What I wish I knew
A story about abortion.
Tucked somewhere between my unwavering inner monologue and daily to-do list, there’s a vault in my mind that I open on occasion.
In it, I can still feel the weight of the leather strap holding my legs in place. Hear the rubbery snap of the nurse’s latex gloves. Smell the cold sting of commercial-grade sanitiser and the sweat seeping through my Lululemon T-shirt. I can taste the tea they gave me in the recovery room. Black, bitter and sweeter than I’d usually take it. I hold a warm wheat bag to my belly and sip as someone behind the curtain to my right sobs weakly.
Then the heartbeat. Fast… too fast almost, to ever have been real. My baby was the size of a raspberry, the GP noted during my last visit. “Are you happy?” she asked. Well, fuck… was I?
Here’s the truth: It wasn’t part of my plan to become a mum that September of 2018. I was in my late twenties, in a loving long-term relationship, not keen on taking hormonal contraception and (naively) of the mentality that “whatever happens, happens.”
And then… it happened.
Two blue lines. The second so faint I sent a picture to my housemate for back-up. “Han, I’m freaking out. I’d have symptoms if it was positive, right?”
I regret that I did nothing that night. I wasn’t ready to confront what was happening to my body. What was going to happen to my life. Our life. I lay awake, folded against the familiar curve of my partner. I focused on his breathing. The in. The out. I wanted to tell him, but how? Would it break us? Was it my fault?
It was only after the blood test that reality slapped me squarely across the face.
I thought we’d be married first!
I don’t even have 5k in savings!
What about my career goals?
Can we still go to Italy in July?
I wanted it, just not like this. To start a family, I mean. With him.
We didn’t make a decision for weeks, an unspoken agreement to give ourselves time to get used to the idea of “mum and dad.” I often dreamed about the baby’s hair colour. Whether it would inherit his dimples or not. I thought about its star sign too, a Gemini just like me. It felt overwhelmingly pretend, like making a CommBank transaction with Monopoly money. Like trying on a new pair of jeans I could return if not the right fit.
I asked Google all the questions I was too scared to voice out loud. Is abortion illegal in NSW? Can a relationship survive after abortion? Does abortion affect fertility?
In hindsight, I don’t think there was ever a choice to be made. From the moment I saw that second blue line, the fear was all-consuming. No happiness, just guilt: I knew I’d never forgive myself if we saw it through. I’d never be able to take back the fact that my first reaction was business as usual.
We left the private clinic half an hour after the D&C. There weren’t any protesters outside and I remember wondering if that was something that only happened in the movies. We cuddled and I cried, but only a little bit. I ate hot chips with vinegar and watched Adrift. I was mostly angry that they told me I couldn’t have a bath. I saw my friends that weekend. I had a glass of wine. Life, as they say, goes on.
It’s estimated that one in three Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime. It’s so fucking common. So why did I feel so alone?
In her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, researcher Brene Brown says that shame needs three things to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence and judgement. It took a few months for the enormity of this to catch up with me. A combination of the emotional numbness of my trauma response – freeze – finally easing and my desperation at not being able to find solace in the collective experience of others. I felt that if I’d miscarried, my emotions would have been justified. That they wouldn’t have been too shameful to share. I’d done this though. I’d chosen this path. And with it, I’d resigned to only being allowed to name it, to feel it, behind my bedroom door. In secrecy, in silence, in judgement.
It was like a switch had been flicked. The grief permeated every cell of my being. It was heavy, hot and visceral, weighing on my chest as if it were a stone anchoring me to the bottom of a pond. I didn’t grieve for the baby. I grieved for my first pregnancy, for the fact that it wasn’t the magical, soul-defining, life-affirming moment I’d hoped. I grieved for my relationship too, both the before and the after. I grieved for the girl I was and the woman I’d become.
I wish I could tell you that I’ve found a way to forgive myself – I haven’t, but I’m working on it. Three years on, it’s just something I’ve learned to sit with. A story I keep on standby like a precious dinner set gathering dust at the back of the kitchen cupboard. My partner and I have been talking about having babies again. It’s different this time, something we smile about. It no longer feels pretend.
I may not have healed completely, maybe I never will. But I wanted to write this in the hope that it reaches someone else crippled with conflict. No more suffering in secrecy, in silence, in judgement. I’ve lived it and I continue on living. Life, as they say, goes on.