‘Opinions are like arseholes. Everyone’s got one.’
In the world we find ourselves living in today, this is truer than ever. We are a seething, tumultuous, broiling, churning mass of opinions. We have opinions about everything. We feel free to pontificate loudly on every single topic and subject under the sun. And it doesn’t matter a fuck whether we’re correct or not. So it’s important to let your rational voice ring out in the face of so much ignorance. If you are silent, you condone. I do not condone. I will speak out. We may be shouting into the void, but if we all shout together our voices might be heard.
An issue which I have personal experience with and which attracts so much opinions is abortion. Abortion is still very much a taboo subject for women.
I have had an abortion.
Abortion. Even the word makes us tremble. Abortion. Abortion. Abortion. By naming something, do you lessen its power? I believe so, and therefore I will say the word out loud. Almost (but not quite) proud. I will shout it again and again. Abortion. Abortion. ABORTION. It just sounds horrible doesn’t it? It sounds like something to be dreaded, something to fear, something to be avoided at all costs. Since my abortionI’ve realised the real problem with abortion. The problem is not with abortion itself. No, the problem with abortion is that everyone seems to have an opinion on abortion. They freely talk about what they think of abortion and of women who have abortions. Even men have an opinion on abortion. But not many women will come out and say I had an abortion. Why is that?
Did you know that in the UK 1 in 5 pregnancies are terminated? Think about that wee statistic next time you’re sitting with a group of women. Would you have had any inklings? Who do you think would be the one?You look at the obvious candidates. Is it the career lady who is shattering the glass ceiling? Or maybe the stay-at-home mum who has two young children already? What about the party girl? Or it is the woman whose boyfriend doesn’t want to be a dad. It is the woman who doesn’t want to be a mother. It is the woman who suffers mental health problems. It is the woman who can’t afford a child with her boyfriend. It is the woman whose foetus has an incurable condition. Finally, the woman who is most forgotten about, the woman who does not want to be a mother. Abortion survivors are all of those women. The paths that led to our decisions do not matter. Our reasons do not matter. The only thing that matters, and which is common for all women who have abortions, is,for whatever reason, we cannot become mothers. We shouldn’t need to enumerate the many reasons why we need an abortion. Please, just understand that we need one. And please bear in mind that reaching the decision, and going through with the decision, is categorically not an easy process.
So why, when abortion is such an intensely personal decision, does everyone have such strong opinions about it?
It’s such an emotive issue that it’s taken me three years to write the words. I had an abortion. Mine was one of the more common situations. I was 35, I was messed up, I had been dating a messed up dude, we dated for three months, I fell pregnant. It was entirely unwanted and unplanned. I took a pregnancy test on the Saturday and I spoke intensively with the foetus father during the course of the weekend. He was a troubled soul himself and I can’t imagine the process was easy for him either. I wish I had been kinder to him in the aftermath.
So as I dragged myself into work on Monday, I knew that if I was going to have this child I would be having it on my own. I sat at my desk in a haze, readingabout the maternity rights on offer from my employers, researching childcare costs, benefits, working out every possible financial and practical permutation on a scrap of paper.
After doing all of this the thought that I wasn’t having this child began to crystallise. In another life I would have been happy to be pregnant. If it had been 5 years prior, when I was with my long term boyfriend my life could have carried along its expected, clichéd route. But I wasn’t living in that world. I had split up with my long term boyfriend and I had been single ever since, with no‘relationship’ making it over the three month line. I realised that I couldn’t have this child on my own. And to my mind, I would be doing it entirely on my own. This realisation led me to confront an issue that went to the core of what it means to be a woman. I didn’t want to have this child and raise it on my own: I knew that if I really wanted this child, I would bloody well have the child. It wasn’t insurmountable; lots of other women (younger, less financially secure) have done it. There are so many fantastic single mothers out there but I didn’t think I would be one of them. I didn’t want a child thatmuch. If I was honest, having a child had never been my raison d’etre. I knew that by having this child my life would change drastically and it would be so fucking hard. I didn’t feel that it was fair to the child. The world is such a fucked up place that didn‘t need another unwanted child. Yes, I knew that if I’d had the child Iwould more than likely have loved it more than life itself, and in time I may consider having the child as being the best thing I had ever done. But that wasn’t a guarantee. I loved my life the way it was, I loved my job, I wasn’t made to be a stay-at-home mum, struggling and trying to balance life and everything in it. I was so worried that I would grow to resent the child.
So, after having looked at the issue from every angle for perhaps another two days, I decided that I didn’t want to do it. I was going to have an abortion. From that point on, there was no looking back. I had set my course and I was not going to deviate from it.
I was perhaps unusual that I was vocal about my abortion in the immediate aftermath. I didn’t shy away from telling people that I’d had one. At that point I wasn’t ashamed about my decision. I was almost proud of myself for making the choice that I did. I knew that I hadmade the right decision for the right reasons. Everyone I told about my abortion was (to my face anyway), understanding and compassionate. I was vocally pro-choice about the issue on social media and wouldn’t shy away from getting involved in debates on Facebook. I never actually came out and said the words until recently.
I have now come to believe that abortion is the last taboo for women. I didn’t know who to turn to for help or to vent to when I was trying to make a decision. I was too frightened to tell people I was pregnant and was considering an abortion. I needed advice. I needed help. I needed to talk. But I came to the decision on my own. I’m sure you can imagine my surprise that on telling my closest friends about my abortion a few months after the event, I was gobsmacked to find out that I knew women who had experiences like I had. But because I’d kept my mouth zipped shut I didn’t know they were there.
And this is why we need to talk about abortion. For an issue which is going to personally affect one in five women in the UK, we are remarkably silent when it comes to talking about abortion. We are too afraid to speak out. We are too ashamed to admit that we had an abortion. We don’t know how people will react. Will they understand us? Or will they attack us? We cannot face getting embroiled in upsetting, traumatic discussions in which we desperately try to justify our reasons for aborting. Because our reasons, they are legion and they do not need to be justified.
So we just don’t talk about abortion.
We don’t own our abortions.
We don’t admit that we have had an abortion.
We take the days off work, we have the procedure, we go back to work. We don’t talk about it. We try and forget about it. We find that we can’t.
So, why are we so ashamed of abortion? Is it because in a patriarchal society women, essentially, are viewed solely as baby makers? Women are distilled down to our bare essential purpose of being put on this earth purely to prolong human existence. Is it because in such a patriarchal society it is anathema for a woman to say I can’t have this baby. I don’t want to be a mother. And admitting that you do not want to be a mother is the worst thing a woman can say. It utterly negates what it means to be a woman. You are decrying and denigrating your femininity, your own fucking raison d’etre.
I was reminded of the episode of Sex and the City, when Miranda decided to have an abortion. Well, colour me shocked to learn that Carrie terminated a pregnancy when she was 22, and that she never told the ‘foetus father’ about the pregnancy. For the record, this is not something I agree with. In the majority of more typical, normal, situations (where there is no abuse or anything equally horrendous), I would always advocate telling the father. Aye he might decide he wants nowt to do with it, as my foetus father did. But please do give him the knowledge. It’s up to him what he does with it. And it will let you come to a firm, independent decision for yourself and your foetus.
Of course Miranda bottled it and eventually gave birth to her bouncing baby.
Even SATC’s Samantha was not much of a role model to hang your hat on. Of course the sexually liberated, feminist, outspoken, older character is going to agree with abortion. Remember her wittily singing out the infamous words:
“It’s less than a desirable situation, but it happens. We’ve all been there. I’ve had two!”
While this is an admirable point of view and goes some way to demystifying abortion, it also somewhatoversimplifies the issue.
And that’s the problem with abortion. It is an issue that is multi-faceted, like a corrupt diamond or a flawed emerald.
Women need to open a dialogue on abortion. We need to be able to say the word abortion without cringing into our skins. We need to be able to reclaim it and strip it off its potency. We need to shine a light on it and illuminate it. We need to demystify the subject. We need to have open discussions around it. Until we do, women will constantly struggle with making possibly the hardest decision they will ever have to make. And women will continue to needlessly suffer after having had an abortion.
Women are vilified for having abortions, both by other women and by men. This is just wrong. This must stop. Abortion survivors should not be treated the way society treats them.
I recently found out exactly how other women reacted to the mention of abortion. I was a member of a beauty group on Facebook. Now we all know the internet can contain the absolute dregs of society (refer back to ‘comments’ sections I mentioned earlier) but this group wasn’t like that (although the Admin and Owner are.. well, that’s for another essay). There were over 10,000 members, largely female and members often posted about their personal issues for others to support them and share kind, supportive words with them. So I decided to test the waters. I posted a very succinct statement to the effect that I had had an abortion and briefly discussing the impact it had had on my mental health. So, with expectations of empathy and understanding what I did not expect was for Admin to have to pull my post within two hours. It was deleted sofast that I didn’t even have a chance to read the comments. From what I did read, a lot of commentswere disgusting and aimed at me personally. One comment I did see was from a lady who accused me of being proud of killing my baby. Others were more supportive and I was proud of the ladies who came out and owned their own abortions.
So if you learn something from my words, let it be this. If a woman tells you that she has had an abortion, DO NOT PITCH IN WITH YOUR OPINION. If you haven’t had an abortion, you are simply not entitled to have an opinion. And Men with Opinions on Abortion? Jog on motherfuckers. Men can have opinions on abortion, but as with the ladies, ONLY if they have personal experience of abortion. So when a woman says she is an abortion survivor, listen to her. Try and understand her. Put yourself in her shoes and walk a few yards. Ask her questions by all means because she may want to talk it through and, in doing so, remind herself that she made the right decision. Do not make cruel comments. You wouldn’t dream of telling a woman who had miscarried that she had murdered her baby, would you? Or what about those 1,000 women a year who abort because of extreme morning sickness? Are they babykillers? People seem to think that just because a woman has had an abortion, she is an unfeeling, uncaring, cold hearted cunt. You can therefore say anything to her, call her the most hurtful names, decry her feminity and it won’t hurt her. She is a monster, after all. Because only a monster would kill her own child.
I call bullshit.
I have grieved so hard for my lost child. I will always grieve for my lost child. Take it from me, you can guarantee that if a woman has had an abortion, she is hurting. She might hurt for a short while or a long time, but she will most definitely experience one of the worst hurts a woman can experience. One comment I hear again and again from abortion survivors is “It haunts me”. And it does. I will remember every estimated birthday. I will always think my baby would be how many years old today. I will look at my niece as she grows and a tiny voice in the back of my mind will always wonder would my baby have been like this? Just because a woman decides to have an abortion does not mean that she is not wrecking herself for making the decision. People don’t even think about that before they open their mouths and let their opinions fly free.
I do not and will not regret having my abortion. I doregret taking so long to get help to deal with my mental health and the aftershocks, and I also regret not having spoken out before undergoing the procedure. I regret not haven taken a bit more time to let the dust settle before having a practical conversation with my parents about it. I wish I had asked for help from people with experience with abortion before I finalised my decision. I wish I’d spoken to more women who had walked where I was walking, who felt how I felt, who know what was going on in my fucking head. I really wanted to talk about the consequences of the decision with other survivors.
This is both a good time and a bad time to be a woman. The world is definitely changing, and I hope for the better. I fervently hope that my niece will grow up in a better world. I feel hopeful that she will. Change is definitely afoot. Women are shattering the glass ceiling in every industry. We know how men are paid more than us for doing the same job as us. We will not tolerate harassment, hate speak, misogyny, bullying or anything that infringes our rights and equality which our predecessors sweated blood and tears to get for us. We are getting there.
But we do need to look at the issue of abortion. It is the Last Taboo. We need to think about how it can be positively represented in popular culture. We need to think about how to best help women who are struggling with abortion, either before an abortion or after an abortion. We need to think about how we can remove the stigma and the shame associated with abortion, as we have done with suicide.
Don’t push abortion survivors back into the shadows. Don’t leave us to lick our wounds in the dark. Let us talk. Let us work it out. Don’t abuse us for making a decision we hope you’ll never have to make. Stop hating on abortion survivors.