20 Years On

by Annabel

July 26, 2021

It’s the year 2000, I am 17. It’s early summer I have been ostracised by my main group of friends at school, following a stupid teenage argument about a boy my best friend and I both fancy. I find myself vulnerable and desperately lonely. I have been branded a ‘rebellious teenager’ and do not have a great relationship with my mother, who is a heavy drinker. My father is away working for months on end and my brother is away at university. I meet someone, a local boy who, is 9 years older than me, and start dating him. He’s not right for me; He smoked a lot of weed and drank every night. He is a loner, but he was interested in me which made me feel better. I dated him for a total of 9 months. I went along with the relationship, not really knowing where it was going – I didn’t really think about it. It was a drunken haze of a summer, lost and aimless, I was wounded from the fall out with my friends and too proud to do anything about it. I was in a dark place and ‘he’ was a port in a storm. It wasn’t love. We had no future plans. We had no future at all. He was my first prolonged sexual partner. He was older than me and had expectations of sex and sexual performance, that I fulfilled. I didn’t question this behaviour – I thought that was how grown-ups had relationships – I had nothing to compare it to, and no one to talk about it with. He had an unhealthy relationship with porn, and a pornographic magazine collection that stood a foot and a half high.

In the 4th month at the end of the summer I skip a period and take a pregnancy test. It was positive. When I tell the boyfriend he jokingly says ‘Well at least we both know we work’. He was blasé about it, as if it was my problem, and not his. There was no question in my mind that I needed to terminate the pregnancy. Without telling my parents I went to the doctor, who called me a ‘Stupid Girl’ when I showed her the positive test. She is so angry with me that she won’t look me in the eye. I become tearful, upset that she is void of any sympathy, and fails to offer me any soothing advice. Her tone is that of a brisk schoolteacher, scolding me for ‘being stupid’. She tells me I will have to wait for an appointment for a termination, but depending on how busy the hospital is, she is unsure if I will need termination tablets or a surgical abortion, depending on the wait time. She tells me I might have to wait as long as 8 weeks for an appointment. I tell her I need it as soon as possible, to which she responds that she’s glad I won’t be keeping it, because that’s ‘the sensible thing to do’. She gives me the referral and I leave embarrassed and feeling utterly ashamed.

I attend the first appointment the following week – which I thought was remarkably quick, considering the ‘advice’ the doctor had given me. I attend this appointment, it’s at the maternity ward in the nearest hospital. On arrival, to my surprise, am asked to sit in the waiting room, surrounded by expectant mothers, some heavily pregnant, joined by their parents or partners, gleaming with excitement and anticipation. I am the only single person here, and can sense I am being looked at and whispered about as gradually the others in the waiting room realise, I’m not here under joyful pretense. I’m called in, and quickly realise they are going to scan my uterus. They are going to perform an ultrasound. I’ve had no warning about this – no one has explained to me how this works – how any of this process works. The nurse doesn’t explain either – she tells me I am definitely pregnant and that she’ll put me on the termination ward list for pills, and not the surgical abortion list. I tell her I don’t really understand this and she gives me a leaflet explaining it. I will wait 6 weeks for an appointment to become available, spending every day of that time falling deeper into a depression which will haunt me for the rest of my life. I have no money to seek a private termination, and need to quietly wait for the system to catch up. I am in a dark place, and skip weeks and weeks of school, pretending to my parents that nothing is wrong or different, getting up and leaving the house as if I’m headed out as usual, but instead spend the days hanging out in local parks, or the library, or walking for miles through the fields nearby and sobbing into my backpack. In the evening I will hang out at the boyfriend’s house. I considered jumping from the bridge at the edge of the railway line, and drank heavily to see if I could induce a period. I spent hours debating how best to stick a knitting needle through my cervix but was too chicken to see it through.

Eventually the date rolls around, and a friend’s mum, Liz, drives me to the hospital. She has identified that I am a child in need – the only adult to ask me ‘What’s going on?’ I confess the pregnancy to her and make her promise not to tell my mum, which incredibly she does not. She lets me confide in her, and she supports my decision. I trust her 100% and am eternally grateful to her for helping me. She drove me to the hospital in her vintage Saab – I can still remember the smell of the leather in the back seat.

We enter the Maternity Wing. Liz will wait downstairs for me. This time I’m ushered into a ward with 6 beds, all of which are occupied by teenage girls, some with their boyfriends, some with their mothers. We are assigned 1 nurse between 2 of us – mine is a woman who sits down and explains the process to me in a way no one has done previously. She is supportive and honest – she makes me feel at ease and I am comforted by her efficiency and how frank she is. She tells me I will be given two pills which will force my cervix to open. She tells me I will feel an ‘exquisite pain’, exquisite because there is no other pain like this in the world. I nod, I understand. She tells me not to look at what I pass when I go to the bathroom as I am going to pass the gestation sack, and may see a foetus, which some people find distressing. We are all given our pills at around the same time, and I am the first in the ward to need the bathroom. It takes me 20 minutes. The feeling is sharp and painful like a fishing hook has been attached to my womb and is pulling it out through my vagina. I sit on the toilet which has been intercepted by a deep grey cardboard dish – like an upside-down cowboy hat – and let my body do the work. I feel large, heavy clots of blood leave my vagina, and then one bigger than the rest which oozes out with a dull thud as it falls into the bowl. I stay there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, squeezing as much blood out of me as possible. I don’t want to take any of it with me. The nurse knocks at the door, concerned I have been in there a while. I let her come in and she inspects the contents of the bowl; ‘Yes, that’s fine, you’ve passed the gestation sack. Well done.’ She covers the bowl, smiles at me and squeezes my arm – a warm, human squeeze.  I return to the ward feeling elated and relieved it’s over – I can’t wait to get out of there and forget all about this.

I am made to wait for an hour before the nurse comes to speak to me. I’m sat on the bed threading beads onto a necklace.  She pulls the curtain round and in a low voice says ‘I’ve got to give you an injection. You’re O rhesus negative – Do you know what that means?’ I look at her blankly. ‘No. Well, you’re the rarest blood type, which means you’re very special’ she smiles again, and looks to hold my hand. ‘Oh?’ I say, still none the wiser. ‘Unfortunately, it also means that if you were to get pregnant again you risk producing too many white blood cells which may harm the foetus.’ I trust her and do what she recommends. So, she gives me a huge injection in my arse to stop this happening. I have to wait longer to ensure I don’t react to this injection, for what feels like hours. Eventually I am discharged. In a way I don’t want to be away from that nurse. She was so open and honest about the procedure and her role in the ward… she was like a guardian angel. Eventually, through all the horror and misery of this experience, like a beacon of light in the dark, she made me feel like I wasn’t stupid, or alone. I have no recollection of her name, but have often thought about I’d like to send her flowers, or write to her to let her know how helpful she was.

It’s now 21 years since my termination. I blocked the experience from my mind for years, and went to therapy to talk about it in 2005, which I initiated independently whilst at university. I’m still amazed that my doctor and the health care service didn’t offer me any counseling services before, during, or after the event or procedure. If I had been older and wiser, I would have complained about the doctor for lack of professional conduct and impartiality; In hindsight I recognise that I was a vulnerable child, who was made to feel shame for a situation she was not 100% responsible for. I was put through the system with a total lack of safeguarding, being humiliated by the adult whose role it was to provide me with adequate information and care, and I received neither of these. It was as if the doctor’s aim was to punish me for ending up in the situation I did.

I have no doubt whatsoever I did the right thing. That pregnancy would have resulted in a child who would have been unwanted, whose father was incapable of love and who could not have supported me or the child in any way. That child would be 20 years old now, and my life would have been remarkably different. I would still be attached to the man who made me pregnant, and the resentment I would hold towards him would be unhealthy. Thank God for abortion!

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