Remember about a decade ago, when the pro-choice campaign was the trending social topic? I remember during my SFU days in British Columbia, as a young academic and independent woman thinking it was a no-brainer: If I get pregnant, and I am not ready or simply don’t want to, I have the choice to say “abort.” Done, and done. I didn’t expect it to take me on an inner journey to my deepest fears and desires, or show me how unprepared women and men are for this, or how much I believe this medical procedure needs a reinvention.
Back then, it was probably easy to come to this opinionated “no-brainer” conclusion because I had yet to experience the reality of becoming pregnant. But at 22 I was going to get a wake-up call, when I became pregnant for the first time. I chose unprotected sex because after years of contraceptive pills that numbed my emotions and sexual drive, and invasive vaginal medical procedures, I was averse to putting anything else foreign inside my body. I was going to take the risk of the good ol’ pull-out method. In my mind, I was pro-choice so, “I’ll just get an abortion.” I was very naive, and the pro-choice campaign did not set me up for the journey. The first experience was very traumatic for me. I went with the medical abortion (which is the combination of one oral pill to stop the pregnancy, and 2 vaginal pills to induce the process). I did talk to a therapist at the clinic before doing it, but I didn’t really have anything to share - because I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t expect to experience the serious emotional waves that would be coupled with an immense amount of pain. And, I happened to go through this journey alone. I was not asked or advised otherwise.
I realized that I didn’t really understand the magnitude of the decision I was making for myself. I felt guilty that I hadn’t actually thought it through, that I was deciding to end a life that was just beginning, and how I truly felt about it. I still would have gone through with the abortion. However, I would’ve saved myself a lot of psychological suffering if I had understood it was more than a choice, and that it was an inner journey.
Fast forward 7 years, as I sit here in Denmark now writing this, I just completed my second abortion. I thought if I became pregnant around this time in my life, with the love of my life, I would be ready to receive this with joy - but I simply wasn’t. What the pregnancy did was bring into awareness the deeper truths about myself and my life. I can’t really explain what getting and being pregnant and not wanting to be really feels like, but the physiological, psychological and spiritual changes are all too real. I felt the internal pressure growing inside, using my energy to create a new life, and drawing all my resources strangely put me in an intense state of clarity. Because there was constant morning sickness, heightened emotional sensitivity, and physical fatigue, I had no choice but to address how I was feeling. What I could and couldn’t stand, what I did and did not want, what I feared losing and valued having. I was getting a major reality check. I really do want a child one day, but I needed to admit and create the foundations I wanted for myself beforehand. I admit that I am not very good at taking care of myself, and I want to be better at that before I care for another life. I admit if we were to have a child together I needed to feel more trust and communicate more honestly with him. I admit that I need to ask for help and create the support systems around me that I can be fully vulnerable and authentic with. I wanted to set myself up with some personal financial stability again so I can feel joyful and not worry about whether I could support a child, if I had to do it alone. Damn, that was only my personal realization. It came fully loaded and it was just the start of this journey, but there was still the actual procedure. That was all I was feeling when I found out I was pregnant till when I went to the clinic for the first time. I thought I was 6 weeks along, but when I got the ultrasound I found out I was actually almost right on the 9th week. So I was pushing the limit on if I could get this medical abortion, where the other choice is the surgical one (which is a procedure where they basically vacuum the tissue contents out). I was thankful that abortions are legal here in Denmark and paid for, and that if I changed my mind the local community would help me have the child. They also did something the clinic back in Vancouver didn’t do - they told me to make sure I would not be alone during the at-home abortion. That was a shocker, that it was medically advised, and it became clear that I really set myself up poorly before. So this time I read a lot about everything involved, accepted responsibility, and actually shared with my partner that I didn’t want to go to my appointments alone. I was ready to ask for help and for him to be involved with his baby and my choice; our choice. I know from my honesty he was able to be so supportive and caring during the process. He always took the time off work for the appointments, he accepted my decision (although he said this is the first time he didn’t resist the idea), and stayed through all 8 gruelling hours of the process with me. Yet at the same time, I saw how innocently clueless he really was to the female womb experience. I could see he was learning on the fly how to care for me in crisis, like how to be there for me while I’m entering a pain that felt hallucinogenic. Or, that you don’t open the pads like a bag of popcorn but that there’s a little sticky flap. And it was going to get a little more difficult. My body didn’t discharge all the tissue content the first week, so I had to come back a few more times, and finally by the 4th check they decided it was best to take out the rest by vacuum. Up until then, I was bleeding every day like a second day period, and getting cramps for four weeks straight. And during that, I was frequently exhausted, moody, and foggy brained. We both realized this choice could take weeks, which it did in my case, and he really needed to be a nurturing presence. We both got a real taste of the choice we make with our sexual intimacy and where it can go, or better yet, where we want it to go. We began to respect the differences between our male and female experience and where we can connect together. I am ever grateful he read up on how to support me during the abortion and really gave my body and emotions the space it needed to express itself during this healing process. Through it all, we both really began to understand the power and intensity of a woman’s womb, and it built a lot of trust and intimacy between us. This is not just a choice, it’s a journey for the woman and man.
Photo by Camila Cordeiro on UnsplashAbortions are a real common story for a lot of women, yet I still see it is a story hidden in the shadows. Although we’ve championed the choice forward, the experience itself still roams in the dark. Unless you’ve found yourself in need of an abortion, and have begun searching the internet into the hidden experience, it’s not talked about openly. I feel this is a disservice to our female and womb experience. I can see once it’s done, many don’t feel comfortable sharing (myself included), often feeling like it’s something to experience alone. Or in the saddest of cases, in guilt and shame. There’s this invisible silence looming over this that I want to disarm. I want to invite it into the light to be shared as wisdom and part of the journey of womanhood. By claiming the story as part of our domain, we can make great improvements in the choices and experiences of abortion. I can see how a feminine perspective is really needed in the development of the devices used to examine women, like the design of the instruments that probe and hold open this sensitive and intimate space. I also shouldn’t feel pressured by the ob-gyn to feel “I can handle it” (the surgical abortion), to a point where I was holding back tears, versus being comforted by the process. If all women were informed of the journey, perhaps empathy would be more shared amongst us. And, sexually active young women deserve to know the deeper experience of abortions as part of their choice and how to be response-able. This whole process could use a more feminine reinvention, and it begins by revealing the hidden story. When we talk with other women in our actual lives and share our varied experiences we open the door and pave way for what is “normal.” We inspire other women to step into the medical development field to create more supportive environments for us. And, we create a more loving narrative for abortions as a journey of knowing oneself, appreciating our ability to create life, and sharing a story that weaves women together. This choice, this story, and journey are not just my own to keep. It is ours to hold.