A green checked singlet lies in the far left corner of one of my drawers. Rouched bodice, ties on the straps… I’ve never worn it, but for the last decade it has stayed there. The only physical, tangible reminder of the first baby I conceived. Nobody else would know its significance. Nobody else would make that connection. But as we drove cross-county to the factory-style abortion clinic all those years ago, a friend who was there to support me gave it to me as a gift. I held onto it tightly. This was the only thing I had left of that day that I could touch, and hold.
I was young. 20 years old. Living on the other side of the world from my family. Very, very naive. I was in a relationship with the man I would go on to marry – my first and only love. I had a great job that I absolutely loved, friends I adored. Every weekend meant an endless stream of gigs and bands and clubs and fun. I was having the time of my life. I thought I was so grown up, so mature, so together. Everything was perfect, and I had the kind of surety about life that only one so young could ever have.
Until suddenly, my period didn’t arrive one day. It was a week late, I was having cramps, but nothing happened. Days passed. Then something clicked… I remember it clearly. I was at a work conference in London, when a little voice in the back of my head whispered the obvious, apparent reason young women miss their monthly visit from Aunt Flo. I felt terrified, but in denial, though in my heart I knew, deep down, that it was true. I threw myself into the afternoon’s seminar, trying not to think about the possibility, willing my body to do what it’s meant to do each month and for those cramps to eventuate into something more than just more cramps. But it didn’t happen. I joked with my boss about work, laughed with my colleagues, boarded the train home. Everything seemed so very normal. Inside, I was barely holding it together, nerves almost overwhelming me.
The next morning I worked up the courage to do the test. I opened it while I was in the shower, following the instructions to a tee. The little pink + showed up immediately, before the other window had even filled. As bright and as unambiguous as it possibly could have been. I collapsed on the floor in a panic. Stood up. Pulled myself together, outwardly stoic. Washed my hair. Got dressed for work. Left the house. Going through the motions and putting on a mask as internally I fell apart.
This can’t be happening. This can’t be real. This. Cannot. Be. Happening.
But of course, it was.
Before then, the possibility of pregnancy had never even crossed my mind. We used protection every time, of course, I’m from a very fertile family and was aware of the need to always be very responsible. But they worked every time, right? Failure was so unlikely.
I called my boyfriend, who was on the bus to work, and told him what was going on. I yelled, blurting it out, unable to contain my terror. His first response was “well that’s ok, you can just take a pill and get rid of it”. Problem solved. I laughed at his naivete, knowing that wasn’t entirely true. When I met him on his bus he just held me, and we looked at each other, suddenly both so young and terrified.
All the usual questions ran through my head – what do we tell our parents? What will they think? What about our jobs? Work? Study? I didn’t even have a degree yet. I was planning on university next year – how could I do that? And I was on the other side of the world from home… could I go through this here? No, I’d have to move back, and I wasn’t ready for that. I didn’t want to. I was terrified of losing my boyfriend, of him rejecting me and our baby. I was so in love and I couldn’t lose him – and I was convinced that if I had a baby, he’d leave us. The thought of his parents finding out was terrifying. What would they say? What would they do? They’d hate me. They’d think me a whore – some stupid young girl from another country come to trap their son for a lifetime. And there was the question of money… we couldn’t afford to become parents, we were barely adults ourselves, our careers only just beginning. What would people say and think? I was always the good girl, the one who was meant to go on to get a great job and career and do amazing things. The straight-A student with the bright, wonderful future, who got all the awards, who was responsible and sensible and mature. How did I find myself in this predicament? Why?
I went to work. Made a doctor’s appointment. Walked there, numb.
“Is that a good thing…?”
I just stared at her. “No! No it is not!”
“OK, here’s the number for an abortion provider. They’re in another town across the county, I can do a referral for you…”.
I called my mother. Her response was “Well you can’t keep it, don’t be ridiculous”.
I opened up on an internet forum I was a member of, and was again encouraged to terminate. Only one person suggested I keep the baby. That there were things we could work around, we could figure it out. It doesn’t have to be this way. Everybody else was telling stories of their own terminations – of liberation, of women’s rights, of the wonderful world we live in where we have choices and agency over our bodies and I could do whatever I wanted, and it would be problem solved. Because a baby is a problem, by default, if it’s not planned.
The days and weeks went on. I was suddenly aware of pregnant bellies everywhere, mothers-to-be lovingly rubbing their blooming bumps, excited and happy. I found myself desperately, desperately wanting to do the same. I’d look at my stomach, in awe that somehow, there was a whole other person in there, growing, warm and safe. And I’d think about what I was being told to do – and I’d feel sick. I stopped drinking alcohol, to keep baby safe, even knowing I had an appointment to end its life. Time ticked on. I ate better food. I talked to baby. I apologized profusely for what I had planned. Because the fact was, while I thought I knew I had to do it, and felt I had no choice, I didn’t want to do it. The thought absolutely sickened me. I was feeling a love blossoming inside me that I’d never considered before – never comprehended. This tiny being was so dependent on me. I was a mother. And I loved her. I loved her so, so much, in that deep, uncompromising, enormous way only a parent can know.
And yet, I had people calling me to tell me their stories of abortion, to make sure I was still on board with the plan. I was told over and over there was no way I could keep it. We couldn’t tell family – it was too shameful, what would they think? I couldn’t keep it – I didn’t have a degree yet, it would ruin my life. To everyone else, this tiny precious life was the enemy to be eliminated.
I know they all felt they were telling me what I needed to hear, so that I wasn’t stupid enough to screw up my life forever and become a young Mum without a qualification. They thought they knew what was best for me – or at least, their version of the me that they wanted me to be – and that it was from a place of their love for me. And for that, I cannot blame them, and must be clear on that. I forgive them.
But stupid, foolish, gullible, weak weak weak me, allowed myself to be cowed.
I savoured the time we had together. I was so in love with this baby. A girl – I knew. And given I was right both times with my later, living children, I know I was right this time, too. I’d lie awake at night, imagining for the briefest of seconds what it would be like to have a daughter running around.
But the time came, later than I’d hoped. We’d been a week or two earlier to have an initial appointment. They had asked if this was what I wanted, and I said yes. Was I sure? Again, I said yes. That was it. No probing questions, no counseling, just rote questions from a piece of paper. Law satisfied.
I was still so numb, so terrified. Like walking through sludge. Living a nightmare with no escape and no easy end, regardless of what I chose.
At that time, and for most of my life until recently, I was heavily involved in New Age philosophy and thought, and somehow managed to convince myself – superficially, anyway – that somehow this baby knew it was going to be killed, so had ‘popped in to say hello and would come back again at a later date’. That was how I allowed myself to do something so barbaric and so utterly against what I wanted, so hugely desperately. I deceived myself with selfish, fluffy ear-tickling to somehow make it ok and justify the horror of what I was signing us both up for.
We drove to the clinic. It was a sunny day, and we chatted with our friends on the way over, almost like a normal road trip. That’s when I was given that green checked singlet. I felt utterly sick. I almost leaped out of the car at one point. But somehow I forced my feet forward, apologizing inwardly the whole time, holding my belly, savoring these last moments with my beloved baby I had fallen head over heels with and so desperately, agonizingly wanted to protect, with every fibre of my being.
I gave my name to the bored looking lady at the reception desk. They sent us through to a waiting room. Four or five other couples sat nearby, looking at the ground, out the window, staring at the wall. No talking. One woman flipped through a magazine. I was taken for an ultrasound, though not able to see the screen. I suspect that’s deliberate. Because once you see that beating heart, how could you stop it?
And then I was sent upstairs, through clinical white hallways, to a small changing area. I was sent to one of a number of tiny curtained rooms, and told to put my clothes into a locker and don one of their gowns. I complied. I brushed past a couple of other women on my way, also changing, wondering what their stories were. Eyes to the floor. Then we just waited there, to be called in.
My name was up.
I walked down the hallway, feet like lead. I felt sick. Panicked. Terrified. I could just about feel my child’s little arms desperately waving at me to stop, to love her, to show mercy – and I told her how much I loved her. And how sorry I was. All I wanted to do was run and to save her life. I could barely move, barely think, the closer I got to the room the more hysterical I became. I felt like I was walking to my own execution.
I got there, and they asked me to climb up a step onto the bed where they were ready to knock me out to ‘perform the procedure’ – and I found I couldn’t move. I stood there, in floods of tears, and I screamed, a deep, gutteral, heart-wrenching wail of a sound that no mother should ever, ever make. No. No no no. No. I can’t. No. Stop. I can’t do this. I can’t. Stop. NO.
They stared at me, unsure of what to do.
No, I’m sorry, I can’t. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. No, stop. I can’t do it. I can’t move.
More tears. More hysterics. Frozen horror. Tears pooling on the floor.
And then suddenly, somehow, in amongst the panic and terror and agony, I said the fateful word they’d been waiting for – “Ok”. That was enough for them. The legalities were met; I’d said the word, even if it was sandwiched in amongst endless cries of ’No’ and ‘Stop’ and ‘I can’t’. They helped me up the step and had something in my arm and a mask on my face quicker than lightning, before I could tell them to stop again and change my mind. They had the permission they wanted, though clearly I was in no fit state to give proper consent and hugely, enormously, desperately unhappy. Too late though. My eyes grew heavy. Everything went dark.
I woke up, groggy. Empty-wombed, and hollow-hearted.
Was there relief? That it was over, yes. But more than that, there was overwhelming emptiness. Hollowness. A black hole I’d tumbled into with no end.
I was helped over to a lazy-boy type chair in a room with about eight other chairs, and told to sit there and sip tea and eat biscuits. I looked around the other faces in the other chairs, a factory line of empty wombs. Numbly, I sipped the tea. How very British.
After twenty minutes or so, it was time for the final room. Get changed. A chat with a nurse. Yes, I’m fine. Yes, I know about birth control. Yes, I used protection, and yes I know how to use it. No I’m not stupid. Just let me go now.
And then we were free. Back home.
The progression of rooms, the slickness of the operation, is sickening. There was never any mention of keeping the baby’s remains, of seeing the screen, of anything. I don’t know what happened to my child. I assume her remains were thrown in a medical waste bag, or mincer, or possibly – most sickeningly – sold for medical ‘research’. The ‘counseling’ offered was minimal. Perhaps I was just a great actor, my numbness and shock at being in that situation making for a great poker face. Or perhaps the politically-correct, prevailing view that abortion is just the innocent removal of a blob of cells in the name of hard-won ‘women’s rights’ meant that nobody actually felt able to stop and tell me what they thought… Nobody was willing to say, “What if you kept it?”. Nobody asked how I really, truly felt.
Nobody told me it was ok – that it was normal, and natural – to love and to want your baby. And that I had other options. That I could have given this child a life.
The grief though – that was silent. Because abortion is self-inflicted, theoretically your decision, you aren’t able to grieve the child. You have no right to count yourself amongst the hordes of women who’ve experienced loss of pregnancy, grieving after miscarriage, because you made your bed so now you must lie in it. You can’t talk about it, because of the overwhelming shame and naughtiness associated with it – because only stupid, irresponsible people and sluts find themselves in that situation. You should’ve just used protection. You should’ve been more careful. It’s your own fault, so you have no right to grieve.
So you just bear the burden silently. Forever.
Forever the wondering of what she would’ve looked like. Who she would’ve been. What she would’ve liked, disliked. Every pregnancy the guilt and regret rears up. You never, ever climb fully out of that hole. You learn to live inside it, and you can make a wonderful life. But it’s always there.
I feel like that experience played a role in the traumatic birth of my first living child. The grief and trauma squashed for so long came back once more, bubbling to the surface. Moments spent crying into my husband’s arms, him also wondering the same things.
It was over a decade ago now. I look at my beautiful children and feel so unbelievably sad that they should have an older sister to guide their way – and that I was the one to deprive them of that, and her of her life. That I wasn’t strong enough to say no to pressure and coercion. That my training to be a ‘good girl’ led to me allowing myself to kill my baby to please other people and not rock the boat.
And I feel anger. Anger that I allowed myself to cave rather than grow a backbone. Anger at how this is presented as an issue of women’s rights. Anger that in the name of liberation, millions of women are being put through something so hugely traumatic and so hugely selfish, with no means of support – and our babies are being slaughtered by the millions in the sterile, cold walls of a factory-style murder facility, never to feel the warmth of their mother’s arms. Because there is no doubt that these are tiny infants.
Anger that if you dare to speak up about the grief and regret, you’re told to sit down and shut up, because your story is invalid and represses women, so you’re part of the problem. A bigot, an oppressor, a misogynist, uncaring and unsupportive and unkind. Anger that this is supported by our society so casually and so implicitly – and legally – that it’s presented as the only ‘sensible’ option, making it harder for women like me to say no. Anger that because of that, people are too afraid to question a woman’s motivation and make sure she is absolutely certain about what she wants. Anger that nobody is brave enough to speak up to a woman in crisis and point out that abortion is murder, and the consequences are forever.
Anger at the murderous production-line facilities that allow this atrocity to happen, and the way they present themselves as bastions of empowerment and support and love and care, but it’s all a lie. Business. Big, awful business. They don’t care about women. Wolves in sheeps’ clothing.
Women, you are being lied to. Make no mistake – this is an industry. Not empowerment.
I’m sure I’ll be labelled a hypocrite for writing this. And probably a number of far worse things. I know I’ll likely deeply upset relatives, friends, and strangers. And I apologize for that upset – but this story needs to be told, and the only way to do that is to come clean and just say it, and speak up. Because if I can save one baby, and one woman the lifetime of regret – or at least forewarn of the shallowness of the platitudes of those who wish to take your baby’s life – then it’ll be worth it.
To those to whom I owe a retrospective apology for this awful thing – I’m sorry. Deeply, enormously sorry.
And to my baby – I love you. More than you’ll ever know. And I’m more sorry than you’ll ever comprehend. I’m sorry I wasn’t strong enough or brave enough to save you. I’m sorry for the terror you went through in the place you should have been the safest in the world, with the person who, in spite of what happened, loved you more than anyone ever could. My actions betrayed us both. You made me a mother, and I will never, ever forget you. Those weeks we spent together, with you so snuggly in my womb, are ones I will cherish forever. I love you. And one day we will meet, properly, and I will hold you the way I should have all those years ago. You are loved, and wanted, and cherished, forever.
I wish I’d had somebody tell me it was ok to love and to want your child. To give me permission to follow my heart and allow that baby life. I can’t turn the clock back. But hopefully this is enough to open someone’s eyes, and prevent the same mistake happening again.