I had a responsibility to do the right thing for the 3 of us

by Stephanie

July 19, 2021

It took me as long as a pregnancy to make peace with my decision to have an abortion and really feel that it was the right choice. My child would have come to the world in the midst of conflict, sadness and anger, to a father who did not want him. Surely this is not the best start in life.

At the time when I had to decide though, the choice was much less obvious. So many reasons to doubt: the hormone rush, my age, my feelings for my partner… And the whole idea of pregnancy and motherhood that I had as a 32-yo French female, from my culture and education (that being: it’s a beautiful gift of nature, how could I refuse it?)

On the morning of October 23, 2020, I got in my partner’s car and he immediately noticed something was off. “Now is not the right time to talk about it” I said, but he insisted: “we have a 2-hour drive ahead of us, seems ideal to me”. I didn’t want to argue. For the past ten days or so, the atmosphere between us had been tense, plus I’m a terrible liar, and there would never be a “good” time to talk about this anyway. Also, we’d only known each other for 3 months.

The day before, I had bought a pregnancy test, telling the pharmacist that “it’s just to stop worrying”, but the truth was, I was pretty sure what the result would be. My period was late, I had had some unusual light bleeding, I felt needy and super sensitive. Following the instructions, I waited patiently for the next morning to take the test. The result was clear.

I felt worried and lost, but at the same time I also felt happy, relieved, and almost proud. I felt like I was carrying a precious secret. At this point, everything was still simple and beautiful. I have often dreamed of being able to come back to this moment and enjoy it longer. It was the last time things felt light and bright.

“I am pregnant”. I said these 3 words for the first time in my life. I was about to turn 33. I didn’t even know if that was possible. For all I knew, I could very well have been infertile and not know about it.

Silence in the car. I couldn’t really see my partner’s reaction, since he was driving and looking straight ahead. I was actually also looking ahead, avoiding his gaze as if I was guilty of something. I don’t really remember what happened right after I said it. He fell silent I think, or maybe he sighed, or just said “ok”. Oddly enough, I felt like I had to show the pregnancy test, as if he might accuse me of a trick at a time when our relationship was falling apart. Then he asked what I thought about it, and I replied that I had no idea since I had only just found out. Without any further notice, he said: “I want other kids (he already has a son), rebuilding a united family is part of my life project. But clearly not now.” Just like that, in a matter of seconds, he sentenced the beginning of life that was currently in my womb. Barely 20 minutes had passed since the discovery of my pregnancy. And already I knew that there would be no happy ending to it. Instead there would be only 2 options: having the baby with a father who did not want him (and so most probably raising him on my own), or having an abortion. I definitely had not expected he would decide so quickly, harshly and with so much certainty.

Of course, that was the logical thing to do: we had been together for a very short time and the relationship was struggling. Abortion was the rational and logical choice. But hard to think with rationale and logic when it’s just right there inside of you. And anyways, I had the right to be given the time and space to think about it. I had the right to be able to discuss this calmly. I had the right to be able to consider the 2 possible options, out of respect for myself, and for what was inside of me. I would have experienced this abortion more peacefully if I had felt respected and considered from that first moment onwards.

I then said that I would not drink alcohol during the weekend because I wanted to give myself time to think and I wanted to “keep my options open”. He suddenly got angry. “These are not YOUR options but OUR options”. While he’d just coldly told me that he didn’t want our child, he had the nerve to lecture me that this choice had to be made by the two of us. Stunned, I didn’t even get mad. I just answered very calmly that nature is made that way and that he can neither force me to keep the baby nor to have an abortion. “You can get angry with the wind if you want, but not with me. Ultimately, these are MY options”.

After that I remember crying mostly. When he began to worry that he may end up with a child he did not want, he chose a different approach: “We still have so many beautiful moments to live being just the two of us before we become 3, haven’t we?” I heard exactly what he wanted me to hear: not keeping the baby meant not losing him. I had feelings for him and my choice to have an abortion was made then, even if I struggled with this decision afterwards.

I wanted to have the abortion with my usual gynecologist, someone who already knows me. I didn’t want to go to the “planning familial” (french organisation responsible for all things linked to sexual and reproductive healthcare). Unfortunately, she was off at the time, and I was already close the legal deadline to have the abortion with the pills. For some irrational reason, I absolutely wanted to avoid a surgical abortion, even though I knew that it is a very safe procedure. But the idea I had about it just put me off. My partner made an appointment at the care centre. Logistically speaking, he was there. I had a very good secretary/driver by my side for the abortion. Emotionally speaking though, not really.

In these situations, some things just take a whole new meaning: a day or 2 before the first abortion appointment, I was meeting my partner. He was cycling towards me, and he was racing with a random kid, both laughing. It’s like I was watching a commercial, the kind where they show you the perfect family. Almost as if he were saying “See how I would make a great dad?”. I was speechless. He pretended not to understand (he is smart, he did) and even snapped “well hello to you too…”

For the first meeting, he picked me up at my place and said he was thinking we could cycle there, so that it would be more lighthearted. Lighthearted? Why should it be lighthearted? It pissed me off. Well no, it’s not lighthearted at all, this is (to me) my first child we’re talking about and I’m not going to keep him. I have the right to be angry, I have the right to be sad, I have the right to feel the full weight of this decision if I want to. At the care centre, the counselor tried to make things better between us. Then she asked me “what would you have decided if he hadn’t said he didn’t want this child?” I did not answer. Why pretend to give me a choice now? Let’s be honest, if I had decided to keep this child, who would have been supported? Who would have been criticized? “Poor guy, she kept a baby he didn’t want, what a b****.” When he told me what he wanted, I already had no choice left, because I had a responsibility to do the right thing for the 3 of us.

The next day we had the ultrasound appointment. My super secretary was able to find an appointment quickly. During the ultrasound I could see the gestational sac as well as a very vague shape inside. I couldn’t really identify anything specific. The doctor was neither rude nor warm, she just seemed in a bit of a hurry. The consult was very quick. I would have liked a few more minutes to observe and ask questions. I guess I was looking for a way to check if I really wanted the abortion or not and also I like to get around a subject fully and that applied in this case. I guess she just did what she was taught: if a woman comes for a pre-abortion ultrasound, make it quick so as not to influence the patient’s decision. This is the problem with generalizing. Not all women who make the decision to abort have the same needs, and that is also true about the ultrasound. Why not simply ask what we want? “Would you like to see or would you rather not?”.

Then my partner left for 4 days to look after his son, which delayed my abortion because we had decided together that he would be there when I would take the first pill. He snapped: “My son will always be my number one priority.” These were quite extraordinary times, which called for extraordinary measures: I deserved to be prioritized, at least for the duration of an abortion we were both responsible for.

2 days later, I lost it. I couldn’t bear the fact that every second the embryo was growing inside of me, while I had sentenced it. Text argument. At 10:30 am on October 30, I wrote that I didn’t want to wait any longer. At 10:45 am, he replied that I had a new appointment 45 minutes later, to get the abortion. He had called the care center without asking me. I was lucky enough to find a friend who could come along with me.

A little before noon on October 30, 2020, the doctor put the first pill and a glass of water before me. I swallowed it quickly and mechanically. I couldn’t let myself think about what it meant for what I considered to be my first child, otherwise I may step back and not do it. I felt surprisingly calm when I came out of the care centre, in the fog kind of. I had a prescription for painkillers and stopped by the pharmacy. At the sight of anti-inflammatory drugs, during COVID, the pharmacist warned me that I should avoid them. She asked me “is it for menstrual pain?”. I burst into tears as I answered “no, it’s for an abortion”. She apologized and I instantly felt bad for making her uncomfortable.

I think I expelled the embryo the next day, even before taking the 2nd pill, based on what I saw while rinsing my period underwear and the photos and explanation I could find later on the web.

For the second pill the next day, my partner had made arrangements to make himself available, carefully stressing how difficult I had made his life by changing the date. The physical pain was bearable, similar to what I can feel during my period which are usually painful, except that instead of a classic painkiller I had stronger stuff. I think I’m one of the lucky ones, as I didn’t suffer too much, and I’m grateful to the doctor who insisted that I don’t hesitate to take all the painkillers I needed.

Then again my partner had to leave 3 days later to look after his son. Simultaneously, his grandmother died. I hardly heard from him from that point on. Having lost my grandfather 2 years ago, I supported his grief even though he wasn’t supporting mine. I suffered from his silence and his absence, but convinced myself that things would get better once he’d come back. My mother visited me for a few days to bring some support.

As I felt I was sinking, I decided to get a new appointment with the care centre counselor who had been rather understanding at the first appointment. For some reason I’ll never understand, I got a whole different experience: she lectured me harshly for an hour. Among other things, she told me that my abortion was just the tipping point of all my other unresolved issues, and that at least next time I’ll think about using contraception. I was speechless again. It took me about an hour to wake up and realize that what just happened was simply unacceptable in such a facility.

The last follow-up appointment at the care centre was scheduled for November 18. I had not seen my partner for 2 weeks. He wrote to me asking what time we had to leave. That was his way of telling me that he was not coming back for me, but for the appointment. I lost it. I finally let go of everything I had on my chest, and that was probably more realistic and true than anything I’d been telling him for weeks.

“All good, the abortion is successful.” I never understood the point of this last appointment: you bring in a blood test result that you’ve already had for several days, which already has a very clear conclusion on it. What a waste of time… Then we went home, we had a long discussion and he broke up with me 2 hours later. After he left, I laid down on the floor and cried so much it made me sick. Now I had to grieve the relationship on top of the abortion. For 3 days I could hardly stand up straight. The only position that seemed comfortable to me was to stay prostrated. I got some relief from anti-anxiety medication. I have only used it very rarely and occasionally in my life. They have never felt as life-saving as then.

A week later, I received a few late night texts that made me sick. I just had an abortion. A few hours earlier, I had even gone to the cemetery because I felt the need for some symbolic ceremony, one of the first steps of my grieving process. His only concern seemed to be whether we could sleep together again.

That’s when it hit me. He had never understood anything of what’d just happened to me, didn’t even want to understand. Never have, never will.

When you have an abortion, you need support. You don’t need it less than when you keep the baby. Many people seem to think it’s no more than having a wisdom tooth removed. A painkiller and moving on…

Why is it that behind the closed doors of the care centre appointment they’re acknowledging it’s going to be hard, quoting Simone Veil (“No woman resorts to abortion light-heartedly. You only have to listen to the women. It is always a drama and will always remain a drama. ”), and then the shrink you visit a week later clearly tells you that abortion does come with grief for some women, but on the government website, you hardly get a few words about “the psychological consequences of an abortion”? Maybe let’s start by changing the title of this section…

Today I am fine, this abortion is part of my history and it is no longer a burden. I know I made the right choice. Thanks to my loved ones and a relentless desire to get back on my feet, I am moving forward in my grieving process. A child of mine wasn’t born in 2021, but I have given birth to many other meaningful personal projects.

Remember that our stories are ours to tell. We’d love to hear your story too!