“I had an abortion. In fact I had two. Not very many people know this, even though I am very open about my life and share everything with my girlfriends. Except this. While we can discuss birth stories and sex stories and Botox and drugs and eating disorders and pretty much anything else with each other, the subject of abortions remain secret.
I never really questioned this until I read Caitlin Moran’s book Horecently (after reading about it here on Mamamia last year actually!) where she has a chapter detailing her own abortion. It’s a really interesting read and it made me think about my own situation in a new way. In one part, Moran writes:
Women- always loath to talk about the more visceral elements of female reproductive physicality – are too ashamed, or unconfident in their reception, to discuss their terminations, even with friends or partners. This brings about the curious situation in which. while pretty much everyone must have someone dear to them who has had an abortion, the chances of them actually discussing it with their more conservative elders, or menfolk, are remote.
Consequently, we have a climate where anti-abortionists can discuss abortion as something that ‘they’ do, over ‘there’, rather than the reality – that it, has, in all likelihood, been a calm, rational, well-thought out act, which has statistically occurred very close to home.
When I wrote about my decision to have an abortion in The Times, I was amazed at the reader-response – more than 400 online comments, and over 100 letters and emails. By a rule of thumb, those who were anti abortion cited no experience of pregnancy or abortion, while those who were pro-abortion, did.
My story is similar and different to Caitlin. Similar in that I don’t regret either of my abortions. Not in the least. I was young, far from ready to be a mother and the guys I was with were idiots. The kind of idiots you invariably date when you’re young and working out what you want in a partner.
So in that way, my abortions were different to Caitlin’s. She was pregnant for the third time to her husband. They already had two kids and she was done. The two times I fell pregnant and terminated, I hadn’t even begun my family, hadn’t met my husband. Still, I knew even then that I did not want to be connected to my then boyfriends forever. Not in the way I would be if I were to have a baby with them.
In both cases – they were a few years apart in my early twenties – I had just started my career and my relationship was in an early stage. Once, I was careless with contraception, thinking that withdrawal was a pretty good form of protection. The other time, the condom broke and for reasons I can no longer remember, I didn’t get the morning after pill.
When I saw those double pink lines on the pregnancy tests, I knew straight away in my heart how it was going to end. Sure, a small part of me fantasised about having a baby back then but common sense won out. The guys I was with were not ready to be fathers. I wasn’t ready to be a Mum. Still, I was a bit sad and quite hormonal.
The first time, I went to a clinic and it was over in a couple of hours including waiting and recovery time. I cried a bit afterwards for what could have been. I didn’t skip into the clinic and I didn’t skip out. It was something unpleasant and unfortunate that I had to deal with. I told my mum. I told my best friend. And that was it. Unlike pretty much any other life event, it’s not exactly something you put on your Facebook page, is it? Even if Facebook HAD been around back then.
The second time was almost exactly the same. Another pretty crappy relationship although it was too early for me to know that for sure. Still, I suspected it and when I found out I was pregnant after the condom broke, I only briefly flirted with the idea of having that baby.
I went to see my gyno and he did the procedure for me in a day surgery. He was also an obstetrician and went on to deliver my two babies. Not for a moment did I ever feel judged by him – or anyone except possibly myself. There was so much shame around it – I think because of the secrecy.
There’s nothing else in a woman’s life she doesn’t share with her girlfriends. That’s what we do, right? We process things – happy, sad and confusing – by workshopping them and sharing our stories with each other. So why not abortions?
Is it because of the stigma anti-abortionists try to place on women? Well it seems to be working. Because this part of our lives is absent from the public conversation, it’s pushed further underground and further stigmatised as if it’s some kind of crime (it’s not) or the ultimate betrayal of being a woman. Celebrities and women in the public eye confess to everything – mental illness, depression, post natal depression, miscarriage, infertility, STDs, plastic surgery, infidelity – but never abortions. Can you think of a single woman who has come out and said “I had an abortion”? I can’t.
You just don’t see it in the Women’s Weekly. It’s not even mentioned in passing. It’s taboo.
And yet the statistics show that an average of 75 000 women in Australia have them every year. So we MUST all know women who have had them. If you haven’t had one, you’ll know someone – maybe lots of women – who have. Even if you don’t know that they have.
And the idea that it’s reckless teenagers and drunk young women getting pregnant and then casually aborting doesn’t bear truth either. Go to your nearest shopping centre or supermarket and look at the women. They’re the kind of women having abortions – teens, 20s, 30s, 40s. Single women, married women, mothers. Some of them will regret their decision. Many many will not. I don’t. Not for a moment.
I shudder to think what would have happened to my life if I’d had either of those babies. I’d be shackled to those men forever – even if our relationship broke down (which it invariably would have because they were useless), we would have forever been connected by a shared child.
My career would have been derailed, along with my life. It just wasn’t the right time and any child brought into that situation would have borne the stress of a desperately stressed, unhappy mother and a father who was useless and probably absent.
Do I think about those babies and what could have been? Not really. Not anymore. And if I do, it’s only with relief when I consider still having anything to do with those ex-boyfriends. So I don’t really think about those babies. I don’t even think of them as babies. Yes, I’ve had an abortion – twice – and it was OK.
And I believe that as women – even if it’s anonymously, we should share our stories. To normalise them and the experience of abortion – I don’t mean that in the sense that it should be seen as something simple or fun or desirable. That’s never going to happen. Just so that women can read about abortions and other women’s experiences and not feel ashamed or alone.”
Here is a gallery of women who have had abortions; taken from the women on web website which aims to break the silence around abortions and show the faces of women who have had them, regardless of the reasons behind them.
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Do you have a story to share? Do you know someone who has had an abortion? Have you? Will you share it in the comments to show that women who have abortions are just like the women you see in the street or the supermarket – normal, average people with nothing to be ashamed of.