What It's Really Like To Get An Abortion
A firsthand experience of a termination.
While abortion has technically been legal in most of the UK since 1967, MPs actually only voted to fully decriminalise abortion in March of this year, while in Northern Ireland it remains illegal to terminate a pregnancy unless a woman's life is at risk. But with sexual health charity Brook reporting that about a third of women will have had a termination by the age of 45, why is it something we're still not openly talking about?
As part of MTV's look at sex and relationships, one writer shares her personal account of what happens when you get an abortion...
Three years ago, I discovered that I was pregnant. Thankfully, I live in a country where I am able to make my own choices when it comes to my body, and I decided to have an abortion.
There was never any doubt in my mind that this was the right option for me. I was 25 years old. I’d just broken up with the ‘father’, I had no money, was living with my parents, and was finally getting somewhere with my career after years of shitty jobs (hence the living with my parents).
A baby was just not part of the plan - and one stupid broken condom wasn’t going to dictate the rest of my life, thank you very much.
My first step was seeing a nurse at my local family planning clinic, who confirmed that I was 6 weeks pregnant - although my lack of period, sore nipples, already-bigger-boobs (the only good part about the whole thing), and positive at-home pregnancy test had left little doubt in my mind that that was the case.
I explained straight away that I wanted an abortion, and she gave me a load of leaflets for various ‘independent providers of sexual and reproductive health services’ - which just means ‘the people who actually perform the termination on behalf of the NHS’.
She told me (in a nice way. She was very nice.) to call and make an initial appointment at one of these services, where they’d talk to me more fully about my options and run some tests.
And that’s exactly what that first appointment was. I’d been nervous, but shouldn’t have been - another very nice nurse took me through the various types of termination I could opt for, and asked me a few questions about my decision, although nothing too probing or invasive.
I also had a blood test and an ultrasound which was a bit weird - you see pregnant women getting them all the time on TV and stuff, so it felt strange to be having one. After asking if I wanted to see, the nurse showed me the embryo on the screen (it’s not classified as a fetus until the 10th week of pregnancy). Again - weird. That black and white pulsing screen is so familiar, and yet so alien. I didn’t FEEL pregnant, in the sense that I knew I wasn’t having a baby, so it was all a bit surreal.
As for the embryo, it was so tiny I couldn’t really even see it. A smudge on the screen, nothing more. I’m not sure how that made me feel. Sad? Relieved that it wasn’t ‘baby shaped’? Emotional, for sure, but I’m not sure if I can categorise those emotions.
I decided to have a surgical termination (which involves suctioning out the uterus via the vagina - no actual cutting or stitching) under general anaesthetic. It can be done under local (aka, you’re still conscious but numb ‘down there’), but there was no way I wanted to be awake for any of the actual process.
I could also have chosen a medical abortion as I was only a few weeks pregnant, which involves taking two pills that essentially induce a miscarriage - but it sounded pretty horrendous, and isn’t always effective.
I was scheduled in for my actual operation a week later, and left with another huge wodge of leaflets to read through, along with an offer for counselling, which I declined. I’m a massive advocate for therapy and counselling in general - I’ve seen a therapist before for anxiety and low self-esteem, but I didn’t feel as though I needed it in this case.
T-day rolled around quickly - although not before I’d started feeling a bit nauseous in the mornings and experiencing an aversion to any food that wasn’t peanut butter sandwiches. Then again, that might not have been the pregnancy - I do really love peanut butter sandwiches.
I arrived at the centre with my best friend (you have to have someone to help you home afterwards), a big t-shirt (they tell you to bring one to wear during the procedure), and a rumbling belly (no food for 12 hours before you have a general anaesthetic).
I’m not going to lie, after ‘checking in’ it was mostly a whole lot of waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more. I saw a doctor, who spoke to me again about my decision and asked pretty standard doctor questions, then it was back to the waiting room to (you guessed it!) wait some more.
Finally, when I was about to punch my best friend in the face for eating a banana and chocolate chip muffin next to me, I was called - and led through to a tiny room where I was told to change into my t-shirt and take my knickers off. Now I was scared.
Then another room, with a hospital bed and an anaesthesiologist standing there with his needles. At this point, I’m not ashamed to say, I started crying. I HATE needles, I’m afraid of being put to sleep, and the whole thing was just overwhelming. I felt very alone, despite my friend waiting downstairs. I wanted my mum.
That was my last thought as the nurse held my hand and said soothing things while the anesthesiologist did his thing and told me he was putting me under now. I want my mum.
I woke up in a room full of beds sectioned off with curtains, feeling groggy af but also just pure, unadulterated relief that it was all over. I was also, I realised after a quick check, wearing some rather fashionable sort of netted knickers, stuffed with the world’s biggest sanitary towel. I didn’t choose the glam life the glam life chose me.
There was a some pain - sort of like really bad period cramps, but a nurse offered me paracetamol (and a sandwich!!!!!!! I loved her!!!!!!!) and that helped a lot. Then it was more waiting, and after 2 hours of required ‘observation’ to make sure I was recovering OK from the general anaesthetic and not bleeding too much, I was allowed home.
By the next morning I felt pretty much normal - I was still cramping a bit and taking painkillers every few hours, but I was up and about and ready to go back to work the following day.
I don’t regret my decision, and I’m definitely not ashamed - but a part of me will always wonder what my life would be like now if I’d been ready for that little smudge on the screen.
- Words by Lizzie Cox.
For more information and advice about abortion, visit the Brook website here.
Now why not check out Hannah Witton sorting out all your sex and relationships questions below...?