One writer shares her experience of going through a medical abortion at home in her final year of university, in the hope it’ll help others who have to go through the same thing.
Content warning: pregnancy, abortion
I’ve never felt too in tune with my body. Throughout my life, it’s consistently been little more than a vessel carrying me from room to room and country to country, something I have to feed and water like a little sago palm sitting in some sun-soaked corner of a tenement. It was a strange experience, then, when something began to feel off.
I couldn’t immediately put my finger on why things suddenly felt different: I was more groggy than usual, had lost my appetite, and woke up one morning with an overwhelming sense of nausea. I voiced these symptoms to my flatmate in passing complaint while we watched Flight of the Conchords in the living room, mentioning that it felt like my body was suddenly hyper-aware of its own existence. “Maybe you’re pregnant,” he said, laughing off the concept and not giving it a second thought. But the notion buried itself in my brain, and I gave a half-hearted laugh in response while my thoughts ran in intertwining circles around themselves.
After making a quick excuse to pause our TV watching and nip to the shops, I returned with two pregnancy tests, totally convinced they’d be negative – I was on the pill after all – and took the first with only a slight pang of anxiety in my chest. Colour me surprised, then, when I lifted the stick up to have a look, only to come face to face with an unapologetic and glaring blue plus sign. Immediately, my hands began to tremble and my throat closed up. How could this happen? What the fuck? I mean, what the fuck?
I paced the narrow bathroom for several minutes, eyes unblinkingly glued to the stick as I was encompassed by this overwhelming sense of guilt and deep, deep shame. Nervously, I returned to the living room, unable to say anything as I stood in the doorway and presented the arrogant little plus sign to my flatmate. After convincing him that, no, I’m not kidding, I swear, this isn’t a goddamn 2014 YouTube prank, he met me beneath the door frame and wrapped his arms around me. In his embrace, my feet kept me tethered to the hardwood floor, despite the sinking feeling in my chest that had me convinced I was falling into some unknown abyss far worse than anything I’ve ever encountered before.
I didn’t give myself time to process the news, instead immediately picking up the phone and calling Sandyford to go in for a consultation the next day. My gut instinct was that I couldn’t face this – I was in my final semester of university, about to embark on a Masters’ course in the autumn, and not in a stable relationship. It just wasn’t the right time.
I went to the clinic the next day under the impression that they’d sit me down and explain how it would all work. To my surprise, however, they informed me that due to Covid restrictions I would be undertaking the procedure in my own flat. I headed home, goodie-bag of abortion pills in hand, somewhat shellshocked that the fairy lights strung around my walls would have to watch me go through this alone.
It was a Saturday when I undertook the procedure, guided in my pursuit by some informative YouTube videos posted by the NHS. In that moment of giving myself an abortion in my own home, with Sarah Everard’s death so fresh in mind, the media’s vicious attack on Meghan Markle still ongoing, and Mother’s Day the following day, I’d never felt so alone as a woman.
The abdominal pains took an hour or so to kick in, and the NHS’s videos had informed me that, though every body’s reaction is different, I’d feel something similar to period cramps as the uterus flushed itself out.
What I wasn’t prepared for, though, was the most intense and excruciating pain I’ve ever encountered in my entire life.
I had to call my flatmate to come into my room as I was curled up on the floor in the foetal position, crying and throwing up from what I can only describe as a dozen daggers twisting and scraping in my abdomen. It felt like it would never end, and this fostered such deep, crushing guilt inside my heart. I am obviously pro-choice, but to go through the experience first-hand is something I hope no one ever has to live through – I would never wish that pain upon anyone. My flatmate had managed to get me up into my bed and put on a movie for us to watch to take my mind off things – fucking Paul with Seth Rogen, of all things – and it was actually working pretty soundly until I suddenly felt the pregnancy sac leave my body. I lunged for the bucket once more as the crying and throwing up commenced all over again.
I was glad I wasn’t strong enough to stand at this point, because I couldn’t have looked myself in the eye even if I’d wanted to. There’s still such a stigma surrounding abortion – particularly for those of us cursed enough to have attended a Catholic high school, where the education surrounding such a procedure was little more than the immortal Mean Girls scene – “don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die” – and I felt the full weight of it on my trembling shoulders. I knew it was the right decision for me, but God, the universe was doing its best to make me feel like it wasn’t. Like I’d taken a life instead of focusing on my own.
In the recovery period since I’ve tried to come to terms with what happened. This has involved hour-long scalding showers, many afternoons sat at my desk where I end a Zoom call and spontaneously burst into tears, and all the support in the world from the close friends in whom I’ve confided. It’s been a tumultuous journey and something I genuinely think will stick with me forever. I’m trying not to let the deep-seated feeling of shame weigh me down too much, recognising that it’s a common experience so many people my age go through, and the stigma that is still so strongly associated with the procedure is something I’m now ready to challenge more than ever.
But the support needs to be in place. People need to share their stories. We are stronger for having made the conscious decision to complete this procedure, and I wish I could hold the hand of every single other person who is still suffering in this shared, stigmatised silence. I hope it’ll get easier to deal with as I get older, but even if it doesn’t, I’ll know in my heart of hearts that I made the right call.