to write down the names of a few blue sky hippy books about mindfulness and acceptance, and make me promise to see my GP if I couldn’t stop crying, retreated into myself and stopped taking showers.
There were other members of my medically induced relay team that cried, on and off, throughout the six hours we were there. But none that sat and sobbed as I did. At one point, in what I know is my final period in the waiting room before I go under, a woman walks in, here to collect her friend.
She is pushing a pram.
In that pram is a tiny baby.
The receptionist suggests, polite but forceful, that the woman and her baby might wait in the coffee shop a few doors down. Leave your number, says the receptionist, I’ll call you as soon as your friend is in recovery.
No, no; replies woman–with–baby, obtuse and ignorant, as she takes a seat in the waiting room. I stare at her, wanting her to look at me so I can burn my red, sore eyes into her, so she might see what she is doing. She looks everywhere but me, shushes the baby and rocks it’s pram, absorbed but not really looking at a glossy gossip magazine.
My boyfriend squeezes my hand. I want to hit him. Another woman, another member of the tag team, she looks at me and gives me a wan smile, shaking her head just slightly. She is, I see by her eyes, just as upset as I am, but her maturity brings her not to show it.
This woman– let’s call her Jane, because if I found out her name I don’t remember it, and she looked like a Jane– and her sad brown eyes lurked in my head for months after the day I met her. She had children already– three, I think, although my mind could be making that up– and she was no older than thirty five. Her husband was there with her, holding her hand all the while, and they had that married vibe, that soul grip on each other that I miss so much now my own husband is gone. There was a sense of sad understanding between Jane and her man. Something about them said that they were resigned to this, that they knew exactly what they were doing– how could they not, having felt the weight of a baby in their arms, having smelt sweet milky breath as proof of life?– but they had discussed this, talked it round and round, whispered conversations as their kids were playing and deliberations late into the night, beneath the doona of a double bed– the most fertile place for conversation, for declaration and matrimonial empathy.
And it had come to the stark eventuality of the truth, one of those stupid truths (how can he die if I love him so…?) that ignore the fundamental, childish belief that good people should be rewarded by life. Jane and her husband couldn’t afford another baby, not with three children to care for already, a mortgage, both of them working.
It’s a bitch, but it’s truth. It’s money, not love, that makes the world go around. A termination in 2003 cost $260 (“I’ll pay for that, of course” said my boyfriend and, again, I wanted to hit him. A ridiculous social norm– the man brings the condoms. And he pays for the abortion if they happen to break. That’s the gentlemanly thing to do). Raising a child for a lifetime costs a lot, lot more than that.
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|Me… just to remind you there is areal person behind this story, behind every story.
After I’ve lived a lifetime and back in that small, warm waiting room, they finally call my name for the sixth time and I begin to cry again, so relieved that I will not have to return to this room, relieved to get away from the Woman and Her Baby. My boyfriend isn’t sure– is this just another game of tag, will I be back out one of the nondescript doors into the purgatory of the waiting room again in twenty minutes time? “Is this it?”. The nurse who has called me nods and says yes, this is it. My boyfriend kisses me, attempts to embrace me and we can play the script again– he’s so sorry, am I OK?- and I would justify him by saying yes, of course, this is what has to be done– but I can’t, won’t, I am so eager to get through the doors and get this over with. The anticipation is always worse than the event. The waiting, I cannot stand.
The nurse leads me into a tiny cubicle, the size of a public toilet; with only a bench, another pile of those glossy magazines that seem to breed in this clinic, and a hook on the wall where a hospital gown, complete with immodest openings, hangs. The nurse smiles kindly at me and asks if I am alright. Yes, I say, my words hitching through sobs, any remaining decorum erased like chalk in a storm when my boyfriend left to wait out the hour I would be unconscious. I am so very, very tired– I don’t recognize it then, but I know it now… pure emotional exhaustion, and the desperate need to shut yourself away before the hugeness of it all eats you whole.
“It’s a hard day isn’t it love?”, The nurse replies above the sound of my distress. “You’ll be OK, it’ll be over soon. Just think about curling up on the lounge tonight with a packet of Tim Tams and watching some trashy TV.”
I wonder if she’s the one responsible for the proliferation of brain rotting literature left to distract patients and their loved ones from the waiting, the uncertainty. But it’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me all day and I take it for what it is– kindness, mixed with the routine empathy that comes from doing this every day, from comforting dozens of crying women every week.
I am told to leave my clothes in the cubicle and someone will take them to recovery and that makes me anxious. I wait, and wait, for someone to come and get me. It might have been five minutes. It felt like years.
The last thing I remember from the first time I was pregnant was the abortion doctor, attractive and fierce for her age of maybe fifty, with a thick European accent. I find myself flashing to one of my favorite books, A Mother’s Ordeal, recalling how one of the author’s colleagues compared a grueling day of terminating babies, one after the other after the other, to a veterinarian on a farm spaying cows. I wondered how many abortions this doctor– bless her for her strength– did a day, how many women were rolled into her theater every hour. How many of them were crying. If there was even the tiniest truth in that book I loved when it spoke of hundreds of tiny hands clawing at the ankles of the doctors who, by suction, removed them from the safest place they’ve ever been.
This doctor, beautiful in strange, dignified way, is hesitant and worried as she looks me over. The nurses are having trouble inserting a catheter into my arm, and tell me kindly to shush, just relax… I am still crying and my body is tense, in flight mode, my instinctual core prepared to run.
“Are you sure you want an abortion, Lori?”, the doctor asks through her thick accent, “No one is forcing or coercing you into it?”
No, no, I reply again, I am just scared. Just scared, just scared…
A twilight anesthetic is not as deep as a general– while there is a chance the patient will be awake during the procedure, they will feel no pain and remember nothing when they ‘wake’.
I remember nothing. All there is, is black.
I wake in the recovery room, still in the hospital gown but with my own underwear back on, a thick sanitary pad attached to them. The nurses bring me tea and biscuits, water and two Panadol. The recovery ward has that distinct, warm feel of a women’s place. All the staff of the clinic are female, there are no men working here; and support people– husbands, boyfriends and female friends, a ration of fifty-fifty each way for gender– have to wait in the next room, the second recovery area, where you went after you’d finished your food and liquid and medication and had proved you could stand up without your head spinning.
Jane is in the bed next to mine and she looks so relieved, the dark lines of worry around her eyes have crawled away to wherever worries go. She makes small talk chatter with the nurse, and mentions her own mother is picking her children up from school today.
I see just a flicker of that shadow return as she mentions her children. I wonder if it will be there in my smile too. I wonder why that’s not on the yellow three fold brochure they give you that warns, solemnly, of the potential after effects of having a pregnancy terminated.
But really, what could that deceptively cheerfully hued piece of paper say about it…? Side effects– may cause pain–filled tinge just behind your smile. Duration of effect: unknown.
Physical recovery was quick and relatively simple– two days off work, period pain that was more than the usual pressure but felt as if someone were shelling out the hollow of my womb, that aching fullness in my breasts disappearing before I noticed it was gone.
The emotional recovery took much, much longer; it turned out that having an abortion fucked me up much more than I thought were possible.
I suppose it’s no surprise to know that the relationship I was in lasted no more than a few months after that point– we had broken up before the baby we aborted would have even been due. I know that because I calculated obsessively my due date. I occasionally checked pregnancy books to see what, exactly, would have been happening to a fetus at this stage or that. I thought of my aborted child as a ‘her’ and, when the monotony of calling her ‘the baby’ in my mind became boring, I gave her the name Caroline… not because I particularly liked it but because I had some point of identity for it– in the Stephen King novel Rose Madder, the lead character mourns a child lost under means that where not the fault of the mother, as was the case with my baby; but embodied the same ugliness it the world.
I know how very mentally unhealthy I was, how borderline psychotic some of that behavior seemed. I never told my mother, and told only two of my friends, as a matter of fact and course– they had known I was pregnant, had received panicked, tearful phone calls to confirm it; so they needed to know the outcome.
I hated myself and what I’d done. I was disgusted in my own simple lack of balls– I could have stood up and said no, I’m keeping this baby and you can fuck off– but I didn’t. My mind tortured me– sometimes still does– over the pain felt by infertile couples, who would give anything to hear the kind of news I didn’t want to, who would trade souls for the child I so selfishly got rid of. Something inside me that spoke for a gothic quasi–religious voice whispered that I was doomed, that the pr
ice for the sin of murder would be a life infertile, a womb forever weeping to be filled again.
Months after we broke up, my now ex–boyfriend told me, in an emotionally manipulative plea to fix the fracture we had between us, that we should have kept that baby, should have stuck it out. I remember screaming in frustration and an unnameable grief that I couldn’t justify for myself– how dare he, how dare he?
For many months afterward, I craved that sweet powdery baby smell. My breasts ached to be as full and hot as they had been. While somewhere in my gut the overly sensible, very scared part of me was telling me I had done the right thing, my biology spoke to argue otherwise. My body was desperate for the baby it had forcefully opened it’s cervix to and given up.
Tony and I had been together only a matter of months before I fell pregnant. I was on the Pill at the time and took it religiously… while my body may have ached for a baby, my strength to standing up to a man– any man– who didn’t was questionable; and I didn’t want to put myself in that situation again.
Maybe it was just that something in my subconscious really was that desperate and didn’t care what I thought; maybe deep down I knew Tony would be OK with a baby, our baby. The Chop was born eight months later; and the ache in my breasts, my arms, the part of my soul that couldn’t forgive myself, it was absorbed into this tiny, curly newborn who was still slightly too small for his sweet smelling skin.
I don’t think much about the abortion I had anymore. I think that might mean I’ve forgiven myself for it. It’s one of those things that spiderweb faulty logic across the divide between the rational and the emotional. Emotionally, terminating a pregnancy kicked my arse all over the existential room and my id (copyright Freud, 1903) tortured my conscious self with it for a long time after. But even then, maybe not as long as some people would say served as penance.
Rationally, I’m a staunch believer in abortions, for so many reasons. If you’ve read all of this post, you know I can see what I think radical pro–lifers see– a tiny baby, a beating heart, a tiny life. And in that fair, good–begest–good world, that would be reason enough, reason that screamed from the rooftops with it’s benevolent logic.
But this is the real world. And it’s a bitch.
In the real world, abortions are a necessary evil. In the real world, a women’s right to her body is essential. In the real world children do get neglected, not even through lack of love but through all manner of unintentional incompetence. In the real world, sometimes love is not enough. And that last one is harsh, and I hate it… but it’s true.
I’m not even going to say “I’m pro–choice but…”. Late term abortions are indescribably awful to think about. A women’s right to her body is her own. There has to be line drawn somewhere between the two, and that’s another one of the unfortunate facts of real life. But I’m very glad I’m not the one who has to decide where it’s drawn, nor the person who draws it.
I don’t regret the choice I made, and I don’t blame my boyfriend at the time for it. There’s no way of knowing what life would have bought had I made different choices, which makes comparison impossible, and I think that makes regretting the choice null and void.
I didn’t begin writing this post as therapy, but blogging seems to turn out that way a lot for me. Writing it out, bleeding it onto the screen, it washes away some pain that was still stuck to my insides like weathered barnacles, guilt and grief I didn’t even know was there.
This isn’t a pro or anti abortion post. It just is. It’s one woman’s story of what happened and how it came to be and how it melted into her life afterwards. As usual, judge me if you dare– I have my big girl panties on.
In saying that, I need to acknowledge the pain that reading this may have caused some people, some of them who I love dearly. I am lucky enough that I cannot truly fathom the disparate grief and suffering that couples who are infertile go through; and I can’t imagine the blistering kick it must be when someone speaks blithely of abortion. The injustice of it eats at me, and caused me the most guilt as I made the choice and followed through with– how could I, blessed easily with a healthy pregnancy, just give it away when so many women feel the hurt of infertility and baby loss? I couldn’t justify it then, and I can’t now. But please know that I acknowledge it, I recognize it… I am so sorry.
This may be no consolation at all… but every day I shower the two children I do have with love. Every day I appreciate them. Every day I am grateful that whatever higher being there is granted what little faith I had; and gave me two happy, blessed little lives to call mine.
Comments are on and all opinions are welcome. But play nice, please.