When I was 19 years old I had an abortion. At the time, I went through the motions without allowing myself to think too much about it. Unbeknownst to myself, I had entered survival mode. Today, 14 years later, I go back to that traumatic period of my life and unravel all the emotions that I had unconsciously decided not to deal with at the time, emotions that have been haunting my body ever since. This is how I set myself free from a prison I didn’t know I was in.
By writing this I know I am putting myself in a very vulnerable position. By virtue of sharing this part of my story in a place as public as the Internet, I am running a significant risk (likelihood) of triggering a lot of anger, and probably even hatred, among people who won’t agree with me. I will admit that I am terrified of writing these words. So why am I doing it?
For three reasons:
The first is the original reason behind writing this article. Some 14 years after having an abortion I am finally facing the emotional cost of this decision both for my body and my mind. This is my way of validating, expressing and processing emotions and thoughts that I had repressed so well I didn’t even know I had them until very recently.
Secondly, this is for all the women who have had an abortion and who will have one. There’s a hell of a lot of you out there, I know. How common abortions are is probably one of women’s best-kept secrets. This has a tremendous emotional cost and I’m suggesting it’s time to change the narrative. If you’ve had an abortion, or are about to have one, I hope that these words will be of help.
Thirdly, I am doing this for all the amazing and wonderful men who love the women in their lives deeply but who have been kept in the dark about a subject like abortion. So many of us women have left men out of it – often for very good reasons. But I have discovered that there are many, many men who care and want to help. But they don’t know how to because we don’t tell them. If you’re a man, and a woman you love has had or is about to have an abortion, I hope that my story will help you understand better the situation.
Addressing the elephant in the room
The subject of abortion, like so many related to the woman’s body, is extremely politicised. There are a lot of people who are strongly against it, and for that reason, there are a lot of countries where it is banned. And even in countries where it is legal, there are still a lot of women who will still not be allowed to abort if they want to.
I am not going to address the question of whether abortion is right or wrong. Each of you is entitled to your value judgement and frankly, I don’t care. What I do know is that I am extremely grateful I was in a country where a woman is allowed to make this decision. I am also extremely grateful to have grown up in a family that supported my choices.
Finding out I’m pregnant at 19
At the age of 19, while I was a student doing my Bachelors at a university in London, I had an abortion. Like millions of women before me, I hadn’t had my period for a while and, after buying a kit from the pharmacy, I tested positive. It was a mixture between a shock and the feeling that I had known all along that I was pregnant.
I had just started my second year at university – having a baby was not an option.
I went to the university’s affiliated NHS centre and explained the situation. The doctor, a man in his late fifties, spoke to me while playing solitaire on his computer. He looked distracted as he explained the procedure. I had two options. I could take a series of pills that would trigger a miscarriage at home. He recommended this option, saying it was the most common one. Alternatively, I could have a surgical abortion under local anaesthetic at a clinic.
Since everyone else seemed to go for the pill, I told him I’d do that too.
I went home to do more research about the procedure. I read testimonials about women describing the process of taking the pills and waiting at home for the contractions and the miscarriage to take place. I read horror stories of how to “dispose” of the foetus. I knew I would not be able to go through with this. I called the clinic and booked an appointment for a surgical abortion instead.
I called my mum who immediately flew over to be there with me.
Going through the surgical abortion
It all happened very fast.
I don’t remember feeling anything in the two days running up to my appointment. I don’t remember feeling anything when I walked into the clinic and saw all these other girls and women there too. I was just going through the motions. I was doing what needed to be done.
The actual procedure was a mess. Someone made a mistake with the local anaesthetic and I felt tremendous pain. But I didn’t say anything.
The days that followed are a blur. I joined my family at my uncle’s house for a holiday that had been planned some time before. These were difficult few days because I continued to have extremely painful contractions for days after the procedure. But I tried to function as normally as I could. I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s time. I didn’t want to attract any more attention than I already had.
Then, before I knew it, I was back at university and life went back to normal.
You know someone who’s had an abortion
While I knew, intellectually speaking, that an abortion could be traumatic, I didn’t feel traumatised. I thought that it was just one other scar that life creates along the way.
I never felt ashamed about having aborted and, in the right context, spoke openly about it. Over the years, I discovered that so many women around me had had one or more. Many, back in the days, had had to travel clandestinely to another country where it was legal. I also have many friends to whom it has happened since.
Over the last 14 years, I’ve always felt it was important to speak about it and let others know how often it happens. I remember many conversations during which other women would also share that they’d had one, or that their mother, sister, aunt, friend etc had had one. I remember how surprised men were to discover how common it was.
We often came to the conclusion that every one of us knew someone who’d had an abortion, even if they didn’t know about it.
Going back in time with therapy
Early in 2021, I started a music therapy program with a friend. She was finishing her masters and needed a guinea pig for her thesis. She was convinced music therapy could help women with acne and needed to test it out. I volunteered. I have had cystic acne for years, a common symptom of the PCOS I was struggling with.
If you have PCOS, you can’t really talk about your acne without talking about your ovaries. During the therapy, everything started to unravel. That’s when I realised that I was still carrying a tremendous amount of pain from my abortion 14 years ago.
I had no idea.
I had somehow assumed that I was “fine” with it because I had been talking about it relatively openly. I couldn’t be more wrong.
I realised that I had repressed my emotions to build the courage to get on with it and do what had to be done. I realised that, back then, I had felt I had no right to my pain and suffering because I’d done something stupid that led me to where I was. I believed I “deserved” what was happening.
That’s why I bottled up everything without even realising it and moved on.
It broke my heart
As I explore that period of my life with the perspective that I have today, I now know that it’s perfectly possible to feel tremendous pain even when you do something that feels right. Back then, I didn’t know that. I believed that I wasn’t entitled to that pain – let alone express it. My guilt and shame stopped me from allowing myself to feel.
Today, I know that I was extremely sad and sorry to have an abortion, even though it was the right thing for me to do at the time. But back then I didn’t believe I was allowed to think that way. I thought that since I was making a choice not to keep this baby, it must mean that I didn’t care. After all, if you cared, you wouldn’t get rid of it. So I acted and convinced myself I didn’t care.
But I did care very much. In fact, I already loved that baby that was growing inside of me. I loved it with all my heart. In part because I loved it, I knew I would not be able to give it what I believed a child needed. I didn’t allow myself to feel that at the time, but it broke my heart to have to make that decision.
I never regretted that decision. It was the right one, for me, at that time. But it’s not because I don’t regret it that I don’t also regret the pain. I do regret the pain that was caused, to that unborn child, to my family, to the baby’s father and also to myself.
For 14 long years, I denied myself the right to that pain. But it was there all along and it has since come pouring out, like water flowing through a dam that has just been opened. The pain is still here today, and it might be with me for the rest of my life. It’s okay for me to feel pain even though I know I did the right thing.
Today, I nurse that pain, I recognise its existence. I know it is proof of my love for that child I decided not to have. Because you can love someone and still decide to let them go – precisely because you love them.
My message to you
If you’ve had an abortion or are about to have one, allow yourself to feel the full range of emotions you are experiencing. Allow the anger, allow the guilt, allow the sadness. It is not because you are making that call that you are not allowed to feel. You are entitled to every single emotion.
Feel the anger that is telling you that it’s not fair that it has to be you. Feel the anger against the world for putting you into this situation. Feel the guilt for having to take that decision, perhaps even for making choices that brought you here. Feel the sadness for having to do it. But also feel the love. Feel the love for that baby and, just as importantly, feel the love for yourself. You are very brave. I know it’s not easy. It might just be one of the hardest things you do in your life. Allow yourself to love yourself for taking this step.
If you know someone who’s had an abortion or is going to have one, tell them they’re allowed to feel their emotions. Tell them that it’s okay to feel anger, sadness and love all at the same time. Tell them you love them and they should love themselves too.
Our emotions tell us a lot about ourselves that we don’t even know. They carry very complex messages that can be difficult to decipher on the spot and easy to dismiss. But emotions don’t go until their message is delivered. It took me 14 years to accept emotions that told me that I loved the baby I aborted. It took me 14 years to accept that you can feel very sad for having to do something to someone you love – and that it’s still okay to go ahead and do it. I really wish my 19 year old self had had the tools I have today to process everything that was going on. But late is much better than never.