opinion

"I’m no longer considered a 'murderer' for having an abortion at 32. It’s about bloody time."

When I was 32 years old, and already the mother of one extraordinary little boy, I accidentally fell pregnant. I was in the ‘death rattle’ phase of a relationship with a man, who was also not the father of my first child.

I am all too aware that out of context this makes me sound promiscuous and irresponsible. Perhaps I was the latter, but I was never the former. So let me offer some context — something that appears to have been completely lacking from the recent NSW abortion bill debate.

Jessie Stephens attempts to explain abortion to ‘Uncle Barnaby’. Post continues below.

Video by MMC

I had a child with my partner of nine years and husband of five. Sadly, we separated when our little boy was less than 12 months old. I spent the next 18 months or so getting back on my feet -  adjusting to being a single working parent and living interstate from my family with very little day-to-day emotional support. My ex-husband was  -  and still is  –  incredibly involved in his son’s life and we work together as a team to support one another practically. But on an emotional level, in those early weeks and months, I was very much alone.

It was a long time before I felt up to dating again. I wasn’t interested after my marriage breakdown, and my son was my number one priority. He still is. But after the urging of friends and family to “get back out there,” I decided to give it a go.

Shortly thereafter I met a lovely man, and we started dating. It all moved pretty fast and after about nine months the cracks started to show. Yet out of fear of being alone and taking on the total emotional labour of life by myself again, I persevered in the relationship when I should have walked away. What ended up happening was an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy with a man I did not want to spend my life with. And before anyone harps up with the argument about it being ‘his baby too’  – we were absolutely on the same page. This is not a question of women overruling men when it comes to significant reproductive decisions.

And so I was faced with the most difficult decision of my life. I had separated from my husband before I had the chance to give my son a sibling — something that still to this day is a source of enormous grief. I was also in my early 30s and facing the prospect of dipping fertility in the coming years. Perhaps this was my best chance to have another baby… But I could not, looking at the practicalities of the situation, make that decision.

And for someone who is generally ruled by their heart and not their head, that was an incredibly difficult decision to make. Had I chosen to have the baby, I would have made it work. Because I wouldn’t have had a choice at that point.

So I would have scrimped and I would have saved and I would have somehow made ends meet. I would have co-parented two children with two different fathers and endured the (internal and external) judgement that would undoubtedly inspire. I would have somehow maintained my job and my home on a single income. I would have been the loving mother that I already am to one little boy.

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"There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think about how old that baby would be. When I don’t imagine that baby and my son playing together, giggling, building a bond for life." Image: Supplied.

Of those things, I have NO doubt.

But I didn’t want to make that choice for my life. So I chose a different path. A path that meant I could provide the best for the child I already had. The living, breathing, incredible child who made me a mother in the first place. Yes, there was a life growing inside me, but I had to make the right decision for me and the family I was already responsible for.

Why, when a woman becomes pregnant, do the decisions that affect her life automatically become a secondary consideration? It becomes all about ‘the baby’ and the woman is somehow reduced to a vessel for the next nine months, and a feeding machine for the following 12-18.

At the point when most abortions are carried out (within the first nine weeks and before seven weeks in my case), the baby is quite literally a collection of cells. So why is the mother’s life, and what happens to it, suddenly less important than that of a collection of cells?

And yet, added to the enormous emotional weight of getting to the point of choosing to have an abortion, is the fact that when I faced this life-altering decision, the procedure was still illegal where I live. In the 21st century in the developed world, it was illegal for me to have control over what happened to MY body. MY life. MY family. MY future. (The NSW state government today, finally, decriminalised abortion).

Before this monumental (and long overdue) change was made, women in NSW were asked to fill out a form that stated they were emotionally and/or financially unable to care for a child for the procedure to go ahead. In my case, both were completely untrue. But due to the draconian law that was in place right up until today, on top of actually having the invasive, uncomfortable, financially-restrictive and traumatising procedure  - I was also made to feel like a failure as a woman and a mother.

A mere 45-minutes after the procedure I was discharged  - with a Scotch Finger biscuit, an empty wallet and a blister pack of Panadol. I collected my son from daycare and I got on with my life.

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But there isn’t a day goes by when I don’t think about how old that baby would be. When I don’t imagine that baby and my son playing together, giggling, building a bond for life. When I don’t wonder if it would have been a little boy or a little girl, I think about that defining life decision every single day. I probably always will.

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After months of heated debate, NSW has decriminalised abortion. Image: Getty.

So let’s get something straight : having an abortion is never an easy decision, and it’s certainly not an easy way out. It’s not about ‘irresponsible women’ using it as a version of birth control. And having a raft of white, middle-aged, entitled, predominately male politicians waxing lyrical about their views on these incredibly personal decisions, doesn’t make it any easier.

When did my reproductive rights become the business of the whole country? Most people a few weeks ago didn’t even know it was illegal to have an abortion in NSW. I wonder if Barnaby Joyce  -  the man who practically begged for privacy after getting a woman who was not his wife pregnant  -  was aware abortion is against the law? Or if he was just using the highly polarising issue as a soapbox to ensure he doesn’t lose relevancy in his electorate…

My body and the decisions that impact my life are not anyone’s to use for a campaign platform. What gives anybody out there the right to lecture others about what’s “right” and “wrong” when it comes to their own body and life?

You want a circumcision age 35? Go for your life mate. You want to get a tattoo of the Grim Reaper eating a mandarin on your left arse cheek? Be my guest. You want to get so many lip fillers that you lose the ability to suck through a straw. You do you. I’m sure you have your reasons. It’s really none of my business, and finally, from today, it isn’t anyone else’s business either.

Lauren is a passionate writer and storyteller. A lover of graphic language who enjoys nothing more than making people, including herself, laugh. A bit of a larrikin, she grew up in Tasmania on a sheep farm with two older brothers; so she's tough on the outside but pretty soft in the middle (even more so after having her son five years ago). An aspiring coffee addict, picnic-lover and self-confessed dog extremist, Lauren knows very little music written after 1989, and she makes no apologies for that.

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