They say that there is no such thing as a typical abortion. That each is different.
I know this to be true because I’ve had two and they were very different. There were no ‘exceptional circumstances’ about the first. It was 1982. Like a lot of other people, I was unemployed, penniless, up from the country and living in a bedsit. I had been in a long-term relationship but had ended it when I realised that I didn’t really love the guy enough to stay with him. A few months after we split up, however, we went together for old time’s sake and I ended up pregnant.
At first, I didn’t realise I was pregnant as I had what I thought was a period. When my next period didn’t arrive, I didn’t worry at first because I hadn’t had sex since my last bleed. But I started to have all the other symptoms. I went to a women’s health centre, had a pregnancy test and knew before they told me that it was positive. I was already pro-choice and active in the campaign to stop the Eighth (anti-abortion) Amendment being put in the Constitution. So, as far as I was concerned, all the options were legitimate and open to me.
Although there was no way that I could bring up a child, I was excited at the idea that my body worked. I was lucky because I knew that my ex-boyfriend would support me whatever I decided to do. He would have been delighted if I had decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, but knew it would have made no sense in my circumstances. I went back to the health centre, saw a counsellor, and booked a bed in a clinic in England. My ex, who has a good job, gave me all the money I needed for a flight and operation. He was really decent about it and didn’t put any pressure on me to go ahead with it.
I didn’t tell anyone but my ex where I was going for the weekend. The night before the operation was a bit surreal. I had been in London many times before, had even lived there for a while. But this was like a secret visit. I went to the clinic, had more counselling, and went for a meal in a restaurant which I used to visit with my friends. It didn’t feel like I was in London. It didn’t feel like I was anywhere I knew. I booked into the nearby hostel and went to bed early. Before I went to sleep I talked to the potential baby that was more in my head than my womb. I said sorry that I can’t have you just now, but I hope that I can sometime in the future, sometime when I can give you a Daddy and Mommy that love each other and a decent home and life. I said, I know you understand and I went to sleep feeling okay about the next day.
My main worry when I got to the clinic the next day was that I would die in the operating theatre and my mother would find out that her daughter was dead and that she was having an abortion at the same time. I phoned my ex and warned him to make up a good cover story for my mum should I die! I need not have worried. It was so straightforward, and over so quick, I could hardly have believe it. I came home relieved and in brilliant form.
No one had told me about the ‘blues’ that hit you five to six days afterwards. At first, I thought the anti-abortionists were right and that this was guilt hitting me. But then I realised that this like a very bad bout of PMT. I asked a friend I knew had had an abortion and she said ‘oh yeah, it’s just like the baby blues that everyone gets a few days after birth’. That made sense and, sure enough, after a few days I was back to normal on the emotional front.
I was, however, scared of having sex: scared it might hurt, scared I might get pregnant again. But, after a few months, I got over that feeling.
Ten years later, my life was very different. I was living with the love of my life, had a decent job, nice house and two year old child. When I became pregnant again, it should have been an ideal time- my son was just two years old, the perfect time to conceive a sibling. But Michael has severe brain damage and the prognosis was that he would never walk, talk, see, hear, get out of nappies. I was already traumatised by that knowledge and the idea of having another baby- with the fear that the same thing might happen again- it just terrified me in a way that I can’t describe. I can say that I understood for the first time how women can risk their lives using knitting needles or coat hangers to cause an abortion, because I felt desperate enough to do that.
I couldn’t stop crying. I felt so stupid, because although I had being using a cap, I hadn’t topped up the spermicide. My partner was brilliant; he thought and feared exactly what I thought and feared. I knew I was pregnant as soon as my period was late: I knew all the signs. The clinic said I would have to wait until I was seven to eight weeks, otherwise the embryonic sac would be so small they couldn’t be sure it had been removed. Those six weeks were terrifying. Those were the days when the anti-abortionists were doing everything to stop women getting to England. I had nightmares that somehow they would stop me before I got to England and force me to continue the pregnancy. I was unable to function properly. I kept imagining myself with two severely disabled children. I tried to be more positive but the thought of trying to give a decent life to any other child, while caring for my darling Michael was unrealistic. He is a 60 minute an hour, 24 hour a day, job. Anyway, I had a school friend whose second child was severely disabled and I saw how, with the best will in the world, she neglected her older child. I needed all my love, all my energy for Michael and I was going to make sure he got it, even if I had to fight the anti-abortionists to get on the plane.
Although I needed him with me and although he wanted to support me, my partner couldn’t accompany me because someone had to look after our son. While in 1982, I had been happy enough to go to England, this time I raged about not being able to have a termination in our local hospital. It would have been far easier for the whole family. As it was, Michael couldn’t understand why his mummy was leaving him for a whole weekend and it broke my heart to leave him. This time, I felt nothing but desperation to stop this life that was growing inside me. I felt no obligation to it, no soft feelings, nothing but sheer desperation.
Although I’m quite open about having had an abortion, I don’t often admit to having had two. Intellectually I know this is silly. But all the anti-abortion talk about careless women having abortions willy-nilly gets to you, even when you know it’s not true.
Reprinted with permission from The Irish Journey- Women’s Stories of Abortion (IFPA 2000).
Download the full document from which this excerpt has been taken here, in PDF format.