[Important information: the whole story was written by Sarah. Text written with italics are excepts from her diary that she was writing at the time]
“May 21st/2015: I’m pregnant.
To write it down still feels so utterly unreal. Like - pregnant. A word that personifies baggage, something I didn’t think my body could even do, but it did.”
These are the words I wrote in my journal four days after taking a positive pregnancy test in the spring of 2015. In the summer of 2014, I had gotten married and had talked with my husband about how I have PCOS, and would likely struggle to conceive. We were living in a rural area, but both had good jobs and decided that it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we started trying to conceive right away. I went off birth control, ordered the book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”, and got really in touch with my inner workings.
At 25 and then 26, I felt ready to have a child. Living in a rural part of the country, lots of our peers were raising children already, and we stuck out like sore thumbs. My mother had had her first child (me) when she was 26, and assured me that it was better to have kids at a younger age so that you would have more energy for the work of parenting. Knowing that it could take a long time for my body to regulate hormonally, I tracked every detail I could observe on a smartphone app, and felt that I was making progress to restore my cycle after never having had a regular period.
In the spring of 2015, though, my husband was devastatingly unhappy at work, and we started making plans to move. We had more conversations about whether we should be trying to conceive at all right now, and agreed that I would keep tracking and working on my fertility, but that we would stop actively targeting my fertile windows. We also started using barrier methods again, some of the time, but not always. In early May, we had unprotected sex on a day that was meant to be outside of my fertile window. A few days after that, after inputting all the usual daily data into my tracker app, my cycle chart adjusted itself and that unprotected encounter fell three days before my estimated ovulation date.
By the third week of May, I had given six weeks’ notice at my job and told our coworkers that we would be moving in the summer. I wrote in my journal that I was more tired than usual, and pretty irritable. I also developed a really bad cold, one of the worst I’ve ever had. More than that, I also experienced breast pain and had vivid dreams about holding a baby. In hindsight, I have wondered whether my body was trying to give me a hint as to what was going on.
By the Sunday before the 21st, I had purchased a First Response pregnancy test. Because of my consistent irregularity, this wasn’t my first pregnancy scare, and I figured that’s all it would be. That morning, I used the test and was shocked to see two strong positive lines staring back at me.
I wrote in my journal that “I screamed for [my husband] to come into the bathroom and we both cried, and my hands shook and I stared at the test disbelievingly for a long time.
[We] spent most of that morning in bed, talking and crying in bursts and talking about next steps. It’s obvious what we have to do – I have to get an abortion. I don’t want to, but we can’t have a baby right now - we’re about to uproot our whole lives and make huge changes and it’s impossible to reconcile doing that with doing this - the idea of following through and having this baby.”
That week, I developed morning sickness and began to understand the sensations in my body as pregnancy symptoms. Just in case, I had taken a second test, with the same result. I told two of my closest friends that I was pregnant - one understood right away and was sympathetic about the choice I was making, and the other thought it was a joke until months later. I also told my closest workmate who had suspected I was pregnant before I even knew it, but didn’t tell her about my choice to terminate. “It’s hard with her – I’m usually so honest with her, and it’s hard to hear her talking about a future that’s not going to come. She’s full of advice and support, just the way a friend ought to be, and I’m the ‘mother’ who’s going to betray her first child in the harshest way possible.”
For about a week, I talked with my husband about the possibility of me trying to rescind my notice, and floated the idea of us staying in our present community for another year. I was looking and feeling awful, and in our small community, this was very noticeable. I was willing to stay for at least another year in order to carry the pregnancy through, but my husband wasn’t – his mental health and wellbeing were suffering and he had already reached the cap of counselling sessions available through our employee benefit plan. He was already actively job-hunting, and we knew that it was unlikely that we would be able to afford a costly move across the province and assume all the costs of a new baby on a single income. I would need to be working, and had no idea what employment I’d be able to secure for 6 months while increasingly pregnant. I booked an appointment online at the women’s health clinic in our nearest major city, 2.5 hours away.
“I told [my husband] that we have to do better, both of us - that aborting this pregnancy had better be worth it. I want to be able to examine my life [in January] and know, unequivocally, that life would be worse if I had carried to term. More than that, I want to know that our next pregnancy, and any others, won’t result in this pain. Having the right to choose is so important, but I hate the idea of now having to exercise this choice.”
It’s hard to grasp the impact and magnitude of physical distance on access to services, unless you’ve visited Canada or lived here. I had moved from a metropolitan area of the country in one province, where public transit was easily accessible and services were readily available, to a rural area of another, less populated province. To access an abortion, my husband and I both had to take a day off work and travel down to the nearest city, as well as stay overnight. The drive from our rural community to our nearest city was longer than the drive from Amsterdam to Brussels, in kilometres.
“The clinic itself was great - secure, respectful, as comfortable as it could be given the nature of its services. I had envisioned a doctor’s-office type of environment with hard plastic chairs and fluorescent lighting, but instead it was deep armchairs and recliners and TVs and blankets and, actually, really nice staff. It was also far busier than I had expected - all kinds of women were there for the same thing.
[…] The procedure itself was okay - I was given Ativan to help stay calm, and the drugs for pain management basically made me float away from the whole thing during it. I remember closing my eyes and feeling [my husband] holding my left hand and the nurse holding my right hand and shoulder, and a sensation of pressure, and that’s about it. There was no pain during the procedure at all.
[…] I took a nap in the evening and woke up having some pain. It was like strong, constant cramps – my uterus returning to its normal size. The pain went away in a few days, and I bled for about 3-4 weeks, stopping only recently.”
By the time I had summed up the courage to start writing again, it was July.
The day after the abortion, my husband and I had driven hours and hours to get to a job interview for him, that by sheer ill luck had been scheduled for the day after the procedure. He got the job – we knew where we would be living, and how much money we would have coming in, right after I had given up the life of our first child for increased employment flexibility.
After my abortion, I struggled to come to terms with what I had done. I lost it when a character burned his daughter at the stake on Game of Thrones. I read anti-choice message boards and hated myself. For months, I checked the #duejanuary hashtag on Instagram. “I think irrational thoughts like ‘What if we were meant to have that baby? What if we just denied God’s will for us? […] What if it would have changed our lives/the world for the better?’ I know these questions can never be answered. I have to come to a place where I can be okay with that.”
Since the spring and summer of 2015, I can say that my abortion was a blessing. It has enabled all the other parts of my life to flourish. After leaving our stable jobs, I was precariously employed in our new urban home for a year, doing high-risk work that would have been too dangerous to do while pregnant. However, this job paved the way for the full-time job I have now that I absolutely love, which meant we had enough money to buy our first home, and which allowed me the means to go back to school and pursue my dream of graduate studies. It’s now 2017, and my husband and I have not tried actively to conceive since 2015. More of my peers have had their first child, and it’s a struggle for me, every time, to deal with my feelings of jealousy and regret. I’ll be 29 this year, and I still have active PCOS. Time is ticking away, and I genuinely do not know if I’ll be able to have my own children at any point in the future.
However, if I were 26 and scared again, I know that I would make the same choice. I am so lucky to live in a country that gives me the freedom to choose, because making that choice gave me the life I have now. I will fight to protect this freedom for my peers and the generations following behind us - some of whom, with luck, will be my own children.
- Sarah, Canada