Grief and guilt are the most painful combination of emotions. It is also the most common combination for any woman that has chosen to have an abortion. The grief is different. The guilt can be profound.
It is different because the choice to have a termination is down to you. It is legal but it does have many uncomfortable, emotionally painful, and physical consequences. This is mainly due to the heavy feeling of responsibility and often the resulting secrecy around that choice. I am pro-choice, but I do want to help others understand the feelings associated with that choice and the subsequent impact of the decision you make not to have your baby.
The difficulty stems from the speed associated with the decision. When I was a teenager, I believed abortion was inherently wrong. I believed that whatever the circumstances, there was no justification for a pregnancy termination. I believed, and still believe that life is precious, and should always be preserved where possible. However, faced with a pregnancy and circumstances that I felt untenable, I made the opposite decision for my own life.
The requirement for a swift decision is usually because the pregnancy is unexpected. An accident with contraceptives (an oversight over using contraceptives!), a lack of knowledge, a rape, an enforced conception. Suddenly your life is thrown into disarray and you have the responsibility for another life, a baby’s life, and the option to end their life. The worst of choices. The worst of circumstances. A choice between a deep-seated regret or a radical change in your life plan… to disrupt your career or not, to be a single mum or not, to stay with an abuser or not. It is not simple. It is never simple. The only simple thing is that many women already love their baby, even at such an early stage of foetal development.
For me, getting pregnant involved a split condom and a failed emergency contraceptive pill, taken within the 72-hour window. I knew I was pregnant the next day. I knew that the emergency contraceptive had not worked… weirdly my primary concern at my termination consultation was whether the emergency contraceptive pill had harmed the foetus.
I started to speak to my baby, consult them on how they were and began to bond with them. I had a skiing holiday booked and went anyway, secretly hoping for a miscarriage so I would not have to take the most complex ‘Hobson’s Choice’ decision of my life. I was 23 years old and at the beginning of my adult life, earning not that much. As it happened, I was with someone who was using me as his extra marital affair. My choice would have made me dependent on my family, who I did tell in the end.
I backed out of my first abortion appointment.
It takes enormous courage to have a baby on your own. It takes enormous courage to have an abortion. I faced secrecy, judgement, regret, sorrow, and loss. I arrived home after not going through with it and began to scream, uncontrollably, as the life I expected quickly receded whichever route I took. In the end I rebooked. The surgeon told me the gestation period of the foetus; it is an image I have kept with me since. It was not a miscarriage, but still painful, even if it was my own decision.
I backed out of my first abortion appointment. It takes enormous courage to have a baby on your own. It takes enormous courage to have an abortion. I faced secrecy, judgement, regret, sorrow and loss. I arrived home after not going through with it and began to scream, uncontrollably, as the life I expected quickly receded whichever route I took. In the end I rebooked. The surgeon told me the foetus was 6 weeks old; an image I have kept with me since. It was not a miscarriage but I suspect its as painful, even if it was my own decision.
It took me a long time to come to terms with the loss. To help me, I followed a book called ‘The Healing Choice; Your Guide to Recovery after an Abortion’. It was enormously helpful, and I would recommend it to any of the 1 in 3 women who make this choice. A choice routed in circumstance, finance, family situation or simply not wanting a child. I healed by the age of thirty, mostly. But I still carry regret, and I still carry an image of who that child could or would have been.
Abortion does not just impact on the woman involved, it impacts on their partner, their family, and friends. It has an impact even if it is kept entirely secret, on the inside at least, and can distort relationships through the need to hide the decision and pain. Unfortunately for the woman making that choice, the weight of responsibility is on them alone and they face the impact whatever that may be. Many of my family and friends will not know. Many I fear would judge me if they did.
Abortion is legal but is still seen very negatively and with limited understanding. I think it is seen as selfish or ruthless by some. It is not. It is the heaviest decision I have ever taken and is the same for every woman who chooses this course.
I send love to anyone facing their own suite of hard choices and remind them that I for one understand where they are. It is tough and whatever you choose may be tough. Just please make sure the decision is right for you, and your circumstances, and if you choose an abortion please arrange a safe one.
Lots of love, Ruth x