What it’s like to… have an abortion

It’s a rarely discussed topic but at least one in three women will have had an abortion by the time they reach 45. So what’s it like to terminate a pregnancy? Joanna Gardner shares her experience…

“I had an abortion when I was 18. I was in a loving but unstable relationship – it had taken my boyfriend a while to decide he’d like to commit to me and soon after he did, I fell pregnant. I was on the pill, but was also out partying lots so not being very responsible with taking it.

It’s hard to remember what symptoms I had now, that made me realise I was pregnant. I had an irregular menstrual cycle so it wasn’t a missed period. I do remember feeling very hot and sweaty, maybe a bit sick, and needing to wee a lot.

I was at work when I did the test. I was completely and utterly in shock. I told my boss that I didn’t feel well, messaged a friend and went for a coffee to work out what to do. It wasn’t until later that I told my boyfriend (by text message), as I wasn’t sure how he’d react.

He phoned me and sounded scared. Like much of what happened during this period, it’s all a bit of a blur. I think with something traumatic like this, the brain stores all memory of what happened somewhere far away and inaccessible.

Initially, I was in two minds about whether or not to keep the baby. But a friend pointed out that with all the partying and boozing (and the rest) that I’d been doing, it probably wasn’t a good idea. And not just that: having a baby meant completely changing my lifestyle. I wouldn’t be able to go to uni, as planned.

It’s by far the saddest, most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through

Another friend reminded me that while a young baby might be lovely, that baby will become a toddler, and then a kid and then a teenager – and that I would be raising this child (probably alone). She asked if that was what I wanted.

Last of all, I had to tell my parents. I wasn’t sure how to do this so I left a note at home – I was living with them – and went over to my boyfriend’s house to meet him when he got home from work. My dad phoned me and said they’d support me whatever I decided to do; they were incredible.

My boyfriend lay with me on the sofa, his head on my belly, and asked if I’d ever been in this situation before. It annoyed me. It made the situation seem trivial; like something that happens all the time, to every woman. I couldn’t tell if he liked the idea of having a baby or was petrified.

I decided to have an abortion. I phoned the doctor for an appointment and she said they were booked up until the following week. I burst into tears and told her what had happened, and she booked me in for the following day.

I asked the man behind the stall how he’d feel if his girlfriend was raped and conceived a baby

After that, there was a scan (with the screen turned away so that I didn’t have to see anything), an appointment at a Marie Stopes clinic and then the actual termination somewhere else. My sister came with me – I think my parents were away, and I decided against asking my boyfriend, as he probably wouldn’t have wanted to come – and she was very supportive.

I spoke to a nurse, who checked this was what I wanted. She said I’d be offered counselling after the procedure. (I never was). Then I was taken into a room, laid down on a bed and given an aneasthetic. As I fell away from the world, I remember saying: “Can I change my mind?” but it was too late.

I woke up in a different room, sitting on a chair, being offered tea and biscuits. We went and had some food then drove home and that evening my boyfriend came round. I felt really tired and was bleeding a lot. He didn’t really ask much about what had happened.

I don’t regret my decision. I never have. I went on to university, then worked for a few years, before settling down with the man I went on to marry and having children together. But it is something that I often think about – particularly during each of my subsequent pregnancies.

When I was at uni, there was an anti-choice stall set up for the Fresher’s Week Fair. I was outraged. They were giving out jelly babies and showing photos of what the foetus looks like when aborted at different stages. I asked the man behind the stall how he’d feel if his girlfriend was raped and conceived a baby; or his sister, or mum. Would he still be anti abortion? He looked scared. I was furious that anyone – but particularly a man – would dare to tell a woman how her body should be treated.

To another woman who finds herself pregnant (and doesn’t want to be) I’d say: listen to your heart

From a feminist perspective, I’m 100% pro choice. It’s a woman’s body, to do with as she pleases. However the pregnancy is conceived, she should have the right to continue with it or terminate it. But on a human, emotional level – it’s by far the saddest, most traumatic thing I’ve ever been through.

I think that’s why I felt so angry with that man. He has no idea how it feels to go through an abortion, and never will. He will never be pregnant; so will never have to make that choice. He was also Catholic, and his behaviour reminded me of how ludicrous religion can be. Particularly when it comes to the treatment of woman.

To another woman who finds herself pregnant (and doesn’t want to be) I’d say: listen to your heart. Imagine your life with a baby; is that what you want? Because becoming a mum is the most challenging, time-consuming thing you’ll ever do. But if you decide to keep the pregnancy, motherhood is also so rewarding and beautiful.

And to my daughters, I’d say: take extra precautions with contraception until you decide you want to have a baby. Because it can happen very easily, when you least expect it. And I’d hate for either of them to have to go through what I went through.”

Marie Stopes offer support for women considering an abortion