Openness is vital if abortion is to keep its head high and proud. Our Sadie Hasler holds her hand up and says, “I chose”.
I have had three abortions. Might as well start there.
The first was at the end of a relationship with a man I loved who is still a good friend. We were not careful enough, the relationship ended, and it would not have been right to continue with the pregnancy.
The second was at the start of a long relationship with the best of men, a chaste start of getting to know each other slowly with no sex like a 1950s courtship and where the first time we made love was almost a surprise. I had almost forgotten after a long while of caution that bodies worked in that way; the fact that I had operational parts inside was a reminder from the biological blue that I was a woman. We were careless, but we were fine and made stronger.
The third was with a man who, turns out, was working me into a neat little corner of control; who lied and manipulated ways to fasten me into his world. I panicked, revolted, ended the relationship, then dealt with the mess alone with a shudder of relief.
The first abortion was gruelling. Long, harrowing, painful, full of self-loathing and fear. The second was uncomfortable and humiliating but accompanied by the support of a partner. The third was inconvenient, annoying almost, but swiftly carried out like a new master of the art. All three were characterised by choice.
Each time, a small part of me celebrated that my body was capable of such a mess in the first place, that my mind and heart were capable of making such free decisions, and that I lived in a country where I could swiftly and safely make the most of the invaluable option to exercise my right to terminating a life in the care of an excellent health service that must must must be protected for all our sakes.
I made the decisions alone. I went alone. It wasn’t fun, and it certainly didn’t feel liberating at the time, but I was acting utterly under the power of my own female self.
“I chose to not have those babies and I stand by that right to choose as I stand by my decisions as I stand as a fallible human.”
I see no sense in a piece such as this to cover the fact I was – we were – negligent with my body those three times. In a life of being careful, taking various precautions, decades of regimentally taking the pill every day or using condoms, I had three monumental slip-ups that ended with me getting pregnant. I am not writing this to look good, I am writing this to be honest. To stick my hand up, to wave at other women.
Choosing to terminate pregnancies has at times felt unnatural and ungrateful for the amazing power that comes with being an ordinary woman being able to create and carry life. There is that dull ache of realisation, buried under the earth of my inner self, of knowing that my body is operational, that I am a fertile woman. And my heart pangs and cries with guilt for every woman who is not that lucky.
Could I have carried those babies to term and produced healthy babies while remaining healthy myself? I will never know. Will I be able to get pregnant again? That I don’t know either. But that is not the point. I chose.
As I was dealing with a different stage of grief over losing my father at all three times, I even wondered whether I was ending those nascent lives because I was simply scared of loving something that much. Love is big and it is scary. I felt very small and hurt and afraid of a lot of things, especially love. The third is the only ‘baby’ I might have otherwise kept at that stage in my life, had the circumstances not been fucked and the man been wrong wrong wrong. But I chose. So I chose. I chose.
I have been fairly open in my writing and to friends about the fact that I have had ‘an abortion’. I am happy to put it that simply so that I can do my bit to be open about an important issue, because openness is vital if abortion is to keep its head high and proud.
I have though, always demurred from admitting the actual number – a number which now, if they read, will be a surprise to even those closest to me – because, firstly, admitting the failure of relationships isn’t a massive hoot, but mainly because abortion still feels tainted by the mass shaking of heads.
Like we have one abortion pass as ‘nice girls’ before we must shuffle into the next room with the big sign on the door saying ‘Judgement’, a room for the sluttish irresponsible women who don’t exercise enough caution with their sex lives and who have a wicked disrespect for the life of the unborn.
If I don’t feel like I can hold my hand up and admit the number, then women who are more ashamed than me are not likely to feel like they can make such admissions freely and without judgement. I don’t mind looking weak or foolish or a bit fucked up if it helps others. I don’t mind saying I chose. I did.
In a way, each of those three times, I felt like I had no choice. No choice but to get rid of those tiny smatterings of disruptive cells, those constellations of possibility too small to see with the naked eye. No choice but to go and blush at the doctors, go and open my legs at the clinic, to feel the intrusion of a stranger, to feel the opposite of intimacy, to press rewind on those conceptions, to go and tremble and bleed and cry and walk out aching and free.
And of course that feeling of having no choice is in fact true freedom. Because I knew I had the choice, and I chose. I chose to not have those babies and I stand by that right to choose as I stand by my decisions as I stand as a fallible human. The choice rose up inside me like a great flag far stronger and sooner than any feeling of doubt, any prickle of ‘should I keep it?’ The answer was always no. I should not have this baby. I should not let this oblivious bubble of biology grow limbs, grow sentient. I am not ready.
And now, aged 36, if I were to fall pregnant again, I think I would keep it. I don’t think I could or would or maybe even should make the same choice again. That is the beauty of life; we move on. We can make different decisions in different circumstances. I am a different woman at a different stage of her life with different feelings to the ones I had before.
I think the instinct of my body and mind would want me to keep those cells, to let them grow into a life, to bring that human into this imperfect world and be the best mother I could to it, to give my life over to making that life happy.
To be a mum, to feel that love, to let that be the defining love of the rest of my life. To know that that life is sacred to me, perhaps even more sacred knowing I have in the past ended others at their earliest stages. I would choose that.
“If I don’t feel like I can hold my hand up and admit the number, then women who are more ashamed than me are not likely to feel like they can make such admissions freely and without judgement.”
Our country lets us choose that. Our education system lets us know that we can choose that. Our free and wonderful and struggling health service attends to our right to choose every day with accomplished clinical care. We are all damned in so so many ways if we let that die. We will be waving goodbye to care, freedom, security. Choices.
While I’m being honest, and bizarrely this feels like one of the hardest, most naked things I’ve ever typed, I hope I have a daughter one day. I hope I can teach her things I have learned. I hope to teach her about being a woman in a world not calibrated for women to move freely.
I hope to teach her about respect and about saying no and about defending everything she holds dear with fierce love and about choice. I hope to make her feel loved and strong and brave. I hope she in turn teaches me things I don’t even know I don’t know yet. Women can do that, and we must.
If, for the meantime, men are to govern a world they’ve forged in the vision of their own maleness; if the wrong men are to govern that world they’ve created; if people choose to let them govern it; if they vote to put them and keep them there; if for millions of people choice feels like no choice at all; if a greater sense feels abandoned; if democracy feels shat on; if big men stand behind the most powerful desk in this blighted world and, in the first week of the new dick-thwacking reign of terror of a new and unfathomable fuck-knuckle president, with all the abominable dangerous evil shit that is wrong with the world he could have chosen to tackle first, opt to commence an attack on the rights of millions of women to choose the destinies of life within them, to cut off the funding to serve and protect these women – many women of little means, women who may not been fully taught about the power they have inside them, women in controlling or abusive or simply fucking male-dominated relationships who don’t even think of asserting or protecting themselves, women who already struggle hard enough to choose anything in their own lives because choice feels like a privileged state a few hundred rungs up the ladder; if they snuff the communication to these women that they have the right to have sex without having babies, in an assault of freedom that would only be more heinous if they actually grabbed our pussies ad infinitum, it is even more important that we women are kind to each other. Kind in our honesty and education and sharing of information.
Be informed and treat every woman like a sister or daughter. Share about our bodies and our experiences. Be honest and flawed and fucked up and maybe even wrong, but over everything be kind, and exercise every fucking right and choice we have.7257 Views
Sadie is a playwright, actor, columnist, artistic director of Old Trunk theatre company, and frequently discombobulated multi-tasker.