Posted in Child-free by choice, Miscarriage

From Miscarriage to Child-free by Choice

Catherine is a professional educator, author, runner, wine nerd, and more. She had a miscarriage in 2006 when she was 25. Catherine and her partner now live child-free by choice. In the dialogue below, she shares her memory of the experience.

Q: What’s your story of not being pregnant? What happened? What was your experience of the health care system?

After initial enthusiasm, it took me a month to find the time and the emotional place to begin responding to these questions. Right around the same time as this idea, a friend surprised me with news that she was 14 weeks pregnant. What happened next is the same thing that happens to me every single time I hear such news. Step 1: share happy congratulations while my heart leaps out of my chest with panic, followed swiftly by Step 2: confirming they have already had an ultrasound and heard a heartbeat.

I ask about the ultrasound immediately every time because that’s where my story of not being pregnant began. That moment when–after 13 weeks of positive urine tests, nausea, extremely tender breasts, bloating, extreme fatigue, excitement, online “how big is your baby today” trackers, signing up for newsletters and whatever else–the ultrasound technician couldn’t find a heartbeat. And then the next one couldn’t either. And then the technicians were all consulting with each other and I was asked to get dressed, and we were pulled aside into a vestibule, a hallway, where a doctor said there doesn’t seem to be a baby. And my soul was instantly yanked out of my body in the single Worst Moment of my life.

As the implications were settling and tears welling, my husband hurried me into a tiny airplane-sized washroom where I collapsed to the floor and wailed with a pain that cut through my entire being. I don’t remember if he was crying (he probably was) because I was completely and utterly consumed by grief. I have a sense that he gathered me up and carried me through the fully populated waiting room while I attempted unsuccessfully to contain my wailing. Once outside, my grief exploded. I called my Gran, the only other person who had known since we knew. I wailed over and over the baby is gone but I was crying so hard she couldn’t understand what I was saying. I passed the phone to my husband for interpretation. I remember going to the convenience store, a 7-11, across the street and sobbing through the purchase of kleenex from a stunned clerk. I remember my husband holding me on the busride home (we still took the bus! We were in so much shock that the expense of a taxi didn’t even cross our minds). That’s all I remember from The Worst Day. It was 10 years and 13 days ago. I’ll always bear a scar.

Medically, it seems that a baby had begun but only grew to a few cells, just enough to trigger my body to go into pregnancy mode. It should have been expelled as a late period, but for unknowable reasons my body hung on to it. Initially, my GP thought it may be a molar pregnancy, and if it was I was at risk of the cells being cancerous and so I really should get a chest x-ray right away, like today. I am forever grateful that my (newly acquired) GP at the time was a gentle, compassionate, wonderful man. (A few months later he left the practice to pursue Psychiatry. I was sad but not surprised.) Because my (non)pregnancy was now “irregular” I had to be referred to an OB-GYN. This specialist was also a very nice man, rather grandfatherly. But all I remember from those appointments was sitting in the waiting room with all of these obviously successfully pregnant women, pictures of babies everywhere, and wanting nothing more than to scream in rage at all of them that my baby died but didn’t leave my body and that’s why I was there. I don’t know why I wanted to tell them that, but that’s what I remember feeling. I didn’t do it of course. I sat, my body still aching from (non)pregnancy, and endured those horrible moments. I didn’t know it was going to get worse.

I was to be scheduled for a D&C within the next few weeks, to occur at the local Women’s and Children’s hospital–they would contact me for my surgery date. I was also told that at any point those cells that should have miscarried might miscarry so I should be ready for that. They stayed put, and I eventually did get the D&C. Every day waiting I was still nauseous, still tender, still extremely fatigued, and now grieving the death of my baby. I remember a few things from the day of my surgery. I felt completely alone. Gowned, positioned, appropriately dehydrated, behind a curtain, waiting my turn. The nurses were nice but had their rounds to do. I overheard that the woman next to me (separated by a curtain) was there for a molar pregnancy removal too, which gave me some measure of comfort. I had general anesthetic. Then the Second Worst Moment of this whole ordeal happened. I had been brought to the recovery area for the anesthetic to wear off. The same recovery area that women who had just given birth to living babies were. That’s right. I “came to” while hearing the sound of a crying newborn a curtain away from me. Confused, alone, drugged, I cried out “I’m sorry baby” over and over until a nurse came over to quiet me. I’m forever grateful for her words that pulled me to reality: “it’s not your fault.” She checked my bleeding and told me they would move me soon. Until they did, I cried quietly alone while that baby cried.

Q: How did you tell your partner/family/friends you’d had a miscarriage? How did they respond? How do you wish they had responded?

I imagine that telling family and friends must have been awful, but in truth I don’t really remember most of it. My main supporters were involved immediately: my husband (who had expectantly held my hand in the ultrasound room and then carried my shell home), my Gran (who lived across the country and had received the news by phone), and my closest local friend Lesley (who I imagine I called on The Worst Day but have no memory of it–I just remember sobbing in her arms). Three days before The Worst Day was my mother’s birthday. Family had gathered, without me, as usual, as we lived across the country. I chose that day to tell her she was going to be a grandmother. It was a phone call full of giggles and squeals and excitement. I then called my dad, who had guests over and got all adorably choked up as stoic, farm-raised fathers do. Tears of joy. All good things. Ultrasound scheduled for Wednesday. I don’t remember telling my family there was no baby. Maybe Gran did, and they all just knew when they called me? No idea.

I do remember two face-to-face instances related to work. I was teaching statistics labs, so had to tell the course instructor that any day now I might have a miscarriage, which was a weird thing to say so I ended up sharing the whole story. I don’t think I cried. His wife was about 6 months pregnant at the time. He was gentle and logical, offering to cover whatever was needed. The other person I remember face-to-face was a fellow grad student who had pieced things together to guess the pregnancy. He’d been adorably thrilled for us. The next time he saw us we were dazed, propping each other up, staggering home from the “it might be cancerous” x-ray (still too stunned for taxis, I guess). We must have told him. He must have expressed condolences. Then he sent flowers. Come to think of it, those were the only flowers I received. What a kindness. Usually people just backed away. He didn’t. That was kind.

On one of what must have been daily phone calls with my Gran, she responded to this horror with the greatest gift she could have given me. She asked me if I wanted her to come to visit. This was momentous: my Gran had been phobic of airplanes her whole life, and remained unwilling to conquer that fear. Instead, she offered to spend four days in coach class on a train–each way. My husband and I had moved across the country three years earlier, and I feared she never would make it out here. With great relief and gratitude, I accepted her offer. She arrived after my surgery and stayed on our couch for about 3 weeks before returning on another train. We cried together, I showed her around our new city, and she came with me to most appointments. (Just in case the D&C failed to alert my body it was not pregnant, I had to have blood drawn and tested once a week until some hormone was down. She came with me.) Her visit became the first of about five annual trips she made while she was healthy enough to do so. Years of wonderful memories shared, triggered by the worst experience of my life.

Only two people I knew at that time had had a miscarriage before. To protect their privacy, I won’t disclose details. I know one story but not the other. One person’s unwillingness to talk with me about it was alienating and hurtful at the time–I was desperate for someone who understood what I was going through. I don’t blame her for her choice. It is personal and I still do not know her story. But the way her choice made me feel helped me be more open about the fact that I have miscarried. I want people to know that miscarriages happen, that I have some insight into what they may be experiencing, and if they want to share I can listen from that space.

(So please forgive me when I ask if you’ve had the ultrasound yet. I don’t want to be a downer. I want to be able to exhale and enjoy your news, or let you know that no matter what happens next you can call me. So if the worst happens you know you’re not alone.)

Q: What do you wish someone had told you before you’d had a miscarriage?

I wish that someone had not told me to wait to tell people about the pregnancy. It is common practice to wait weeks to tell even the closest family members. I was so glad that a few (three) people knew before the miscarriage so that I could lean on them immediately. I wished that I had told my full inner circle of family and friends immediately or close to immediately. That way, everyone would be hesitant, everyone would be there with support either way. Anything to avoid that excited up and the devastating down.

Q: What helped you heal?

While I was waiting for my D&C I barely functioned. The only thing I remember compelling myself to do for work was teaching a lab each week. It got me out of bed and captured my attention for a while. I poured everything I had left into making a positive learning experience for those students. It became a coping mechanism and source of positivity in days otherwise filled with aches and tears. I had already been interested in teaching before then, but I became obsessed with it. Maybe I would have dedicated my career to teaching and learning without my (non)pregnancy experience. It’s impossible to know. It would be naive to think my career was not at all influenced by the connection between my teaching and my grief that term. Teaching helped me heal.

Love from people helped me heal. Turning to my husband (not away from him) helped me heal. My dear husband was devastated too, but his grief did not seem as deep or last as long as mine. We talked about that. He shared that he hadn’t felt it was as real as I had felt. It was not something living inside of him, it was still relatively theoretical at that point. To help us heal together, we did two things. First, we named the (non)baby: Pluto. About a month earlier, the celestial body Pluto had been demoted from its status as planet. Just like our baby, it was and then wasn’t. We still pause for Pluto. Second, we sponsored a child through World Vision who shared the same birthday as our due date. That child’s community is now self-sustaining, and so we continued to sponsor another child to honour our Pluto.

I thought what would help me heal was  becoming pregnant, at least by the former due date. It turns out that did not happen. After months of trying, we became so stressed out we decided to pause our attempts. I went back on the pill. Sex became spontaneous again. We exhaled. And then a funny thing happened. Life moved on. And well. Over time, we realized that we enjoyed our life. We enjoyed our work and social life. We enjoyed each other. And, gradually, we no longer envisioned ourselves with a child. Our close friends had a child–we were there through the whole pregnancy, birth, and have absolutely adored that baby since before she was born. But the whole time we kept looking at each other, asking if we wanted to try again. Our answer surprised us: good for them, but not for us. We have not tried again

Q: How do you feel now?

Every choice has trade-offs. If Pluto had become a baby, we would have been delighted. We would have adored that child, and any others that may or may not have followed. We would have a very different life from what we have now. My career would have looked very different. I doubt I would have had the time to become eligible for the job I have now (though maybe I’m wrong). We may not have stayed in our city. Who knows. All we know now is that we continue to choose a child-free life because we enjoy it. We consider Pluto a gift. A lot of good came from that devastating experience, including the imperative to choose life on our own terms rather than societal expectations. A child-free life is not without its challenges, but I hear parenting has its fair share too.

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Posted in Miscarriage, molar pregnancy

I had a tumor instead of a baby

Erin is an educator, a reader, a writer, a swimmer and also the editor of this blog and literaryvice.ca She is partners with S. and in February 2016 they had a molar pregnancy. In what follows she shares her experiences.

The irony of a molar pregnancy is that you still feel pregnant. Because even though you’ve conceived a tumor instead of a baby, your body thinks it’s pregnant, and so you’re nauseous, have sore breasts and feel all the feels.

In February I had a complete molar pregnancy, which means my egg was empty: no genetic material. And so from the moment of conception we’d conceived a mass of fetal tissue, not a baby. Though we thought it was a baby. Had all the excitement of a baby. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but I keep looking and keep coming up short with the sharpness of our loss.

You probably don’t know what a molar pregnancy means. It isn’t covered on Sex in the City or in the ‘complications’ section of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Rightfully so, complete molar pregnancies are one in a quarter million. From the outside it looked like a miscarriage: the ultrasound technician ending the appointment before letting us hear a heartbeat (because a tumor doesn’t have a heartbeat); cramping, bleeding and a D&C; friends and family either saying nothing, or trying to say something, but mostly realizing there’s nothing you can say about a miscarriage because we don’t talk about them. “I’m sorry for your loss” rings too true when you’re steadily losing blood.

Except this wasn’t “just” a miscarriage. With a miscarriage medical intervention is usually over after a D&C (if you have a D&C). With a molar pregnancy you need weekly blood tests to ensure your hcg (the hormone produced by a pregnant body) levels are dropping. A rise in hcg indicates the mole is growing again, a cancerous spreading that needs treatment with chemotherapy. Once – and if – the levels return to zero you wait six months to ensure they stay there. Your loss brought up fresh each week with each vial of blood; the pain perpetuated in the waiting, the certainty you can’t “try again.” Sorry coach, I have to sit this one out because my would-be-baby may be giving me cancer. The terror of checking your lab results praying-as-this-atheist-prays for a drop in the very same level we, just weeks earlier, prayed-as-this-atheist-prays would go up.

Still, I tell people I had a miscarriage because it is easier than explaining hcg levels, partial and complete moles and the risk of cancer. To be fair most of the time I don’t say anything at all because we’re not meant to talk about miscarriage in the first place. The familiar warning that you shouldn’t share a pregnancy until the second trimester, because one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and you don’t want to have to walk back the excitement of your first trimester with everyone on facebook. Because that would be painful (for who?). And no one knows what to say. And so it must be better (for who?) to just keep the whole thing to yourself.

In December, the Ontario government passed a private members bill, the Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness, Research and Care Act. The government has budgeted a million dollars for resources and support services. Part of that funding will go to better training doctors. Like the OB I had who asked me, sincerely, why I was so sad. Wasn’t it better I’d found out at eight weeks that our baby wasn’t a baby at all? The same OB noting it was weird I wasn’t Asian because usually only Asian women have molar pregnancies. Or for the nurse who left the jar containing the contents of my friend’s uterus in the room, so that when she woke up she could see her suffering in the flesh. Or for the lab technician who while taking my blood assumed I must be hoping for a positive hcg level and so asked about my excitement.

We’ve also had some exceptional care. A Nurse Practitioner who sat with us for an hour after the ultrasound results answering our questions, hugging us and telling us because this thing was so rare she didn’t know the all the answers, but would find out. Our new OB who texts us after each blood test to make sure we know the levels dropped and that she’s looking out for us. The absurd privilege of living in a country with universal healthcare that meant I didn’t have to panic about medical insurance while processing my medical needs. Family and friends who asked what we needed and listened.

What the Act and funding cannot provide is what I want: certainty that we will have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. Living with the uncertainty is hard. Friends who know assume I am jealous of pregnancies and babies (I’m not). Or that I want to hear about their experience with pregnancy loss (I don’t). People who don’t know assume because of my age that I must be putting my career ahead of babies (I’m not). Or that I don’t want a baby at all (I do).

So what should you say when someone tells you they’ve had a miscarriage? The answer will be different for everyone. Because every one story is different and every one experience is uniquely lived and felt. The best thing to do might well be to ask. And what should you say when someone (me) tells you they’ve had a molar pregnancy? Say “that’s shitty. Do you want to talk about it?” because – despite this post- I don’t really want to talk about it. I just want you to know (okay, probably I want me to know) that it happened to me, but that I’m not (only) defined by my body and its fertility.

Posted in Ectopic pregnancy, Miscarriage

Four Pregnancies; Two Babies

K is a 42-year-old volunteer, culture consumer, and oft-conflicted parent of two. Subsequent to the stories below, her husband got a much-appreciated vasectomy.
First of all, I want to say that although I went through some difficult reproductive experiences, I actually feel lucky. I was always able to get pregnant when I was trying to (even if it didn’t take) and never got pregnant when I wasn’t trying  – that’s huge. The rough stuff was in concentrated does rather than lingering anxiety and frustration. I feel like I dodged a bullet psychologically.

Pregnancy #1 was when my husband and I, in our late 20s, concocted a crazy scheme to have a baby during the summer before I started grad school. (So naive!) We had a one-month window to get pregnant and have the timing work out, so at the end of that month when I got a really heavy period I figured this scheme was off the table for a while longer. Two or three weeks later I experienced terrible abdominal pain – it felt like the worst diarrhea imaginable, but nothing wanted to come out. I made it home and eventually the pain cleared up as mysteriously as it appeared. A couple of days later, though, the wrenching gut pain came back with a vengeance. I got J. to pick me up early from work. At home I was nearly passing out in the bathroom, so he called the doctor’s office and took me there. I did pass out halfway on the table, and soon an ambulance was called to take me down the street to the hospital.

You know how hospital shows always have the shot, from the patient’s perspective on the gurney, of the overhead fluorescent lights passing by as they are rolled down the hall? I remember seeing exactly that. I also remember the hefty EMT talking about how silly the short ambulance ride was, and during his chat with someone in the hospital, he said “Cool beans” in response to something. There are some phrases you just don’t want to be the last words you hear.

Everyone kept asking if there were any chance I was pregnant. Well of course not; I’d gotten my period! And maybe we’d had sex a couple of times since, with me back on the pill and him be-condomed for good measure. I was very confident I wasn’t pregnant. A nervous intern said, “This is kind of a weird question, but has anyone in your family ever just . . . died?” Eventually they gave me a catheter and managed to get a little urine to test. It’s rather hazy, but I think I was already in an operating room when they explained that I was pregnant, but that it was an ectopic pregnancy, my fallopian tube had burst, and they needed to operate immediately. I’d had my period because the blastocyst didn’t implant in the womb. Usually they could do laparoscopic surgery for this procedure, but it had gone too far and they needed to go right in old-school, so I came out with a nice four-or-five-inch scar right above the pubic hair line. I had three weeks of recovery.

Here’s what I mean about feeling lucky – rather than thinking I had a normal pregnancy and then finding out it was nonviable, the narrative was “I’m dying” followed by “We can fix it.” I was way too busy bleeding out to mourn the pregnancy I had just learned of. At this time, we were living with J’s grandmother, who was 96 and sharp as a tack. She had even done a year of medical school in the 1930s, before consenting to marry an older man. When I got home from the hospital, she said, “I should have known what had happened to you!” She had had a friend in college who felt the same gut-wrenching pain and got on the train to go home to her family. It was later determined to have been an (extramarital) ectopic pregnancy. I think she died on the train. So yeah – I feel lucky.

Postscript: The morning after I left the hospital, I received an urgent call: “We forgot to give you a rhogam shot!” This is an injection you get after a pregnancy (even a shortened one) if you have a negative blood type. For some reason you can develop antibodies after a first pregnancy that threaten future pregnancies. So I had to hustle back to the hospital.

Pregnancy #2: The pregnancy went well (only one fallopian tube, but we still got pregnant when we tried again a few years later) and I was prepared for a Bradley Method natural birth. I had no epidural, but after 2 1/2 hours of pushing they had to use a vacuum extractor to help pull him out. Nevertheless, he was in great shape. Newborns are assessed on the ten points of the Apgar scale based on color, breathing, etc., and he was a perfect ten. Me, not so much. The doctor tried to sew up the tears in my birth canal, but it was later described to me as looking like “raw hamburger.” They gave our son to me to nurse, but as soon as he started I was wracked by a massive, unending contraction and waves of pain. After some time they pressed on my abdomen and blood gushed out – internal hemorrhaging. Back to the OR! They tried everything to stop the bleeding, even calling an oncologist to consult (cancer specialists deal with a lot of bleeding). In the end they just had to pack me with gauze.

I spent that night in the ICU as well as the next. Because of my injuries, insurance covered my full eleven weeks of maternity leave! (Need I mention we were still in the US at the time?)

Pregnancy #3: I hadn’t yet gotten through the first trimester, but we were visiting lots of relatives – parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles – at Christmastime, so we wanted to share the news. I made cute gift cards to put under the tree: “Good for one grandchild (gender based on availability),” that sort of thing. Great trip, we got home, and in mid-January I had an ultrasound scheduled. The technician took a very long time. Looking, looking…looking. Rolling the wand around in the goop on my stomach. Finally she said, “Okay! You can get dressed!” After I was ready to go she said, “Your doctor’s going to call you later.” “I hope nothing’s wrong.” I said, but quietly. I sort of knew. She didn’t really answer, just smiled faux-cheerily. Later I waited in the examining room and my doctor came in. “Bad news, eh…?” She explained I could have a D&C or just wait for the things to take care of themselves. (I’m sure she didn’t phrase it so vaguely, but I can’t remember what she told me.) I agreed to let things take their course.

A few days later I woke in the middle of the night with cramps. I sat in pain for a long time in the bathroom, and finally pushed out something that felt like it was the size of an orange. I didn’t look. Should I have looked? I didn’t look. After a little more sleep I woke with more cramps and delivered something that felt plum-sized. It was done.

By the way, based on the size of the fetus when it stopped thriving, it probably failed around Christmas Day.

Still…I’m so glad I had the warning from the ultrasound! It was a physical ordeal I had to go through later, but I’d already said goodbye…or not fully said hello yet; it was so early. But if the cramps had arrived without my knowing it was already all over, it would have been more like a tragic TV miscarriage: “I’m losing my baby!” The panic, trying to get to the hospital to see if anything could be done. I’m grateful it happened the way it did.

I bled like a stuck pig for a couple of days. I was changing tampons every ten minutes at one point and still leaked through my pants when guests were at dinner. It might sound callous to go ahead with a dinner party, but I was glad of the distraction. I drank a lot of wine.
Pregnancy #4: This one took! Back in the ICU after our son was born, I had said to J, “The next one’s going to be a planned caesarean.” I’d given vaginal birth the old college try and nearly lost my life, so let’s skip the drama this time. I chose the obstetrician who I’d been told was a bitch but was very good at c-sections. And she sure was a bitch! But it didn’t faze me as it would have during my earlier completed pregnancy. Before my first appointment, however, I was upset when my regular doctor said the c-section would probably be scheduled two weeks before the due date. Even though I’d had to let go of my natural childbirth ideal that seemed unnecessarily early, especially considering that my son went a full week past term. I was really upset. I called the OB’s office trying to talk to her, but the receptionist gave me the runaround. Finally I got her to understand my concern and she conceded that one week before the due date was typical. Well, still not ideal, but I could live with that.

In the end, my labor started two days before the c-section was scheduled! And thanks to the fact that I do not screech during contractions (so the nurses at the hospital didn’t take my progression too seriously) and a car crash which kept the surgeons busy saving people from more immediate danger, I “got to” go through many hours of labor before my daughter was delivered early the next morning. Sounds like the worst of both worlds, but I got to be satisfied that she was really ready to be born! And while caesareans aren’t great, it was a hell of a lot better than the last birth. When they pulled her out I felt the weight lift off my spine. Quite a feeling. She was in great shape too. By the way, since we bucked the schedule a different OB delivered her after all, and that was just fine.

Final thoughts: My husband’s dissertation was on topics related to Japanese conceptions of childbirth (and death). In Japan there’s an idea that the souls of miscarried or aborted fetuses and of small babies who die stay nearby, sometimes to be born once more. I like to think that pregnancies one and three were just trial runs for two and four, that each baby just got a do-over. It doesn’t work out that neatly for everyone. But I take comfort in the idea.
Posted in Abortion

Loss is Different from Regret: ‘Choosing’ Abortion

We could identify Claire. by saying she’s 40. Or a mother of two boys. Or a partner to P. Or an educator. A writer, a reader, a community builder, a dancer, an optimist. But for us she’s the first to share her experience with us. And we so appreciate her sharing her story of being not-pregnant.
PP: What’s your story of not being pregnant? What happened? 
C: I was 26.  We had been dating about a year or two on and off….hard years.  He had a three year old from a previous relationship and suddenly I was a step-mother in my mid-20s.  It was also hard just because we were young-ish – you know how it is.  I never considered that I would be in a long-term, “forever” relationship in my 20s. Let alone pregnant.  I had plans.  We weren’t “ready”.
I was standing outside of my workplace one morning smoking a cigarette (yes, I smoked in my 20s) and it occurred to me that my period might be late.  At lunch hour I walked over to the mall and bought a test, went to the food court, and peed on the stick in the washroom there.  It showed a positive result immediately and I thought I might be sick.  I went and smoked 10 more cigarettes and went home.  I will always regret the way that I told him I was pregnant.  I blurted it out as soon as he walked through the door “I’m pregnant, but don’t worry I will ‘take care of it,'” the last part meaning what you think.  He was stunned, but those first few words meant that I never framed it as a conversation or a decision, and he wasn’t very deeply communicative on the best of days back then.  The next few weeks were fraught.  I was devastated.  The six week ultrasound showed a little heart beat and a “congratulations” from the technician.  We fought.  A lot.
I never wanted to get married, but I’ve always known I wanted kids. We talk about “choice” but I didn’t want to have to choose anything, I just wanted the whole thing to never have happened in the first place.  I was on the birth control pill for crying out loud.  I got counselling, from a very lovely local nurse at the student health centre.  Women in my situation were allowed six free sessions and somehow I felt that would help me find clarity in the “decision”…to be honest, it never did.  More, I was on automatic pilot and waited until the last possible moment to book the appointment.  My best friend drove us to a hospital in the next town.  She had done this twice already herself, but unlike me, she always has known she didn’t want to be a mum.  We arrived and had to pick up an unmarked white telephone near the front entrance to get further directions, which led us up and elevator to the third floor to another unmarked white door where we rang a buzzer to get in.  We sat in the waiting room with a few other couples.  Most guys looked at their shoes.  I sat journalling like crazy as I couldn’t look at them. I couldn’t even look at him.  I listened to a few couples talking about their plans for the night and I wanted to scream “don’t you know that you are here for an ABORTION!”.  When it was our turn, I lost it.  I was crying so uncontrollably that they called in the hospital psychiatrist to evaluate me. They suggested I go home and think about it, “come back in a week”.  But I didn’t want to spend another week in this agony, and I was already 11 weeks pregnant.  I was showing.  I was making this decision with my head, right?!?, there was no place for my heart.  They gave me another ultrasound and I remember wishing that I would see two heartbeats on the screen.  Twins run in my family and I thought that if there were two babies it would be a sign.  There was only one.
I lay back in the chair and the rest is a bit of a blur.  I remember staring at his long sad face.  I am sure now that he wanted to support me but he just had no idea how.  Legs in stirrups and lying back, it was over.  I sat up and I was hysterical. I remember reaching both of my arms out to try and grab the stainless steel bowl they were carrying away from me….like I might have a chance to hug my baby.  And then I vomited.
As we left there was a nurse who had been in the room.  She came over to me and made me look in her eyes.  “Years from now”, she said, “you might have difficulty getting pregnant.  Or maybe you will be lucky and it will be no problem.  But know this, no matter what happens, it will have nothing to do with today.”  I will always remember those words of kindness.
Many weeks later, he built a small boat and covered it with tea lights.  We walked down to the river’s edge together and watched it float away.  Tears streamed down my face, as you might notice is a trend in this story.  I could probably fill a bathtub.
PP: What do you wish someone had told you before you’d had an abortion?
C: I wish I had been told that I might not ever “get over it”.  For many women this isn’t the case, for some it is a relief, not a loss or regret.  Every situation is different, and many if not most of my friends have had abortions and all of our stories are different.  But, I don’t think anyone ever suggested that the emotional fall out could be what it was/is. I went to a music festival the next weekend and I remember feeling completely alone.
PP: (How) did you tell your partner/family/friends you were pregnant? How did they respond? How do you wish they had responded?
C: I told my best friends matter of factly.  Almost universally the response was “well you’re not thinking of having it are you?!?”,  or “you are only 26, don’t ruin your life”.  Only one ever made room for a different choice, and that was on the morning of the “procedure” – “you know you don’t have to do this right?” – I wish I had been given permission earlier, or at least given it to myself.
I didn’t tell my dad, still haven’t.  I did tell my mum.  (they are divorced).  She was mostly supportive, though many months later during a particular heated argument, she basically threw it back in my face.  For a long time I felt a lot of shame, but in the last few years I have been far more open about my experience.  I am able to tell most people that I had an abortion in my 20s.  I am pro-choice – always have been, always will be, and so mostly I try and share that information, when appropriate, as a means to do my teeny part to break down the stigma that some people feel.  That said, I still can’t have a proper conversation about that “baby” without tears, as I still feel it on the best of days.
PP:What was your experience of the health care system?
C:Mostly it was good.  I had a great family doctor in Student Health Services (who hadn’t yet noticed that I had graduated years before), and although the staff at the hospital were very much clinical, they were professional.
Interestingly, the BEST support I got came years later, from my midwives.  No one had told me either (nor had I thought of it myself), that the birth of my first child would bring up a LOT of feelings around this issue.  The six-weeks postpartum were incredibly difficult for a number of reasons, but mainly as my first born baby (note, I always refer to O. as my first BORN baby, but not my first…maybe I should let this shit go eh?) looked almost exactly (save eye colour) as I had imagined our children to look…red haired and all.  I spent most of my follow up appointments with my midwives talking about my abortion, and not my infant.
PP: How do you feel now?
C: I feel okay.  It has been 14 years.  It comes up at strange times still.  In part I think that is because I am still with him (the father).  It would have been so much easier to cope had I not continued in my relationship, easy to relegate it to not being with the “right person,” easy to not imagine what that child might have been like when I have two living and breathing examples of what might of been.  I am not very mystical or religious, but I was convinced that that baby would “come back to me” in one of my children.  I felt so disappointed when my first born arrived as I immediately knew this not to be true.  Still, I held hope with my second….again, I immediately knew it wasn’t the same baby.  I know that sounds crazy but I felt like I would just “know” or something.  Perhaps it is because I have two boys – I always wondered if I aborted my only daughter.  I actually wanted to have a third to “try again” for that baby….fucked up but true.  Recently, he had a vasectomy and the dragon reared its head again and I spent two days crying for my unborn child.   For the child that I still feel is missing from our family.
I should add that despite all of this,  I don’t “regret” my decision.  Despite waiting another 6 years to have a baby even while continuing in my relationship – I have “done” some of the things that were so important to me – mainly traveling ALONE.  I was in Morocco on one of those camping trips to the desert…as I stood in that silence over looking Algeria in the far off distance, I remember thinking “this is why”.

And frankly, I’m not convinced P. and my relationship would have survived it.  We grew SO much in those six years that we were entirely different people when O. was born.  We were ready. 

Last thing I want to say is this.  Abortion is every woman’s individual decision.  I am still pro-choice. Just last week I shouted out my car window at some pro-life demonstrators, “my body, my choice” – they were so taken aback by my volume that one of them actually looked me in the eye and said “okay”, and I laughed as I had clearly made him abandon his message in that moment.  Just because I struggled (struggle) with my own decision, does not mean I don’t support the decisions of others.  Over the years I have found myself jealous of those who have dealt with it so well – what is wrong with me that I didn’t?  But then I realize that because it is so individual, it is impossible to compare one abortion to another.