Today I am choosing to end a life.
It is not something I am taking lightly. I hadn’t intended to be in this situation. After all, I’m an independent woman, and although my history of mental illness means I’m known for flaking out and melting down, it hardly pre-determines that I’d go to this extreme. But you don’t get to predict what your body is going to do 100% of the time. And a few weeks ago, after a day of the most carefree, fun and mind-blowing sex of my life, I discovered I was pregnant.
Before even taking the test I’d known. My skin felt like it was stretching too tightly over my nerves as if it might burst – the way I imagine a snake feels before it’s about to shed a layer of its scaly covering. And inside me, too deep for my hands to reach inside and claw out, something heavy was sitting, making me want to vomit, curl up in bed, cry. Before that pink line of condemnation appeared within the cheap plastic indicator, I felt my body had stopped belonging to me, and all I’ve wanted these past weeks is to have it back.
To be a mother is to give your life for your child – in every moment, and with every thought. Each baby should be loved and protected selflessly by parents who work tirelessly to ensure it is happy. Or at least, that’s how I believe it should be. But a child who is resented, unwanted and carries the burden of its parents failed relationship, and mother’s eventual suicide forever within its heart. What life is that?
Eventual suicide – so you picked up on that did you? Well ok, so I don’t have any way of knowing for sure, but let’s just say I’ve done my research, and I’m realistic about this stuff. I’ve spent enough time around babies to know what I’d do if I were left alone for days with a constantly crying child, who I have no way of consoling, and am unable to care for. I can’t even look after myself, and what would become of the baby as I lie inert from agoraphobia and too disabled by fear even to go to the toilet. (Seriously – I must have one of the strongest bladders in the country – I can resist movement for days when my terror is at its peak). That’s not a mother any child deserves. And as for the dad, well sure, he was there at the making stage – as I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t some turkey baster job – but there aren’t ever any guarantees of anyone staying once things turn serious. Anyway, look around – he’s not here today, is he?
So I’m thankful that I have a choice. A choice that two doctors I’ve never met before had no problem in agreeing to, given my history. A bit like them deciding whether an alcoholic should be allowed to have an operation on their kidneys, or if a victim of gang crime has the right to be treated for a stab wound. Bizarre that I should have to make a case to have this treatment on my body – and that strangers have ultimate say over whether I have to become a mother or not. I suppose mental illness is something to be thankful for after all.
I had my breakfast at some god-awful hour bloody ages ago. I’m not allowed to eat or drink again until after it’s over, and it’s already pissing me off. At times of anxiety chocolate biscuits and sweet tea is the best substitute I’ve found for vodka cocktails and cigarettes.
With a head fogged from insomnia, I’m finalising my decision on suitable abortion attire. It needs to be ‘loose, comfortable clothing’ but my jogging pants are way too skanky to wear in public. Jeans just don’t have any give in them at all, and so I pick out a dress. But I haven’t shaved my legs since finding out, so I’d better wear thick tights too. Will they tell me off for wearing tights? Sod it. Once they’re off and I whip my dress up, the doctors will have easy access to my vital areas, so that’ll have to do.
I’m not allowed to wear nail polish or make-up either. I didn’t understand the whole nail polish thing until my friend told me it’s in case I die while I’m under the anaesthetic – apparently, the skin under your fingernails begins to turn blue. I hadn’t known that before. I wish I still didn’t know it now, to be honest. I’m wary of looking too attractive or too unattractive. I don’t want the doctors thinking, ‘what a slut – no surprise she’s got herself in this state’, but also can’t bear that they’d think ‘how did that ugly bitch get laid in the first place – who’d go near that?’ And most of all, I’m worried what’ll happen to me while I’m out of it. The notes I’ve been given say that linings may tear and there could be complications, but they don’t tell you anything about doctors that could be potential rapists who may take the opportunity to fuck you while you’re out cold. A cup of tea and a fag would help right now.
Waiting to see the nurse, I flick through one of those out of date women’s magazines and stare vacantly at pictures of ageing celebrity women next to articles about their exercise regimes and happy marriages. There are other people in the waiting room, but I couldn’t tell you how many, or how they look. I glance at my bag, the stupid magazine and the walls. I feel horribly alone. Even though goodness knows how many other women are doing the same thing today, I’m locked inside my fears, trying desperately to keep my breathing under control so I don’t have a panic attack.
The nurse is kind and doesn’t judge me like I expect her to. I can’t help wondering what she’s thinking of me – if she’s wondering why I’m here by myself. She puts so much lubricant on her hand that I barely feel her putting the two tablets that will initiate a miscarriage inside me.
I undress in a cubicle and put on a gown ready for the ‘procedure’. The anaesthetist will come and see me shortly, so I sit virtually naked on a chair with a thick pad like a nappy stuffed into the disposable knickers I’ve been assigned and wait. My mind wanders to what my boyfriend’s doing today – whether he’s thinking about me if he’s remembered that it is happening today, and if he could have been here if he’d wanted to be, or if it was something he couldn’t escape. A much younger and very emotional couple are several cubicles down, and when she gets led through for the operation, he has to be reminded that only patients are allowed into the next area. For a moment it seems as if there might be trouble as voices are raised, and tears are heard.
The anaesthetist is friendly and calm, like everyone else on the ward. There’s the nagging suspicion in my mind that I’m being checked out for the assault I’ve convinced myself is going to happen while I’m unconscious, but other fears are burning now too. Disoriented, having never needed to be in the hospital before – besides the ‘incident’ 12 years ago. I don’t fully understand where I’m being led or what’s going to happen next. I do as I’m told, my eyes wide as a toddler’s, as I sit here, wait there, lie on this and breathe from that. A doctor looks down at me and introduces himself. I can’t reply or thank him, as there’s a plastic mask over my mouth. And then I’m being wheeled to a recovery area. Helped onto a chair, given a sandwich, handed tea. It’s done.
‘You need to go to the toilet first, and then you can go home.’
I want to curl up on the armchair and go to sleep. I want to be held. I want you here with me so that I didn’t just do this by myself. So it wasn’t my decision alone. It was yours too – you said you didn’t want it either. We both decided this.
I lie to the nurse about my friend coming to collect me. I don’t want to cause a fuss. I get on the bus home by myself, against all the advice they’ve given me – it isn’t far. Already I know it’s all out. I can feel I’m no longer pregnant, and my body belongs to me again. I’d never known before how very decidedly you feel pregnant so early on – the foreign intrusion of being “with child”, and the relief of being emptied. Raw inside, but free of responsibilities I cannot contain. Back at home, I wait with tea, biscuits, a jacket potato and Ribena for my friend to arrive to keep me company. Like a child. When she arrives, I begin recounting the peculiar process of terminating a pregnancy as if it happened to someone else. The painkillers they put up my arse are still working like a dream when he calls a short time later, and I tell him I’m completely fine and make jokes as if I’ve been on a great adventure for the day. We both speculate on the chances of my tits staying swollen, filling my dresses better, and more of a handful for him to play with. No wonder he doesn’t worry when I’m so practised at making it seem there’s no reason to. When I hang up the phone, I don’t realise that’s the last time he’ll call.
As the night wears on, the pain increases and I renew the hot water bottle several times while a crappy 80s movie plays out for distraction. My precious friend doesn’t mind me endlessly rushing to the toilet, as the liquid of varying thicknesses and colours comes out of me. By tomorrow, I’ll be back to normal. Apart from the brown blood that will continue to seep out of me for another three weeks.
And in that time, I’ll be nonchalant about this abortion without which my world would be destroyed. The catalyst that forced my perfect relationship from joyous to serious to over, without my consent.
Today, my mind drifts from my safe self-pitying world to those countries where the decision about becoming a mother does not lie with each woman that will carry her child. And I remind myself that, although I am alone, although he is gone, I am so very lucky that I have a choice.
Thanks to Sarah Deer for the button image
Thanks to Santiago Times for cover image
Several short films that I have written have screened at internationally recognised film festivals.Currently I am working on feature film projects, and while they differ in genre, central to all of them are female characters.
(photo credit: Eleni Stefanou womenwithtattoos.co.uk)