I feel strange writing this because it’s not the sort of event in your life that you talk about – certainly not in any kind of positive light anyway. Let alone sit down at your computer to type it all out.
I haven’t spoken much to friends or family. I haven’t really processed how I feel or what I think yet. But that’s okay because I know I will one day and that’s not what this is about.
This is about telling the abortion story that you never read about in magazines or novels or interviews. And that’s the story of the people who help make it happen. The story of how they make a day that is right up there in terms of the horrible moments of your life… bearable.
I found out I was pregnant 6 months ago. Given that I had been on the Pill for some time prior, saying that it was unplanned, sounds like an understatement. I had several hours of total disbelief after taking the test. I just refused to believe it was true.
After three more peeing-on-stick experiences and almost two litres of Diet Coke, I had to stop denying the fairly obvious. I called the man who was jointly responsible for the situation and explained what was going on. He told me that the choice was mine, that he’d back whatever decision I made but that he was of the firm view we should terminate the pregnancy.
I’m not going to talk to you about the decision and how I came to it. Whether you support that choice or not, it was the choice that I had made and it wasn’t one I was going to change my mind about. What I do want to talk about is my experience with Dr Marie (Marie Stopes International), the clinic who performed the procedure.
I’d seen enough Hollywood blockbusters with angry protestors outside of buildings with placards, chanting and yelling about how a foetus is a life, to have a clear picture in my head of what the experience was going to be like.
I expected a scary nurse. I imagined a judgmental, begrudging doctor. A waiting room full of teenage girls and drug addicts. I saw brutal scenes of me lying on a hospital bed with my legs apart and litres of blood staining the sheets below me.
But it was nothing like that. Nothing at all.
At my first appointment, I was buzzed into a small, simple and friendly waiting room – it was no different from my usual doctor’s office and nor were the people inside it. The buzzer exists so that anti-choice campaigners can’t come in and disturb the patients. That was a little confronting but also oddly comforting. I felt surprisingly safe and secure.
My cousin and I sat and waited and filled out paperwork. The receptionists who handed it over to us didn’t speak in quiet sombre tones, like we were in a funeral home or something. They weren’t bubbly and excited either but they were pleasant and friendly. The normality of their approach made me feel calm.
I was then shown into a room, where I sat with a nurse who explained my options. She talked about the pros and cons of different types of termination and then left me to decide what I wanted to do.
Dr Marie prides itself on having no judgment – they simply talk to you about your decision and make sure you haven’t been pressured into making it. No judgment? Rubbish, I thought. Everyone judges. (Remember that the situation I was in and the choice I was making, was causing me to feel more judged than I ever have before.)
But I shocked myself in that I honestly didn’t feel like this nurse had any strong view on what I should or shouldn’t do. Unbelievably, she seemed genuinely impartial. She seemed only to care about making sure I had all the information I needed.
I didn’t like the idea of a surgical abortion, for some reason that felt too outside the realm of my normal life. I was more comfortable with the idea of taking a pill at home and being with someone who I knew. So I chose what they call medical termination.
Then I had a compulsory ultrasound. That was the bit I was most scared by because I was quite terrified of seeing that grainy little photograph. Another young nurse came in and she… well she couldn’t identify what she was looking for. I was just 5 weeks along and so what she was searching for was about the size of half your little fingernail. Not much to go on.
She brought in another nurse. The second nurse was about my age. She looked at me and smiled. She apologised for the gel being cold. “Gosh you’ve got narrow hips,” she exclaimed. “It means you can wear jeans in that cut, I just can’t. Hipster is not an option.”
I exhaled really, really strongly. Having talked to almost nobody about what I was going through, it was such a relief to hear this woman’s words. They were so utterly ordinary and day-to-day. She didn’t think I was a bad person. She just didn’t want me to be cold. And she liked my jeans. At the time – this felt like an incredibly important thing.
She was also incredibly deft. Once she had that ultrasound picture, she managed to get it from the printer, sticky tape the back and get it into a folder and closed from view in seconds. All with me sitting next to her… and against my better judgment, straining to see it.
When I returned one week later (I couldn’t have an appointment earlier because the pregnancy was identified so early) – I was pretty shaky.
I went in to see the nurse. I was sad it wasn’t the denim fan. I went and saw the doctor. He was clinical in his approach and explained what pills I should take, when and why and what they would do. The first set would stop the foetus growing within the next 30 minutes. The second – which I would take the following day – would expel the pregnancy.
I looked at the clock on my phone for every single one of those 30 minutes and broke into a flood of tears at the close. I cried the whole way home. I cried when I walked in the door. I cried when I hugged my mum.
The next few days were undeniably pretty tough. It was painful and I was emotionally and mentally exhausted. But the experience was bearable and despite still feeling uneasy with my decision, I know I wouldn’t change it if I had to go back and make it again.
Why was I shocked by the experience of being so utterly well supported? I wonder whether it was because I expected to be judged. And perhaps that was part of it. But the real reason I had steeled myself for a horrific and nightmarish scenario that would only compound the pain I already felt, was this: nobody ever told me otherwise.
We talk about terminating a pregnancy in hushed tones. In quiet, shameful whispers. Women speak of anguish and torment and weighing up the most difficult decision of their lives. But nobody talks about what actually happens and that only serves to make the situation very, very scary… Far scarier than it needs to be.
I’m indebted to the organisation that was there for me when I so desperately needed them. I’ve always been pro-choice but like most women, I never thought I was going to have to make that choice.
I don’t know if I will ever feel okay about the decision. But the fact that an organisation so professional and supportive existed for me when I needed them most – is something I will always be grateful for.
Dr Marie is part of Marie Stopes International, a global not-for-profit organisation that is helping save millions of lives in developing countries each year. Dr Marie provides immediate access to caring and non-judgmental support and services on unplanned pregnancy, contraception and STIs. We also provide decision-based counselling and 24 hour aftercare.
Our accredited Dr Marie centres can be found across Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. We’re pro your choice. Freecall 1800 003 707 (24 hours) or click here for more information.
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