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I haven’t cried yet. And I’m fairly sure that I won’t, either.
I did cry when I found out that I was pregnant though, which says a lot about how sure I am that this was the right decision.
I found out on a Saturday afternoon, sort of as a joke. I’d been feeling sick for a few weeks, my breasts had been abnormally sensitive, and I’d started going off the foods I used to love—suddenly eating like a bird where I’m normally a three-square-meals-and-then-some kind of gal.
My best friend and I were in the car, blasting carefree weekend music, on the way to meet some people for coffee. It was Sam’s last day in the city, and after a lazy Saturday in his air conditioned apartment watching him pack the last of his things, I agreed to tag along to his goodbye coffee date.
We talked about our impending move to Melbourne together, the kinds of changes we were going to make, what we’d miss, what we wouldn’t, and how we were going to survive without what had become our regular camping trips in the interim. We’d both been complaining of stomach rumbling since returning from our most recent of these trips, and I jokingly said I should “pee on a stick” while we waited for everyone to arrive. We both laughed, and collectively mocked the idea of me being a mother right now.
So, we parked the car, and I peed on a stick.
The colour completely drained out of my face.
The past weeks flashed through my mind and suddenly it was so clear. The lack of energy, the rapid mood swings, the aversion to cheese. While Sam and his friends waited for me in the chocolate shop across the road, my whole world was falling apart.
As I walked toward them, I started calling the father of my freshly-discovered child. He didn’t pick up, so I called again. And again. And again.
Panic stricken, I walked into the sickly sweet shop and sat down, smiling at Sam as if nothing was wrong—still frantically calling.
As I sat there, watching the others laughing and sexting and discussing their Snapchat stories, the weight of what a sick Universal joke this was truly settled in.
I had been living in this town for 27 years. When I was 14, my parents split up and I learned to pack the majority of my belongings in a backpack every two weeks. When I was 17, I left high school and I almost immediately moved out. For six months I attended my university courses diligently and got good grades. I began to think about what I wanted for my future. By all accounts, I was turning into a young adult who could reliably take care of herself—succeed, even.
And then I met him.
For the next eight years we fell in love with each other and out of love with ourselves. The destructiveness of our relationship was truly intoxicating. Drunken nights and tear-stained sheets and broken promises seemed to pour out of us from every inch. We always have and always will recognise that as far as soulmates go, we’d found it.
For seven years, we had unprotected sex. My periods ran like clockwork.
Finally, after all this time, we had come to peace with the inevitable despair a relationship between us would bring, and I had made the choice to physically move on. I wanted something bigger for myself, because despite what the fairy tale books and the tween movies we all had shoved down our throats tell us, love quite often is not enough. The unfortunate truth is that love is often so powerful that it comes at the expense of every other fragment of us.
True love feels, constantly, like drowning, and being far too exhausted to fight the density of the cool water lacing itself around us—too wonderfully spent to battle the distortion of view.
Only distance and time, after the water spits us out, allows us to see how much our feet miss treading on solid ground, and our chests love to soar with the wind.
I had gotten this distance, and my sights were set firmly inland. My plans to move cities would open doors that I knew might be able to help me reclaim all those years I’d spent under the waves.
That little blue plus sign on the test looked more and more like a final fight for my escape from fate.
After 40 phone calls and a number of distressed messages, my parking ran out and I made my excuses to leave. I drove straight to his house. That’s when I cried.
We had always wanted children together. Throughout our years of star-crossed sickness, we had decided on names and debated about public or private schools (the names I picked were always strange and the private schools he chose were always pretentious). Only a year ago, this would have been the scariest and happiest day of my life, but now it was just the saddest, because the watery veil had been lifted and I knew I couldn’t stay.
As I watched the sun set through my windscreen and shouted at the almost-standstill traffic, I saw flashes of our time together. I saw our first date. The first morning he’d left my bedroom as the sky turned pink. The first time we’d kissed. Watching our tiny television in our tiny apartment with our tiny kitten, waiting for him to arrive home from work, feeling warmth and fondness like I’d never known. I cried for what we could have been. I cried for what we were, and I cried harder still for what we had become. How very cruel it all was.
The following Monday, I had an awkward conversation with the huge Polynesian smile that was my Uber driver about what kind of doctor I was going to this early in the morning on some remote corner of a main road, as I fiddled with the complimentary gum and avoided the question. I marched myself up the stairs and a lady at the reception desk asked me for my password through the intercom like I was 11 again and entering a secret clubhouse.
Within a few minutes of being buzzed through the door, I was in a chair opposite a nurse with the funkiest purple pixie cut I’d ever seen, telling her that no, I didn’t know my blood type. Positive something, I think. One prick test and a pamphlet with a dozen scribbled medications on it later, a hair-brained doctor who sort of looked like he was a panicked cartoon character ushered me through another locked door to his modest office, where I would see my baby for the first time.
As I lay on the examination table, making crunchy noises on the protective covering every time I breathed, the hair-brained doctor told me he could see the sac and yolk and that I had a healthy pregnancy. Which meant I should have an incident-free abortion.
He turned the screen around so that I could see what was inside me. It looked, at this stage, like a water balloon made of static—but what I really saw in that moment was a potential life. Not the potential life that this glob of cells would grow to be, but the life that I would have if I didn’t make this choice. Where I expected to see a child—an emotional bond I was about to sever—I saw a scrying mirror that showed me my future.
I told the doctor to wipe the gel off my stomach, now please, and turned my head to the wall.
Upon demand, I swallowed the first pill—designed to stop the pregnancy from growing—after which I asked questions that were never answered and expressed fears that were never addressed. With nothing more than the information I had already gathered during my two-day long frantic Googling, I walked out of the clinic into the arms of my waiting ex-boyfriend.
The next 24-hours passed without incident. There was no emotion besides fear, no pain besides mental, and no nausea besides morning sickness.
I wondered how long it would take for my body to forgive me. I wished I could do this with my mum. I ate toast with jam for dinner.
Women, overall, have developed a remarkably high threshold for pain—especially menstrual pain, with which we are generally quite familiar. There is not a woman I know, old or young, that isn’t also incredibly brave when she needs to be. I decided the next morning that I would put faith into the millennia of female evolution, of womanhood, and I would simply breathe through my body’s natural processes.
This, as it turns out, was trollop.
Although I do still believe that women are super-warrior starships of strength sent from a more evolved planet than our own, this was something else.
We sat on the couch and watched “Please Like Me” as the tablets dissolved in my cheeks, and I struggled to keep them there and laugh at the same time. After an hour, the nausea and vomiting that I had feared so intensely seemed to not be coming, and I was beginning to wonder whether the medication would work at all. Then the first flicker of pain sparked in my lower abdomen. Akin to the early stages of period pain, I really wasn’t fussed—but within a matter of minutes this turned ferociously into agony.
I had chosen to have a medication abortion because I wanted my body to go through its natural processes, and I wanted to be entirely conscious of what was happening to me. Also I’m quite scared of needles. At the time, much like many decisions we make, this seemed like an upstanding and courageous choice. As it happens, it was also quite stupid.
My hair-brained doctor warned me that many women had reported that this experience was worse than childbirth, and after three straight hours of excruciating pain, my body was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. I had always giggled, a little confused, at scenes in movies in which people vomit as a response to pain—I’d never understood the connection. The nausea I’d been so concerned about never arrived, but I did throw up what little food I had managed to keep down due to nothing more than the sheer strength of body-wrenching torment. I was bowled over.
This felt like no other sensation I had ever encountered before. My whole body shook and dripped with pure defeat. My mind had no more pep talks left. My spirit had no more energy to give. With every contraction I rolled onto my side to bury my face in the blankets and groan, and with every few seconds in between I rolled on to my back to rest and to breathe.
Eventually, after five hours of nothing but utter torture, my pregnancy was over and my contractions reduced enough to allow the slight overdose of pain medications to take hold.
I simply fell to the side, and into the deep sleep of someone who has fought, and who has lost.
When I woke up, I felt like I had slept for days, but I could still barely move. It took me almost half an hour to pull myself up to the side of the bed and begin the process of standing up. My legs still shook, and the ghost of the contractions remained. My entire lower abdomen felt inflamed and delicate and empty. But my heart felt relieved.
At no point in my abortion ordeal was I questioned about my decision. I was never doubted. I specifically avoided telling people who I knew would doubt my decision, and who would guilt me for it. But, in all my researching, it was the one thing everyone seemed to insinuate. From advice forum to advice forum, editors’ notes and readers’ comments abound, constantly asking about the woman’s emotional state: how was she coping, emotionally? She hadn’t said in her post whether she was sad or not, and she should watch out for the grief which will inevitably resurface for her later down the road, preventing her from having children in the future without weeping for her lost little one. How would she tell her future husband? Did her boyfriend want her to keep it? Did she write in her diary what his or her birthday would have been?
Whilst these were and still are valid points of discussion, it perturbed me that even in spaces dedicated to women telling their stories and sharing their experiences, their narratives were redirected by an insidious insistence that guilt must always be involved. This made me question my own emotions, and my own worth as a woman. Was I cold? Was I simply not taking this seriously—a typical product of my generation of disposability? Had I shut my emotions off for the sake of necessity, or pride?
I chose a painful termination specifically because I wanted to feel. It was important to me that this experience wasn’t minimised, or trivialised. I found myself scolding myself—“this is what you deserve. You’ll endure this because this is the result of your decisions, silly girl. And you’ll never do anything like this again.” I heard my mother’s voice begging me to keep it, to take responsibility. I heard my father joking with me when I was 14 that he would spike my cereal with contraceptives. I heard my friend in university crying in my bathroom when her pregnancy test came back positive, after her first time, because she knew she had to keep it. I heard myself apologising to my ex-boyfriend—who had paid for the procedure and been the biggest support I could have asked for throughout—less than an hour after my contractions had stopped because I wasn’t allowed to have sex for a week.
I realised that I didn’t feel sadness at the loss of my child. I didn’t even feel the elation I expected. I felt like a farm animal.
I recalled how I got into this position to begin with—by feeling like too much of a hassle, too much of a buzzkill, to insist on a condom. By accepting my doctor’s under-breath chuckle as a response to my questions about alternative contraceptives as my pill continued to make me ill. By being too amazed and awed at the idea that a boy might want to get naked with me to consider whether I really wanted to get naked with him. By being too disconnected from my own needs, wants and possibilities to care what happened to me, and take appropriate measures to make sure I was protected.
As I sit here now, my stomach still aches. My ovaries, my uterus, my vagina—it all hurts. Both physically and spiritually. They feel violated and abused, by the world at large—by a society that has taught me, and many others, to think so little of them.
My abortion has not taught me to be stricter with myself, but to be kinder. I have not learned not to have sex, but to value sex for what it truly is. My abortion has not taught me to feel guilty about myself, but to get angry at a world who says I should. I have learned that I am just as brave as I need to be, and that I am just as strong as I believe I am—and a little more.
I have not learned to be ashamed of my choice. On the contrary, my choice has empowered me as a woman to give myself and my body the respect I had always deserved, but never received. I am empowered to counter the nervous anger of a world unable to truly see women, by truly seeing myself.
Author: Erin Lawson