Accessible does not mean easy

by Annemieke

April 30, 2017

I realised I was pregnant very very early. I suspected I might be the night I conceived, and my suscipions were confirmed a couple of weeks later. I had miscarried a couple of years earlier, and had become very attuned to my body as a result. I just knew.

It wasn’t an ideal situation. Although I felt I was mentally and emotionally mature enough to be able to raise a child, I was not in a relationship with the father, we had known each other for 6 weeks. He was travelling overseas and was in agreement with me. I had no interest in becoming a parent at that moment, together with him or on my own.

Considering a termination however, was a separate issue entirely. It is amazing how much social expectation and stigma can get under your skin, even if you consider yourself to be open-minded. As well as my own fears surrounding “The Procedure” (which were mainly founded by ignorance) all I could think about was, what my parents would say, what would my friends think, how I could probably do it, why shouldn’t I have a baby. I could barely say the word “abortion.”

 

However these thoughts were missing one vital consideration. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to be pregnant, I didn’t want a baby. After speaking to the father, and a close friend, I came to accept that those feelings were ok. The pressure I was putting on myself to feel ok about having a child, and the shame I felt for considering an abortion, those feelings were not ok. My body was mine, and my decision was mine, and deep down I knew what the correct decision was.

As soon as I committed to the idea of a termination I felt a heavy, deep-seated relief. A weight had lifted. My future goals had realigned. But unfortunately, the decision turned out to be the easiest part of the process.

In New Zealand, abortion is classified under the 1961 Crimes Act. Like suicide, discussion and awareness surrounding abortion is shrouded in secrecy and shame. As I became more aware of the processes, I became more upset and angry at draconian way termination of pregnancy is viewed in this country. From a legal perspective at least.

Abortion is accessible but not easy. Not easy emotionally, or logistically. You are required to have multiple blood tests, an ultrasound, a swab, a consultation with two or more doctors and countless other medical professionals. Luckily, because you are in your first trimester of pregnancy, most of these visits are free. However accessing an abortion through the public system is difficult and time-consuming. Family Planning are angels, they do essential work, but the demand for their services far outstrips their resources. Even if you are aware you are pregnant early, and make all the necessary preparations to access an abortion early, you may still be waiting weeks before action.

Once I realised this, I immediately considered a private clinic procedure. The cost was eye-watering initially, but as well as being very happy to help contribute to the clinic that provides these services, I was also extremely lucky to have financial support from a close friend. She got me through this. She booked doctors appts, talked me through the process and helped pay for the eventual procedure.

Once booked in, the procedure itself was very straight-forward. I had an Early Medical Abortion, at seven weeks pregnant. Take one pill, to stop the pregnancy hormone that allows the foetus to grow. Two days later take two more pills, to force the uterus to contract, and essentially miscarry the pregnancy.

I’m not squeamish, so taking pills, having blood tests, taking (many) suppositories, getting prescriptions for heavy pain killers, these things didn’t bother me. The forced miscarriage itself wasn’t even that bad. I bled a lot, and had a dull uncomfortable ache, but it was manageable. However I do know what the professionals mean when they say an EMA can be intensely painful and traumatic. My first miscarriage a couple of years ago wracked my body with pain like I have never experienced in my life. Like a giant hand was reaching in and clenching and twisting my insides. I was throwing up and passing blood at the same time, and I lost consciousness often. This experience I would never wish on anyone.

A week after my abortion I am lighter, happier. I felt like I had a syndrome or medical condition, a sentence on the rest of my life, and now I am free. I didn’t realise how heavily stressful being pregnant was, until I wasn’t any more. I intend to have babies one day, but that decision to have them, or not have them, will be mine.

I cried for my pregnancy. I felt lost. I changed my mind 100 times. I became angry at the system in this country and inexplicably grateful to the wonderful people who helped me achieve what I realised I wanted and needed.

Abortion in New Zealand is accessible but not easy. Having to prove that you are physically or mentally incapable of having a child, in order to not have it, is an antiquated, barbaric law. It should be good enough to say, “I don’t want to.”

We need to talk about it, to release the stigma, and also to educate women on the options they have. There is no shame in being a sexually independent person, and no shame in making decisions to remedy consequences of actions. Open discussion is the only way we can change the law and social expectation to recognise the rights of women.