The events which took place weigh heavily on my heart and I cannot adequately convey the utter despair which fell on me after my abortion. I cannot bring my dead child back to life - only hope that they are safe and loved right now, and that by telling people what I have experienced, other women won’t have to live with the same guilt and shame after making the wrong decision.
It was October and I was twenty.
Living with my boyfriend of two years, and in my second year at university. I had a dream that I was at my family’s home, cuddling a small baby with thick black hair just like her father.
I woke up and thought nothing of it - until two weeks later when I realised that I hadn’t had a period for a while. I joked around with my boyfriend before taking the pregnancy test, only to have my smiles replaced by sheer panic five minutes later.
It felt like the end of the world. I was from a poor (alcoholic and occasionally violent) family, the first one to make it to university-level education, and had already been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Immediately I told my boyfriend that I could not keep it - or I would kill myself.
In that moment, the prospect of ending my own life felt more realistic than the prospect of me being able to care for any child. My boyfriend told me that he wouldn’t influence my decision, that if I wanted to keep it then he would take care of us both, but if not then he wouldn’t stand in my way.
Still gripped by fear, I could not imagine that he would be able to take care of us. I was a broke student and he was an immigrant with no legal status in the country. Most of my days were spent consumed by anxiety that he would be caught, deported, and taken away from me, and that I would be left alone to fend for myself after a lifetime of what felt like having no one on my side.
So I decided that I would have an abortion. At the same time as researching clinics online I was also searching for stories of women having children while at university, and how they made it work for them. I read them, but could not envision myself having the strength of will to get through it all. I thought I would make a terrible mother, and that any child of mine would suffer terribly in life, just as I had suffered during my childhood. I rationalised that by aborting the child, at least it would not suffer. Better to end it now, before any pain could be felt.
At my first appointment the baby measured at being five weeks.
“Do you want to look?” the technician asked.
I shook my head.
After a brief series of medical questions she then said “Are you sure that you want to do this?”
“95%” I replied.
She told me that 95% wasn’t enough - that I should really be 100% certain. I began to cry and told her that 95% was as good as it ever got for me in any of my decisions, so I should just get it over with. Sure enough, I was scheduled for a surgical abortion under anaesthesia just two weeks later.
Doubt gnawed at me. Two weeks was time for it to grow and develop, and I knew that the longer I left it the harder it was going to be for me. Still I carried on studying and working, even though I could feel the first effects of morning sickness beginning to take hold. At some point I looked at information about fetus development and saw that the fetus inside me was about the size of a baked bean. I began to nickname it Bean and referred to it as such in the many pro vs con lists I made about having a baby.
When the day of the abortion was close, I closed my eyes and began to pray for the first time in a decade. I had been raised Catholic and was the most religious child out of any friends I had growing up, but turned extremely atheist as a pre-teen. During this prayer I begged for God to give me a sign or some indication that I could get through this, that I could keep this baby and give it a good life, that I would not fall into darkness and spiral down into depression again.
But I did not see any signs. Instead I envisioned only an awful life of suffering and despair, for myself and any child I might have. And so on the appointed day in November, I dutifully got on the bus for a 30 mile trip to the clinic.
On the way, I hit unexpected transit issues and got lost. Nevertheless, I went on.
On a quiet road in the small town where the clinic was, I was given a pamphlet in passing by a Jehovah’s Witness.
In retrospect, I should have taken these events as the signs that I had asked for.
But instead I felt like I was stuck on a cliff, with a raging fire behind me and a long fall with jagged rocks in front of me. Having an abortion felt like jumping off the cliff: it might hurt or I might find something to break the fall, but at least I won’t suffer the burning either way.
The abortion clinic itself felt surreal. Other girls my age, some with their partners, some without, all sat around to get a doctor’s signature on a form to remove the life growing in their wombs.
The doctor was an old man, probably in his 70s. He was calm and asked if I wanted to go ahead with the procedure. I voiced my consent, the paper was signed, and I was taken to a small waiting room, where I dutifully donned my dressing gown along with about five others.
The nurses told me I might feel sick or unwell after the procedure, and to tell them if I did. Wrapped in a blanket, they walked me down to another dingy waiting area just outside the operating room, where I sat alone. When it was my turn I was loaded up onto the table and told to count back from ten. I think I got to around six.
I woke up to a woman in the next bed clutching her stomach and crying. I felt fine, relieved, and lightened of my burdens. So just an hour or so later I was allowed to go, and off I went to catch my bus home. On the way, a young woman asked for directions to the clinic, which I happily gave.
That night, another dream came to me. I held a baby in my arms, but before my eyes it turned gray and black and began to rot. I woke up with the knowledge that I had done the wrong thing, and throughout the next few months images from the dream would intrude upon my everyday life.
Life continued quietly, but internally my mind raged. Depression returned with a vengeance and I began scrawling in journals manically attempting to pinpoint the source of my misery. While I managed to blame everything from my broken childhood to (mostly imagined) relationship issues, I somehow never connected it to the decision I made. My grades began to drop significantly and I felt suicidal and pushed to the very edge of my sanity.
I was given antidepressants, which "helped" for a while. The pills didn’t take any of my internal pain away, only numbed me to the world and everything in it. I enjoyed nothing any more and everything felt empty.
After university, my husband (yes, the boyfriend from the start of this testimony) began to float the idea of starting a family. I was reluctant at first, still seized by thoughts self-doubt and inadequacy, but eventually I made the decision to start a family with him. So once again I was pregnant, and this time the morning sickness began earlier and more drastically.
When this new and very much wanted fetus was around seven or eight weeks old, only then did I realise just how truly awful my decision really was. What difference was there between this fetus who I had tried so hard to conceive, and the one which had been thrown out in the medical waste?
Nothing. There was no difference. Both equally alive. Neither worth less than the other. The only reason one was alive and the other was not, was because I made the decision to put aside fear for the second child and trust that things would be okay.
I loathed myself. I still do. Sometimes I look at my daughter and think that my actions mean I do not deserve to have such a child, who laughs and plays, who dances and sings, who loves so hugely and unreservedly, since I made the choice to reject all that from the child who came before her.
I try to console myself with the thought that I didn’t know. Everything I read pushed abortion as being all about the woman, her right to choose, her right to live her life the way she wants, etcetera. So I thought that what I was doing was something normal, something that was not a big deal. But no matter what I thought intellectually, I cannot ignore that emotionally, on a deeper level, I felt a connection with the child growing inside me.
I have refound my faith, but do not feel worthy of God’s forgiveness.
My living daughter was born with black hair, just like her father. Just like her sibling I dreamed of long ago. It is for her that I must keep on living even though I do not feel I deserve to, with this secret hidden deep inside me.
I dreamed of my first child just last week. A tiny body held in one hand, and I was looking for a place to bury them, but nowhere could be found.
Little Bean, I’m so sorry.