I don't think anything could have prepared me for that moment I heard, "It's positive". I sat, body numb, and tears began flowing from my eyes as my doctor confirmed my pregnancy test results.
At 40 years old, and after 25 years of actively avoiding pregnancy, this far-fetched possibility was now a reality. Contraception felt like a packsack I had consciously carried, every day, for decades. This felt shocking and unfair.
I told my soon to be husband (Dan also shared his story with us, read it here). He was also in shock. We'd had numerous conversations about the fact we did not want to have biological children. There were many reasons why not, for both of us.
While I had always known I never wanted to have a child, I needed to take space with this situation. The unavoidable time pressure was a factor, but I wasn’t ready to act immediately. I made an appointment, to secure a spot for peace of mind while we took time to digest.
I have always been a pro-choice feminist activist who felt my role was giving back in a myriad of ways. I had witnessed many women's experiences of motherhood. Joy, sacrifice, awe, to post-partum depression, broken relationships, resentment, negative impacts on identity, work, sexual and physical health. Regret. I understood the, improving in some ways now, gender imbalance around caregiving. I was well-versed in birth risks not only to me, but risks of birth and development to a baby, particularly for older mothers. I thought about pregnancy, parenting with every period, partner, caregiving experience, life stage. I saw it from all angles.
When people ask, "Have you ever really thought about it?" This is patronizing from individuals as are the systems that dictate our reproductive options. I would have gotten a tubal ligation at an early age, but I was deterred. We are often shepherded into situations because of outdated notions about our primary role and value in society, such as biological motherhood.
Equally as aggravating the expressions, "Just have the baby" or “Just practice abstinence”. There is no "just" in sacrificing your body or life, like birthing a person for which only you will be responsible. Also, people are sexual beings. Overly simplistic thinking does not take into account our humanity, quality of life, realities. No one has a right to tell someone to "just" do anything, because it has no effect on their lives whatsoever, and it’s usually spoken from a place of ignorance or hypocrisy.
I encouraged my partner to think about if this unexpected situation changed things for him. While he didn't have a right to tell me what to do with my body, which we both understood, I wanted him to feel safe to explore his true feelings. I always said there were options if he felt a child was something he wanted. As a queer person, I'm open minded when it comes to relationships, partnership, family. He had not been as exposed as I was to the realities of parenting, or the experience of childcare.
The next two weeks were some of the most intense days of my life. I was completely exhausted, nauseous, short of breath. I surfaced and contemplated my options and feelings. I let everything in, the good, the incredibly, devastatingly dark, in between, and let them rise without judgment. What came surprised me in many ways.
I thought it would be an easy decision. For some, it is. For me, it was not. No matter how right termination was for me, it was a choice I had never wanted to have to make. I didn’t often hear about the struggle for people with this decision within the prochoice context. The certainty in the making the choice and the heartbreak can co-exist. It did for me. I have learned that is natural.
My partner and I spent a lot of time before the appointment sharing honest thoughts. I am so proud of the work we did. In the process, it brought us closer, and deepened our respect and love.
I moved forward with the appointment. He accompanied me - this was also his responsibility. The clinic was very strict about admission requirements. I truly understand the importance of clinic, worker, and client protection. There is not one thing someone could have said to change my mind. It only would have exacerbated the physical and emotional suffering the pregnancy had already taken.
The appointment was three hours, the procedure perhaps 5-10 minutes. I won’t forget the moment I walked into the procedure room. I took deep breaths, remembering all my reasons for being there. As medical appointments go, it was uncomplicated, some temporary pain. I thought about those for whom access and pressures take away this option, and how truly devastating that would be. I thought about reproductive justice, and the people who fight to give birth to healthy children and to parent their own children. I held the women in my heart who adopt, who cannot, have miscarried, have lost children. I thought about the children in care, abused children, the unwanted. I found I could hold space for the experiences of others, and still honour my own.
I stayed in recovery for about a half hour. Once I got home, severe cramping set in, and ebbed as the next 24 hours passed. At a wedding a few weeks later, I bled so heavily that I bled through my dress. I also had to leave a work event because I bled through my pants.
My emotions were all encompassing in the hours and days following as well. I felt everything, everything, except regret. What stands out is the immense relief when the very next day after the procedure, the intense nausea I had experienced for nearly two months was lifted. I could breathe again, my body was coming back to me. I felt profound, incomparable gratitude.
That gratitude isn’t without complexity. My physical healing is complete. My emotional healing, truthfully, is taking time.
I realized that while terminating my pregnancy was the right choice, I was grieving. Grief is healthy and normal. Through my studies in death and bereavement, I have learned about "disenfranchised grief". This is applicable to abortion. In any experience or transition, language is important to help frame and acknowledge our experiences in all of their complexity.
I accessed grief therapy. I also conducted a ritual that was personal to me, to acknowledge my feelings and experience. I will continue to do this work as necessary. Grief can take time.
I am grateful the pro-choice movement and abortion workers provided me the right and support to reproductive self-determination. I am grateful the world of death and bereavement provided me a toolkit. I was grieving something I chose to end. The spectrum of reproductive experiences can be simple or complex, accompanied by many different feelings. Some things that surface around abortion sometimes have nothing to do with the abortion itself. I am also doing this work.
Mostly, I realized that it was important for me to share. Not only for my own mental health, but to reduce stigma. So many are forced to be or feel they need to be silent, while at the same time everyone has a right to privacy. I have realized how many women have experienced abortions. There are many who hadn't shared before, who did when I did. This was affirming - we are never alone.
Despite the difficulties with the decision, I know it was the right decision. I am forever grateful to those who have paved the way for reproductive choice. I understand if it is not a decision someone can make. I will continue to support choice for others, whatever that choice may be.
- Leigh, Canada