‘I think deep down we are all terrified of getting pregnant when we have sex and to some of us the worst happens and we do get pregnant. We don’t want it and we’re not expecting it. So we have to ask ourselves the hardest question: do we let “it” live or die?’
‘Think of it as the morning after pill. It’s nothing, it’s not even alive yet.’
‘I wouldn’t have it if I were you. You have your whole life ahead of you. Don’t waste it on a mistake.’
‘Think about reality.’
‘He’ll get beaten up by his family if you have that baby. His parents will beat him up.’
‘Don’t tell your Dad you got pregnant. He’s old-fashioned: no babies out of wedlock.’
‘You’re getting an abortion.’
Her name was <Hanniella>.
Whilst the moon descended with a red velvet sun-drunken mist sweeping over London, I stood still. Tears brimmed my eyes; I was torn apart. The most precious existence in my life had lived a very short life. One terminated by pills.
Debating, questioning, reflecting on whether <Hanniella> should live is the hardest decision I have had to face. A termination of pregnancy is a deeply personal experience and although I have always been pro-abortion, it certainly did not make the decision so simple. Having the choice does not make that choice any easier. I did not see myself as the girl who just ‘ups and has a baby’, yet I am also not the girl who thought she would ever have to decide whether her child gets a chance to live, or dies.
Reflecting back on the abortion, it was a very brutal experience: making the decision, booking the appointments, the medical check-ups, the ultrasound, the psychologist appointment, the initial ‘pill’, the follow up appointment with more pills, the bleeding. I went to the medical appointments alone, feeling nervous and terrified, yet powerful: I was making a choice over my own body.
For some, deciding on whether to have an abortion can be a straight forward yes or no. For others, it requires a great deal of questioning, debating and self-reflection. For me, it was the latter. I already felt like a mother to the soul that resided in me, the soul that I came to name <Hanniella>. Whilst I was pregnant, I had a different outlook on the world. I suddenly saw everybody as a ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ of someone. I suddenly saw everyone as connected. I felt the need to treat people with even more kindness, compassion and generosity, and I suddenly understood the responsibility mothers have in the world. As I walked around London with baby-bump glow, I felt radiant. Being a mother to <Hanniella> had for me bigger implications: understanding the love I began to develop for the little nugget, I began to fall in love with the world and see myself as a ‘mother-figure’ to all beings. I felt that I finally had a purpose, one so much larger than life.
The day I went to the hospital was very sombre. I had scheduled an appointment after two weeks of reflection. I had only been given fourteen days to make a quite literal life or death decision. It was not enough time to think and how could I think clearly? It became harder to come to a conclusion as friends left me and fights exploded; I felt that I was not only fighting a battle within myself, I was also fighting a battle with the entire world. Suddenly, this world which had become rosy, welcoming and bright turned all the more quickly into a dark tyranny; a place that began to haunt me.
During my period of reflection, I had had an appointment at the hospital where an Ultrasound was taken, where I saw little baby <Hanniella> facing upwards, her tiny feet in the air, she looked like the cutest little munchkin. My eyes welled with tears and as their warmth faded into my cheeks, I noticed a little flashing light on the screen. I pointed towards the light and asked the nurses what it represented. The heartbeat, they told me. I erupted into tears, mascara drooling down, I was crying both out of seeing a miracle, the single most wonderful, powerful experience of my life, and out of utter sheer depth of sadness, knowing that the week after I was scheduled in for an abortion.
<She> would no longer have a beating heart. <She> would be dead and I would miss her terribly. Every single day after that. Knowing that I was going to be the one who would end it all, never getting a chance to hold <her> in my arms, to see <her> eyes look back into mine, never seeing <her> smile. Never getting to know my own <daughter>. That was excruciatingly difficult to process, accept and come to terms with.
I turned sour as I oscillated between becoming a young, poor mother or continuing with my education. I turned sour as my then considered-sister told me that she was too busy for me, she had to clean her apartment. I turned sour when I met up with the father and he told me that he was dating another girl, that he wanted for me to stay away and that he wanted me to have the abortion. I became sour when my mother cried and warned me against telling my father. I became sour when I looked at the reality of the situation, the lack of support and the negative comments being pushed my way. I became anxious, depressed and at loss when it began to dawn upon me that keeping <Hanniella> was becoming more and more an idealistic option rather than a realistic one. During this time I went to therapy, talking about my issues and pain at great lengths with someone I trusted.
My choice resided on three factors: I did not have the support from the father, I did not have the income, resources or living space to provide, and I felt that I did not have a good enough support group to guide me through pregnancy and beyond.
I think like most experiences, people cannot empathise with what they have not been through themselves. I was in so much pain during the experience. People failed to understand the importance of the decision I was making. Finally, the day came for the first pill. I went alone. As I was called into the room, I begged that she would not be able to decipher the thoughts going on through my head. I was not just devastated, I was petrified that the abortion would not go well, that there would be complications (I ended up bleeding for two months intermittently). As I took the pill from the nurse, I grabbed my things to get going. I thought to myself that I would take it home with me and perhaps change my mind about the whole thing. I wasn’t set on the abortion, even if I knew it was the right decision.
You have to take the pill in front of me.
In front of you?
She handed me a glass of water. I swallowed what I have come to term as the ‘pill of death’ and have never been the same since. For months I spoke to <her> begging for <her> forgiveness. ‘Just please forgive me’, I whispered. Perhaps I was talking to the both of us.
Abortions are still taboo to this day. I was told to keep it ‘hush hush’, to not tell anyone so I would not ruin my reputation. I felt I had no one to turn to except my therapist. The following weeks began a turmoil of nightmares. Bleeding through white silk pants at back-to-back meetings I was leading; sitting, in a pool of my own blood that had sprawled onto the chair for six hours, trying to mask the fact that I was sitting numbly in blood. Having to wear two pairs of pants in case more incidents like that arose again, which they did (even when continuously wearing pads). The fear of complications damaging my reproductive organs, leading me to collapse in my bathroom, shouting ‘I surrender’ at the Universe or God over and over again, neither realising what ‘surrendering’ meant or having any idea of how I would recover from the pain; the physical, mental and emotional pain. The regret came in waves. The one drunken night I spent crying uncontrollably, to be comforted by a Parisian stranger who sat by my side and talked to me. The new relationship I entered where I began by listing every bad thing that had happened to me: bullying, sexual abuse at ages six, sixteen and twenty, the violence, the chronic pain in my body – none that seemed to compare to what I was going through now – and my issue with sex for six months before I finally settled into my body.
This is a sad truth behind abortions.
The one that women do not talk about because at the end of the day, it is our body and our decision. We may have a tendency to disconnect from ourselves. We believe in the greater good, or do not wish to be mothers for whatever reasons, perhaps not wanting another child. We are strong, fearless women who refuse to be controlled by religion, society or culture, since the womb has so often been a point of debate in political and religious arenas. Abortions are and always will be an intimate and personal experience, and even if we do feel certain and confident in our decision, recovering from the procedure does require support, healing and love.
For me, the decision brought me to my knees. It made me suffer in ways I did not know a human could suffer. Yet it also taught me compassion, self-care and that I have a voice. It taught me how lucky I am to live in a country where I have access to free and safe abortion care that was surveyed by many nurses and doctors and a psychologist. This propelled me into helping other women have access to safe medical care and abortion treatment. It made me want to set up a support group for women who chose to make the ‘right decision’ but have a hard time processing it. It taught me that the more we talk about experiences that are deemed taboo or stigmatised, the more we can elevate the conversation higher and reach into new territory.