An Abortion at 20: The Toughest Decision Of My Life

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What happens when a positive pregnancy test incites ‘shit, what are you going to do?’ instead of ‘congratulations’?

A Bondi Beauty reader asked us to publish her story. She recounts her experience falling pregnant at 20, and the struggle which eventually led her to choose to abort in the hopes her story will shed light on such an isolating experience.

The abortion and pregnancy debate have been going on since the first recorded evidence of induced abortion on Egyptian Ebers Papyrus in 1550 BCE.

The world has seen significant improvements in women’s rights, the pro-choice debate and the accessibility of abortion. However, it is important to recognise the difference between pro-choice and pro-abortion. 

Planned Parenthood says “Generally, people who identify as pro-choice, believe everyone has the basic human right to decide when and whether to have children.”

Pensive woman
What happens when a positive pregnancy test incites ‘shit what are you going to do?’ instead of ‘congratulations’?

My Story: Pregnant At 20

18 Jan 2020 Dear Diary: I feel like a useless dumb fuck for getting pregnant in the first place – I should have been more careful because I put myself in the hardest position ever.

I found out I was pregnant on the 24th of December 2019. I was 20 years old, it was Christmas Eve and I had taken the pregnancy test on a whim because I had been napping a lot and I’d just watched ‘What To Expect When You Are Expecting’ on Netflix and remembered that one of the characters found out she was pregnant based on the same symptom.

At the time (and still to this day) I had very irregular periods. It wasn’t unusual for me to go months on end without a period and so I assumed if I wasn’t having a menstrual cycle I wasn’t ovulating. No egg = no pregnancy, right? Wrong. Well technically that’s correct, but you don’t always know if you’ve ovulated and I got pregnant without realising I had even started a menstrual cycle.

With this in mind, I will readily admit my boyfriend and I were being naïve and arguably a bit reckless with the withdrawal method when we’d run out of condoms. I had been on the pill in the past and had planned to go back on the pill when my period started up again, but it never did.

I found out I was pregnant at about 6 weeks, after I started to display pregnancy symptoms that also mirrored PMS. My boobs had gotten bigger, I was getting cramps and I was very tired. Otherwise, everything was normal.

When I peed on the stick on a whim, I was shocked and surprised to see the second faint line. I called my younger sister shaking and asked her if it looked like a positive result. We agreed it did, but I took another one just to be certain. When that one came back positive too, we decided to take a trip to the hospital as my regular GP was closed on Christmas Eve. 

3 March 2020, Dear Diary: Sometimes when I go on social media and see pregnancy announcements, I get a bit sad that I am no longer pregnant. I get sad that they are able to enjoy and get excited about having a baby, because I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to go to a scan or hear the baby’s heartbeat. The only ultrasound I got was right before my abortion at 8 weeks and I wasn’t even allowed to see it.

When I first spoke to the nurse, I had to answer questions about why I thought I was pregnant, how old I was, my relationship status etc. She also asked me if it came back positive if I knew what I would do. I then had to provide another urine sample and wait for them to call me back into the little room. I sat nervously with my sister and she asked me how I was, and once again I was asked – do you know what you’ll do if it comes back positive?

I told her, that unlike everybody else I knew, whenever I’d asked myself that hypothetically, I always told myself I would keep it. Sex is never with zero risk, and the hypothetical question had come up a lot with my friends, in my relationship and just in my own thoughts.

Ever since I became sexually active (and arguably before that too) my answer to the hypothetical situation had been unwavering. If I got pregnant, I would keep the baby. None of my friends understood my position at that time and had always maintained that if they had an unplanned pregnancy, they would abort.

But the thing about the big decisions in life is you never really know until you are actually living in the situation where you have to make the choice.

Pensive woman
“What do you want to do?”

The Choice: ‘What Do You Want To Do?’

When I got called in to speak with the doctor in EA, he informed me I was 100% pregnant but due to my irregular periods, the doctor was unable to determine how far along I might be. The next question was “do you know what you want to do?” I was barely able to take two breaths before someone was asking me to make this huge decision.

My first and immediate response was that I wanted to keep it – because that’s what I’d always told myself I would do. The doctor talked me through some of the next steps if I were to go down that path and I listened, still in shock.

Then my sister suggested I might like the doctor to walk me through the alternative; aka a termination. So, I nodded – ok – and he told me about the two types of abortion options. We thanked the doctor and the next step was to tell my boyfriend who I’d been in an on-and-off relationship with for four years.

I still hadn’t processed the situation myself and I was still very much in shock so I called my boyfriend  and told him I’d been to the hospital and found out I was pregnant and that my sister would drive me over to his house to talk about it properly.

When I arrived, he was understandably very shocked and as we sat in the car unsure of exactly what to say, he had to open the car door a couple of times because he thought he was going to vomit.

I reminded him that he too had said, if we found ourselves in this situation, we would keep the baby, but understandably now that the situation was no longer hypothetical, he had changed his mind.

He was concerned about the costs, how a baby would affect our relationship and both of our lives as individuals. He said he supported whatever my decision would be, but he would prefer if I didn’t go through with the pregnancy. 

This was the running theme throughout my whole pregnancy/ abortion experience. I received a lot of “unconditional support”, on the unsaid proviso that I was having an abortion.

I called my best friend that night and told her and was once again with greeted with an – “oh shit what are you going to do?”

When I told my parents the next day – Christmas Day – they responded with, sighs of “Oh sweetie” and “shit… Merry Christmas…”. I told them I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet and I cried in bed with my mum.

My mum said she and my dad would support me in my decision, but once again I felt like there was a secret assumption that I wouldn’t go through with the pregnancy – because, how could I? I was only 20, still at uni, had travel plans and was only making a humble income as a fitness instructor. How could I possibly raise a child? How could I possibly want to?

20 March 2020, Dear Diary: It’s hard not to think of what my life would have been like if I hadn’t aborted. I almost wish I was still pregnant. Is that terrible to say? I had a dream last night where I was pregnant. I feel like it is wrong for me to say, but I want my baby back. And that is crazy because my circumstances haven’t changed.

 If anything, they have just gotten worse, so it is definitely irrational, but I just wish things were different and I could have been in a position to keep my baby and feel it grow and kick and create a bond and then raise it. But instead that door closed and slammed in my face.

Given my uncertainty my mum suggested I write a pros and cons list but given my state of emotional distress I asked her to write one for me.

Here’s my first little confession, in asking my mum to write this list I was secretly hoping she would say that she thought I was capable and that I wouldn’t regret having my child.

This is what she wrote:

Pros and Cons of Having a Baby/ Getting Pregnant

Pros and Cons List
Pros and Cons of Having a Baby/ Getting Pregnant

I couldn’t deny that one list was longer than the other.

I cried and cried as I came to the conclusion that there was only one option. Or at least only one logical option. After all, how could I possibly have a baby right now? What was the point in even entertaining the idea? I didn’t know anybody that had been through an experience like this. I felt alone and misunderstood.

Throughout the whole experience I was internally crying out for one person to say that I was capable of raising a child and making it all work. Perhaps then I would have made a different decision. Or, maybe I wouldn’t have. But at least I would have had the space to consider my options.

pensive woman
The abortion process

The Abortion

However, I kept being reminded that these situations are time sensitive – especially if I was going to have an abortion. Because I found out I was pregnant on Christmas eve, I had to wait until Boxing Day for the GP to open back up again.

One particularly unpleasant male doctor asked me if I knew what I wanted to do next, and when I responded confused, he said, “No. Are you going to keep it or get rid of it?”. When I told him that I’d decided upon an abortion he began to right down the address of “a good clean clinic” without having to cross check the address online. With the nameless address in hand he sent me on my way and told me not to worry.

The abortion was booked on the second day of my pre-planned trip to Falls Festival in Byron Bay. When I hung up the phone with a woman from Marie Stopes (an International abortion and contraception clinic) I cried in my tent.

16 April 2020, Dear Diary: There are times where I regret my decision so much. I just want my baby.

Did I make my decision to hastily? Did I make the right decision? I wish one person had told me and given me permission to go through with the pregnancy. I wish someone had believed in me. If someone had said that it was okay for me to have a baby this young and I wouldn’t regret my baby would I have given myself permission to entertain the idea?

On the 10th of January, the day of my abortion my mum came with me to the clinic. I saw nurses and doctors who asked all the routine questions of how I got pregnant, whether I felt pressured to make the decision to abort, my reasons for terminating the pregnancy, how far along I was (I’d learnt from a blood test I was 8 weeks pregnant).

I said it was my decision and listed off my reasons for termination: too young, unable to financially support a child and that I still had life plans that I wanted to accomplish before having a child. All of these reasons were valid, and I fought back tears as I told the nurse abortion was my decision as “it’s what’s best for everyone”.

I nodded that I understood that abortion was not an effective form of birth control (this was something that I heard from 3 different doctors) and discussed birth control options moving forward.

They then did a routine ultrasound to confirm how far along I was. However, nobody asked me if I wanted to see it.

Soon after, I got changed into my hospital gown and was put under anaesthetic where I received my surgical abortion.

I went back to my apartment where my boyfriend was waiting for me and stayed with me for the rest of the weekend.

8 March 2020, Dear Diary: Aside from talking to [boyfriend] about it, who has been a wonderful and supportive listener, I still feel alone and isolated in my feelings and experience. Despite the fact that I’ve told many people about the abortion, nobody has tried to reach out and ask how I am coping.

I don’t know if they think I am unfazed by the whole thing, because I’ve been so open when revealing what happened. Maybe they don’t feel the need to reach out because they don’t think it is necessary because I am over it? Or maybe they just don’t know how or what to say…

I know everybody has stuff going on and everybody is very busy with their own lives, but it would still be nice to feel like people cared enough to wonder how I’m going and if I’m okay, because despite my efforts to justify my sensitivities and emotions, or even my efforts to just be more positive, I’m still struggling.

However, what many people don’t realise or recognise is that an individual’s abortion experience does not end when the procedure is over, or the pregnancy symptoms disappear a few days after that. The mental and emotional toll lingers long after that. It is now over 5 months since my abortion, and I don’t know if this is something I’ll ever get over.

Upon Reflection: The topic of abortion is followed by a screaming silence, which results in feelings of shame for women who have made the decision and a lack of understanding for those people supporting them. This story was submitted by Bondi Beauty reader, Tara, and is intended to shed a light on an individual experience of abortion in Australia in the hopes that others going through the same thing don’t feel so alone in their feelings and to provide insight into an experience that some people may be lucky enough to never experience.

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Brooke Payne

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