- ‘My Experience’: Michelle reflects upon her abortion experience
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My first trimester abortion experience
Abortion is a safe and simple operation performed to terminate a pregnancy. The procedure can be controversial as it may run counter to some individuals’ cultural or religious beliefs. Women who have an abortion often don’t want to talk about it for fear that others will judge them. Many women have an abortion without really knowing what to expect, and feeling a little embarrassed.
In Michelle’s experience, fear and embarrassment were much more difficult to cope with than the abortion surgery itself, even though she was sure she wanted to terminate her pregnancy.
“I discovered I was pregnant when I was 21 years old and preparing to start university as a mature age student. I was really excited but I knew it wasn’t going to be possible to do well at uni and have a baby, so I decided to have an abortion. There really was no decision there for me but even so, it was a difficult experience.”
My period is just late
“When my period was late I tried to convince myself for a while that it was ‘just late’, but I was in denial. I’d returned from a holiday which had involved too much binge drinking, and I’d had unprotected sex on two occasions when I was very drunk.
“I can’t say I had an ‘excuse’ for getting pregnant. I knew how women get pregnant and I knew about contraception, but I was drunk and didn’t really consider these things seriously at the time. So I felt a bit guilty and stupid when I found out I was pregnant and waited a couple of weeks, hoping in vain for a bit of menstrual blood, before I took a pregnancy test.”
And the doctor said
When Michelle eventually took the test, her fears were confirmed and she knew she needed to see a doctor for an abortion.
“I was really scared to go to the doctor, thinking that he would think I was stupid, or promiscuous or whatever. In the end it was a pretty bad experience. The doctor didn’t exactly say I was a stupid whore, but the way he spoke to me made me feel like it.
“He gave me information about an abortion clinic and told me to call them, if I decided to go through with it. I’d already decided and wished the doctor could have called the clinic and made an appointment, but he seemed to think I should keep thinking about it.”
Just pick up the phone
Because Michelle was scared and had a bad experience when she visited the GP, she waited a few days before calling the abortion clinic.
“I didn’t want to be judged and feel stupid all over again. I put off making the call and worried (unnecessarily) for a few days.
“When I eventually called, there was nothing to worry about. The woman I spoke to on the phone was so understanding and I didn’t feel judged at all. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but she gave me encouragement and I felt much less anxious about the whole thing straight away. I made an appointment to have the pregnancy terminated – all I had to do was turn up with a friend on the day of the operation.”
A friend in need
In her time of need, Michelle had problems finding a friend.
“I’d only just moved to Sydney and didn’t really have a friend who I trusted. I didn’t want anyone to know about my problem, so I decided just to go there alone and hope they would let me have the operation. In hindsight I realise that I could have told any of my friends, or my sister who lived in Sydney, but at the time I was scared and embarrassed.”
Going it alone
But she wishes that she had gone with someone, because just getting into the clinic was a daunting experience.
“As I approached, I saw a bunch of people (mostly men) standing outside with posters saying ‘Abortion is a sin’ and pictures of foetuses growing inside women’s wombs. I was angry and wanted to yell at them. I remember thinking, ‘What right do these men have to judge me for having an abortion when they’ll never know what it’s like to have an unwanted pregnancy?’ but I was too scared to say anything.
“Inside the clinic was a different world. It was as if all the staff there knew what I was going through and wanted to make it as easy for me as possible. The receptionist was worried that I was all alone, but said I could still have the operation as long as I went home in a taxi and had someone to support me when I got there. That was a huge relief.
“Then I had to pay for the operation because only the anaesthetic was covered by Medicare, because pregnancy termination is elective surgery. Thankfully I had enough money and at the time there was nothing I would have rather spent it on than fixing my ‘problem’.”
Michelle explained that before she went into surgery, she had to see doctors and nurses for health checks and counselling.
“The tests were to make sure there was nothing wrong with me that could make the operation dangerous and also to check my blood type in case they needed to give me blood.
“I also had to go for counselling. The nurse explained to me that she knew I wanted an abortion, but because of the laws in Australia, the operation was only legal in some circumstances. So she had to determine why I was getting an abortion, and in particular that continuing with the pregnancy would significantly interrupt my life in a negative way.
“I was a bit worried and didn’t know if my ‘excuse’ for wanting an abortion was legitimate. But when I explained to the nurse my dreams of getting a university degree and that I’d just been accepted as a mature age student even though I didn’t complete my HSC and saw this as my ‘chance’, she said that this was a good ‘excuse’ and they would be able to give me a legal abortion.
“In hindsight it annoys me that I had to give a reason. It’s my body and I think that not wanting to grow a baby in it is a good enough ‘excuse’. But I also realise now that the nurse that gave my counselling probably thought that too. She just had to protect herself and the clinic from legal consequences.”
After the counselling, Michelle was taken to the theatre to have the surgery. “I was dressed up in one of those white gowns patients wear in hospital shows on TV. The nurse explained to me again what would happen.
“First they would give me an anaesthetic to put me to sleep so I didn’t feel anything during the operation. Then the doctor would put something like a vacuum into my womb and remove the foetus using that. I would wake up a little bit later. All in all I think it only took about an hour from being knocked out to waking up. I was a bit nervous and the whole procedure sounded a bit ugly, but I knew I wanted it to happen.
“The doctor came to inject me with the anaesthetic and the nurse told me to start counting backwards from ten. I guess I started counting but the next thing I remember is waking up, feeling kind of groggy, wrapped in a blanket on a recliner chair. The operation was complete and I have no idea what actually happened – I didn’t feel a thing.”
Michelle says she felt a bit scared when she woke up. “I remember thinking that perhaps it hadn’t worked and I was still pregnant. But the nurse came over straight away and reassured me that everything was fine and the operation was a success. She just wanted me to wait a little while to wake up properly and get checked by the doctor, then I could go home.
“She asked me if she could call my friend in to sit with me. At that stage, when everything was over, I wished again that I’d come with a friend because I felt really lonely. It seemed like a really big thing to have gone through all on my own.”
However, she said the nurses gave her extra support when they realised she was alone.
“They kept coming to check I was okay, gave me some magazines to look at and food to help me recover from the anaesthetic. It wasn’t very long before I had a final check with the doctor and I took a taxi home. The nurses were obviously worried about me though and said it was really important to have someone around the house and also that I should see a doctor in a couple of weeks for another check up.”
Michelle went to her sister’s house after the operation, but she was still too scared to tell her what had happened.
“I lived a long way from the city and didn’t want to have to explain what was going on to my new flatmate, so I took the taxi to my sister’s house. I had told her I’d drop in that day but when I got there she wasn’t home. One of her flatmates let me in and I went straight up to my sister’s room to sleep.
“She was home by the time I woke up and noticed I wasn’t my normal self but I told her I’d just started feeling sick when I got there and asked if I could stay the night. I actually started getting an upset stomach and diarrhoea which was a side effect of the anaesthetic. I didn’t tell her I’d had an abortion but it was good to be somewhere safe and I felt better just because she was there.”
The next day Michelle’s body was feeling fine but her mind was not doing as well.
“But I guess my head was still a bit messed up and I needed someone to talk to about it. I ended up telling my new flatmate, who was a nursing student and talking to him was really helpful. He encouraged me to go back for the check up, even though I was scared to tell another doctor about my experience. But this time I went to the doctor on the uni campus who was understanding and non-judgemental just like the nurses at the abortion clinic. I had no problems and life got back to normal pretty quickly.”
It’s more than ten years now since Michelle had her pregnancy terminated.
“I’ve never regretted having the abortion and wish I’d known I wouldn’t regret it at the time. I’ve read that one of the reasons women shouldn’t have abortions is because they might change their minds later. This seems kind of patronising, as if women aren’t really capable of making good decisions and are a bit confused if they ‘think’ they don’t want a baby.
“I knew I didn’t want a baby when I had the abortion, so how can that change? Even if I decided later to have a baby, that’s different from changing my mind about wanting one back then, when I was 21. I’m now 32 years old and still don’t want a baby, but if I do decide I want one, I know I can get pregnant again.”
So are there any regrets?
“My only regret about the abortion is that I felt embarrassed and because of that I went through everything on my own, when it would have been much easier with some support. I realise now that there are so many people who would have supported me through it. I’ve since stood proudly outside abortion clinics, (with my sister and other friends) holding posters which said things like ‘Free abortion on demand’ and ‘Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide’. And I’ve even yelled at the men holding posters which say abortion is a sin.
“I truly believe that abortion is a woman’s right and that it should be her decision, not the decision of a counsellor, doctor or the government. I think it should be free, because not all women have enough money to pay, and they might end up having a baby that they don’t want, just because they’re broke. If you want to talk about ‘sin’, I think forcing a woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy would be a pretty big one.
“I’m really glad I chose to terminate my pregnancy. Even though I think I probably could have raised a kid, I’m glad I was able to choose not to.”
|For more information about abortion, including the issues surrounding abortion, surgical and pharmocological termination procedures and procedure complications, see Abortion.|
|For more information about contraception, and protection against sexually transmitted infections, see Contraception|
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