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Kayleigh's abortion story, UK

My name is Kayleigh, I am from the UK and I am 33 years of age. I found out I was pregnant on the evening of 22nd August 2018 (a Wednesday) and on Friday 7th September I had my termination. I was 9 weeks 5 days and although I found it to be a physically painful experience, I have never regretted my decision and have never doubted my choice. I was 32 at the time of the abortion, a month shy of my birthday.


At the time I found out I was pregnant, I was still dating "H", but we were not in a committed relationship, he featured little throughout the process of accessing my abortion as I chose not to tell him until after the abortion had taken place. I was adamant the decision was to be made by me alone with little or no influence from others. Bar telling 2 others, I kept the pregnancy and abortion a secret until afterward.

Out of the blue, I seemed to be inexplicably tired and thirsty, after approx. 6 weeks of feeling like this I decided to make an appointment with the doctor. Deep down I think I knew, I only had to type the symptoms into google and it was the first result suggestion for being female. I took a pregnancy test out of curiosity, tick it off my list so I could state with absolute certainty I was not pregnant. I bought the test in the next town from where I live to limit the possibility of someone seeing me. Like something out of a comedy, the cashier could not remove the security box from the test, the cashier behind him also couldn't do it and a manager had to be called. By this point, I was starting to become a little red-faced and sweaty as I felt the entire experience was turning into a farce.

I recall buying a bottle of water in order to ensure by the time I made it home I would definitely need to urinate. I live in a house share but at the time my housemate was back in Australia on an extended trip home and I am forever grateful to that. To have to live with someone and go through seeking a termination but keeping it to yourself sounds like a nightmare. You can't help but take an interest in each other's lives, how the other is doing and she, in particular, is quick to notice change and the very thought of having to fend off questions with lies would have filled me with dread.

I have taken a pregnancy test before so it wasn't a completely new experience, but it was very new and surreal in that I instinctively knew the results would be different this time. It wasn't just the tiredness, but the need to constantly eat and suddenly feeling very nauseous for no apparent reason, late in the afternoon. I was still horribly shocked when I saw the result, in fact, I felt a little sweaty and sick and ended up taking a second and third test, sitting on top of the stairs, googling the results to make sure what I was seeing meant I was pregnant and that I hadn't misread the instructions. I kept hoping I was reading them incorrectly, but I wasn't - that was just wishful thinking.

I felt like I had entered the twilight zone and was existing in a state of limbo. I was pregnant, this felt momentous for all the wrong reasons, no one knew, I didn't want to be pregnant and yet the world kept turning. I calmly made dinner, sat down and researched what I had to do in order to access abortion services here in Great Britain.

In Great Britain you require the consent of 2 doctors, I didn't know if that meant my own doctor needed to provide consent (they don't) and what was actually involved in the various abortion methods - I did not know the ins and outs. I had never had a reason to research them, until now and so was fairly ignorant of what was actually involved in the various methods. I personally only know of 2 other women who have had terminations, they were both before 6 weeks and took mifepristone, but I calculated I was approx. 6 weeks along at this point and by the time my termination appointment came through, I would definitely be pass this mark.

I didn't deliberate in making my decision when sat at the top of the stairs, I didn't discuss my options with a friend or a loved one or even H. There was no moral wrangling on my part, no ifs, no buts, no what ifs, can I actually do this sort of thoughts and importantly I want to express this was not a difficult decision to make.

I think that shocks people - there is still this assumption that as a woman, you will go through a range of difficult emotions and decision making because you are women and that's what we are like, but actually I personally found it very easy. I just wanted the whole experience over with and I decided this was going to be dealt with in a very matter of fact way and to some extent I continue to still deal with my abortion in this way to this very day. That is not to say I haven't cried, not through regret but because of the burden of the physical pain that came afterward.

I have always known that unless I was in a committed relationship and it felt like the right thing to do at that particular point in time, I would seek an abortion no matter what, but interestingly I was under the impression that getting pregnant would be difficult, my menstrual cycle is not consistent and I also don't ovulate every month. To then find out for certain that I can get pregnant was as much a surprise to me as anyone. I have been vocal about the fact I can't get pregnant and yet here I was, pregnant.

I called my doctor's surgery the next morning, I thought that would be the best place to start but I was also still under the impression I needed their consent. I requested an urgent appointment (to be seen within 3 or 4 days), the receptionist asked what was wrong and when I told her I was pregnant there was an uncomfortable silence until she asked me if that was a positive thing. I told her it wasn't which surprised her - I could hear it in the tone of her voice, not in a judgemental way, but in the way you aren't expecting that kind of news. She very kindly arranged for a doctor to call me back that day which they dutifully did. I was sitting in the car in a supermarket car park on my way to buy a doughnut when he called. He asked if adoption was an option, which it wasn't (I have no desire to carry through a pregnancy I didn't want, give birth, be forced to tell my family, possibly pressured into keeping a child I did not want and having said child turn up 18 years later looking for answers) and if I was in a relationship and had the support of family to continue with the pregnancy - it wasn't about support be it physical, mental, emotional or financial, but the very fact I did not want to be pregnant.

We are very lucky here in Great Britain - under the NHS (National Health Service), we do not pay for abortion services unless you wish to go privately. I say Great Britain because the UK stands for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, yet in Northern Ireland, abortion is still illegal and as such there are no abortion providers. Women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to mainland UK (usually Liverpool / Manchester / Birmingham / Leeds) to access this service bearing a heavy financial, mental, physical and emotional cost. It's abominable this is still the case. I used to live in Northern Ireland and the thought of finding out I was pregnant and not wanting to be fills me with abject horror at the thought of the rigmarole I would have to go through just to end my pregnancy. There is a campaign for the Abortion Act of 1967 to be extended to Northern Ireland as the lack of provision is incompatible with the 'right to respect for private and family life as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights'.

I was sent the link to BPAS via SMS by my doctor (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) whom I called that afternoon. I answered a series of questions relating to how far along I thought I was and where I lived and was given an initial appointment on Thursday 6th September in Swindon (my nearest clinic). That very evening I met with H, I toyed with the idea of telling him but found him to be very distant and cold and felt it was not the right time to be bringing up my situation. If I had, it might have been attributed to me lashing out at him, wanting a reaction and I didn't want to potentially become a hysterical mess.

I did call a friend that evening - she is my oldest friend, very rational and a nurse. A woman never without anything to say she was left speechless. I let her ask me if I was sure, I told her I was, but she had to promise to never ask again. It was one of the main reasons I decided not to tell anyone else - I appreciate the sentiment would have been coming from a good place, but the very thought of being asked multiple times I found particularly stressful. I felt maybe people wouldn't accept my decision as absolute unless they asked first and I justified my actions in response.

The prevailing attitude here in the UK is one of support for abortion, but there is still a huge amount of stigma and shame attached to admitting you have had one. We Brits are famous for being stiff upper lipped - we are not expected to air our dirty laundry in public and as such to talk about something so personal is not the done thing. If you have had to seek more than one abortion, only the bravest would admit to this. Even with a more open and honest generation coming of age, it still feels like a taboo subject. The blame for finding yourself unexpectedly pregnant, seeking to end it, still falls primarily on women's shoulders. Men do not bear 50% of the responsibility and I find that infuriating.

Life in the twilight zone carried on as usual - getting up for work, answering emails, coming home, making dinner, meeting up with friends, driving to get petrol and yet the knowledge I was pregnant was constantly on my mind. Paranoia set in that I was starting to show and someone may comment on the possibility. It was all-consuming. I would zone out of conversations or writing emails at work and just think to myself 'I'm actually pregnant', this is actually happening. I certainly wasn't happy/excited at the prospect but I also wasn't sad/upset as a result. I did keep checking myself out in the mirror side one and would sometimes pull my top tight over my stomach to check if I was showing. I did think of having a living thing growing in me - it's not that I believe life begins at conception but I knew if I continued with the pregnancy it could become a living breathing human being just like myself and I found the very thought that I could produce a living being incomprehensible. I still do in fact.

I was nervous, but nervous as I wasn't sure what would be involved in the termination process itself, I had concerns about being in pain but also about how to get on with my daily life whilst hiding it from work/family and friends. I had responsibilities, I work full time in logistics for a charity that provides a service for disabled children and adults, but I also freelance at a local wine bar and weddings (I have worked extensively in the hospitality industry) and although I know my employer and colleague would have undoubtedly been supportive in giving me the time off work, I didn't want them to know - I work in all-male environment and the thought of sharing something so personal with them made me feel horribly uncomfortable and I couldn't be sure how they would react. It was too personal an issue.

I worked from home on the day of the initial appointment and took the following day off as time off in lieu. I knew whichever procedure I decided upon it was highly likely I would need to go in the following day (in my head I had decided upon the pill process and this would be over the course of 2 days). I was booked to work at a wedding on Saturday and had plans to meet my brother and his family on Sunday which I honestly thought I could still make. I felt life still had to go on irrespective of what I was about to put my body through.

The friend I had told (K), kindly agreed to accompany me, she took time off work in order to do this and I am forever grateful to her. I slept better than I thought I would the night before the appointment but admittedly was terrified of sleeping through my alarm, missing the bus and having to rearrange the appointment continuing my limbo state. It was a beautiful sunny morning on Thursday, I sat on the top deck of the bus and put my headphones on. In order not to cut it too fine, I took an earlier bus wanting to give myself plenty of time to find the clinic. I hate being late for anything.

The clinic is tucked away and I actually found myself in a doctors surgery next door asking for directions, I had the distinct impression it happened quite often and the female receptionist sounded sympathetic. There was no one else around, the sign hadn't been put out advising it was the BPAS clinic and as it was the start of the working day, there were very few people around on the streets. It had crossed my mind about encountering protesters, but this is something I personally associate with the US, not the UK, although that is to say it doesn't happen.

When I entered I was the only person there, it was barely past 09.00 and I remember the receptionist was so friendly and happy go lucky. I was asked to fill in a questionnaire about my general health, age, address, and doctor's details and then waited to see the nurse. I had to keep blinking rapidly to stop the tears because I was starting to feel overwhelmed and I just wanted it all over with. I wanted to get on with my life, everything go back to normal instead of looking at whoever I was talking to and thinking 'I'm pregnant and you don't know'.

I opted out of seeing the scan, I'm not sure why exactly, but I think I thought there was little point. Seeing the fetus wouldn't change my mind, I knew that, but I did agree to being told if I was pregnant with twins. The nurse said I had been absolutely right in my approximation in how far along I was, at this point I was now 9 weeks and 4 days. She (unprompted) told me that whatever option I decided upon, the fetus would not feel pain, all I kept saying was OK.

I recall my voice sounding really small and childlike rather than strong and sure which I was disappointed in myself for. As a medical professional, I absolutely trusted what she was telling me, and I myself did a lot of research on the net. Not because of doubts, but because I like to be informed. I stared at the white ceiling tiles wondering if people actually lie on examination beds and not only count the tiles but also the little punctures in them - too many as far as I was concerned and not as distracting as you would like to think.

We discussed the various options available to me and I initially settled on taking the abortion pills (over 2 days), she explained I would need to come back the following week in order to check there was no matter left in my womb as can sometimes happen and that I was definitely still not pregnant. She also explained that after taking the second pill there was no guarantee when I would start miscarrying, it could happen even as soon as 30 minutes after taking the last pill, whilst still on my way home. Given my history of heavy periods, I was convinced this would happen to me and didn't like the idea of the unpredictability of it all. There was also the matter of hiding another appointment from work and what was a molehill, rapidly felt like it was becoming a mountain. It was only as she was about to sign off the paperwork that I changed my mind and opted to have a vacuum aspiration - approx. 10 minutes, some discomfort, it would be absolute and I could be fitted with the coil straight away.

The nurse wrote I was seeking an abortion for financial reasons - not wanting to be pregnant was not a credible reason, it had to be justified in terms of being detrimental to my mental/emotional health and my financial position - I explained I was in the middle of trying to change careers (going on to work with offenders), I was not in a committed relationship and I lived in a house-share.

I didn't meet a doctor until the following day for the termination itself, I wasn't required to meet with 2 separate doctors in order to seek permission, that was done out of sight. I did find this odd given I thought they would need to assess me. I opted for the surgical procedure under a local anesthetic - there was a chance I could be seen the following day as they are only carried out on a Friday at the clinic, it would be at the clinic so I knew where to come, I would recognize the staff and they would recognize me. If I opted for a general anesthetic, it would mean having to go to Cardiff/Birmingham and they are at least 2.5 hours from me, I wouldn't be allowed to drive and would need a couple of days off to recover. This was not an option - I felt I still had to meet my work and social commitments and how would I explain to work I needed the best part of 3 days off for minor surgery when my colleagues had no idea of there being anything wrong and suddenly 'poof' out of thin air I need surgery. I am also close to my mum and see her quite a lot, to go off-grid for 3 days would raise a lot of questions but to also preempt that and say I'll be away would also invite questions, the thought of which made me feel anxious and stressed.

It was explained to me that I still wouldn't be able to drive after having a local anesthetic because of the after-effects. K had already signed up to support me throughout the whole thing and I could decide afterward if I wanted to go home or go back to hers. The nurse did encourage me to have the coil fitted following the procedure which I had thought about some months previously but had been put off by the general experience of the pain of having it fitted/the first few days.

The sun was shining as we left, in fact, it was really warm and after pottering around Swindon and discussing towels with K, she took me home and I worked - answered phone calls, emails, had dinner with my parents and cousin. I refused a beer with my dinner which made my mum question why I didn't want it - I found this to be really intrusive and began to become a little aggressive in answering, they kept asking if I was OK which was starting to really get on my nerves. All I had done was refuse one drink. My refusal to drink wasn't related to the pregnancy and potential harm, it was the uncertainty the effects of having alcohol in my system would mean under anesthetic even though I am sure it would have worn off in a couple of hours.

I found the evening very tiring and left early as I wanted to be alone. I was anxious about the possible pain I would be in, it kept playing on my mind and I wanted to lie in bed, in the quiet not having to pretend everything was fine and just think things through.

I had to wait an hour longer than I was expecting at the clinic, I couldn't stop staring at the lady sitting in front of me who was reading tarot cards whilst her friend read a magazine. The waiting was making me more anxious, it was like sitting on a plane waiting for it to take off and wishing we were landing instead. There was a poster above her head explaining the effectiveness of each type of contraception and K and I joked that boat had sailed long ago.

When I'm nervous I always feel the need to urinate and kept thinking if I don't go, I may wet myself in the middle of the procedure and that would be too humiliating to think about. I was up and off that chair like a yo-yo.

The procedure itself - there were 2 female nurses and an older male doctor preforming the termination. They kept me talking throughout it to help me take my mind off the pain. There is little point lying, but that had to be physically the most painful experience of my life to date. The shock of the pain when it started literally took my breath away, I remember I kept looking at the clock (I had been called in at 13.00 and it was now after 13.30). The nurse had been correct when she said it would take no more than 10 minutes, but that felt like the longest 10 minutes of my life. I broke out into a cold sweat and it was running off me, I asked to hold the nurse's hand and kept saying 'oh god' over and over again, which is something I do when in a lot of pain. I am keen to point out I am not a religious person but easily default to it when in pain/worried about something. I tried deep breathing, talking, clock-watching but it couldn't have been over fast enough if I had tried any harder.

Afterward, I could barely move just because of the pain and was told to take my time sitting up and putting my knickers back on with a sanitary towel. To walk to the recovery room, I was bent over like an old lady, shuffling with the help of one of the nurses. I was in the recovery room for longer than I thought I would, It feels like menstrual cramps and I was given a warm pad to place over where the pain was at it's worst, along with a blackcurrant juice and some biscuits in order to bring my blood pressure up. I sat there for approx. 30 minutes talking away to the male manager of the recovery room. He kept things very light-hearted and talked about his plans for the weekend. I didn't feel guilty or upset, I just felt wiped out, tired and glad it was over.

I opted to go back to K's for the rest of the afternoon and early evening rather than be at home by myself. I lay on the sofa with a hot water bottle, watching TV and drinking more blackcurrant juice and when I did go home, I went straight to bed with another hot water bottle and a promise to let her know how I was feeling in the morning.

I won't ever forget the doctors' upbeat attitude or everyone's kindness and even though I experienced a lot of pain - this was my experience and I don't regret or doubt I made the wrong decision. Whilst I wish to never experience another abortion, if it came to it, I wouldn't hesitate in seeking another if I had to.

Unfortunately, I suffered quite a lot of pain afterward - initially, I was fine but the following day in the early afternoon the cramps started and they got progressively worse and to top it off, I was at work at a wedding. I couldn't wait to get home, get into bed with a hot water bottle and sleep them off, but unfortunately by 23.00 that evening, on my own, I was in hysterics because of the pain. The cramps were coming every minute with no end in sight. My friend had to call a first responder for me and even though he administered morphine, it didn't work. He said it was because I was so worked up and tense that unless I relaxed, it would not take effect, but I couldn't relax because I was anticipating the pain.

At 01.00 in the morning, I was forced to drive myself to Chippenham out of hours to see a doctor for codeine to help manage the pain. I managed to drive the 20 minutes there and back, but at no more than 30mph. I was desperate at this point. K picked me up on Sunday morning and explained after examining me, I basically had a lot of blood sitting in my uterus which I needed to pass, but also it was shrinking back as I was no longer pregnant and it could be quite painful. I had also had the coil fitted which can cause pain and discomfort in the first few days. It was hard to tell what was causing the pain at this point.

Having a hot bath and swishing in the water had really helped, but because I was on my own at the time and was exhausted from lack of sleep I was worried I would fall asleep so I forced myself to get out and this was at about 05.00. I had had maybe 90 minutes sleep by this point, likely less than this. I was crying and still in pain when she turned up that Sunday morning.

In the end, 10 days later, I found myself at Royal United Hospital in Bath being admitted for emergency surgery. It turns out, I had an infection in my left ovary, it had also attached itself to my bowel and I had a 5cm sized cyst on it.

I told H about a month after the abortion and the emergency surgery - he was shocked but he was fully supportive of my choice and was upset I hadn't told him before, he said he would have liked to support me through the abortion, but I hadn't given him the chance to do so. Given the nature of the relationship , I was not convinced that would have been the case. The man was a workaholic and I didn't believe he would have taken time off. The relationship for want of a better word didn't last much longer after I told him and I wasn't upset as I thought I would be, but then that's because it wasn't much to mull over.

I do think about my abortion quite a lot, not in a regretful way but just because it's something that happened and because of the complications afterward I felt I had to explain to friends and my sister the whole story rather than part of the story. They were shocked, but concerned and every single one of them told me, should anything like that ever happen in the future I was just to say. I was really touched by their responses. Surprised a little maybe. My parents still don't know and that's because I can't bear the thought of them being disappointed in me. My brother and an ex-girlfriend were pregnant, she had an abortion and my dad was unimpressed they had been so stupid (his words not mine). I also have a number of friends who are Muslim and I can't tell them, they love me and worry about me, but abortion is against their beliefs. It would create difficulty in our relationship and I don't want to lost the friendships. Some things are best left unsaid.

There are times, and I do find this odd to admit to, but I want to shout it from the rooftops - it doesn't feel like a burden, but it's an important thing that happened to me and has dominated my life for the past 11 months. Because of the infection, I was an antibiotics for 3 weeks and have a very depleted immune system as a result. I am undergoing acupuncture to bring everything back in line again. I have recently had the coil removed as it wasn't working for me, having that removed reminded me of the abortion because of the cramps and how they had started. I had to explain to the nurse when it was fitted and why I was now having it removed. She looked and sounded sympathetic, but I was absolutely fine telling her.

I did tell a male friend prior to the abortion, I was intrigued by their possible reaction/thoughts to abortion and I have to say I was horribly disappointed by him and his reaction. He told me to not be scared. I was absolutely livid with him. I hadn't said or indicated I was scared and I felt he was treating me as some emotional/hysterical being who needed to be reassured/calmed down. I may have overreacted, but I told him what I thought. He did apologize and in fact, it cemented my reasoning for not telling H until after the termination had taken place. So I could tell, it's done and I am absolutely fine.

I think I am absolutely fine - emotionally and mentally, but I do have this desire to share, but I worry about boring people with my story so I don't talk about it with my friends and it never gets brought up, I suppose why would it? Writing it all down as been cathartic and I have surprised myself with how much I remember but also how long it seems.

- Kayleigh


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