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TEAM ZOELLA JUNE 28, 2021

We Spoke to 6 Women About Having An Abortion

Every one of these stories is as unique as the people who tell them, and all of them serve as a reminder for why access to safe abortion care and autonomy over our own bodies is so important.

Today, we’re holding space for the women who have had an abortion, because normalising conversations around our reproductive rights is at the heart of smashing the abortion stigma and challenging social norms.

In a world where all manner of women’s health topics from self-pleasure to vaginismus and menstruation are slowly but surely getting their due air time, strides have been made, but abortion remains largely stigmatised and marginalised from everyday conversation. Many people deal with the reality of the procedure and the complex emotions that can often accompany it in silence due to the pervasive stigma and shame attached to the common medical procedure. Oftentimes, particularly in countries where it is still illegal to have an abortion, women, trans and non-binary people are denied access to safe abortion care.

Behind the public complacency, destructive misinformation and political debates are people with deeply personal experiences: an unintended pregnancy, rape, contraception failures, mental health struggles or abusive relationships. Regardless of the legal status of abortions, the stigma is global and many people are shamed for seeking or having one in their lifetime. Silence perpetuates stigma.

Here, we invited readers to talk about their experience in their own words. Every one of these stories is as unique as the people who tell them, and all of them serve as a reminder for why access to safe abortion care and autonomy over our own bodies is so important.

Every person deserves the right to decide the course of their own life and here’s how these women did, and continue to do, just that.

Jennie

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant? 

When I first found out I was so shocked as this had never happened before and I’d never particularly been careful with my partner. The shock pretty much overpowered any other emotion I was feeling at the time and also dread as I knew I had to have an abortion.

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion?

As I was only 18 at the time and me and my boyfriend still lived at home, the decision wasn’t a long process for me because there was no way we’d be able to tell our families or have the money to bring a baby into the world. The only problem I had was that I was going on holiday 2 days after I found out so had to try and urgently sort this for when I was back which gave me more time to almost go through all the motions of should I keep it or should I go through with it. As weird as it sounds regardless of how far along I was in pregnancy I still had this unexplainable connection with my child and did things I would during pregnancy to keep my baby healthy (ie whilst I was on holiday I didn’t have one drink even though I knew I was having an abortion). 

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

I was 18 years old, I knew that I was nowhere near ready to have a child physically, mentally or financially and I think these 3 things all need to be considered before having a child. I had so much I wanted to achieve and so many milestones I wanted to tick off the list before starting my own family.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

I was in the exact same position but I easily found the resources I needed for helplines and associations to get in touch with through the internet. The people you contact through the associations are very helpful and understanding, they talk you through every step of the way and go through everything you need to know or be aware of. Again the staff who work at the clinics are amazing and always ask through every stage of your appointment if your decision is final but not in a judgemental or pressurising way.

The procedure itself if you’re very early on in pregnancy is done by taking an abortion pill and you have a series of health checks before and usually after you have taken the pill they offer to fit contraception or prescribe this before you leave. The only painful part is the day after or the next couple of days after when you have a ‘miscarriage’ which feels like a very bad period. I would suggest to anyone if possible have someone go with you as although the staff are all so friendly and supportive I do think you need that extra bit of support from a familiar face. Also, be prepared the next day to just rest.

How did you feel after the abortion?

After the abortion, I felt very emotional understandably but luckily I had the support of my boyfriend who was amazing throughout the whole thing. It’s kind of a relief once it’s over but then there’s also a lot of what-ifs when you have a moment to think wondering what the baby would’ve looked like and through the weeks remembering how far gone you’d have been if you would’ve kept the baby. Even to this day I still imagine things and think about what he/she would’ve been like but it’s not as upsetting anymore as I know it was the right decision for me.

What level of aftercare and support did you have?

Everything was explained at the clinic regarding aftercare and they gave me numbers to contact if I felt that something was wrong. Support wise I had my boyfriend and a couple of people knew but I couldn’t tell my parents and still haven’t to this day.

Did you ever experience feelings of shame, secrecy or judgement around your decision to have an abortion, at all?

I think the judgement and shame only came from myself as it is such an awful decision to make but my partner agreed with me through every step and the people who did know were all so understanding and supportive. As for secrecy there is a lot of secrecy regarding my abortion, I didn’t feel I could tell my parents or my family as I still live at home. I’m not sure why I felt the need for secrecy but I think it’s the fear of the unknown for how people may react and it’s not really a conversation you want to be having with a parent when you still live with them and are also so young! 

Having gone through the experience yourself, and despite how common it is (1 in 3 women have an abortion by 45), why do you think it’s still such an off-limits taboo subject?

I think as every country and every generation of people have different opinions and views on abortions this creates a whole stigma everywhere else. Like in older generations abortions weren’t really a thing and was seen as morally wrong and in some countries people don’t even have the choice to have an abortion which blows my mind. It’s sad to think how common this is and it’s still a subject that women feel ashamed of or find it awkward to talk about. 

How can we all do more to end abortion stigma and encourage others to talk about it like any other medical procedure? What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

Although I respect some people wish to keep this matter private I do think the way forward is to open up about these experiences more. The way we talk about contraception and sex should be the way we talk about abortions as it is more than likely to happen to most women in their lifetime. I think the way we view what an abortion actually needs to be altered too, abortion is seen as such a negative decision that means destroying another humans life when really once dealt with properly is a positive decision that is the right one for you at that point in your life.

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

My advice would be; This decision is down to you and you only, it is your body and your mind if you feel that you aren’t ready for a child then don’t feel guilty about the decision you make. I believe that you need to be in the best place possible when it comes to having a baby as you want to give your baby your all and bring them up in a stable, happy, healthy environment. You’ll know when the time is right and when you and your partner are ready to become parents. Another thing is to talk to someone! Whether that be someone you’ve confided in, an anonymous helpline or a community of women who have been through the same thing, this helps so so much, in most situations I think the feeling of not being alone in how you feel or what you’re going through is so reassuring. Until the time comes for you to start your own family (if that’s something you want to do) just live your life to the fullest and strive to achieve everything you want to, that’s what I’m going to do until I decide otherwise :).

Olivia

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant?

I had only been with my boyfriend (now husband) for about a month or two when I found out. I was very, very overwhelmed and scared. I knew we weren’t ready for a kid because it was so early in our relationship. I felt somewhat ashamed as well. 

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion?

It was just a lot of stress and anxiety about what would happen, how my boyfriend would respond, how my family/friends would feel if I was pregnant, how I’d handle it, how abortions work, maybe adoption, a lot of feelings.

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

I think I knew almost immediately that I would want one. When I told my boyfriend that I was pregnant, he said that he would be okay with whatever I decided because it was my body. I knew I wasn’t ready for a kid. I was in grad school, in my first couple years of teaching kindergarten, living in a rental home with roommates, and my boyfriend lived in another state.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

I was told that I needed to do the medical abortion (versus a physical one) because of my weight and how far along I was. I will be honest and say that it was the most painful experience I have ever been through. I was told it would be hard, but the pain was unbearable. I lived in Oklahoma at the time, which is very very conservative. The clinic I went to was the only one in the state that offered abortions. Luckily, I lived in that city, so I had easy access to it. 

How did you feel after the abortion?

I felt relieved. I felt like I could continue with my life and finish school with ease. I felt like I didn’t have a huge secret anymore.

What level of aftercare and support did you have?

I had access to the nurse at the clinic through text whenever I needed it. I texted her many questions. I also had to go back to the clinic a couple weeks later to do a pregnancy test to confirm that it was terminated and make sure I was doing okay. My boyfriend was in a different state, so I didn’t really have any personal support. No one knew except for him.

Did you ever experience feelings of shame, secrecy or judgement around your decision to have an abortion, at all?

I did at first because I’ve been told my whole life that it was wrong and I’d go to hell. I realized shortly after it happened that it’s my life and my body and I have the choice to do whatever I think is best for me and my situation. This was almost 6 years ago. Now, I feel no shame or embarrassment about it.

Having gone through the experience yourself, and despite how common it is (1 in 3 women have an abortion by 45), why do you think it’s still such an off-limits taboo subject?

It’s been ingrained in people since they were kids that it is wrong and a sin. People were raised to believe that, so it is a thought in people’s heads. I also feel like it stems from the fact that a lot of parents or grandparents can be more conservative and pro-life. That family pressure can be very tough.

How can we all do more to end abortion stigma and encourage others to talk about it like any other medical procedure? What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

Women have the right to do what they want with and to their body. Women shouldn’t have to look to anyone for permission to get an abortion, get a tattoo, get a piercing, cut their hair, etc. People need to realize that and give women that right. It is a part of basic human rights. That idea needs to be accepted by everyone, which I feel like we’re making good strides with. 

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

Self-care. Make sure you have a support system or someone you can trust to talk to. Take off of work afterwards (I didn’t at first and ended up doing it later). Get fluffy pillows and blankets so that you can be comfortable in bed. Eat ice cream or whatever makes you feel good! You’ll need physical and mental support and relaxation afterwards.

India

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant?

When I first found out I was pregnant I instantly felt joy and happiness, however, this was quickly clouded with fear and doubt. Although I was happy and with my partner, I had never felt more alone, knowing that there was life growing inside of me and I felt such a huge responsibility as I was not planning to become a mother so soon.

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion?

I decided to keep this between me and my partner for many weeks as I wanted to make the right decision and be sure of what I wanted. As the weeks went on, my mind changed most days but I never felt sure of my choice. After keeping this to myself for a while, I knew it was time to tell my parents as I was being sick most days and really started to feel the symptoms of pregnancy.

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

When discussing this with my mother, I was hoping for reassurance and I really wanted somebody to tell me everything was going to be okay and that most importantly it was my choice. However, this was not the reaction I received, in all honesty, she was not ready to be a grandmother and did not want me to ruin her own life. At this point, I believed I would have become homeless if I had gone through with the pregnancy.
As I was around 13 weeks pregnant at this stage, I knew my time was limited and I needed to make a decision quickly. As I was young and vulnerable I allowed my family to influence me to go ahead with an abortion. Don’t get me wrong, there was a part of me that also wanted to not go through with the pregnancy, but if I had not listened to them, I don’t think I would have proceeded with the abortion.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

I was able to get an abortion within a few weeks of speaking to my GP (but the limited availability means I had to travel over an hour from my home), however, in this situation, each week is highly important in terms of the type of abortion you will be able to receive. As I was over 14 weeks pregnant I had to undergo dilation and evacuation meaning I was under general anaesthetic and the pregnancy was removed using special instruments from my womb. I found the process very scary and overall traumatising. The NHS staff were amazing but I did feel the process was slightly rushed and chaotic.

After the abortion, I stayed in the clinic for a few hours to recover and was given a leaflet and discharged. I was not provided with any other care whatsoever. Looking back now, I feel like I would have benefited from having some sort of counselling or mental help after undergoing a life-changing operation.

How did you feel after the abortion?

Most of the feelings I have felt since my abortion are mainly directed at myself and my family, I really wish I was supported more throughout. I do feel judgement when speaking about it despite it being much more common than people realise. I do believe it is such a taboo subject as many people hold such strong opinions despite them never have been in that situation themselves. I guess it is easy to judge another if you have not walked in their shoes.

What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

I believe abortion should be spoken about more in secondary schools and colleges, there is such a lack of information surrounding the different types of abortions and how these are carried out, as well as any long term side effects of this. I also believe a law should be passed about the protesters that often stand outside clinics across the UK (as this was something I had not anticipated before arriving and it was a horrible experience).

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

For people considering having an abortion, my biggest piece of advice would be to make sure it is what YOU want and don’t allow the opinion of others to affect you, because at the end of the day, it is your body and your life, so make sure you do what is right for you. And when you make your decision, remember that the only person who will have to live with that every day is you. Nobody else. This is also not me saying women will feel shame and regret after having an abortion because that simply is not true. As long as this is what you want, that is enough.

If you are currently going through an abortion, remember to ask for help if you need it and surround yourself with your closest people.

Kate

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant?

I felt nervous when I found out I pregnant. At 18 and without a long term partner I was apprehensive and unsure about what I was going to do. In one way I was glad I had an answer as to why I had been feeling unwell physically but it gave me a lot to think about and new emotions to deal with.

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion?

I had an on/off relationship with someone who lived 5 hours away and got pregnant during a trip to see them. I was 18 years old and it was the summer before I was due to move away for university. The pregnant was unplanned and although children were in my plan, this wasn’t the right time or situation. The logistics of seeing the father and co-parenting were feasible and we both decided the right decision would be to terminate the pregnancy.

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

I could not have financially supported a child at that time and moving across the country for a relationship that hadn’t really been solid, didn’t seem like a stable choice to make. During this time I didn’t tell my mum who I lived with and didn’t really want to for fear of judgement or anger.

I was really thankful for the choice to end the pregnancy as I knew it wasn’t the right time for me or the father to welcome a child into the world.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

I was aware of and had accessed local sexual health clinics for contraception in the past so this was the first place I contacted after deciding on an abortion. They booked me in relatively quickly to get a scan and confirm I was in fact pregnant. 

They asked me my reasons for deciding to terminate and I felt they were really understanding and there was no judgment in their tone or words those chose when speaking to me. They asked if I had considered other options such as adoption but I explained I wanted to go away to university and didn’t want to continue with the pregnancy at all.

The only negative from this initial appointment was that when the health worker carried out the ultrasound, she showed me the screen. Normally this would be really happy for expectant parents but it made me feel guilty, seeing a fetus knowing I wasn’t going to carry it to term. It was only for a few seconds but the feeling of guilt lasted for months.

The health care worker explained there were different procedures depending on how far along in the pregnancy you were. I was able to be booked in for a noninvasive termination where I took a tablet to stop the heartbeat then a few days later I came into hospital for a day to take another. The second tablet would actually pass the fetus and you do this in hospital so they can monitor how you’re passing the pregnancy and how much you’re bleeding. 

It’s worth mentioning the nurse who cared for me during my 6 or so hours in hospital, was pregnant. I never once felt like she judged me or was making me feel worse about my decision because she had decided to carry on her with pregnancy. 

Accessing the service and getting appointments was easy. I felt anxious and embarrassed going to each one but was always able to bring someone with me (can be a partner, friend, family member etc). I felt like I had a big sign over my head saying ‘she’s going for an abortion’ but everything is very discreet and confidential. The procedure goes on your medical record but there was no need for my family doctor or anyone else to be involved.

What level of aftercare and support did you have?

There was no counselling or talking therapies offered afterwards which looking back on, I think I could have benefited from. I felt a lot of guilt and regret for a year or so afterwards and it would have been good to help understand these feelings more. 

How did you feel after the abortion?

I am 100% okay and happy with the choice I made nearly 10 years ago and would do it again if I needed to. I have no regrets and know the life of the fetus and mine, are better because of the decision I made.

Having gone through the experience yourself, and despite how common it is (1 in 3 women have an abortion by 45), why do you think it’s still such an off-limits taboo subject?

I think it’s a taboo subject for some and women still experience shame because of the way people perceive abortions and the lack of conversation around it. You’re led to believe they ‘cut’ babies out of you or the procedures really violent but it’s not the case. Its medical and performed with care and attention from professionals like any other. 

How can we all do more to end abortion stigma and encourage others to talk about it like any other medical procedure? What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

We don’t know everyone’s story or reason behind seeking an abortion but no one does it for fun. It’s not a walk in the park physically or mentally. We should be more open from a younger age. We should talk about it in schools when we learn about sex education. If I can learn about contraception in primary school then I should be able to learn about termination too. 

I’ve waited longer to access mental health services than abortion services but we talk about mental health so much now. Why not abortions? If we can promote talking and being open about what’s going on in our minds, why not about what’s going on in our bodies? 

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

My advice for someone about to go through or going through with an abortion is to confide in someone, whether it be your partner, friend or a family member. Don’t do it alone, you’ll be thankful for the support. Even if they just drive you to appointments, it’s better than making those journeys on your own. 

Secondly, ask as many questions as you can. Don’t be blindsided by medical terms, if you don’t understand something then ask for it to be explained again or in a different way so you understand. Ultimately you’re making the choice and that’s the most important thing, don’t let anyone sway your opinion or choice. It’s your body, your choice! 

Carla

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant?

I felt overwhelmed by the thought of having another pregnancy, I had already been pregnant six times prior to this time, four live births and two previous terminations.  

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion?

As this, unfortunately, was not my first rodeo, and the third time I would go through this process I was devastated to have to go through this again. I felt ashamed for this to happen again. I had to visit my doctor again, a well put together capable person most of the time again requesting to terminate a humans life. It did not sit well with me on any level and all I could think about was what other people thought of me. As I had to disclose to my employer why I was unwell or need appointment time, it was embarrassing and I thought everyone knew (which they didn’t) however you still get the feeling of being judged, a paranoid feeling. 

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

I already had four children, worked full time and did not live with my partner. I also had to tell my parents who always looked so disappointed even at 37, as none of my previous pregnancies had been planned and I was not married or in a good enough financial position to take care of another child.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

I visited my local GP, having a female doctor helps as I did approach a male doctor in my surgery and he flatly refused to discuss it or refer me.
The GP refer you to the BPAS British Pregnancy Advisory Service. Call to make an appointment at one of the BPAS clinics to speak to a counsellor. You then see a doctor at your appointment if you feel this is the right course of action to terminate your pregnancy. The doctor scans you to determine how far along in the pregnancy you are and what type of termination you need. 

You may be offered a medical abortion to terminate the pregnancy, you go to the clinic for the first dose and if you live close by you are able to go home once it has been administered, take the next dose and nature takes its course at home. 

Alternatively you maybe further along in the pregnancy and you would be invited to the clinic again provided with medication, nurses are on hand and this can mean an over night stay. If you are further along in the pregnancy it feels more like giving birth as the foetus is larger and blood loss may be greater.

If you are younger or you are terminating the pregnancy on medical grounds you maybe offered a surgical abortion. The NHS website has a brilliant description of all options I would have benefitted of reading. 

How did you feel after the abortion?

Empty, it’s like a bereavement and unfortunately never has left me. I can still see the foetus in the toilet and find it hard to deal with after experiencing the last abortion I have suffered from PTSD. I found it very difficult to have a normal sexual relationship because I would get paranoid I would fall pregnant again and feel relief every month when I wasn’t. My partner refused to take responsibility for contraception and would not have a vasectomy and of  course being super fertile and no contraception working for me was hard. I did ask for alternative solutions from a GP referral and was advised its not in my best interests to pursue until I am older.

What level of aftercare and support did you have?

I received no aftercare support at all.

Did you ever experience feelings of shame, secrecy or judgement around your decision to have an abortion, at all?

I still feel shame about having a termination, my partner was quite cruel to me and said I had murdered his child once in an argument and I will never forget that, and we had talked at length before our decision and was not aware of how much it affected him. I felt so guilty for people with fertility problems, especially friends who would confide in me and it would make me terribly upset.

Having gone through the experience yourself, and despite how common it is (1 in 3 women have an abortion by 45), why do you think it’s still such an off-limits taboo subject?

Abortion is still a taboo subject from my first experience in the early 1990s to my more recent experience I can say this has not much changed however the support has increased as more clinics have opened it’s easier to access, I do think after support should be more available for women to deal with the trauma. 

How can we all do more to end abortion stigma and encourage others to talk about it like any other medical procedure? What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

Stigma around abortion is always going to exist. I believe the stigma is around the reason we choose to terminate a pregnancy, not the actual act. For many reasons especially medical reasons. If the foetus isn’t viable. To save another foetus in the womb of a multiple pregnancy. From falling pregnant after abuse or rape, this should not be taboo. The choice for your mental health is a massive reason to terminate a pregnancy these days as it’s more prevalent and accepted. It is not a decision to be taken lightly and more options for the mother should be discussed like adoption prior to termination. It should also be covered in schools as in sex education classes.

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

It’s a personal choice, it’s not always the right choice, do not feel ashamed to ask for help. Talk to someone close to you however, do not overshare. If your partner is supportive keep them involved they may be devastated too and need support.

Shannon

How did you feel when you first found out you were pregnant?

When I found out I was pregnant I was in disbelief it did not feel real. I then took a second test which indicated how many weeks I was, then it started to sink in. I felt extremely scared and confused because I knew I did not want to have a baby. It felt like I had a big sign on me telling everyone around me I was pregnant, I did not want to look at someone wrong or look to my stomach without the fear that everyone knew. It felt very consuming it was all I could think about.

I started imagining my future with a baby and without a baby. It felt like time was moving slower and every second I didn’t think about it made me feel guilty that I wasn’t spending every moment thinking of it. I also felt embarrassed and stupid, it felt like I had been really stupid not to have taken more precautions. There was also a feeling that lasted for quite a while of being betrayed by my own body, it felt wrong that my brain knew I did not want a baby, yet my body was changing for the process to happen.

Can you share your personal experience and the moments leading up to your decision to have an abortion? (Please only disclose what you are comfortable with)

It was 2018 and I was 21 years old and in my final year of university, it was a few weeks before the end of my second term just around the time of writing my dissertation and prep for my final exams. My boyfriend was also at university around a 3-hour train journey away, we had been together for a nearly year. I had previously been on a few contraceptive pills up until 6 months before, I found some side effects of headaches, weight gain and mood swings.

As my boyfriend and I could only see each other every other month for a few days at a time I decided we would use condoms as a method of contraception. Around my Birthday we were able to see each other for a week and used condoms when we had sex- however this down later into intercourse or once not at all. A few weeks passed and I had not got my period however often with university stress they were not regular, so I wasn’t worried. Then a few more weeks passed, and I found myself getting very teary in most situations. This was not uncommon for usually a day before my period however it never usually lasted a few days.

I was in the gym on the treadmill and whilst I was running it felt like a had a small tight knot and slight cramps in my stomach which then ended up lasting the entire evening. For the rest of the week, I had extremely vivid dreams and then started to get a strange taste in my mouth. I started to google the symptoms and every article was about pregnancy. I spent an hour or so scrolling through forums of women excitedly checking their early symptoms with one another.

At this point I felt quite numb because I couldn’t fathom the idea that I was actually pregnant. I told my best friend (also my housemate) that I thought I was pregnant. She told me I was must be joking that I can’t be, I told her I didn’t feel right and I really thought I was. She had a pregnancy test in her room, I went to the bathroom and did the test. I then came downstairs are put the test down and carried on doing my washing up. Then I walked over and saw there was two lines on the test. I showed her and she started saying no you can’t be pregnant. I was speechless it didn’t feel real at all. I just couldn’t believe it. I then went with her to the supermarket to get another test which would tell me the weeks. I remember feeling so conscious that everyone knew. That week I had three essays due at university so took the test to the library toilets. The test said I was 3+ weeks.

At this point I stood in the toilet cubile and wanted it all to go away. I could feel my heart racing and I felt like I needed to be sick. I took some deep breathes and thought about it being too late to call a doctor and also conscious I had my essays due. So I went back to writing my essay in the library but couldn’t think about anything else. I could hear my pulse and I just felt helpless. I started googling abortion online and not a lot was coming up that made clear sense on what to do.  I saw on a website about contacting your GP as soon as you are aware. The doctors was shut so my plan was to phone the doctors the next day. That night feels like a blur now I remember having a film on to fall asleep to and I just stared at the screen but couldn’t take anything in.I woke up and went to the library and waited for the doctors to open. It felt like the more I could do everything in logical steps the easier I found it. I woke up and just mentally prepared for phoning the doctor I couldn’t let me brain wander to the next part. I then went into a corridor in my university library and phoned the doctors. The receptionist asked what I needed an appointment for, it was at this point I had to say it out loud. I had said it in my head since I found out but not verbalised it. My voice broke when I said I wanted an abortion and I started to cry. She spoke really calmly and advised me I didn’t need to see a doctor I could self refer to a clinic. She took my name and told me to go to the doctors and she would have a leaflet for me to take away that would explain what I needed to do.

It felt like she had given me the next steps to focus on so I stopped crying and my best friend went with me and she went in and picked it up. The leaflet was for Marie Stopes clinic. Again I couldn’t allow myself time to think to much I just followed the instructions on the leaflet and phoned. They asked me personal details about my address and age and advised I would receive an email which would have a call time for the next day which they would then be able to book me in. They also advised this was a confidential service so would not go my medical record, this made me feel secure in that it was a personal and private decision for myself and that it would never come back up. At this point I felt calmer that there was a plan. They set up a password to use when I called and then I received an email with 2 pdf attachments. One was FAQ the other was about the different procedures. I read those PDF’s so many times I wanted to understand everything as I felt so scared about what an abortion actually was. I waited for my call the next day and they advised as I was just 6 weeks this is the earliest I could get an abortion.

They advised due to being in the early stages I could have a early medical abortion pill. She talked me through what would happen next and advised instructions would also be sent to me. She advised me I could call the helpline at any time if I had anymore questions.  She found the clinic in my university town had a cancellation which meant I could have an appointment that Friday in two days’ time, my next option was to wait for the next appointment which was two weeks away. I knew it did not want to wait – I had essays due and my dissertation to think about and it felt impossible to think of anything other than being pregnant. Now that I knew I had an appointment I decided to tell my boyfriend. I felt so nervous to bring up the subject because somehow it felt like it was all my fault and I had done something wrong I told him in one giant sentence what had happened and what I was doing. He was silent for a while then told me her supported me and just wanted me to speak to him if I needed him. This was the best thing he could have done, he didn’t bring up the subject unless I did. He never told me anything other than whatever I needed he would help. When reading the pdf’s from Marie Stopes it advised to avoid public transport on the day and after. I asked my boyfriend to drive back from his uni the evening of my appointment to drive me home the next day as I was supposed to be leaving by train for my easter break.

On the Thursday I was so upset but I felt so lucky that I would only have to get through the next day and it would all be over with. That day my best friend had been planning a birthday celebration as her birthday fell a few days later when we were on Easter break. I tried to get myself involved in the party and spent hours blowing up balloons however I just couldn’t stop thinking about the next day. I knew I did not want to have a baby but what was scaring me is I did not know what to expect. I had all these strange thoughts running through my head of what did the clinic look like? Would I see someone I know? Would they judge me for my choice? Would there be protestors outside? Would the procedure hurt? Would someone tell me off? I found it hard to get away from the feeling that I had messed up.

How did you reach the decision that this was the right choice for you, your body and your life?

As soon as I thought I might be pregnant I knew I didn’t want to have a baby, it wasn’t that I didn’t ever in the future want a baby, but I didn’t want one now. I was a university student, there were things that I knew I wanted to do and achieve that I knew would either be really difficult with a child or impossible. I also knew I could not give a child the life I would have wanted to them to have. I wanted to travel the world, have years that were just about me. I felt like I wanted to discover life for me and live as carefree and be as self-centred as possible.

I knew that I wanted an abortion, but I also did spend time thinking about the other option. I thought about having a baby, the reality that I had only been with my boyfriend a year and we were both so young. I thought about the practicalities of us navigating being parents or co-parents. I knew one day I would like to have children, but this was not what I wanted at this time. I felt empowered in that this was my choice, no one could have said anything to change my mind, but I also felt safe in that no one else had a say in what happened it was all up to me to do what I wanted.

For those who are thinking about terminating a pregnancy but don’t know what to expect, can you share any fact-based information around what the medical procedure involves and how easy or difficult it was to access abortion care?

As mentioned above you can self-refer to a clinic which means it doesn’t need to go on your medical record or through your GP.  This is all arranged in a phone call and then helpful information sent over email. As well as a text explaining where to go at the clinic. They advise me to wear comfortable and loose clothing. Also, to arrive with a sanitary towel already fitted in your underwear.

Further to this to bring a bottle of water and have paracetamol and Ibuprofen at home ready to take. At the appointment I had my blood pressure taken to start off with because I was nervous, she had to take it twice till I had a few deep breathes. Then I had to answer questions on your medical history. I then had a skin prick test in which the blood is used to test for HIV which didn’t hurt. The nurse then took me to a bed and gave me an ultrasound to check the stage of pregnancy the cold jelly was a bit of a shock. She also asked me if I wanted to see the screen I said no. It then automatically printed a picture that I never saw.

After this she confirmed with me, I wanted to make this choice and then phoned another doctor to advise she had checked everything and I wanted to continue. You need 2 doctors to sign off but I never had to speak to the doctor on the phone. She was then able to give me the first tablet. The first tablet I took in front of her orally and was the same size as a normal tablet of paracetamol. She then gave me another tablet of similar size and advised me to go behind the curtain and with a glove and two fingers to insert it into my vagina as far up as I could. This was an easy process and felt similar to inserting a tampon.  I was then given a test for Chlamydia to do at home and send back in the post. She then asked me if I had any questions I advised no and she gave me a leaflet on contraception.

Then I left the clinic and got a taxi to my home. After this around 2 hours later I started to have diarrhoea which is normal. I was advised to take 2 paracetamol and 2 ibuprofens, I did this every 6 hours. After 2 more hours, I started to bleed very lightly and felt slightly shivery. The next day the diarrhoea had eased, and I had a heavy feeling of pulling in my stomach feeling very similar to period pains. The next day the bleeding was heavier I used nighttime sanitary towels. When I went to the toilet it looked the same as a period with a bit more clotting. I bled for around 5-7 days and stopped taking pain relief medication after 3 days as I felt no pain.

How did you feel after the abortion?

At first, when I finished in the clinic I felt so relieved and tired. I had built up in my head I just had to get to this point and it all felt very overwhelming that night. That night I cried a lot because I felt like I had been stupid, and I had done something wrong. The next few days I felt relieved and with that came a sense of guilt. I was so happy that I was no longer pregnant, but I felt guilty that I should feel so relieved and happy as anything I had seen in the media or with friends and family pregnancy and babies were a joyous thing to be celebrated.

I also felt guilty that other people really want to have children and I didn’t want to. It felt hard to feel so relieved about abortion when often in mainstream media it was this thing that had to carry shame and unhappiness. I was also nervous about bleeding and had this nightmare of seeing a fully formed baby in a miniature version in my sanitary towel. It felt hard every day of bleeding to be reminded of what was happening. I kept having waves of sadness that would come and go relating to ruining the excitement of ever having children. It also felt like every time I was sad, I needed to be sad as a punishment for having an abortion. It took me a few weeks to not feel like this and feel like life was normal again.

What level of aftercare and support did you have?

I was aware the charity ran a support line that I could phone at any time and give my name and password and they would know who I was. I used this support line once a few days after to ask about feeling guilty about my relief, they were extremely helpful and told me this was completely normal. I also never felt unsafe it felt like with all the information they had given me I was able to know what my body was doing, and I was fully in control.

As I had told my two best friends and boyfriend, I spoke to them at different points to talk about how I felt. Even if I didn’t speak about how I felt, it felt comforting to be around any of them as it felt like I could just be myself as they knew what was going on. I’m still extremely grateful I felt able to tell my best friends and they were so calm and caring.

Did you ever experience feelings of shame, secrecy or judgement around your decision to have an abortion, at all?

I felt a sense of shame in that it felt like I had been uncareful or stupid. This was something I felt initially when I found out I was pregnant and returned after I had the abortion. I was also aware that everyone I would meet in my life probably had an opinion on abortion it scared me that the topic might ever come up in conversation. I felt scared about hearing someone’s opinion and feeling judged. I avoided programmes that mentioned abortions and would turn off films if they touched on the subject for around 6 months after.

It felt like I needed to keep a secret from my family because I didn’t want to think they would be disappointed in me. I also didn’t tell any other friends other than my two best friends because I didn’t know anyone who had an abortion so I wasn’t sure whether other friends would define me as their friend who had an abortion.

Having gone through the experience yourself, and despite how common it is (1 in 3 women have an abortion by 45), why do you think it’s still such an off-limits taboo subject?

I think it feels like such a off-limits subject because there a narrative for women that we are maternal beings and that should mean we would want to be procreate and to go against that feels hard to say without fear of judgement. I found it taboo because I did not want to upset anyone or hear an opinion which might upset me. The biggest thing to me felt like an abortion felt defining. The same way as someone defines and calls themself a mother it feels like the wrong person might define me in negative way as someone who has had an abortion. I also think the conversation in the media and online often makes the conversation a moral conversation. Whereas it is simply and choice and that choice is not something that can be right or wrong it is individual.

How can we all do more to end abortion stigma and encourage others to talk about it like any other medical procedure? What do you think is going to be the real catalyst for change?

I think the more women like myself speak out. The more we share our stories will encourage others to share their story. We need to change the conversation to not be one of agreeing/disagreeing but about listening to how someone feels and what they want for their body and their future. Making women feel like the choice is theirs without judgement, having conversations about abortion should be about someone sharing their story without hearing someone else opinion on their story. I think this will also help other people understand exactly how and why women have made their decisions which can only bring more understanding. We have to continue empowering women to understand it is their body and their choice.

I believe the real catalyst of change will be when abortion is legal in every country and as simple and easy as possible for women to access with enough understanding that they can make a clear and informed decision. The media also need to stop sticking to stereotypical depictions of people who have abortions being young, careless and often promiscuous women. Instead, they need to be showing the reality that it is not a horrific procedure and as I witnessed in the waiting room before my appointment the women are mostly above 30 and have other children and partners. 

For anyone going through an abortion now, or considering having one, what advice would you offer them?

I would advise you to think about your future and the things you want. I would advise you to take some time for yourself and spend a few hours or a day thinking about all your options and how you feel about each option. Try not to feel shame and judgement and simply the things you want right now in life. I would also advise using free therapy that is offered by lots of clinics if you feel like you’d rather talk to a stranger. I found it helpful to speak to the people I trusted most in the world not for their opinion but just to talk it out. It can feel lonely thinking about abortion it can really help to know you’ve told someone you trust how you felt. Mostly whatever you want is okay, and whatever you don’t want is okay and you have the choice to decide your future no one else.

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