Providing an insight into their deeply personal experience, a member of the TWSS community shares their experiences with abortion.
A vast array of thoughts, perspectives and feelings are conjured by the mention of the word ‘abortion’. Sometimes it is written about in extremes – either as a devastating, taboo and traumatic experience, or as something so common it needn’t be thought about at all. The truth of the experience, perhaps, lies somewhere in the middle; it is no walk in the park or a casual form of contraception for people who ‘lack responsibility’. But nor is it always harrowing, agonising, life-changing or distressing. This article presents an unvarnished recount and personal exploration of my abortion experience – unique only to me. My voice here serves to illuminate a process rarely discussed in this much depth. In addition, I hope this article acts as a resource and safe refuge for anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation.
People who menstruate won’t be strangers to Googling early pregnancy symptoms when their periods are late. My period was two days late and the prospect of pregnancy crept into mind. I’d been urinating more, feeling completely exhausted and was nauseous from time to time. So I walked to my local supermarket, bought a pack of tests, chugged a bottle of water and found myself on the toilet, awkwardly trying to find the right angle to pee on the stick. I spent the minutes afterward scrutinising the test, trying to decipher the colour changes as the stick was making its decision. The second line showed up, thick and dark. It was irrefutably positive.
To my confusion, I felt almost nothing. How was I supposed to feel? Fear? Guilt? An innate maternal instinct? To be brutally honest, I compared it to the surprise of seeing a positive Covid test when you only had a minor sore throat and a few bodily aches. I really tried to envision what this actually meant for me going forward, but my mind couldn’t grasp its impalpability, how intangible being pregnant felt. That nothingness tormented me for weeks. I felt like a terrible person for feeling so little when I was undergoing what I thought was supposed to be the most significant experience of my life. Sometimes, people have delayed reactions to major life events, and I was one of them.
I looked up abortion experiences, specifically as a university student in Bristol. I wanted to know how other students felt, how they communicated their situation to others, where they went, what the process was like, how it felt, how long the whole thing took, what happened after, how they were in the weeks and months following. But the articles online were sparse and lacked specificity for the circumstances I found myself in. If nothing else, I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to keep it. Even if I wanted to, I’d maxed out my overdraft, had an eating disorder, was in mental health recovery and I couldn’t bathe or feed myself regularly, let alone do so three or more times a day with a helpless newborn. I still had so many things I wanted to experience in life that having a child would hinder.
I messaged one of my closest friends and she called me right away. She guided me through my thoughts and I let everything out. All of my confusion, my situation regarding the father and how I didn’t have anyone in the city to be with me during the abortion. I was lucky enough to already have a therapist so I leaned on her for support also. I couldn’t tell my family because of their pro-life stance on abortion – it would do more harm than good in telling them. I’d had a great support system in place, but keeping in contact with my parents and leaving out this elephant-sized detail felt like I was keeping a massive, almost dirty secret.
In my head I’d envisioned the experience being something like Maeve’s in Sex Education. I thought about turning up to a medical building with that cold, clinical atmosphere, having to potentially ignore or flip off pro-lifers aggressively handing out their leaflets. But, I found out that MSI Choices in Bristol offered ‘at home’ treatments if you’re eligible and under 10 weeks. You can opt to take the medication in the comfort of your own home if you feel safe to do so, without ever attending a clinic. Having an abortion at home almost sounded too colloquial, but it made sense, and it was comforting.
To access abortion treatment you don’t need a GP referral so your doctors won’t know unless you need them to, it’s entirely your decision. It took me a day to pluck up the courage to call the clinic for a consultation because of phone anxiety. The nurses were incredibly soothing, supportive and informative, and not once did I ever feel judged or patronised. They set up a verbal password with me so that when I was called, they could safely confirm that it was me they were talking to. My initial phone consultation was booked for a few days later. They advise to prepare a little in advance by knowing the date of your last period, your height, weight, medical history and prescribed medications to determine the risks of the procedure. They legally have to ask why you want to get an abortion, but your response isn’t judged nor affects your care.
I started to go into elaborate detail as to why I called, beginning to get nervous, but the nurse kindly interrupted, “So it’s not the right time in your life to have a child?”. I was filled with relief. “Not at all”, I replied. She asked yes/no questions about things like whether I was in a safe place to talk or if I was pressured into my decision. I wasn’t asked leading questions about things like my sexual activity or the amount of sexual partners I had at the time, no question is ever too silly or embarrassing for them. I actually found myself having quite a humorous chat with my nurse.
For private reasons, I had to get my abortion a month later than planned, at which point I was 9 weeks along and experiencing far more pronounced symptoms side effects. I had anaemia even before pregnancy, but my body had started dedicating its resources to my uterus to build a new human, which made it worse. The nausea got more intense and frequent, I felt exhausted to the point of sedation most days, I had painful cramps on one side and felt married to the toilet I was urinating so much.
I received an ordinary-looking box in the post with all of the necessary medication alongside instructions and a medical side effect leaflet – all of this was told to me in advance. The first tablet was Mifepristone, which prevents the pregnancy from developing further. I swallowed it and sent my close friends selfie – everything still felt surreal, so I found myself using humour to get by in the meantime. Between 24 and 48 hours later, you take four tablets called Misoprostol, which triggers your body to expel the pregnancy. So a day and a half later, on New Year’s Eve, I took some co-codamol, laid back on my bed and inserted the four pills into my vagina as far as I could. I decided to order in my favourite food and rewatch Grown Ups on Netflix because I needed comfort. I wasn’t going out to celebrate the new year any time soon. I was told to expect the pregnancy could start to pass any time onwards of an hour, but I felt nothing until about 3 hours in.
It started as some general cramps and a little backache. I’ve had heavy periods for 10 years, I could handle that. I took more painkillers, filled up two hot water bottles and continued to watch films in bed. I was admiring the midnight fireworks over the city from my bedroom window when the pain got substantially worse. The bleeding started 6 hours in, and it was messy. It started to become more like the near debilitating periods I was used to but with more blood and bigger, much bigger clots. Each time I checked in the bathroom, I found myself curious as to which clot was it. There was no way of knowing, though, because my relentless checks on the internet told me it would be less than a few centimetres big. I was writhing in pain throughout the evening, I’d never felt anything like it. The next morning I awoke in a puddle of my blood. Why I never thought to change out of my white joggers I don’t know, because a patch about the size of a netball stained my front. I was considering going to A&E, but I thought I’d stick it out a bit longer.
The heaviest of the bleeding lasted for about another day and subsided a little after the pregnancy itself had passed. It was at this point, when I was settling in for bed, that it dawned on me. Shit, I’ve just had an abortion. That thought triggered some kind of colossal surge, a tidal wave of emotion. The perplexing feeling of surrealness had practically washed away, leaving behind the stark reality of what I was going through. I wasn’t finding it humorous anymore. I had a panic attack. I was crying so hard I could barely breathe and it wouldn’t stop for an hour. I wasn’t feeling guilty or regretful. I wasn’t thinking about what could’ve been had I not aborted the pregnancy either. It was just relentless, uncontrollable, hysterical crying and I didn’t know why.
Looking back, obviously two months of trying to get through life knowing I was pregnant took a toll on me. I was pretending like all was fine at home with my family. I had to deal with the lack of emotional support and care from the father of the unborn baby – a selfish man who lacked maturity and made his feelings about my abortion more important than mine. The rest of my support network was online since I didn’t have friends in the city, and I felt so lonely. While I wasn’t consciously suppressing my emotions or trying to tuck them away, they caught up to me later. My body had spent 9 weeks of energy and nutrients building a whole new human when strong medication caused it to expel everything it had built up.
I was told I could expect bleeding for up to two weeks, but I thought it’d be over in about one. The severity subsided after a few days but I was surprised to be bleeding and cramping for a fortnight. I began to wonder how there could be anything left inside to get rid of. My mood and emotions fluctuated vastly each day. It was easy for me to think that all the venting I needed to do would be a burden, that my friends would be fed up. Aside from the father of the baby, who made me feel like I was asking for too much, this of course, wasn’t true at all.
Each person’s needs are different, but this is some advice for those who know someone going through an abortion. Do some reading about abortions from medical websites. Check in with them often. Be there for them to vent, but give them space if they need. Let them take the lead in discussions. Show up with unconditional, loving support. Listen intently and non-judgmentally. Find out their love language. Ask if you can cook their meals for them. Make sure they know you’re there for them day or night. Ask what they’d like to do and what’s best for them. Perhaps if they’d like to watch a movie, or several movies, get them their favourite snacks and drinks. Sleep over with them so they’re not alone. Fill up their hot water bottles and snuggle them into bed. Get them painkillers and sanitary pads from the shop. Give them endless hugs. If they’re not the hugging type, just being there and spending uninterrupted quality time goes far. Listening to what they say is more important than anything you can say back, you don’t have to offer the perfect piece of advice. When in doubt, ask. Validate them and their emotions – nothing they’re experiencing at this time is too dramatic. You don’t have to understand their experience, you’re there to help them let go of some of the burden they’re carrying.
Months on, I’m deeply relieved I’m no longer pregnant. I have no guilt or shame about my choice, but it’s a bittersweet feeling. I wish I had someone to cuddle and hold going through my abortion. It’s been hard to move through the fact that I didn’t get the emotional support from the one person who should’ve been there for me. But thankfully, he’s no longer my friend. I don’t have any fear of sex or pregnancy going forward, and I feel better about not telling my family, since there’s plenty of other things I’ll probably never tell them either. I hope that this article can open up some eyes, shed light on the experience of abortion and be useful to anyone who finds themselves in a similar position. It will all be okay, I promise.