This is the first time I’ve thought about who I am without starting with my work CV. I’m a confident, educated and able woman. I just turned 39. My kids are 17, 10 and seven. I’m divorced. I’m into the second year of a loving relationship with someone I love unconditionally. We have a beautiful life.
My story represents one part of the unspoken face of terminations – I’m the mother in my late 30s who has a family, works hard in my career, doesn’t always pay attention to my body, who thinks about everyone else, and forgets about what I need.
I’m not reckless, a term often assigned to those who end up in this situation.
I’m also a Tasmanian female who had to fly to Melbourne because I couldn’t access affordable and available abortion services in Tasmania.
I’m an advocate, but I’ve never been an activist. I’m now both.
As I look back now, it’s so clear to me that these times were dark and raw, and changed my life. This is how it went for me:
Decision is made.
Now what? Where do I go?
The public debate and the official line and what the government is saying don’t match the results of my internet searching. I’m intelligent, but why aren’t I moving? Just call a doctor. Call a doctor. It’s not clear what I need to do. I don’t want to be judged. I don’t want to have to see three different people. I just want this to be straightforward. To be easy to understand. I stop looking.
One week later. I don’t fit into my pants. Everything feels tighter.
I need to do something. I search the biographies of all the doctors at a semi-local clinic I go to more to than any other. I make an appointment with a female GP. I can’t find my handbag. I miss the appointment. Maybe it’s meant to be. Maybe this is the universe telling me not to do this.
I need to stop making excuses. There’s no time for excuses.
I’m talking to the GP. She’s so great. But like me, she’s not clear about what’s available. She needs to find out. We agree that I’ll get a blood test and an ultrasound, as I’m not sure what stage I’m at. We will get back together next week once we have the test results. $82.50
It’s Friday afternoon. I leave the GP and walk up the road for a blood test. One thing down. FREE
I’m an advocate, but I’ve never been an activist. I’m now both
It’s a long weekend. I can’t focus. It all seems too hard. It weighs me down. It’s all consuming. Three days of trying to distract myself.
4 pm on Tuesday, long weekend behind us. I’m getting an ultrasound. [My partner] Alex is in the waiting room. I don’t want him to see it. This is just process.
Oh fuck. It’s bigger than I’d expected. Shit. It’s got form. I’m crying but trying to be all humorous. I think I’m funny. But I’m really not. We are talking a month more than I had suspected. They’re measuring the parts. The calculations are done and they’ve settled on 15 weeks and five days. I’m fucked.
We’re talking about the options available in Tasmania for aborting after 15 weeks. Public hospitals don’t do this. There’s one provider offering a few a month. It’s clear to me that nobody really knows what to do or what to say. Everyone wants to help, but the pathway isn’t there. During my session it becomes clear that it might be easier to do this in Melbourne. Next part down. $265.00
I’m back at the GP’s office. She’s got me all the details. I also get referred to the local provider. I can confirm there are options. I’m excited. Progress. $82.50
I’m in a waiting room at an obstetrician. There are pregnant women, new babies. I can’t make eye contact. I’m filling out the personal form. I just want him to do this. I don’t want to go to Melbourne. I want this done now. I want my life to be normal. I’m busy. We have lots going on. The kids are back at school. I need normality.
He’s really nice. We talk and laugh. I tear up, but then make more bad jokes. Really bad humour to hide utter devastation. If I didn’t put this persona on, I think I’d die. I say that lightly, but there’s part of me trying to work out how to escape this situation. I refuse to admit it, but these are the darkest days for me. I’ve never felt as low as I do at this point. Trapped. Not sure what to do or what to believe. I don’t want to burden people. I feel like I’ve stuffed up. I feel stupid.
He can’t do it. I’m 16 weeks on the day [he can operate]. Under legislation, it’s illegal if we proceed after that day unless two doctors sign off. I explain all my reasons why two doctors should sign off. But it’s not strong enough. I don’t want to go to Melbourne. He tells me how he’d do a 16-plus-week termination. It’s the medical pill taken in hospital and me miscarrying while under observation. I walk out and I call Melbourne. $190
If I didn’t put this persona on, I think I’d die. I say that lightly, but there’s part of me trying to work out how to escape
Monday. I’m back at work. I feel fat. I look fat. I have crazy eyes. I’m unsettled. I call Melbourne. They explain the days they undertake the procedure. It’s a three-day process for second trimester surgery. Starts on a Thursday. I can fly home on a Sunday. But I can’t be booked in until I speak to a nurse for an assessment. I want to be booked in this Thursday. So I can move forward. So I can be normal again. If I can’t get in this week, it goes from $2750 to $3300 the following week. I hate that money is playing a role in this, but I can’t afford that increase. This is already going to push me outside my limits.
I have a phone consult with the nurse booked for Tuesday, the next day.
Tuesday lunch time, I’m outside on the phone to the nurse. She goes through the procedures. I can’t fly until Sunday. I need a carer. Termination will be at 17 or 18 weeks. I beg for a slot this week. I have to wait to see what they can do.
Can’t focus. Feel sick.
I get a phone call. I’m booked in for Thursday.
When I get home, I pay my deposit. $500
Flights booked. $411.50
What am I doing? I’ve stopped talking about it with Alex. I’m internalising everything. I’m lying to him that I’ll be fine. I’m telling him not to worry. I’m scared I’m going to die over there. Irrational. I buy pads. I buy Easter eggs for the kids and hide them in the cupboard. In case I die, I want him to still have Easter with the kids.
It’s not a rational fear. I know that. But it’s what’s inside me. Dying alone. Being alone. Just alone. I pack. A million knickers, fat pants, T-shirts, jumpers.
Thursday. We drive to the airport. I’m really heavy. I’m bigger. We sort of talk. The rhythm isn’t there. We’re both afraid. I see it in his eyes. I hate that he’s different. I am angry that I’m doing this alone. I lie again that I’ll be fine and that I’ll get a carer. I don’t want a carer. I don’t want anyone to know.
I call my brother and ask if he or his nurse wife (she’s pregnant, six weeks more than I am) will be my carer. I don’t tell them everything. It gets confusing. I tell them everything.
The centre is great; the staff are amazing. I’ve decided we need this in Hobart. It’s discreet. It makes sense. It feels right. I’m no longer being judged. I’m safe.
Back at the hotel, it’s all very real. I’m alone. I’m scared. I’m hungry. I miss Alex. I miss the kids. I wonder: if I died would he know there were Easter eggs in the cupboard? I don’t think I even told him about them.
Friday. I’m like a scientist, getting as much information as I can. I go through the processes, I’m so impressed with the people. I feel so safe.
I pay the remainder: $2250
I get into the gown and hat and booties. There are six of us in the waiting room. We keep to ourselves, looking at the TV for a while, smiling nervously if we catch each other’s eyes. Finally, we start talking in the waiting room. We all have such different and similar stories. Some are local, some are from regional areas, some are from overseas. We are all here because this is the only place we could go to have this procedure.
I go to sleep [that night] knowing that the foetus is already asleep. I feel numb. I miss Alex. I’m alone.
I don’t sleep. I cry all night. I wake up dehydrated.
I’ve decided we need this in Hobart. It’s discreet. It makes sense. It feels right. I’m no longer being judged
Saturday. This is the big day. I get there a little later than the others. I go through the process. It’s hard and fast for me. I have a high pain threshold, so by the time I’m asking for pain relief, I’m pretty much ready for surgery.
I wake up and I’m shaking. The staff are all so good to me. I’m sitting down in recovery. I have a million cups of Milo. Well, four.
I think about the Easter eggs. I’m not dead.
I talk to Alex, but I have nothing to say.
Sunday. We head to the airport and I can’t stop telling my sister-in-law how amazing the staff were. I’m a living review. I can’t stop gushing.
I cry quietly on the plane. I’m strong and vulnerable all at once.
No one should have to pay over $4000 for this procedure, and no one should have to leave their home and fly interstate. This is a disgrace.
Image credit: Peter Mathew
This is an edited extract from Choice Words – A collection of writing about abortion edited by Louise Swinn, available now