I had an abortion some years ago. This is my story.
I was living in Ireland at the time. I phoned the Marie Stopes helpline, and the lady I spoke to was kind and methodical. She said I had to wait until at least five weeks into the pregnancy. She explained that I would have to travel to the UK, and that I had to have a consultation, which would involve a scan to determine conception date, and a discussion with a professional to clarify my decision. This consultation would cost 82 Euro and could be done either on the same day as the procedure, or beforehand in Dublin. I said I didn’t need to talk about it – the choice was entirely mine, and it wasn’t that I had decided flippantly or irresponsibly; simply that I didn’t have to think about what was the right decision for me.
I planned my travel dates; a quick weekend in London and back in time for work on Monday. I was training for a marathon at the time, which was six weeks away. I told my running buddy about my pregnancy. I was due to run 20 miles with him that weekend, and I hoped that all those miles would dislodge it. At halfway I still I felt depressingly healthy, and I thought about running into the road where the lorries were thundering down the hill – or just jumping in front of a small car, so perhaps I wouldn’t necessarily have to die, but it might do the job. I more than thought about it – I made steps towards the road; and then I thought of the drivers and my friend beside me and I told him what I was thinking. He switched places with me to run next to the road, and talked to me all the way round, so that we finished the run safely. I went home and showered, feeling lost and furious.
The following week I was discharged from my job and sent on sick leave for three months due to severe depression. There were many contributing factors which had been building over months, and I had already had time off the year before, but the pregnancy was the final catalyst. No – it wasn’t the pregnancy. It was the feeling of complete helplessness and of being trapped in a country where I didn’t have control over my own body, and where I couldn’t do anything but wait in silence for the weeks to pass.
The person I had spoken to on the helpline had said that all was possible once I arrived in the UK, but that if I wasn’t registered with a GP practice in the area, I would have to pay as a private patient. I was now in my home country as a British citizen, and I was convinced that it should be simpler than this. I went to my local GP practice, where a young doctor asked me why I hadn’t “sorted this out” when I was in Ireland, as if I had forgotten to do so. There are many responses I’ve imagined for her over the months, but at the time I was tired and worn down, and simply explained with the hint of a sigh that abortion is illegal in Ireland. She hadn’t known.
I ran my final 20 mile run, hoping again that it would solve the problem. I didn’t contemplate anything self-destructive this time, because I had put a plan into action and it felt good.
When I phoned the Marie Stopes clinic to arrange the appointment, they said that I needed documentation – proof that I lived in the UK and at a London address; proof that I was registered with a GP in the neighbourhood. I phoned my local surgery back to see how I could change location, and they said they would write a referral letter to the nearest GP surgery in London to where I would be staying with my boyfriend, so that I could be registered there.
Once in London, I went to the clinic for the consultation and appointment, where I was told that I didn’t appear to be registered with the nearby GP practice. There had been no referral letter sent, and I had no proof of address in the UK. I would have to go private and pay the £546 fee. I was experiencing a small part of what every Irish woman goes through in this situation, undertaking emotional, physical, and financial stress. Thankfully I had a local place to stay with a supportive partner who split the cost with me, and, somewhat ironically because I was already on long-term sick leave, at least I had the luxury of time.
After a brief consultation, the nurse gave me a pill containing mifepristone, which blocks the production of progesterone, the hormone that makes the lining of the uterus suitable for incubation. I was told to return in twelve hours’ time.
Upon my return I was given two pills containing misoprostol, which I had to take in the nurse’s presence, and hold them between my gums and my front lip until they dissolved. I was told to take a taxi home and have someone be with me all day, but I had already told my boyfriend that morning that I didn’t need him to come to the clinic or to stay with me. My self-esteem was rock bottom at that time and I constantly devalued myself, and so, true to form, I figured that taking the tube home by myself would be good enough for me.
I was approaching my front door when the nausea started, and I just made it to the sink in time. I vomited for hours – four, to be exact. I spent the morning between the toilet and the basin and the bed, vomiting bile and emitting diarrhoea and bleeding clots and being contorted with excruciating cramps. It started at nine o’clock, and at around one o’clock I drifted off to sleep, and when I awoke it had abated. I was wearing a sanitary pad, which was soaked through every couple of hours. Some time in the afternoon when I went to the toilet, I had a heavy rush of blood that I could feel contained something extra, and I flushed it away with everything else.
I cannot imagine having to travel during such an ordeal. Every year between four to five thousand women – the exact numbers are unknown – travel to the UK to undergo what is a serious medical procedure, and then, immediately afterwards, limp home to Ireland in severe pain, nauseated, dizzy, and completely alone. Women who are not in control of their own bodies in their own country and who are abused and judged and even imprisoned if they talk about it. As I write this, a young woman from Belfast has just been handed a suspended prison sentence for procuring over the internet the same medication I took in order to bring about her abortion, because she couldn’t afford the travel fare or the cost of the procedure in the UK.
For me, it was now two weeks to the marathon. I rested for just over a week, and travelled to the race the following weekend where I ran a personal best wearing a damp sanitary pad, and I felt fiercely proud of myself for the first time in months because of everything I had just been through.
The bleeding lasted for weeks afterwards. But what I had felt with that significant rush of blood that day was a lightness and pure relief. I had felt severely trapped to the point that my life had been endangered. I couldn’t even look after myself at the time and I would never have made it alive through the pregnancy. It would have absolutely morally wrong for me not to have made the decision I did.
This is my story. I want to talk about it to help break down the stigma. There are too many cases like that of the Belfast woman and Savita Halappanavar and countless others who should absolutely not have been treated the way they were. I heard that the statistics are that one in three women have an abortion – I have heard other sources which refute this. But I hope by talking about it I can make a small difference.