I laid the pregnancy test flat on my sink. When two pink lines materialized and confirmed my suspicions, I was calm. I vaguely considered what I was going to do over the next few days. I had an assignment that was due soon and I’d agreed to do a photo shoot with a photographer friend as a favor — although I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to fit into the outfit she’d planned for me to wear since my breasts had ballooned in the last few days.
I made some tea. I painted my nails. I finished the assignment and went to bed.
Nausea woke me a few hours later. I stumbled into my bathroom, was violently sick into the toilet bowl, then laid down with my cheek pressed against the cool floor. I knew I’d missed a few days taking the pill, but I didn’t think that was enough to lead to a pregnancy. Apparently, I was wrong. The enormity of my situation felt like it was crushing me — looking back, I realize I probably had a panic attack. I laid on the floor for a few more moments, wondering if this was what suffocating felt like.
This is bigger than me, I thought. And I have no control over it anymore.
I had just started University and hadn’t made many friends at school. My parents had retired and were living abroad at the time. The small support network I had was not only completely unknowledgeable about abortion but severely uncomfortable discussing it. My mother had given birth to me in my grandmother’s (or Babi’s) family home in a small village outside Prague. The midwife, who had previously delivered all my cousins, had been present, along with the doctor who lived up the road. He supposedly supervised from a distance, but I’m told that he mostly sat in the next room with my dad, drinking beer.
I had also just started my first year of university, and my relationship with my boyfriend was reasonably new. He made me laugh and he genuinely cared about me. When I left for university, he promised he’d visit all the time and we’d make it work, even though the distance between us was considerable. Even so, I was terrified to hear his thoughts about the situation.
The day after I took the test, I phoned my boyfriend to tell him. He started making the 13-hour journey from our hometown near London to my university in Cornwall to see me straight away. As soon as he arrived, we made an appointment to see a doctor. After peeing into a cup and having my abdomen rubbed and prodded, my doctor confirmed that I was pregnant. He asked, “Are we celebrating, or do you want to look into alternative methods of handling this?”
And so began the lengthy process of terminating my pregnancy.
Abortion was the right choice for me and I’m not going to defend my decision. The pros and cons of abortion have long been publicly debated, and I have no extenuating circumstances that make my decision any more or less justifiable. I didn’t keep my baby and that was my decision — one that I must live with for the rest of my life.
But knowing that I chose this option doesn’t make my feelings of loss any less intense. The ordeal took me into a very dark and lonely place. I started living in a bubble of sadness, pushing people away and obsessing over my choice. One moment I was confident in my decision and the next I was tearing my hair out with regret.
What’s more, I saw how the subject was disregarded by TV, films, and books, deemed still too controversial to be broached head-on. This stigma made me feel ashamed. I didn’t tell anyone, and I still normally don’t, but I wish I could. That choice had a massive impact on who I am today.
But more than anything else, I felt like I’d failed — failed at the first maternal hurdle thrown my way. I’d rejected a baby because the timing wasn’t right for me, even though mothers are invariably considered the proverbial givers of unconditional love and eternal acceptance. I still can’t shake the feeling that now I’m not eligible to be a mother. I know any of my future brushes with motherhood will be challenged: What qualifies me to give birth to any future babies when I refused that option to the first one? I always thought motherhood was definitely in the cards for me, but now I’m not sure.
Growing up, I didn’t have any strong opinions about abortion. I was an only child, born in the Czech Republic, and my family moved to Poland and Canada before settling in England when I was 8. We never spoke about anything even mildly uncomfortable. I didn’t tell my mother I was pregnant until after the abortion took place.
“You can’t tell your Babi,” she said. “This would kill her.”
Her comment made me feel guilty. My own mother saw me as a person who’d done something wrong, something that not everyone could support. I realized I had been naïve to think that my choice to have a legitimate, necessary medical procedure that essentially prevented a ball of cells from progressing into a lifeform would be widely accepted. I found myself with very few outlets to channel all the pain I was feeling.
I thought of my experience again recently, when I heard about women of Poland striking against proposed abortion laws which are, for want of a better word, medieval. The news of the strike stirred up a lot of emotions in me, especially as a former Polish resident.
But while the strike reminded me of my pain, it also inspired pride. These women were not only fighting for their basic rights but pushing back on the taboos that surround them and harm those of us who have been through abortions.
I want to share my experience with abortion, if only to help break some of this stigma surrounding it. I have managed to overcome my suffering for the most part. At first I sought counseling from my university, but the sessions forced me to address a lot of pain, and as time went on, I couldn’t handle it anymore. It was emotionally exhausting.
They say time heals all wounds, and I think that’s true in this case. I haven’t completely healed: The pain still sneaks up on me in my lowest moments. But being able to talk about it openly without being judged — or, worse, humiliated by the visible awkwardness that goes hand in hand with abortion and the raw display of emotions it can evoke — pulls me up when I feel like I’m falling.
If sharing my story only serves as a reminder that people who have been directly affected by abortion still need to talk about it, then I’m glad. That’s more than enough.
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