I had an abortion in the bad old days. In New Zealand, in the early 80s, I had to be seen by two doctors (had to have an internal examination from two doctors, this is after a pregnancy urine and blood test) before they would confirm I was pregnant. Then I had to have ‘counselling’ – the name does not begin to describe the intrusive questions that were asked. And each appointment meant another wait. In the end I had an abortion at 7-8 weeks, when I knew from the moment of conception that I was pregnant (I just did, ok?), when I always knew I didn’t want to be pregnant at that time, when an earlier abortion would have been preferable, better for me physically and emotionally, and less costly.
(Yes, the man and I were idiots and it was all our fault and we should have been more careful – and how few of us can say otherwise? How many of you have thought, time after time when you had unprotected sex and didn’t get pregnant “Phew, that was lucky!”). I also knew – from that moment, that at nineteen, halfway through my university course, the first in my family to go to university, the first to have made the big leap, with a sister who kept her baby and was married at 16 (and had been left by her husband the year earlier, leaving her, at 24, with four children aged 8 and under), having a best friend who had her baby ‘adopted out’ (as we used to say) and was still in abject grief about it – I knew, from the start, I couldn’t keep it. I had very clear role models showing me the only other two options weren’t for me.
And I did think of it as a something. It was not nothing to have an abortion then, it was not nothing at the time, and it’s not nothing now. And I was sad about it at the time and I’m still sad that it had to happen, that I screwed up and got pregnant when I didn’t mean to (with a young man who certainly didn’t mean to be a dad), but I do not regret it. I have written about the infertility I experienced after chemotherapy for breast cancer. And yes, I do see the irony there. (Is that irony, or just painful? I know some people would say it was what I ‘deserved’, and I hope, in that case, that they have lived utterly perfect, mistake-free lives themselves.) But I still know it was the right decision.
I was a working class girl on the way to maybe, hopefully, making good.
I had seen what difficulties my sister had been through, keeping her baby at 16.
I had seen my friend’s utter despair over the baby she had had to ‘give up’.
Having an abortion was – and still is, in retrospect – the right thing for me to do. (And let’s not be coy with ‘termination’ here, we all know what we’re talking about.)
I did not believe then, any more than I do now, that an over-populated world that does not feed and adequately care for the children already in it, needed another unwanted child.
And those extra weeks I waited while being put through the system, those extra weeks I went through having to be seen by this doctor and that, having to be (badly) ‘counselled’, were damaging to me and they wasted time and money.
Those of us who went to Catholic schools know well enough the stages of the embryo and foetus, I knew what I was about and I did it intentionally and sadly, and still thought it was the right thing to do. It was. And it would all have been far less time-consuming and resources-wasting had it been done the way it is now. The way Dorries and her new plans are trying to take from us. If, at nineteen I was old enough to be a mother, I was certainly old enough to decide not to.
Do I regret it? No. As a Buddhist do I think it was nothing? Certainly not. But I do believe that soul/spirit/whatever word you like, chose me. For 7-8 weeks. Just as I think the soul/spirits of the embryos I had made before chemo damaged (and saved!) my body chose me too, for a short time. Just as the baby my wife miscarried chose her, for a short time.
But my experience tells me for sure that offering more ‘counselling’, making women wait longer before they can have an abortion, involving known anti-abortion groups in that counselling process will do more harm than good. Earlier abortions, especially drug-induced rather than invasive physical procedures, are better for everyone involved (they also cost less, and it surprises me that politicians who are so keen to cut so much right now that might support families, seem to be interested in creating a more lengthy, costly and protracted process). Anything that makes that waiting time longer for the woman involved, will be damaging, both physically and emotionally. Far from protecting women emotionally, Dorries’ proposals seek to damage them further.
So – what to do?
I’m not sure, this seems to be happening so fast it’s almost a fait accompli, but it might help if we were out about our abortions. Just as I’m always calling for all LGBT people to be out, and all those straight people who’ve had ‘one gay experience’ to be out (what a difference that piece of honesty would make!), I think we women who have had abortions need to come out. And the men who wanted their partners to have abortions, or were relieved when their partners had abortions, also need to come out. All of you with children now, who had an abortion when it wasn’t right for you to have a child, need to come out.
Dorries is cited as saying that 30% of women who’ve had abortions have suffered mental problems. But so few of us are out about it, how can she possibly know? Time for more of us to step up and tell our own truths, so we can stop her pretending to speak for us.
Yes, this is a very scary coming out. Yes, there are absolute nutters who would want to attack us, who may attack us. There is an idea that this is a shameful secret and should be kept so.
It’s fraught and complicated, not least because it’s so very personal. It’s certainly not black and white and yes, it is a bit scary. A lot scary. But we fix things by facing our fears, by being honest; we make change by being honest. And we are far more numerous, and far more sane about our choices, than Dorries and her stories would have the media believe. So perhaps now is the time to stop being so secretive. To stop behaving like we have shameful secrets and be open?
That’s my story – what’s yours?
links for more info :
Laurie Penny in the Independent with more about the actual politics of the bill.
There’s loads out there, but this is happening fast. Get on it, sign the petition, email your MP. And if you agree with me that it would be useful for all of us to stand up and be honest about our experience of abortion, then please, stand up.
Done, after a fashion, I haven’t had an abortion myself but my partner did, in similar circumstances to you, and had to work though the issue when we later tried assisted conception and then eventually adoption. Have face booked the petition as I have more “real life” contacts in there than twitter.
Hi Stella, I enjoyed your reading at Greenbelt yesterday. Thanks. Very inspiring.
Re. this post, supposing you had kept the baby, supposing s/he was 29 now, and you had a couple of grandchildren perhaps? That would also have been a decision you would never have regretted, as life-enhancing as the path you have taken, surely.
I wonder if the grief and regret of termination is greater than the hassles of keeping the baby.
Good luck with your exciting life. Your reading was so much fun!
I’m glad you enjoyed the event yesterday Anita, I did too. And yes, I might have had grandchildren now, I might not. I might have enjoyed being a grandmother, I might not. I don’t think you are suggesting this, but just in case, I hardly think one’s own desire for grandchildren is a great reason to have children! That aside, the basic truth stands, making the abortion process harder and more time consuming will simply result in more later abortions – I see no value in that, whatever one’s stance on abortion. I hope you enjoyed the rest of the festival.
Sheron, thank you so much.
Signed. I’ve never had an abortion, but I’ve had someone very close to me who did (a few years earlier than yours in the same type of circumstances) – and I know how agonising and prolonged the whole process was, and that it was the right decision for her. The one time I was pregnant (like you, I just knew) I miscarried so early that an abortion wasn’t needed – I think I probably would have had one then. Courageous, truthful and a lovely piece of writing, as always. Thank you, Stell. x
(And P.S. for any press who happen upon this – no, I’m not that Ali Smith.)
thanks Ali. x
similar to you Stella, first in family to go to university, fighting my mother off in order to do so, who could only see wifehood as female career option and tried to sabatage my efforts all the way through my studies ,my sisters married off early as fifties girls, Got pregnant by an x boyfriend, knew early but was put through all sorts of hoops so that even though first positive test was at six weeks, was nearly 12 weeks when got my abortion. Honest to God I would have killed myself if I couldnt have got one. I had made a mistake but my real terror was being re-absorbed into my suffocating and emotionally abusive family, becoming dependent on them. I couldnt envisage being able to be a mother and continue my education, and possibly if I had a different family this would have been possible. But it wasnt . So I had my abortion. It was a horrible experience in a scottish cottage hospital, one I swore never to repeat. Two years later, depressed and chaotic, the day after my estranged father died, went out to dinner with a boy I had been at school with, drank too much, slept with him, and even though I told him I ”wasnt on anything’ and was obviously very drunk, he still didnt bother to take precautions. This time I didnt mess around, if the morning after pill had been readily available I’d have taken it, or if I’d have known about it, but I didnt. I had a private abortion as soon as I missed a period. This time I did never put myself in that situation again.
20 years later I had my children, lucky, naturally conceived at 39 and then 40 when I was in a stable relationship and actually liked myself. Going through a wanted pregnancy reminded me of the ones I hadnt wanted, all the symptoms I had ignored before, here celebrated. All the signs that filled me with terror, filling me with joy. Protecting the early foetus that before I had longed to be naturally evacuated. Yes I could be the mother now of 32 year old child, a 30 year old child. But I’m not. I am also a different person now. I was filled with so much self hatred for years that I couldnt trust myself in relationships, let alone ones where I would be the nurturer, the carer, the giver of love. I regret being so foolish, damaged, immature and emotionally out of control that I put myself in that situation twice. But I am so thankful I had the choice to save myself and my life.
One note, a regular television actress I see on the box, is the grown up baby of a universtiy couple who decided to give it a go, have their child, stay together and do their degrees when I decided not to give it a go, and that definitely is food for thought. If I had had a different kind of family, an enabling one rather than a disabling one, that would have been an option that in reality never entered my head.
Thank you so much for this generous and honest response Charmian. I truly believe we all make the most difference when we tell our stories as honestly as possible.
Thanks for this, Stella. Have signed. In 1997 I had an abortion on valentines day (of all days), sworn to secrecy by my shamed then boyfriend (but I did tell MY friends and family). It was in the UK and in spite of it being some years after yours, the whole thing then was unclear to me – who you go to, how you get it – the GP was unkind and shouted at me, wrote a misleading letter referring me to have my ‘womb removed’, and would give no information about how long I’d have to wait. So I cut out the GP and went straight to the BPAS who were very good and also kind. I don’t think I know anyone who’s had an abortion and taken it lightly. The idea that the process could become more complicated rather than less, and harder to navigate is awful.
Before I had Minnie, I didn’t regret the decision I made, and I still don’t, even though I am totally in love with my daughter. I don’t think the two events are related in that way.
People argue that there is never a right time to have a child. Whilst there can’t be ‘perfect’ circumstances, there really can be wrong circumstances.
I’m reminded that my boyfriend Dorian spent a formative part of his childhood touring ‘the abortion play’ (1970’s), with his mum and step dad. It was about a woman’s right to choose. I’m guessing some sort of agit prop street theatre. Probably in response to James White’s private members bill threatening the abortion act of 1967.
I expect that choice around pregnancy and abortion will always have periods of being more under threat than others, and people who believe in the right to choose need to be aware that there will be opposition to this at all times. It’s not that surprising that our rights are being threatened now when we have the government that we have and an increasingly conservative vibe all round.
Hang on a minute, this is your blog, not mine, so I will stop – this is the section for short pithy comments, not rambles, isn’t it. x
I so appreciate you telling your story here, Sophie. I think this is ABSOLUTELY the place for our stories, and any response people would like to offer to try to counteract the myths Dorries is peddling. Really grateful. Maybe it’s time for another abortion play, and maybe our truths should be part of that. Totally right that this is one area that will always bear the brunt of conservative thinking. X
Well said. Thank you.
I too had an abortion in the early 80’s but in the UK. I too knew from the moment the pregnancy was confirmed that I did not want a child at that time. It was a stupid act of carelessness.. just one time I risked not using contraception but at 23 you think it’s not going to happen to you. Although my partner was supportive, he lived in a different country which was an added complication. Two doctors were required to sanction the abortion. I endured the same examinations and questioning. The second doctor seemed determined to humiliated me.. “Surely a girl with your education should have the common sense to realise the consequence of your actions?” However, he seemed happy to accept the cheque for the consultation.
I had the abortion in an NHS hospital on a ward with women who had experienced miscarriages or were having difficulty conceiving. I was warned by the nursing staff not to discuss with any of the other patients why I was there. Although I was adamant that I did not want the pregnancy to continue, it was nevertheless a traumatic and emotional time. I was scared, I felt vulnerable and was made to feel guilty by some of the medical professionals.
I was 10 weeks pregnant by the time the process was complete and I was able to have the abortion. The delay was unnecessary and only added to the stress.
Like you, I have always thought that it was important to talk about the experience. I hoped that it may help other women avoid feeling the same sense of isolation and guilt, which the system made me feel, if they wanted to terminate a pregnancy. I also wanted people to understand that the decision and the procedure wasn’t undertaken lightly.
Eight years later I went on to have two sons, in another relationship and in different circumstances. I still know my decision was right for me.
Thank you so much for this.
What. An honest post i have not myself been though this but I have several friends have
I was born in 1964 and my mum knew someone who died from a back street abortion surely in 2011 we do not want to return to these practices she also said that she came across a 16 year old had been raped by her father forced to give birth to a still born baby this was in London. Ps loved you at greenbelt and loved the woolwich plug
thanks Sarah, glad you appreciated the post and I had a fine time at Greenbelt.
P.s I have now signed x
just recieved an email from my mp Nick Raynsford about signing the petition and he said that he had voted against the admentment -im
quite impressed to have recieved the email – it is the first one
i have ever recieved and i am always petitioning
Great that he engaged with you.