Editors note: this article is written anonymously by a contributing writer
Working in Dublin over the summer, I spent a few months surrounded by posters of embryos and troubling slogans as I followed with care and interest the long battle to Repeal the 8th. When I was getting ready for my first Christmas party of the season a few weeks ago, I discovered that I was pregnant and I made the decision to have a termination. Very suddenly, remembering back to the referendum in the summer, and thinking of the battle still to be won in Northern Ireland became a whole lot more personal.
Before going through the last few weeks for myself, I hadn’t realised what an unbearably lonely process it would be. I have found myself wanting to simultaneously scream it from the rooftops, and not tell a soul; I want to share what I’m feeling, but abortion is still such a loaded word I feel like I’d deafen the room. Despite the support and love from the circle of my very closest people I’ve disclosed the situation to, it really is a decision you have to come to terms with by yourself.
The week between finding out and going to my appointment felt like an empty, scary vacuum; in limbo. The extreme exhaustion, nausea and sore boobs are such a stark reminder of what your body is preparing to do, and what you’re about to intervene with. I waited and worried, but not about the things I would have expected. This whole process has thrown so many surprises at me. I felt anxious about whether the Uber driver taking me to the clinic in the morning would judge me, and I felt such an overwhelming sense of comfort when on that day my driver happened to be a woman. I wasn’t prepared for the sinking feeling of lying to my work about why I needed some days off. I wasn’t prepared for the sadness of whispering the words to my mum through sobs, when I’d always imagined the moment of sharing this kind of news with her to be our joyous secret. I wasn’t prepared to have to cope with hearing a close friend tell her joy of her pregnancy and feeling like a fraud if I’d said “me too”, because I wasn’t carrying on with it. I almost choked on my words because I hadn’t realised just how close to home that would be. I wasn’t prepared that I’d hear jokes tumble from my mouth about bits of the process, just to be able to start speaking at all.
“We don’t prepare cis men well enough for supporting a woman with this mammoth decision”
We don’t prepare cis men well enough for supporting a woman with this mammoth decision. There is such a focus at school about not getting pregnant, but barely anything on what happens if you do. Men can be made to feel pretty useless in this whole scenario; the woman must make the decision, but men can still feel loss, confusion and can join in the unjustified sense of guilt that they’ve done something wrong. If you’re supporting a woman and it seems impossible, just stick with it; we know you don’t really know what to do, but the truth is nor do we. No one prepped us for this either. We want you close but also at arm’s length and we probably have to be a little bit selfish throughout this whole process.
When you’re busying yourself with the practicalities of booking appointments, time off work, and filling in health forms, or you’re in the painful few hours and days after treatment, you don’t have time or space to process what’s happened. When that all fades away, you start to grieve.
Cells die in our bodies every single day, and at the stage I was at, all I could see on my ultrasound was a cluster of them. Losing these ones hurt a little more.
These past few days there’s been lots of tears; the only way I can sum it up is feeling like you’ve lost something but not being able to really articulate or pinpoint what that ‘something’ was. Cells? Tissue? Blood? I think the ‘pro-life’ camp tends to presume that the ‘pro-choice’ don’t acknowledge that those cells have the potential for life. I can assure you that no one knows that more than the woman whose body is filling with hormones and changing so very quickly to sustain it. I’ve definitely felt a little heartbroken. You know those first few days after losing someone you love and you wake up with a sinking feeling and a racing, distracted brain? The mornings have been the hardest, but like any heartache, each day is a little brighter.
“I believe my legal right to choice was pro-life. It was for my life”
I find the two sides ‘pro life’ and ‘pro choice’ so problematic; I believe my legal right to choice was pro-life. It was for my life, for the quality of any imagined future life of a child, for the lives of my partner and family. Just because it’s sad or painful doesn’t mean a woman shouldn’t be allowed to make that choice. In so many circumstances the alternative may be so much worse. No woman makes this decision lightly, and I am sure it will stay with me forever.
My heart is with all those women who have had to undergo an unsafe procedure in a country where this huge decision is illegal, the women who have had to endure a plane journey from Ireland whilst in pain and any woman, trans man or non-binary person for whom this process has been far more traumatic. All those women who can’t afford the sanitary towels to absorb the unavoidable weeks and weeks of blood. My heart is with the girls far younger than myself who were in the same clinic alone, those who have had to make this decision after a sexual assault, and with all those women in Northern Ireland still fighting for the freedom to choose what happens to their own bodies. I have felt such gratitude that I live where I live, and with the resources I have access to.
To the girlfriends who have been a steadfast support network of love, hot water bottles and shoulders to sob into at 3am, to the women at BPAS who work every day without judgement to make all those who visit the clinic feel supported, to all those “hope you’re holding up ok” and “how you doing?” messages – thank you. I may not be able to say it in person, but you have provided comfort and light in this brief period of lonely confusion.
If you’re out there going through the same thing as I am, wherever you live and whatever the laws may say; you’ve done nothing shameful, nothing wrong and I believe that you’ve made the best decision for you. On Thursday 13th December, the same day I went to the clinic, I read that the Irish Senate had signed the bill to officially legalise abortion following this summer’s referendum. Timing is sometimes a beautiful thing. It is getting better, but we must keep fighting.
BPAS is doing incredible work for British and Northern Irish women and still relies on support to keep its services running for anyone who needs them. Please visit their website and support them in any way you can.