“From the scan here, I’d say you’re about 12 weeks.” I turned my head away from the screen. I didn’t want to see the limbs, and the beating heart, my name in small digital letters above the image. I didn’t want the baby to belong to me, because I didn’t want to have to let it go.
We should have been more careful. No time is safe without safety. I didn’t want to be laid out on a trolley in a clinic in Stockport with a capable assistant and a doctor who was trying to crack jokes. My voice wasn’t bold enough to speak out and say: “Do you know what? I really want to go home and think about this some more.”
I didn’t though. A few minutes later I was under. A couple of hours later, I was eating a Rich Tea biscuit. If I managed two the nurse said I was well enough to go home. Our baby had no heartbeat anymore.
The weeks that passed in between testing positive and having the abortion seemed like a lifetime. And yet, not long enough. I went on a pre-planned holiday to Miami where I ate sushi, drank sake and felt sick. I couldn’t sleep. I felt angry with my inability to make a decision.
“Let’s have it,” said my boyfriend. I could tell by the flat delivery that he felt unsure like me. We were new to this. On the plane I cried all the way home.
I haven’t written about my abortion. I don’t have much to say that other people haven’t said already: Tracey Emin, Caitlin Moran, Katherine Angel. They talk of their experiences with clarity and refreshing honesty.
However, having visited Manchester at the weekend – where I spent my student years – I’ve been thinking. In my mind the city sits uncomfortably next to my abortion. It just won’t budge. The back-end of the three years I spent living in the city formed the bluest part of my adult life. I left in 2000 in an attempt to escape the inescapable gloom. I had some great times, and yet all I remember is the end. I’ve visited since, but usually have the urge to head straight back to London.
In the past decade or so the hollow has been filled, emptied and filled again (and again,with the birth of three healthy babies) and I live far away in London. Manchester still stands, and so do I. Of course, I knew all along that I had the problem and it did not. I will never blame Manchester.
At the weekend my daughter performed in The Choir of The Year finals at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. I was proud as punch – so were all the parents. Inside the hall the choirs sang beautifully and their voices bathed the audience in warmth and happiness. The songs sent shivers down my spine and at times tears rolled down my cheeks.
On the train journey back to London, quite coincidentally I started to read about Jeremy Hunt’s desire to reduce the limit for abortion in the UK to 12 weeks. I didn’t feel outrage or anger, which would probably be a more effective use of emotion. I just felt sad. If he brings the limit down, then many women will suffer.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about abortion. Women – whether rich or poor, young or old, educated or not – rarely take the decision to abort a foetus lightly.
Whatever the reasons for a termination, women should be given time enough to think. Time is everything, and it costs nothing. It is far more likely that a woman will make a choice she regrets if she is not given the space to deliberate whether or not a pregnancy should continue.
It also likely that many of the women who have had abortions legally post 12 weeks in the UK, would have done so if it was illegal. All that would be compromised severely here, would be the woman’s health. It is nobody’s ‘choice’ to endure surgery that is unsafe and risky.
I’m sure most would choose to have a termination at the earliest stage, but the decision process is not always as black and white as some would like to believe. There are so many things to consider. The nuchal fold scan at around 12 weeks; the fact that some women don’t discover they are pregnant in the early stages; the fact that situations can change dramatically for better or worse. The people involved (often partners of the pregnant women) sometimes need to throw their concerns around a lot before choosing what to do.
If I got pregnant now (god forbid), despite the fact that I’m married and old, I’d probably have a termination. Making up my mind would be far easier than it was nearly fourteen years ago: I have three children, which is enough for me.
All those years ago, if I’d leapt up from the bed in the clinic, said “Not today, thanks,” and joined my boyfriend outside, I would have had more time to deliberate, cry, consider and ultimately decide. My time would not have run out.
Perhaps my decision would have been the same in the end. Perhaps it wouldn’t. Who knows? Perhaps the period that followed would still have been sodden in grief, but at least I would not have felt rushed.
As for Manchester, my feelings have changed somewhat. A sense of sadness still lingered when I stepped onto its streets, remembering the loss and how grief-stricken I became there. But the singing at Bridgewater Hall was so uplifting that next time I visit, hopefully I’ll have a song in my heart rather than a lump in my throat.