There are many different reasons women terminate their pregnancies, or continue with them in challenging circumstances. In advance of the referendum on whether to retain or repeal the Eighth Amendment on May 25th, The Irish Times asked readers (women and men) to share their personal experiences. This is one of the stories we received.
My experience is ridiculously normal. It’s not particularly heartbreaking or traumatic and I wonder if many people don’t think someone like me deserves an abortion.
The story goes – I was pregnant and I didn’t want to be, so I had an abortion.
Am I one of those unworthy women who would get to have abortions if repealing the Eighth Amendment “opens the floodgates”? Maybe in some people’s eyes. But there’s always more to it than that, if you dig a little deeper.
I was 35 at the time with two children aged 5 years, and 8 months. Yeah, eight months. I know. I should have been more careful. I’m the reason GPs and midwives are all like “congratulations on your beautiful baby. Now, let’s get you back on the pill.”
But I didn’t want to go on the pill; I wasn’t really thinking about contraception at all because I wasn’t really thinking about sex at all, because I had been suffering some of the worst mental health I’d ever experienced in my life. When my baby was about eight weeks old I realised I was disintegrating into a mess of anxiety. It took me a while to reach out for help, even after I had been able to identify what was happening to me. But, eventually, I started speaking to my midwife and a counsellor and was just beginning to find a way back to being myself.
As the summer kicked in and things felt a little lighter my husband and I had one romantic night where we reconnected, one of those, “we’re going to be okay” nights. I’d been pushing him away for so long that it was only the second time we’d had sex since the baby was born.
Immediately afterwards, I counted the days since my last period and realised that I was probably just around ovulation time. The chemist was still open so I quickly jumped in the car and got the morning-after pill just to be on the safe side. I took it within four hours of having sex and just assumed it would work, but when my period didn’t arrive two weeks later I started to worry. I did a pregnancy test one morning in the midst of trying to get my daughter ready for school and showed it to my husband as we passed each other in the hallway.
“Shit,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” I replied.
Obviously no one does it lightly, but that doesn't mean it can't be an easy decision
The decision to have an abortion was almost a reflex action. We barely discussed it, because we didn’t have to. I always balk when I hear people say that all abortions are a difficult decision for women to make. Like, obviously no one does it lightly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be an easy decision. I feel like I should be allowed to say, “it was an easy choice for me to make”. Why? Because as well as the crippling anxiety that I was just coming out of, and was terrified of ever going back into again, I thought about what the last five years had looked like.
This was my fifth pregnancy in that short period of time. My first led to the birth of my daughter and was amazing and easy and uncomplicated. My second and third resulted in miscarriages, never explained, and compounded by the fact there were two in a row. The first one was a devastating shock, the second turning me into that cold, detached woman in the waiting room who doesn’t make small talk with the midwives and just wants to get this shit over with.
My fourth pregnancy was marked by fear from the start, but, thankfully, went the distance and brought me my beautiful son. But at every step some complication came to rob me of any peace – he’s breech, you have GD, you’ve got placenta previa, you have to have an elective C-section . . . I felt so out of control through the entire nine months and I think that had a huge part to play in what made me crash in the months after he was born. The thought of going through any of that again so soon filled me with terror.
We had already decided that two children was going to be our maximum
Add to that the fact that my husband and I were caught in the housing crash, with a mortgage debt we’ll probably take to the grave on a house that our family is bursting out of at the seams. We both work full-time to cover the payments, but can’t afford childcare, so my parents look after my kids five days a week.
So, we had already decided that two children was going to be our maximum.
I might not have deliberated much over the choice to end this fifth pregnancy, but that is only because I couldn’t have been more sure that it was the right thing for me and my family.
When I sat down with the nurse in the clinic in Liverpool, where the abortion took place a few weeks later, she asked me for the reason I had chosen to terminate for her paperwork.
“Shall we say your family is already complete?” she suggested.
I thought about all the other reasons, but it seemed sufficient to just say my family is complete. I know this means I was recorded under the 1967 abortion act (in the UK) as having had an abortion “for social reasons”, the type that the anti-choice campaigners are so disdainful of, as if it means I just wanted to get back out on the party scene or some condescending nonsense. It was a weird feeling to face no judgment about that from the nurse sitting opposite. I felt momentarily like I should be ashamed of myself, but the attitude I felt from her and every single staff member I met in that place gave me a glimpse of what a healthy attitude to abortion and women’s reproductive choices might look like.
I had a surgical procedure under general anaesthetic and when I woke up I felt such an immense relief that I could have hugged the nurse who was doing the checking-out process. I lost count of how many times I said, “thank you”.
It makes me very angry that I had to get on a plane to receive this care and to experience the compassion and understanding that comes with it.
There is a lot of scaremongering about the draft legislation that will be proposed if the Eighth is repealed, but I hope that people won’t be afraid to vote Yes because of it.
Because, in the North, women like me still have to travel, women who have been raped still have to travel, women with babies who won’t survive outside the womb still have to travel, and women in abusive relationships still take illegal pills, women without secure immigration status still take illegal pills, women with no money or support networks to take care of their children still take illegal pills.
The way I see it, having draft laws on the table are just a way of making sure the reasons for repealing the Eighth are followed through on, so that it can make a real difference to the people who need it.