I stand outside an abortion centre because I was once inside

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When I first took the pregnancy test, and it showed positive, I felt an initial excitement, a thrill – coupled with almost disbelief.  I already had 2 children aged 12 and 11.  I didn’t expect more children.  I had recently completed university and had been in a job as a primary school teacher for a couple of years.  After years of struggle, it seemed things were going well.  I began to think of finances, I knew I couldn’t teach and look after a baby and family – and we’d just moved house and increased our mortgage.  I began to worry.  No one in my family welcomed the news. I began to tell other family members and a trusted friend.  No one thought it was a good idea to continue the pregnancy.  I remember looking up the phone number for Life charity – but I was afraid to phone as I mistakenly thought they would condemn me for not wanting to be pregnant.  I felt that no-one could support me.  The morning sickness became quite bad and continuous, I had no one to say ‘all will be ok’ at that time.  After initially saying I was going to keep my baby, I fell into anxiety and felt I was letting my family down.  I picked up the phone and spoke to someone who worked at the abortion clinic in Edgbaston, Birmingham.

They booked me in for an examination and date for an abortion.  I was just numb and ‘shut down’.  During the examination there was no nurse, and the nameless ‘doctor’ spoke little and was not gentle.  It felt like an intrusion, an assault.  He informed me by palpation only that I was 9 weeks. That was his only conversation with me.  Days later, Saturday 29th August,  I was walking up the drive of the abortion clinic in Arthur Road, Birmingham.  I wish there had been someone to offer me an alternative solution.

After entering we paid the money. The waiting room filled quickly to capacity with women and their partners.  No one spoke, it was deathly quiet.  After a while, we were called to see someone.  The someone was dressed as a nurse.  She explained she was filling in necessary paperwork and asked why I was there today.  I said I couldn’t afford to give up work, I’d just moved house…  I wasn’t particularly articulate.  She smiled and said “Ok, love.  Don’t worry, I’ll just put down it will affect your mental health to continue.”  That was it.

After another wait, I was asked to go upstairs to get ready.  I was terrified and shaking. I can still remember the old fashioned patterned carpet on the stairs - as I neared the top, I had a thought that I could still back out.  But I’d paid the money, and thought I can’t make a fuss now.  I was a coward.  No one asked was I still sure. My legs carried on.  At no point did anyone confirm my consent in what was a major decision.

After getting changed, I was led to a long clinical room with rows of medical trolleys.  There were stirrups on each, it was abhorrent.  Each trolley was separated by a curtain only.  I believe women filled each from the end up. I couldn’t see them. After positioning myself and gown, a doctor appeared at the foot of the bed.  He was on a wheeled chair, so he could roll from the end of each trolley to the next more easily.  A woman appeared who I presumed was an anaesthetist. She put a cannula in my hand.  I had had general anaesthetics before, so knew what to expect.  However, this woman pushed on the syringe very hard and quickly, forcing the anaesthetic out very quickly.  The pain was terrific, I remember crying out, as it travelled up past my shoulder before I fell under.

When I awoke afterwards, I could hear other women through the curtains.  One was crying.  A lady next to me was continually retching. It was all very loud and disorientating.  I was wheeled to a room and allowed to rest on a bed.  When I was more awake, I began to take off the plaster from the cannula on the back of my hand, another member of staff walked in and began shouting at me for putting the plaster on the bedside cabinet.  Didn’t I know I was making a mess?  Didn’t I know what a bin was for.  I was too shocked to reply to the onslaught.

After dressing, I was called to see a ‘doctor’?  She asked if I was ok, told me that the procedure was ‘fine’ and the foetus ‘seen’.  I simply said thank you – again I was just in shock and autopilot.  All the women, there must have been about 15 of us, were shown into a further large room with plates of sandwiches.  We began to eat as we had fasted for the op.  It was only then that the women began to talk.  They all said it was the wrong time for them, that they hadn’t wanted to do this but felt they had to.  Finance and ‘too young’ was the most common reason.  It was almost as if we were compelled to explain what we had done.  Except we hadn’t realised what we had just done.

As we drove out, we saw a woman standing at the bus stop alone, crying. She was not young.  I so wanted to go to her, but what could I say?  Someone needs to be there for distressed women.  I went home, ate and said I was going to bed.  I was angry at being asked if I was ok. Of course I was.

The next day, Sunday, I came downstairs – a little later than everyone I think. Reality began to slowly kick in.  As I opened the door, I stopped and said, “What have I done?”  I collapsed to floor and had to be helped to the couch.  That day began the crystal clear reality of losing my child, by my own hand, and the feeling of total despair.  I felt completely empty, completely bereft, guilt ridden and inconsolable.  I would feel that way acutely for five long years, and beyond that.

No one gave me any counselling before or after the procedure about the possible mental health consequences of abortion.  I was not given any literature or contact details should this occur.  Immediately after the procedure I was unable to work, hold a conversation with anyone or focus my attention on anything other than the loss of my baby.  I could not walk in a supermarket without seeing a baby in a pram or a pregnant women, after which I would completely break down.  When I did force myself to work I’d cry all the way there and all the way back again.  I have no idea how I functioned.  I’d cry so much that I felt like I was falling into a dark hole, eventually lying at the bottom - only my husband could rouse me by shaking my shoulder and calling.  I fell into a deep depression, where I could not discuss what I did for guilt and shame, and believed I deserved every minute of it.  I cannot measure the effects on my family, especially my children, as I was completely self-absorbed in a tunnel of illicit grief and despair.

A few weeks later, I began to bleed heavily, passing clots.  No one had warned me of this… I had no idea if it was normal.  The GP sent me to hospital – to an antenatal ward – to be checked.  I was surrounded by women desperate to keep their pregnancies . . .  more punishment.  It was decided that I had an infection from the procedure and was given antibiotics.  As I was in such a state a nurse there took me aside and told me that if I didn’t snap out of it I’d be heading for treatment at a mental health facility next door. She’d seen it before.

Weeks later, I began to discharge from my breasts – again I was referred to the hospital for examinations and scans.  It was frightening, as it was a cancerous sign so I was told, because of the abrupt ending of the pregnancy.  No one had told me about that before either. I went through this twice.

My depression and lack of interest in life continued, and I believe I was on the verge of suicide – except for the fact that I couldn’t do that to my family and children.  I longed to hold the child that I could not grieve publicly.  I was desperate for another child, and though it was difficult to have anything like normal relations, I eventually, thankfully, became pregnant again, and gave birth in April - the only joyful outcome of this whole sorry chapter.  After giving birth I suffered a uterine prolapse from which I have needed 3+ surgeries, so far, to correct.  More pain and heartache.  I will never know if the surgical vacuum aspiration abortion played a part in this.

To this day I still heartily regret what I did.  I still feel pain and sadness, and even more, embarrassment for not seeking help – though I didn’t know where from. I terminated my pregnancy because it was an inconvenience, or more precisely, a financial burden.  I firmly believe that if holistic, caring, practical and extensive counselling was given, before the termination took place, that I would have kept my baby, and perhaps even saved the NHS thousands of pounds in treatments, scans and operations.  My mental health and self-esteem would not have been compromised. I think deep questioning would have revealed that I had not thought this life changing/ending procedure through properly, and that indeed, I did not even believe abortion was a good option for anyone.  I believe the law states that 2 doctors should sign the abortion form – that was not the case at all.  No doctor gave me counselling, explained the procedure, or warned of possible contraindications to health – such as flashbacks, depression, infection, mental health problems. I firmly believe that had pro-life supporters been accessible to me during the lead up to the procedure, I would have felt emboldened and reassured practically to keep my baby.  I now volunteer outside Marie Stopes, Birmingham in Arthur Road, in the hope that others may take a leaflet and be helped to make a more informed choice. I want them to know that abortion ‘is not the only option’ and that practical and financial help and guidance is available.  I am in no position to judge anyone entering, and neither are my fellow volunteers.  We respect the freewill of the woman, and certainly do not harass.  All women deserve full care and a full range of options before making a decision that could scar their life, for life. Like me.

Linda Hope