A story of the female burden that is choosing contraception. The aftermath of abortion. Free-flowing thoughts, from an overactive mind.
I entered the doctors room sheepishly. So clinical, yet dated. I’d been holding my breath a lot in the waiting area. As if that may save me from picking up any lingering bugs. I found her face and relaxed a little. She was a kind-looking woman with wild, greying, red hair. Eyes that didn’t look at you, and I was happy for it. I was exposed. My body felt so fragile in that moment. It had been through a lot. I was surrendering myself to the situation, and the recommendations I’d received after the procedure.
I have built up so many views against medical science. I have watched my little sister's teeth fall from her mouth after taking prescription drugs for her brain trauma. I have looked on helplessly as my sweet, beautiful mum was reduced to tremors and foggy eyes with the medication provided for a depression, which turned catatonic. Why am I here? Perhaps out of shame. Am I self-punishing?
Sometimes I notice the privilege attached to empowerment. It's easier to spend time making empowered decisions when you adhere to society's norms, and are accepted—or are not being watched. It only takes one slip in a certain direction, and there is a power shift. Your rights to choose are taken away.
After I had the abortion, I was spoken to sternly about contraception. I felt I was being told off, whilst in my most vulnerable form, for trying the ‘natural root’. In so many words, I was told I needed to choose from the contraceptive options presented to me before I was allowed to go home.
I found myself wondering about the branding of contraception as an empowered female choice. I am aware we have come along way in terms of women’s rights, and that many women have suffered, and still do suffer from not having access to contraceptive measures that can protect their health. I know, because I am told that it is a privilege to have access to contraception. But... Can we truly call contraception an empowered choice, when nearly all of the options advised bring pain or discomfort to women?
I explained to the nurse how I had struggled for years with contraception. Not feeling emotionally myself with pills. You look at the options all typed out in colourfully, uplifting leaflets, and friendly font. The dark descriptions so polarised to the colour. To name a few; Combined pill (flushing your system with unnatural hormones that make you feel mental), IUD (a piece of metal inserted into your vagina and into the womb space THAT STAYS and repels sperm), permanent contraception/ sterilisation (surgically changing the female form to ensure you can’t house a baby in there). I felt so downtrodden, and so vulnerable at this point, I just couldn't explain anymore, and I opted for the copper coil. At least there’s no hormones, right?
Now, here I am, herding myself to the appointment to have it fitted. I didn’t have to follow through with it. It’s mad how we can self-police our behaviour when we feel watched or judged. This is a ridiculous example in comparison to the injustices I have seen, but it makes me uncomfortable in the same way.
During the four years that I worked as a domestic abuse specialist, I watched intelligent, capable, and headstrong women get crushed in the system. Many women had made the heart wrenching decision to leave behind everything they owned in the hope of a life without violence. Sometimes this meant leaving their methods of income. You wouldn’t have thought it but refuge from abuse in the UK isn’t free. If you are working (not on benefits) you are expected to pay your rent, and at a high price. Would you keep a job while going through emotional turmoil, just to hand all the money over to an association that’s given you a shitty flat, and endless rules to live by?
Under pressure, some female survivors would have to leave their jobs and go to the GP to get a sick note, which entitles them to apply for housing benefit. Often, they were put onto medications for depression, and in return, receive the benefit payment to survive on the breadline. It seemed that when they reached out for help from society, there were conditions that meant they no longer had free will.
Women were desperately running and grasping for help to get to freedom. Little did they know they were running into another trap. If you want financial support, we need information and evidence. Giving information to governing bodies can open you up to judgement. The power can shift, and you’re under the microscope. Did she do everything she could to protect her children? Is she mentally well? Sometimes I can still see little hands waving and grabbing for their mummys as social services take them away to safety.
It’s funny how you can endure seriously stressful situations, and then have a “straw that broke the camels back” moment in a totally mundane scenario. You are going about your day just getting to grips with how fucked up the systems are that protect the vulnerable, and you catch a glimpse of a newspaper talking about “Benefit scroungers spend tax payers money.” Really?! These ridiculous, greedy politicians with their elitist circles and fascist beliefs are considered reasonable citizens. It’s the people at the bottom of the class system to blame for our growing poverty, is it? Fucking scapegoating.
Oh shit, she’s staring at me, and I have not been listening at all. This is the same doctor I had seen six months ago to have the contraceptive device removed from my body. I explained with such confidence then, that I had done my own research, and I wanted to use natural methods, concerned about the effects of having a copper device in my body. She had called natural methods ancient and unpredictable. I laughed it off at the time, and I felt so empowered in that moment. Where has that gone?
I blinked back into the room. Her words were washing over me, I wasn’t present. I tried to look at her face to force myself to listen. Her gaze left her computer and she looked at me now, quizzically, a little amused.
“So we are having the copper coil after all.”
I let this comment pass with a one word answer, “Yes.”
I was encouraged to undress in the corner with a curtain I could pull if I wanted.
A cheerful, rosy-cheeked nurse bustled in with a trolley. I tried not to look at the instruments. She closed her eyes as she beamed warmth towards me; giving me privacy by looking away, but also acknowledging my presence. I felt grateful she was there. Everything about her mannerisms reflected sensitivity.
I lay on the scratchy, green paper towels trying to appear unfazed by my nakedness, and the bright lights illuminating my most sacred and personal female area. I nodded along as the red headed lady arranged her tools, and briskly explained what’s next.
“I see from your notes that you had an abortion recently, Anna. So, the natural methods didn’t work out for you after all. Oh dear.”
My heart fluttered, not the fluttering of a first kiss. The inward fluttering gasp of shock. Of self protection. I try so hard to keep my heart open, but it has its own memories of pain. It responds fast to protect itself and locks itself inside, safe and warm. I peered through my open legs to her face, a small, half-pitying smile locked into her cheeks. Her slender, yet strong-looking body perched ready. My knees started to tremble, the focus of her face blurring.
The lump in my throat bobbed up, just in time to silence my wild thoughts from flowing out of my mouth. Was she telling me off ? Was she saying, “I told you so.” I had explained in detail about my vegan lifestyle in my last appointment; I've been trying to make cruelty-free choices for the last three years, follow the healthy path. But here I am, six months later after ending the life of a fetus that I grew inside of me. I felt my cheeks burn. I’m a walking contradiction.
I had so much I wanted to say, yet a tiny child-like voice crept out.
“No, they didn’t work. I don’t want it to happen again."
I wanted to tell her that I had been with my partner for nine years, that we loved each other, that we are on a spiritual journey. That we want to love ourselves completely before showing another small being how to love. I want to explain that we didn't know what to do at first. The decision was tough. I want her to know I have a conscience. I want to say sorry for what I had done. I also want to believe that she is unbiased and non-judgmental. I want to believe that if I were selling myself, and on my ninth abortion that she would still welcome me with kindness. I want not to care.
She nodded, eyebrows lifted, somber. She was doing an examination now. Still chatting away light heartedly.
“We would sometimes do a precautionary pregnancy test before, but it’s clear that if you were pregnant that you have already made a decision. We won’t today. If you are pregnant from the last two weeks then the coil will help you pass it.”
She was speaking soothingly to me now, but her words felt like acid. I felt like I had been dropped into a scene from Margaret Atwood’s disturbed dystopian society. I felt an urge to blurt out, “blessed be the fruit,” or “Thank you aunt Lydia.” Find some perverse humour in this.
The procedure was starting. I hadn’t considered that I could be pregnant again. We had been using condoms. What if I’m pregnant. Do I want to keep it? I still don’t know if I made a mistake before. Do I ask for a test? My mouth wobbles half open. It’s too late. I brought this upon myself. Stop embarrassing yourself, stop arguing. Look what happened last time you spoke out. I was so aware of my harsh self-talk in this moment. Nobody was making this experience abusive except me. My inability to speak. My throat chakra caked with fear. My heart crumbling away from connection. Just focus, be braver, and get it put in so you can’t hurt anybody else. I let my head fall backwards, shaking my harsh words away. Trying to find some compassion, I breathed deeply. I felt some sharp pinching. Hot tears poured down my cheeks. My legs felt hard from trying not to tense, but still tensing. I couldn’t relax. The pinching was now like wrenching. Was my body trying to stop what my voice couldn’t? Am I pregnant? Is this soul trying to live? I shut my flickering eyelids tight and breathed out deeply, trying to silence my constant flow of thoughts.
A warm plump hand enveloped my cold and clammy fist, she squeezed lovingly. The pink cheeked nurse looked into my eyes deeply.
“Are you ok my darling? How is your pain? The coil is being pushed out. It doesn’t want to go in. You’re being really brave.”
My heart warmed. I felt such burning gratitude for this kindness. My throat opened. I could speak.
“It’s very painful,” I sobbed.
Spitting tears and the fluid that enters your mouth when in a state of shock. I hadn’t anticipated it to be so horrendous. Sharp pinching and deep aching filled my womb.
The red headed lady asked if I wanted to try again once more. She spoke softly and kindly. I nodded. I thought this was supposed to take 10 minutes. It feel like an eternity. This can’t all be for nothing. She started speaking about her church. She told me she was catholic, and she doesn’t see enough thoughtful, young women. I felt staggered at the irrelevance, and wondered if it was inappropriate for her to discuss her faith? Am I feeling overly sensitive? She’s simply trying to make light discussion to distract me from my pain. She’s a doctor doing her job, and I’m projecting my pain and anger onto her. But, isn’t catholicism against abortion? I feel like screaming, shouting “Oh, shut the fuck up!” This isn’t her fault, but I feel like I’m being attacked. I’m strongly against violence, but if I were to accidentally kick her in the face right now maybe it would be a little bit just (just kidding).
A deep stabbing stunned the breath from my lungs, and I yelped and involuntarily tilted my pelvis and shuffled down the bed, tearing the itchy paper towels. I felt movement. I must have had my pelvis tilted the wrong way the entire time.
“That’s it. We are in.”
Thank fuck. It’s over.
“We are into the uterus. Now we just have to pop it in. Deep breath.”
What. The. Fuck. I felt a few forceful pushes and the red headed lady had moved beside me now, gently stroking my arm.
“Well done, good girl.”
She’s telling me how brave I am. This was the trickiest one she’s done. She tells me to lay down as long as I need, and use a towel to mop myself. The pink lady hands me a sanitary pad. There’s blood and lubricant on the towels beneath me, and on my thighs. I pull my body up and my underwear and trousers on, and shuffle forward. I seem to be uttering
‘Thank you, thank you’ over and over. I’m thankful it’s over. I’m thankful I can leave.
I’m handed a card with numbers on it. I assume to identify which coil is in me if there are complications. I check my phone. That took 45 minutes! She says she will text me a follow up appointment, and she looks forward to seeing me. She’s vaccinating children that day, so will look forward to the distraction and some adult conversation. I think of the heated discussions Jack and I have had about immunization. He describes it as being plugged into the matrix. Is any of this moral? Why does this all feel so dark? But also so surreal. I say goodbye. I have to stop myself from saying “under his eye.” The Handmaids Tale is probably not a great thing for me to be focusing on right now.
I stumble through the winding corridors. Past the sickly patients, the polite, but irritable receptionists. Push the heavy doors to exit and gulp in the fresh air. Finally, I’m away from people. I’m doubled over. I’m so thankful I live across the road. I’m crying in the street. And i’m really wailing. Hot blood fills my underwear. I run to my door, and throw myself at the stairs. I can’t find my keys. Burning aches ripple out through my body. I take my phone and call Jack. Words won’t come. I’m just crying. I calm myself, and he’s there. I’m in his arms and I can see how concerned he is for me. The lump in my throat is gone. I calm myself down. I try to put it into perspective before I speak. This was a common and simple procedure. The doctor is an experienced professional who was doing her job. I explain it all. He just holds me and listens. The physical pain is there, but emotionally I feel understood and that’s all that I wanted.
Days pass and so does the pain. After all of this, I trust my instincts and turn to herbs to heal my body. Ancient Maca Root (for hormonal stability), Red Raspberry Leaf (for iron and antioxidant properties). I drink celery juice each morning, and feast on fruits and vegetables. My body heals, and life goes on. The copper and the feelings of uncertainty stay with me.