In the third story of our Abortion series, we talk to a brave Villainesse reader about her experience with the termination she underwent, and her mixed feelings about her decision (*trigger warning)
Were you planning on getting pregnant?
No! I had just begun going out with the guy. I was 23, working in a bar, flatting – I hadn’t even begun to think about creating a ‘serious life’ for myself.
When you realised you were pregnant, how did you feel?
Shocked. I couldn’t think clearly, and I was already 11 weeks by the time I realised, so I only had a week to make a decision and get the procedure done. I was way out of my depth.
Was termination always going to be your choice?
No. I really didn’t know what I wanted. So I tried to be matter of fact. I had no savings, no career, no house, no long-term partner, no plans for a baby. I thought that the ‘sensible’ thing to do was to get an abortion, but I also knew that this was a really big deal. One morning I woke up and a rainbow was lying right across my belly – I was like ‘I know, I know!’
My mum was amazing. She lived hours away and I called and asked her to come. She drove all the way thinking I was going to tell her that I had cancer. I could kick myself for putting her through that. She was so relieved when I told her and said, ‘Oh my DARLING I thought you were dying.’ She showed no judgment at all. My best friend was very supportive too, but she was overseas so we didn’t get to talk as much as we could have.
Did you know how to go about getting an abortion?
I went to family planning. The lady there told me it was impossible that I had got pregnant when I did, because my period had just ended on the day I conceived. She actually yelled at me about it; but I knew which day it was, as it was the very early stages of our relationship and I knew when we’d had sex and not.
Newsflash ladies – you can get pregnant ANY time of the month if things are off-kilter a little. Years later I conceived the day my period began.
Was the father part of the decision-making process to get an abortion?
He was overseas, but flew back when I told him. He told me straight that he thought I should terminate. No surprise I guess, as we had just started going out at that time and he was only 23 too.
Describe the process of arranging the first stage of termination. How did you find out where to go and what to do?
I went to the Family Planning clinic where I normally got the pill. They did a test and confirmed I was pregnant and arranged for me to get a scan. My best friend had previously had an abortion, and warned me not to look at the display because seeing the heartbeat would really upset me. Such kind advice, but I wish I had. 17 years later my heart is beating so hard in my chest just thinking about this that it hurts.
I didn’t look at the scan image either although by the 11 weeks and 3 days stage there would have been a recognisable shape. I just read the Villainesse Guide: How To Get An Abortion and found out I was supposed to have seen it but the woman just slipped it into an envelope and gave it to me.
Did you feel that you were supported in your decision to terminate by your medical consultant?
The counsellor was extremely supportive. She explained to me that if I wanted an abortion I had to say I couldn’t physically cope or mentally cope. So I said I couldn’t mentally cope.
I wish she had asked me questions, although I realise that for some women (and especially younger girls) this would be very confronting. I was inexperienced as far as ‘real life’ and life changing decisions. I wish she had looked me in the eyes and said, ‘How are you feeling? Do you feel you have had time to think this through? Are you deeply confident in your decision or do you need to talk?’
Were you offered other options?
My wonderful mother offered to whangai (a Maori term for placing a child within a family to be raised by another member of the family if the parents are unable to raise the child themselves) the child and raise it herself. But she was being so considerate and gentle in the way she offered this option and I was so stressed that it didn’t get through to me. Years later I asked why she hadn’t offered and she said, ‘But I DID!!’ A big clue to how I really felt was that when I thought about adoption I knew I couldn’t carry the child then give it away.
Do you feel that the medical community gives you enough counselling / follow-through during the decision process?
Like I mentioned, the counsellor was very kind, but there was no ‘counselling’ – just unquestioning support, which for lots of people would be perfect.
Talk me through the process of what happened in the termination. Was it difficult or manageable? Did it hurt?
My heart was still in my chest on the way there, wondering if I was doing the right thing. My best friend had told me they give you pills first, which start things detaching. She had taken the pills and then knew she no longer wanted to go through with the termination – but at that stage there is no going back. So I held those pills for as long as I could, until the nurse said, ‘I have to watch you take them honey.’ So I took them. They made me pretty damn high, and the bed felt deliciously warm.
In the bed on one side of me was a husband and wife of about 35, holding hands with an air of tenderness.
On the other side was a young girl about 12 years old with two grim faced silent older women flanking her.
I think there were about 30 women at the clinic for abortions that day, and this was a perfect illustration of how different the scenarios are for women who consider abortion. I felt no judgment for anyone there, except myself.
When they wheeled me into the operating room, I was feeling dizzy and really scared. I knew that the process involved vacuuming the foetus out and even though I knew its fate was already sealed, this made me feel dizzy, nauseous and upset. The doctor didn’t look at my face or introduce himself. He gave me a brief internal exam with his hands, and I gasped out ‘Wow, male doctors are rougher!’ The pills had me too spaced out to be polite. The actual process of the termination didn’t hurt.
Were you alone through the process or did you have support from a partner or friend?The father of the baby drove me there but I didn’t want him to come in with me.
The attending nurse was one of those strangers who turn up right when you need them most. I asked her, can you hold my hand – and she replied, ‘I can hold them both!’ That lovely woman held my hands the whole time. I wish she knew how much that meant to me.
What happened over the first few weeks afterwards?
I bled for a few days and felt a bit achy – like double a normal period. I went to stay with my parents and tried to do some work but almost fainted and had to stop. I wasn’t very strong the first week, but then came right.
Can you describe how you felt emotionally?
I felt bruised emotionally. I went to bed for a few days and took things quietly. I told myself firmly that I’d made my choice. I judged myself in a way I have never judged anyone else for making this choice. I felt I had been stupid getting pregnant accidentally - I have never ever judged anyone else for that.
And I have never questioned every woman’s right to make her own choices. I’ve supported some of my most beloved women through their abortions.
Three years later, to the day and hour, from the date I had conceived I was in Thailand. I had a vivid dream about a little boy and a funeral. There were wild dogs and floodwaters and dark bridges. I woke up and started bawling my heart out. I sobbed for about an hour straight. The girl I was backpacking with just held me and stroked my hair because I couldn’t speak.
I realised that I had never given myself any permission to mourn, to feel sorry for myself, to be gentle to myself. And I knew I would never have been so hard on anyone else.
And I knew, finally, what the right choice for me had been.
How did your partner feel afterwards?
I don’t think he really thought about it. He never brought it up again.
How easy do you think it is to find out information about termination?
It was easy back then so I assume it’s even easier now – which might be a good thing. I remember seeing a pro-life ad in a bus which said that by however many weeks the baby has a heart and a brain and it slayed me – I had not thought about it that literally somehow, even during the scan. If I had seen that heartbeat I would probably have changed my plan.
Do you feel that it is something that you would do again? Why / why not?
For me, no. If I could go back in time I would keep that child. I know now what I chose to lose. It wasn’t the ideal time and I probably wouldn’t be as well off financially as I am, or with the partner I am with, or have done the travelling I have – but at a heart-level, I know that the right thing for me, personally, was to keep the child. If I had more than a few days to think it through I think I would have done so. If I had been a few years older, I would have felt better equipped to cope.
Is it something you talk about with other women? Why / why not?
I do talk about it with women I trust, and I guess that roughly half the women I know have had an abortion, and I think that most of them are okay about it, and a few regret it as much as I do. But I also know that everyone lives with their own decision, and no-one takes it lightly. I know that I made the best decision I could with what I knew at the time.
Do you think the process of termination is a simple one in New Zealand or does the system work against women who choose to terminate?
Personally I found it very simple. I went to Family Planning, to the MedLab (now LabTests) clinic for the scan then to clinic to meet the counsellor then in for the procedure, all within 8 days.