Real Life

Personal essay: Just an ordinary abortion

“I know you are doing it tough right now, but you’re not the first.”

Trigger warning: This story makes references to abortion and sex.

Last year The New York Times ran a piece called Just An Ordinary Miscarriage. The premise was simple; it’s an often ignored topic that is awkward to address but deserving of awareness. A story of ‘thousands of near-identical tales’, and for that very reason, a story to be told. Last month I had an abortion.

The circumstances of my pregnancy were not particularly traumatic. This is not a tale of rape or abandonment. I’m under no illusion that my story is unique, or even interesting. There is no villain. There is no victim. Just two friends who probably shouldn’t have had slept together, but did. He was in a relationship; I should have known better. It only happened once but evidently, once is enough. This tale is a tale of many. No tragic ending, no dramatic climax. Perhaps even nobody to sympathise with. This is just another abortion.

Him: “I know you are doing it tough right now, but you’re not the first.”

Our foreplay was four years of banter. A running Facebook chat dialogue in which we basked indulgently. How clever we are! How we bounce off each other’s wit! Our brains seemed to combine to make each other’s funnier, better, more awake. We marvelled at it. Literary ping-pong. Peppered with innuendo. When we found ourselves in the same hemisphere the sex felt preordained. A drunken lunch dissolved into a hotel room dinner; limbs, clothes and morals askew.

Four weeks and four plus symbols later I’d learn that a pregnancy test isn’t the type you can retake to get the result you want. I hastily suggested an abortion and just as swiftly regretted it. Whilst overwhelmingly pro-choice, I wasn’t sure which choice was right for me.

I held no fantasies of him as a father; not holding our child, teaching it to ride a bike, or gushing over it in the delivery room. The very idea of a delivery made me queasy. What I did crave, almost desperately, was to meet the adult it would become. While it’s equal parts naive and vain to assume that your offspring will be a variation of yourself, I was mesmerised by the fact that I’d – or we’d – created a person that was equal parts us. We brought out a side of one another that I’d come to adore and the idea of a biological combination of his and my thought process was intriguing.

Him: “We both f–ked up, I get it, and as biology would dictate, unfortunately you are the one who gets stuck with the raw end of the deal. Definitely a cruel blow and I agree, it’s entirely unfair. If this verbal sparring helps you feel vindicated in the poor hand you’ve been dealt by mother nature then go right ahead, but it won’t change outcomes, it’ll just strain things between us.”

By the time I discovered I was pregnant I was on the other side of the world; attempting to navigate a brutal excuse for a healthcare system and launching into a low-key mental breakdown. Our playful chatter dissolved into combative digs. Mine, frantic and inflammatory. His, cold and calculated; delivered with the same pragmatic indifference reserved for unsuccessful job applicants.

It’s difficult to solicit empathy without sounding self-indulgent. He said he’d support whichever path I chose and when someone reacts as they ought to on paper (splitting costs, checking in, staying on the phone while you vomit) taking offence to their detachment feels unjustified because technically they checked all the boxes. I selfishly wanted him to feel as broken and vulnerable as I did, and the apathy which laced his messages intensified my loneliness tenfold. I was bewildered by the memory of him not eating duck. We were out for a tipsy post-coital dinner when he declined to try any of mine – they were too small, too helpless – to eat them seemed cruel. It was hard to imagine somebody with such a burning compassion for aquatic animals could have so seemingly little for a person. I retaliated by forwarding his most grating messages to my closest friends, taking childish delight in their outrage and playing down his intermittent kindness.

Him: “How about instead of telling me what not to do, how ‘bout telling me how I can help you? Or is it easier for you to wallow in self-pity while dishing out passive aggressive bullsh-t?”

I was knowingly pregnant for ten days and rescheduled the procedure twice. Once for work, once for panic. Abortion seemed implicit to all but me. He said I’d get through it because people did all the time. Others urged me not to leave it too late. Overwhelmed, I spent half an hour in a fancy toy store flirting with the idea of running away and keeping my baby all to myself; fidgeting with soft woollen hats and toy giraffes, seeing if motherhood fit for size. It didn’t. Like trying on somebody else’s clothes while they weren’t home. You feel guilty for daydreaming about it at all; as if such thoughts are reserved for women with a loving partner and a two-bedroom apartment; illegitimate plans for an illegitimate baby.

Him: “And don’t you dare start your response with ‘you could start by not … blah blah blah”

It’s silly the fantasies you indulge in nonetheless; linen rompers, chubby legs, loving and naming something that won’t ever exist. How you catch yourself intuitively cupping your stomach, tracing your fingers across your ever-so-slightly swollen (or did I imagine it?) belly as you trawl through Bed, Bath and Beyond in search of a way to soften your bed post-abortion. Imagining laying on that very mattress topper, drunk off the milky scent of your newborn’s forehead instead of curled up in a ball, bleeding. Bleeding, crying – feeling stupid for crying and broken for bleeding – and digging yourself into the sheets, wishing you waited just a little longer before rushing into a decision you couldn’t revoke.

*Me: “I can’t do it. “

Him: “Get it together woman, you’ll be fine.”


“F–k you.”


“Babying you isn’t going to help right now. I have to be firm with you and you need to be an adult right now. “

Me: “There’s nothing I hate more than being patronised.”

Him: “Don’t want to be patronised? Act like an adult. Super simple.”*

On the day of my abortion everyone was young. Lolita-esque peaches lined up in blue cloth gowns waiting to hear their name called. Wide-eyed, scared, some even teary; a Magdalene vibe every inch the cinematic experience I’d hoped for.

I was numb until they wouldn’t let me see the sonogram screen. It was standard procedure at the clinic; didn’t I read the forms? My Russian sonographer explained that they get too emotional. I cried, pants around knees, pelvis soaked in ultrasound jelly – don’t worry it’s warm – craning my neck to catch a glimpse. She turned the screen away. I get the nurse, because you cry. They’ll print me a photo. Did I want a photo? No. I didn’t. It wasn’t a ride at Disneyland, I didn’t need a souvenir pic. Don’t look at it, my friend had warned. But I did. Sometimes we need to see things for ourselves. We’re curious that our bodies managed to create another person – at least a vague approximation of one. Ill-prepared for parenthood but awestruck just the same. A perfect little bean, five-ish weeks, snug as a bug. Commensurate in length to an apple seed.

*Him: “Constant helpless one liners like ‘I can’t’ and ‘I can’t do this’. What can I say to that? You’re being absolutely impossible.”

I expected the procedure to match the reckless intensity of the conception, but it didn’t. By the time I was sliding – ‘further… just a little further… put your feet up here… great, slide a bit further down… a bit more… legs apart… good’ – onto the table I realised that no such climactic moment was unfurling. I was a little uncomfortable, a little intimidated. There was no sense of inevitability, no rush of emotion, no anticipation of relief. I wanted to slip out of the room as quickly and as calmly as I slipped into it. When I opened my eyes it was over.

Him: “Back to normal you. What a f–king relief. The crazy pregnant you made my head hurt.”*

Writer Sheila Heti so aptly remarked how some people are afforded a natural modesty, which feels to them like morality. This is particularly true in the case of abortion. It’s easy to criticise somebody sharing their experience, though too often those judging are without any of their own. They are the ones who watch us – watch life – from the sidelines and commentate unduly. It is through our falling that they learn what it’s like to fall. It is through our nakedness that they are clothed. You cannot reprimand a choice when it’s by luck that you haven’t had to make it for yourself. For some, abortion is a natural solution, for others it’s internally conflicting. Neither reaction is reflective of moral capacity. Nobody wants to have an abortion, and sometimes the wrong choice can hurt for reasons we can’t explain.

With each passing day I’m irritated at myself for still caring at all. I should be over it, and for the most part I am. Relieved, even. Yet a week after the procedure, a married friend announced she was expecting and it crushed me; aware that my own baby would have slipped into arms not quite ready to catch it. I could easily blame circumstances, but the choice was my own. When I spoke of my intention to deliver, two close friends assumed the roles of co-parents; ‘Are we doing this? We got this!’ Their sincerity stopped my heart. Though despite all the support in the world, I wasn’t ready to trade in my own plans just yet.

When I told a friend I was writing about pregnancy she asked if I’d even consider that being pregnant. Herein lies the problem. An experience is an experience and my near-brush with motherhood was as impactful as it was brief. To make us beg to see our baby on a sonogram screen is to illegitemise our pregnancy. We shouldn’t need to apologise for doubting our choice the night before. We shouldn’t be discounted from the dialogue surrounding grief – or pregnancy – due to it being a pain self-inflicted. Loss is loss, and to mourn alone is to question our right to mourn at all. This is a story of an ordinary abortion, the tale of a thousand others, and for that reason, a tale to be told.

About the author: She is a twenty-something expat living in New York City. Her reason to remain anonymous has nothing to do with shame about her abortion experience but she has chosen to remain unnamed to protect the identity of others involved.

A version of this story originally appeared on women’s lifestyle website

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