Abortion can be a taboo topic; off-limits in discussions between parents and children. However, in this frank and honest conversation, Emily Tierney-Lever’s mum shares her experience of having an abortion.
I can’t exactly remember when my mum first told me about her abortion. We have a very open relationship and often discuss a lot of taboo topics; she has always been very open about her mental health and her recovery from her addiction to alcohol. Her openness allowed me to feel I could be open with her and we have a very trusting relationship, which I think all young women would benefit from.
Abortion is an issue that affects many women around the world and my mum is one of those women.This is an interview about my mum’s experience. In light of Donald Trump pro-life stance, I think it is more important than ever that women share their stories. The goal being to show how crucial it is that this service be available to all women.
First of all, what made you feel like you wanted to tell me?
I told you in the car didn’t I?
I can’t remember how it came about. I guess because we were having a heart to heart and I think it’s important for you to know my history.
Were you glad I felt comfortable?
Yes, I think it’s important that you as a young woman know about my life experiences and having an abortion was an important experience.
What made you decide to have an abortion?
I was 24 years old, I had just bought my first house and I had unprotected sex on a date. I can’t remember how many dates we had had, but it was a casual relationship. By the time I found out, the relationship was over and there was no way it was going to amount to anything.
So you didn’t feel ready?
I didn’t feel emotionally or financially stable enough and quite frankly nor did I want a child.
How did it feel when you found out you were pregnant?
I avoided taking a pregnancy test in the naive hope my period would arrive and then I started being sick, so I knew. I made an appointment because it wasn’t a difficult decision. I knew it wasn’t right. I knew having a child wasn’t an option for me and I didn’t want it to be an option so I called the Marie Stokes clinic and made an appointment.
Then what happened?
I went to the clinic in Manchester and they did a pregnancy test which proved positive. Then I had some counselling.
Was that mandatory?
Yes, then I saw doctor.
How did you feel about that?
I didn’t want to go but you also had to have two doctors confirm that I met the criteria for a termination. I don’t even know what the criteria were. I suppose I should also say I had to make a lie up to my mum to borrow money because I had to pay. It was about two hundred pounds and this was about twenty eight years ago so it was a lot of money.
How did you feel about having to pay?
(laughing) I was a bit pissed off because it was a lot of money. I’d made a mistake and now I had to pay for it. But it was about a week’s wage and I was pretty well paid so I can’t imagine how it was for poorer women. But I would have done anything because I knew having a child was not the right thing. I knew Marie Stokes was reputable and would be acting in my best interest. I was too scared to go through my GP…
Why were you scared?
Because I was worried about it being on my medical records and was worried about it being disclosed at work, because there was such a huge stigma attached to it.
So can you tell me about the experience of going for the termination?
I lived in Manchester but the clinic was in Liverpool. I had to ring in work sick and make up a lie. I drove myself to Liverpool. But then on examination the doctor couldn’t clearly assess that I was below the 14 week limit and so there was a potential I would still have to give birth. I was sent from the hospital to the clinic for a scan where I had to hear the baby’s heartbeat and because I had to drink water for the scan, the termination couldn’t take place that day because you can’t drink before general anaesthetic.
How did it feel having to go back the next day?
So I drove home that evening and I cried a lot that night and that was the first time I cried. It was partly frustration because I just wanted it to be done. I had a sleepless night then had to drive myself back to Liverpool the next morning.
Of the termination itself, I have very little memory. What I do remember was there were four of us in one room; we all had terminations for different reasons but I still remember the support I felt from this shared experience. It was a very loving environment and we were very supportive of each other. That’s the power of women Emily!
The nursing staff… there was one male nurse and he was incredible! All the nursing staff were fantastic and I remember one of the sisters spoke to me about the power of choice. She was an old irish woman who told me she could never tell people back home what she did even though she was proud of it! One of the women who was in my room had come over from Ireland.
How do you feel that that is still a problem?
I think it’s appalling. It is a difficult enough decision for any woman to make and the stigma is far greater in Ireland. Even over here it isn’t something that is generally spoken about.
How did you feel about your abortion when I was born?
When you were born I did reflect on how old that child would have been. Whilst I still had no doubt I had made the right decision, now that I was a mum there was some emotion around it. I always imagined that child to be a boy and because you were a girl somehow that made it better.
How do you feel talking about it now?
I’ve never had any doubt I made the right decision so any emotion around it is tempered by that fact. Based on my conversations with other women I know, they don’t necessarily feel like that. I know friends of mine have had a different reaction because their decision wasn’t as clear cut.
Do you think it’s important for people to talk about it?
It’s one of the taboo subjects that should be demystified in my view.
And it can only happen one person at a time and that’s why i’m prepared to talk about it.
If I have that opinion about the taboo then I need to start breaking it.
Illustration by Ellie Drewry