Death Before Birth - My Abortion Story

22 Feb 2021

"Death Before Birth" is a poem I wrote as a teenager, after an abortion.

I have grappled with myself for a long time whether to share it or not, due to the inherent stigma and shame associated with the topic, not to mention my poor English at the time, but I have decided the time has come.

In her book "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" Dr Christiane Northrup quotes Trudy Johnson (author of "CPR: Choice Processing Resolution"):

"There is no place or public venue to grieve an abortion loss in our culture. This type of grief is called disenfranchised grief. Women sit in silence out of fear of being misunderstood or further shamed. Who are these women? They are your mother, your sister, your girlfriend. Mayeb even you."

Dr Northrup points out:

"If every woman who ever had an abortion, or even one-third of them, were willing to speak out about their experience - not in shame, but with honesty about where she was then, what she learned, and where she is now - this whole issue would heal a lot faster."

Personally, I have suffered immensely from the experience, but I would like to make it clear that this is not the same as feeling regret.

All my reasons for considering having the baby were wrong-headed:

  1. It would be my Dad's last chance to meet a grandchild.
  2. There would finally be someone in my life who would unconditionally love me and be completely dependant on me and thus could never leave.
  3. I was afraid of doctors and medical procedures.

It was hugely traumatic, just to find I was pregnant, around the same time as my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness. You do not believe that pregnancy is possible until it happens to you. No amount of sex education prepares you to be able to imagine that it is actually possible for fertilisation to occur inside your body. Especially given the cursory and unsatisfying nature of most teenage sexual encounters.

The boyfriend I was pregnant by was himself "an accident": when he misinterpreted something I'd said as a marriage proposal, I had felt unable to put him right and agreed that we were now going out even though I did not feel attracted to him. I was so lonely, had such low self esteem, and such poor boundaries at that age, that I did not know how to say no to the relationship. When the carefully insisted upon (by me) condom turned out to have broken during our first encounter I washed in his freezing cold attic bedsit without electricity where he was living illegally without paying rent, I employed magical thinking, hoping verything would be alright. My shame of even being in this relationship was so great I could not have faced seeing a doctor or pharmacist to ask about emergency contraception the next day.

When my clockwork-like period was half a day late and consisted of clotted brown discharge and lasted only three days instead of the usual five, I told myself it was fine, but I developed tearing pains in my abdomen during exercise. It was only when I confided in my stepmum who worked at a gynaecologist's surgery, and she brought home a test, that the truth came out. The test had a +/- symbol and the vertical bar that would make it a cross was only just starting from the middle. I would have read it as a - and stuck my head in the sand, but she was emphatic that this was a positive test.

So I went to my gynaecologist (not my stepmum's) and got confirmation. My (biological) Mum then took me to the clinic we had been referred to after jumping through nurmerous hoops of me having to seek advice on how I might be able to make this pregnancy and relationship work. I had said she need not stay with me for the procedure, because I knew she had unresolved issues around the two abortions she'd had before finally bringing me into the world. But when they injected me with general anaesthetic and I realised I was becoming immobilised without actually turning unconscious, I begged her to stay and she did. I never heard the end of it. How awful it had been for her to witness this, especially what with her own experiences, and the operating doctor had worked like a butcher, and he had been disgusted by my vaginal discharge (I had a chronic yeast infection) etc.

I was then put on hormonal contraceptives. I religiously took them until I was 20, when I finally decided that the price of depression, increased migraines, acne, and weight gain, was more than I was willing to pay for the "benefit" of not being able to get pregnant, given that I was single and not sexually active. Even coming off the pill was filled with stigma.

As I said, I have a lot of regrets about my life around that time, but the fact that I terminated the pregnancy is not one of them. Perpetuating the family wound by hoping to enslave some poor baby to give damaged teenage me the love and validation I had never had from my own mother, that I had in fact been expected to provide for her from the moment I drew breath, would have been the height of dysfunction and a recipe for mental illness in both the child and myself. I would have quit school, never got my baccalaureate, never gone to university, never travelled to study abroad, never met my husband, never moved countries, and been lumbered with a partner I did not love, who had his own issues, with whom I had no connection, for whom I was but a green card and whom I would eventually have divorced. I would have had even more and worse nervous breakdowns if I'd had to provide for a baby at the same time as caring for my terminally ill father. Yes, he would have met his grandchild, but at what price and under what circumstances?

Just imagine for a moment the kind of life this child would have had. The kind of life I would have had. There is no doubt in my mind that having this abortion was the right decision for all concerned, but that doesn't make the experience of it less painful. In the grander scale of things it is just one pain of many, and probably not the worst. Would I recommend it to anyone? No. Would I condemn anyone finding themselves in the same situation? Absolutely no. Thus I do not comdemn myself either.

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If you have been affected by these issues, here are some resurces:

https://missingpieces.org (Trudy Johnson's website)

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/