It was the beginning of summer 2018. I had been showing quite severe pre-menstrual symptoms and my mood was all over the place. I didn’t think much of it because at the time I was in a not-so-ideal space in my life, to say the least. As the days passed I knew something was different but I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was. But the dreaded day came- my period was late. I decided to take a pregnancy test. Positive. I nearly fainted. My heart stopped beating for a split second. The only thoughts running through my mind were that I can’t be pregnant. When I thought about my choices, I didn’t know how to decide which option would be the best. How would I know what the right thing to do was?
Fast forward to October 2019; I am sitting in my psychologist’s room and I mention to her at the beginning of our session that there is one specific topic I would like to cover in our session. Abortion. My abortion.
As I grew up as a child, I was taught from a very young age that having an abortion was wrong and my young mind couldn’t understand why any mother would have an abortion. At the age of 23 when I stared into the eyes of my daughter, again, I couldn’t understand how someone could not want this.
But there I was. In my psychologists consulting room; starting a conversation on not just any abortion; my abortion, or rather, the abortion I had. As she eased into the topic I was quite taken aback and confused when she said; “So, you get pro-life supporters, and you’re a pro-choicer”. I was quite taken aback at that statement and being put into a ‘box’ simply because I had an abortion. I didn’t feel like I identified within the binary of pro-life or pro-choice. I felt that the “two” were at war with each other thanks to social media and many other factors. As if I was going through a placement process of how my psychologist would want to see me or have me see myself.
Personally, I don’t believe anyone should be labelled as a “Pro-Life Activist” or a “Pro-Choice Activist”. My personal opinion is that we are all making a CHOICE, does this not mean we are all so-called ‘pro-choice’? Our lives do not exist in boxes of right and wrong.
You make a choice to have an abortion. You make a choice to not.
I Decided To Have An Abortion
I called around and found Marie Stopes Sandton to be the best option as they could help me the same day. I thought the quicker I get it done the less I will feel like anything happened. I was okay. I wasn’t crying, I wasn’t feeling anything. I got to the clinic and took a seat. I filled out a form and waited. When I got called to another waiting room there were no men allowed into that section of the clinic. Sitting there, among the other women, a deathly silence fell upon us. We all knew why the other one was there. But we didn’t talk. It was cold in there and all of a sudden I have never felt so lonely in my life.
I got called into the consulting room. It was cold and surprisingly empty. No medical books on a bookshelf. No medical equipment. I lay down on the bed, and the nurse started with the scan. Hoping that they would be able to see something- there was nothing yet. I wasn’t far along enough to show on the scan yet;o I got sent home to wait for two weeks. Letting life grow in me for two more weeks. I cried, I sobbed all the way from the consulting room to the car. The nurses hugged me. Offered me tissues. Telling me it will be okay. I couldn’t even speak. I just kept on sobbing. All the way home. I couldn’t stop crying.
Finally, two weeks later came. I sat there. Waiting. Reading through information booklets. Searching for information about what to expect. I got called into the consulting room and the technician did a sonar. There it was. On the screen. Looking like a peanut. For a split second, I was happy to see it has grown. Meaning it was healthy and strong. I started crying and the technician asked me if I would like a photo. He paused the image on the screen, took my phone and took a photo of it. He said to me that, it would help to have something. It will make it easier.
He left the room and I got dressed. The doctor came in, and we sat down at the desk. I had two options. I could choose to do a medicated abortion or surgical abortion. After weighing up my options, I chose to have a medicated abortion.
It was explained to me that I would be taking 5 pills. One will be taken in the room in front of the doctor. This pill would immediately stop my body producing progesterone. The hormone that keeps a pregnancy growing. With no progesterone going to the fetus. It would die. The other four pills I had to take at home 24 hours later- which would cause my womb to contract and basically push out the pregnancy. They are to be placed under my tongue until they have dissolved. I was given the first pill with a small sip of water from small plastic cups. Like the ones you see in movies when Psychiatry patients take their medication, I hesitated for a second. Then swallowed the pill like a tequila shot.
I went home and tried to keep things normal for my daughter. Trying not to upset her. During the day I did research on how soon I could take the other 4 pills. Just in case something goes wrong and I need to go to the hospital. I read somewhere you can take them after 8 hours of taking the first pill. 9 hours had passed since I took my first pill and I was settling into bed for the evening. I decided to put the pills under my tongue and try to sleep. Hoping it would all be over when I wake up.
Before the pills were even fully dissolved I started feeling light cramps. Period like cramps. Nothing too major and tried to sleep. But every few seconds the pain would get worse. I would get more uncomfortable, so I got up as silently as I could and went to the bathroom. I sat there for a while.
I started shivering. Uncontrollably. My entire body went through shock. My fever shot up fast and the shivering continued. I couldn’t even hold my phone properly; nowhere did I read about shivering and fever. I was so scared. I decided that perhaps it would be a better idea to sit down on the floor. I had two duvets wrapped around me and still didn’t warm up. The shivering didn’t stop and the cramping got worse. Unbearably worse. After a while, I started spotting blood. The pain got worse. Radiating from my back to my stomach feeling as if someone was trying to rip my insides out slowing.
I ran a hot bath and got in. Finally, the cramping stopped and the pain relaxed. I lay there until the geyser didn’t have any more hot water in. I got out and made myself a hot water bottle and went to bed. I tried to get comfortable as the cramping started again. For some reason, I thought it a good idea to time my cramping’s and turned out they were 1 minute apart, 30 seconds long each and right there I realized this is called active labour. Like I learned in my pregnancy classes with my daughter. The cramping got worse. Worse than before the bath.
Nothing I did distract me from the pain. The pain before the bath was nothing compared to what I felt then. Through all that pain I suddenly had the urge to go pee. As I sat there, the pain preventing me from doing anything; the cramping too much for me to even get up; the cramping all of a sudden stopped and I could feel warm fluid. A lot of it. I thought “wow, I just needed to pee to make it all stop’. I took a breath and waited a few seconds. As I wiped, I saw blood. A lot of dark red blood. I wiped again and I could feel something coming out of me. As I looked; there it was. A clear miniature scale of a placenta, a cord and a sack filled with small bloody, hard peanut. I sat there looking at it for a while. I could see everything. Perfectly formed for how old it was, and something died in me. Like a light being switched off. It dimmed out slowly. Leaving empty a space in my soul. I moved my hand slightly, and as I did that, the sack broke open and clear fluid seeped out of it. Amniotic fluid. Like I learned about in my previous pregnancy. I stopped breathing. Wondering if it felt any pain. Wondering if it was in fact, dead.
I didn’t know what to do. What do you do with unborn babies? What do you do when someone dies? You bury them. But, how do you bury something this small? What do you do when you kill something this small? Before thinking about it. I threw the tissue in the toilet. I got up. Flushed the toilet and washed my hands. I cleaned myself up and went back to be at 3 am; 6 hours after I decided to put those pills under my tongue.
Over the next few weeks, I had a rollercoaster of emotions running through my body. Waves of guilt and self-hatred washed over me multiple times a day. I drowned in my guilt. I sank down to the deepest of darkest depressions I have ever known.
For almost a year after the abortion, I still felt guilt. Not only guilt placed upon me by the judging society we live in for having an abortion but also guilt, because I felt I had not given the fetus the memorial it deserved. The evening of the abortion, I did not know what to do with the fetus. So I flushed it away in a toilet.
This is what sparked the idea to have the conversation with my psychologist. I was still experiencing PASS (Post Abortion Stress Syndrom). I wanted her to help me find a way to find closure. During our conversation (and half a box of tissues later) she suggested to me that I think about naming the baby or fetus and have a memorial. My psychologist suggested the very thing I try to avoid as much as I can; a cliche: Writing a letter and letting it float off into the air attached to a balloon. Now if you search online for “abortion memorial ideas” you might struggle to find some ideas the way I did. Instead, I went with “miscarriage memorial ideas’. A lot of similar ideas popped up but nothing felt right to me.
Instead, I asked a friend for advice, and she suggested dinner and having a candle blown out.
In time for the 1 year ‘anniversary’ since the day I had the abortion, she and her partner took me out to dinner. We lit the candle, had our food, and after that, a poem I improvised from a beautiful song I heard was read allowed. After that, I blew out the candle. It doesn’t sound like much when I write it here, but this evening, being surrounded by these two amazing people who have loved me and supported me, helped to say goodbye to Rúnda; meaning secret in Gaelic.
Talking about abortion is still an extremely sensitive thing to talk about. I was lucky to have found an organization online that I could relate to. One in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime, yet the strong emotions sparked by the topic leave little room for being able to have an open discussion about it.
I found a really powerful TED Talk video and in this personal, thoughtful talk, Aspen Baker makes the case for being neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice” but rather “pro-voice” — and for the roles that listening and storytelling can play when it comes to discussing difficult topics.
Watch it. Listen to it. She shares amazing ways of how to talk about abortion.