My Sweet Pea19 July 2016
CONTENT WARNING: Description of an abortion.
So last week I had an abortion, exactly one week from my twentieth birthday – just in time to squeeze in a teenage pregnancy. I am feeling better now, but also fatter and wearier. I still rest my hand on my gut when I sit.
I knew before I had the test. My period, usually sporadic, had been absent for at least two months. The morning I found out, I vomited. Later on, tiny spots of blood appeared in my underwear. That night, I stayed late at the library trying to study while sinking into a panic. I had one tab open on Renaissance art, the other on pregnancy symptoms. Like omens, Baby Jesus’ fat face sat next to prenatal care ads. When I finally snapped, I called my sister and wailed in the library foyer, my vision shrinking to a pore.
I thought I was only two weeks pregnant. My boyfriend and I had split up a month before. I remember lying in his bed, crying while he had sex with me. How could life come from that? My sister stayed on the phone with me while I crept with my swollen face concealed, into the bathroom at my house. At midnight I peed on the stick – immediately, two lines showed up. I was so, absolutely pregnant.
At first I only told three people: my sister, my best friend and my housemate. My sister, who has had two abortions, let me feel sad. She called her experience traumatic. When she found out about her pregnancy (a week before her eighteenth birthday) she punched her belly before wading through protestors at the clinic. The doctor said, “Careless, aren’t we?” My best friend soothed me. She appeared at my door with a dressing gown at one in the morning. My housemate endured my awful pregnancy jokes. At one point, I even made a ‘dingo got my baby’ gag. I bragged about priority seating on trams and made her lift everything for me while I feigned a ‘pregnancy glow’. Yet in the quiet moments spent walking from class, I thought only of the sack of cells – the size of a sweet pea nestled under my stomach.
Here’s what surprised me. First, despite being devoutly pro-choice, the phrase ‘they’re just cells, don’t feel guilty’ was useless, my emotions didn’t care. We’re all just cells, after all. Second, the practicalities – applying for discreet extensions for essays, lying to my third housemate, getting a Medicare card FedExed from interstate and somehow finding $300 – all felt indicative of the guilt, shame and impurity that I almost believed I should have felt. Third, I had no idea about pregnancy. Over the phone, the woman at the abortion clinic told me that, based on my symptoms, I was at least six or seven weeks pregnant.
But some things were also okay. I told the boy – he was nice and offered me a packet of chocolate freckles. My tutors all granted me extensions without a single question. The pro-life videos I forced myself to watch fell flat and I awoke on Thursday, certain about my decision and ready to lose my sweet pea.
I spent six hours at the clinic. For most of it, I sat with my best friend in the waiting room surrounded by bleary-faced women and their silent boyfriends. The clininc, its eerie meditation music and all of its grey and sterile surfaces, seemed to repress the existence of a bin of fetuses somewhere in the innards of the building. This disjunction pervaded the day. When I was eventually called forth, I had to wait another hour in my hospital gown. From where I sat, I watched the doors to the operating room swing open and shut – knocked-out women wheeled in and out. Nicki Minaj played in the background.
Afterwards, I sat in the recovery room with the other women. The nurses strolled past, calling each other sweet pea. I cried, so tired and sore. They gave me a cup of tea, a sandwich, prescriptions and a plastic-wrapped cookie. I went home – dazed, relieved but also aware of an absence.
I want to talk about it but it feels secretive. On the one hand, my abortion was a big deal – it was this complex, private, emotional shit-show. On the other, it was bearable, safe and discreet. Not unlike losing my virginity. For every woman, the experience is vastly different. I don’t think, despite the perpetual debate, we’ve found the right words to articulate the process. According to my doctor I had an “evacuation of the gravid gland”. According to other people, I killed a baby. For now, I hope to mourn my sack of cells in peace – thankful I had the last say on my body.