No-one takes the decision to terminate a pregnancy lightly. This is the story of one researcher's termination; it is a record of an experience which was and which remains extremely painful in a number of ways, and a record of a continuing emotional and physical journey.
The UnderGuide is privileged to publish such a personal story, and we do so for a variety of reasons:
- The researcher wishes for her story to be heard, we are pleased to give her a larger platform.
- It is a subject where understanding can get lost in a morass of emotions based on theory and hypothesis. This personal account has nothing hypothetical about it. We hope it aids understanding of these issues.
- While decisions by lawmakers and purely medical decisions should be based on statistical evidence, at the centre of each termination there is a woman and a foetus. Testimony matters. Without testimonies our understanding is incomplete, and the statistics become a brutalising and depersonalising.
- Our final reason for wanting to publish it is very simple: it is a remarkably good piece of writing.
We should warn you that it is harrowing - but no more harrowing than some of the other entries in the UnderGuide.
There are links at the bottom of the page to UK-based pregnancy advice services.
If you choose to comment on this piece, we ask you to respect the researcher's legal and moral right to have made her own decision.
It was nothing. I was late again. There was nothing wrong. I'd been late before.
But this time it was different. It didn't feel right. It hadn't felt right from the start and that was why I was locked in the toilets in Tesco staring at a short white plastic stick.
"It would be fine", I told myself. "I couldn't be. I always took precautions." But I had to find out for sure.
I sat there willing the line not to appear, trying to bribe my body with promises of rewards if I wasn't. I watched as the test developed.
And there it was. A positive result so solid it seemed like it couldn't be true. This couldn't be happening to me. I was not the sort to get pregnant.
Pregnant. Was that what I was? Me? But I was still so innocent. I was so young. I'd always taken so much care. But there it was in front of me, denying me the innocence that I might not be.
My cheeks felt hot and I could feel tears burning lines down them. I hadn't cried this hard since I was tiny. But why was I crying? Shouldn't I feel elated? Feel maternal? Shouldn't I feel something at least? But I didn't. I felt empty and numb. I fell out the cubicle and was faced with a little 3-year-old girl who looked at my tear-streaked face and ran to mummy. I was shaking visibly, and my mind ran with thoughts that should never have been there. I shouldn't have to think about something like this. I was only 17.
What was I going to tell my boyfriend? Was I going to tell my parents? Was I going to keep it? No. At least knew the answer to that. Fumbling in my bag for my phone, I called a friend, but I got her voice mail.
"Hey, it's me. I'm sorry. I'm pregnant. I'm sorry." It didn't sound like me; my voice was choked and muffled by tears. I didn't know if she'd realise it was me, but I didn't call her back. I'd feel even more stupid calling her back leaving another message telling her it was me. So I went to the library and got onto the Internet.
I felt I had to have a plan of action before I spoke to my boyfriend, so I did a search for abortion clinics in Leeds. There was one quite close to school, called the Marie Stopes Clinic. So I looked for some background research about it. It seemed to be a good place. It was done privately and I would have to have a consultation first and then I could have a termination a few days later. So I booked a consultation with them.
The next day was Sunday, Fathers' Day , and I was going to see my boyfriend. I wasn't going to tell him that day. He'd had his 18th birthday two days earlier and it didn't seem fair on Father's Day. All afternoon, we talked and messed around and went to see a film. He kept asking if I was ok and commenting I was quiet, but I just kept saying I'd been poorly recently and that was all. It wasn't until we were on the train home that I broke down in tears. He had never seen me cry, so I think he was quite shocked, as I managed to convey what had happened. I was so scared. What would he say? Would he break up with me? Make me keep it? Tell me to handle it on my own? I was insecure enough without this adding to my worries. But he didn't do any of that. He hugged me and wiped my eyes and kissed me. He told me he loved me and would stand by me no matter what I decided, whether still as my boyfriend, or just a friend if that's what I'd rather. I felt like just a tiny bit of me wasn't drowning alone anymore.
Monday morning came and I felt sick. It seemed ironic that I'd been perfectly well while I was oblivious to my situation but as soon as I knew, I had symptoms. I found a book about Abortion and started to churn my way through it. It was when I got to about 7 pages in that I had my first big shock. There was a list of pregnancy symptoms, and I'd had loads of them without realising it; needing the toilet more, swollen and sore breasts, tiredness, swollen thighs and slightly rounded tummy, and now nausea. I had to get it sorted soon. I was terrified.
Two days later was the date of my consultation. I left school at lunchtime and caught a bus to the center of town. The clinic was in a white terraced house amidst the university buildings and from the outside it looked strangely unremarkable. Nervous tension was causing me to shake and choke up with tears again. I hadn't been able to eat a thing, and I was drinking a lot of water, mentally trying to wash out the horribleness. I was shown in to see the consultant.
The room was small with veneered tables and chairs and a bed in the corner. I sat in the seat he offered me, not sure what to say. So I didn't say anything. He introduced himslef and asked me lots of questions about my health. "Had I had a termination before? What sort of test had I done? Was I on antidepressants? Was I anemic? Had I suffered from any of the listed illnesses? Did I understand the procedure?" He pricked my finger and tested it for haemoglobin levels, before asking me to get up on the bed. He covered my belly in cold gel and gave me an ultrasound. Even this far down the line, I secretly hoped he would tell me there had been a mistake and that I wasn't pregnant. But he didn't. This was real. This was happening to me.
Friday morning, less than a week after the day I found out. I'd spent the week in tears and feeling tired and ill and fat. I got the school bus into town and set off for the centre of town. My best friend was with me, continually telling me I was brave and it was the right decision, but I couldn't really hear her. I wasn't really there and it wasn't really me. What was I going to expect? Was I scared? I don't know. I felt numb and as if this was happening to me. The nurse was lovely. She sent my friend upstairs and showed me into this room with about eight reclining chairs in it and instructed me to make myself comfy. So I did. I relaxed and examined the chamber I was in.
Lots of fish tanks. Have you ever noticed that? How when you're in a waiting room for something you don't much want, there are always loads of fish tanks. And the room is always that pale apple colour with walnut veneer surfaces. I settled down with a year old copy of New Woman. Not that I felt new. Right then I felt battered and trodden on.
The nurse came over. Had I eaten breakfast? No because I couldn't keep it down. So she gave me two brick like dextrose tablets to eat. I would need the sugar. They stuck in my throat and made me retch. Meanwhile I was told what to expect and asked to take off my shoes. It seemed such an odd time to worry about having smelly feet, but maybe it was just my mind looking for something trivial so I could avoid this situation.
I followed the nurse into a small room also decorated in apple and walnut veneer. There was a table in the middle of the room. I say table but it could equally be called a bed or an instrument of torture. It was padded blue and about a metre long. At one end it had two stirrups where my feet were supposed to go. The nurse asked me to strip from the waist down and get onto the "table". All that preserved my modesty was a strip of blue paper towel.
Feet went up into the stirrups and I knew there was no going back. The doctor came in. He must have been about 38 and he looked really cheery. It must have been nerves that made me try and talk about inane stuff that wasn't relevant. I am not an inane prattler so after a while it dried up. He poured something cold into me and I thought how unattractive this must look.
Next I was warned I'd feel a slight prick. But it felt more like they were cutting through a pinch of skin with blunt scissors. It couldn't get worse than that though, I thought, trying to boost my confidence. But it did.
The next thing I felt was a narrow pipe entering me. I suppose it must have been a tube through which they could suck things out. That was when the pain really started. It felt like short sharp tugs, combined with an intensifying cramping sensation. The pain got steadily worse and it seemed to go on forever and never subside. I went from thinking I could just about cope to begging the doctor to stop for a moment hoping the pain would at least lapse for a moment. He stopped for me, but the pain still intensified and large plump tears welled up in my eyes. The nurse said it would be better if he carried on and finished the job sooner so the pain would not be as great, so the tugging started again. The nurse kept telling me to breathe slowly, and believe me I tried, but I couldn't. My breathing got shallower as the pain got greater and I started to get pins and needles in my hands and along my arms. Finally he was finished and I was allowed to take my feet from the stirrups. I had to stay lying down though incase I passed out. It hurt so much. It was like a punishment for getting myself pregnant. I don't normally feel pain but this was ridiculous. I wanted to throw up. After a moment or two, the nurse helped me sit up and I started to shake violently. I was scared and I hurt and I felt stupid.
Sitting back in my big comfy chair again I wondered why I didn't feel worse. I had a big warm cushion on my tummy to ease the pain and a large pink Nurofen. But emotionally I felt fine. Shouldn't I feel sad? Guilty? Anything but relief? After half an hour I was allowed to discharge myself, with a week's supply of antibiotics. My friend took me into town and we went to Starbucks for a recovery drink.
I had a handful of leaflets explaining how I might feel afterwards, some symptoms were expected, like depression, but there were others which seemed odd, like False Euphoria. What is false euphoria? Being hyperactively happy when really you feel terrible? Who knew? Right then though, I didn't feel anything except tired. So I went home to bed.
And this is where most people think it ends. But really it's only where it begins. I was still very tired and snappy. After a few days the true reality of what had happened dawned on me. It was so scary. Had I really gone through all that? It was so much to take in, more of a fictional story than my life. The tears started. Morning, Afternoon, Late night. I had no control over where or when I broke down, it just happened.
My boy had asked if I was ok to which I always answer that I am because I hate to show I'm weak. So he didn't ask any further. I needed him too. I needed him to talk to me and help me through it, but I couldn't open up without him asking and he wasn't asking. He thought I was this strong little girl who could handle anything I got thrown at me because that's how it's always been before. But I didn't want to be on my own.
The friends who knew were ok the first few days. They asked how it went, but after a few days of tears it was like they forgot it had happened. They asked why I was upset and when I said it was because of the termination all they could answer was that it was done now and that I needed to move on. You don't get over something like that in a few days!
Things with my boy got harder to deal with. I tried so hard to talk about it with him, but he didn't want to. So I spoke to his best mate who also knew. Apparently my boy was scared it would happen again and he also didn't know how to handle this. It was ridiculous. We were pushing each other away by not talking about it.
I went away for a couple of weeks. One week was a biology field trip with school on a small island just of the coast of Scotland. I had lots of friends around me, but they all thought I would be ok and when I cried each night, they blamed it on being home sick. I've never been homesick in my life!
The other week I was away with my Orchestra. I was laid out on my best friend's bed and he was giving me a massage. I had back ache from playing my cello for too long. It was the first proper physical contact I had with anyone, other than hugs, since before it started. I started to cry. Why was I crying? What was wrong with me? He wasn't doing anything wrong to me and it didn't hurt. There was no reason to cry! He curled up next to me with a protective arm around me, telling me it was ok to feel like this. He seemed like the only person who understood that I wasn't over it and that it would take time. He talked to me, whispering so close that no one could here. He held my face in his hands and stroked the tears from my cheeks. I felt more comfortable to talk and cry than I had in ages. I felt safe. I shook myself, I should feel like this with my boy more than anyone, and I didn't.
That week was amazing. I had the bloke's perspective for the first time and I saw that it wasn't as easy for my boyfriend as I gave him credit for. I went home knowing what needed to be said, but with no idea how.
The next time I saw my boy, I went to his house and he asked how I was and I said I was fine. Any on looker would never have believed all that had happened, because it was so normal. Like nothing had happened. At that moment I wanted to stamp my feet and be a little girl again. To shout out that NO! Everything was not ok and that I needed to talk. The only problem was I had no idea where to start, so I took the soft option and said I was fine.
Things moved on again and an hour or so later, we were naked and in bed. I was terrified. I didn't want to have sex. I wasn't ready, but I was ok, because neither did he. We just lay there, kissing and cuddling. He touched me all over, but each time, I jumped. Why was I so jumpy? I never used to be. I used to love it, but now I was scared. Scared he would turn on me because I'd killed his child. Scared he didn't really care what had happened and that he'd expect everything to go back to how it was. Scared that it wouldn't go back to how it was. Scared that he didn't fancy me anymore. Scared he was only with me now out of pity and looking for the first exit he could find. I was struggling to hold back the tears, knowing that if I cried he'd feel it was somehow his fault and it would crush his ego. How bad had things got that I couldn't share this with him?
A few days later, we went shopping and I had perked up somewhat. I felt bad. I only really realised about now that I hadn't let him in when I needed to. He couldn't understand what had happened because I hadn't let him know any of it. It was me who had arranged it all. It had been sorted in a week and I didn't give him any options about what happened. He says he would have wanted a termination as well, but I never gave him a choice. I went to the clinic without him and I had fought to protect him from it all. Now I realised I shouldn't have. I was trying to save him from it and then expecting him to understand, when there was no way that was going to be possible. So, without telling him, when we got lunch, I took him to a quiet park, surrounded by white terraced houses. As we ate lunch, I pointed to the blue door of the clinic and told him what was behind it. Somehow, I felt at that moment I'd let him in a little more and perhaps he realised, 2 months after it all, that it wasn't over and it was hurting me like hell. At that moment, there was a change between us, and some of the tension was lost.
A little while later, we were in bed again. I was still scared. Somehow, I had acquired all the inhibitions I used to have about myself again. I used to be so insecure about myself that I hated people to look at me and I'd hide behind my hair or I wouldn't look at someone directly. Those had gone, but now they were back. My boyfriend was prying my hands away from my body as I tried in vain to cover myself up. He told me I was beautiful and that I was being a silly girl. He told me he cared for me and he loved me and that I should let myself be seen because I had nothing to be ashamed of. He touched me in places that made me happy, but also made me hate myself further. Why should I enjoy this when I'd been so bad? I didn't deserve this affection. I didn't deserve to be loved. I burst into tears in front of him again and hated myself more so for crying. I rolled over so he wouldn't see my face, all red and blotchy and dragon-like. He stroked my back, asking what was wrong. But how could I answer that, when I didn't really know myself. I used to be able to hide my emotions! I used to be able to fight the tears. Now they fell like rain and there was nothing I could do to contain them. I tried to explain to him about the pregnant women. They were everywhere, and they all looked so happy. I tried to explain about the little children I saw playing in the park and the children that cried when they fell over and ran to mummy. I tried to explain about the time I was seven and cried when I saw a man in his 30s who couldn't walk properly; how he was the saddest man I've ever seen; how my heart broke when I saw him. I tried to tell him, but the words never came. I just cried harder and shook my head to wave away the questions.
Now, the questions have started to form in my head. Would I have miscarried? If I hadn't, would it have been a girl or a boy? I dreamt it was a girl. What would I call her? What would she be like? Would she hate me for aborting her?
And that brings me to now. The tears are still coming, but my perspective has changed now. I'm relieved not be in that situation anymore. I'm not happy I did it, no, but I know it was the right choice for me. I'm just sad it had to happen like this. Sad that I've had to lose another peace of my childhood, and sad that I've had to learn to cope so suddenly. The person I am now is not the person I was three months ago. 3 months ago I didn't think about how decisions affected me after. I didn't think 3 months ago that I would be in this situation or that I'd have to deal with it the way I did. I didn't think I would get pregnant until I wanted to be. I assumed that because I was careful it wouldn't happen, but it did. I didn't think 3 months ago that I would be this upset by it all, but I was. 3 months ago I was much more naïve than I am now. The person I was had nothing, but now I have much more. I have the knowledge that experience has given me and the knowledge that I could be a mother. I felt nothing maternal before, but surely by feeling this upset, it proves to me that I feel something? And if nothing else, I now have a story. A story still being lived, but getting easier with time.
Support services and abortion advice
The following links are to organisations which provide support for pregnant women.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service - provide abortion care for almost 50,000 women each year, almost 80% of care is provided under contracts with the NHS. They receive no direct funding from the Department of Health.
The Family Planning Association provides information and services covering a wide range of sexual-, contraception- and abortion-related issues on a national basis, with a large number of local links.
The Marie Stopes International Global Partnership provides sexual and reproductive health information and services to 4.2 million people worldwide in 37 countries across Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.
The Brook Advisory Centres are the only national voluntary sector provider of free and confidential sexual health advice and services specifically for young people under 25.
Connexions provide a wide range of links and information about local services of all kinds, including pregnancy issues, to the under 25s.
Life are an explicitly pro-life / anti-abortion group who provide a nationwide care service for pregnant women, unsupported mothers, women with problems relating to pregnancy, fertility or infertility, or suffering from the effects of abortion.
H2G2 Edited Entries
Other BBC links
The BBC's information on Unplanned Pregnancy includes information on abortion and on adoption.