National Health Service Abortion
Going through abortion is something that nobody talks about. Well, they do – just not in a way that’s helpful. I found out I was pregnant a week after Alabama had passed the most restrictive abortion law in the US to date. The thought of women being stripped of their constitutional right to make decisions about their own bodies didn’t surprise me, sadly. I knew I was lucky. I live in a country with free healthcare that, for the most part, provides a safe and confidential environment. I am very aware of the privilege I hold in this discussion. Worldwide, there are 25 million people who are forced to have illegal and unsafe abortions annually. As I said, I’m lucky. I also have a very supportive family. Even though many of them are not physically close, their comfort is there. Further comfort, if of the cold variety, lays in the fact that at least 40% of the women I know have gone through the same process. That’s one of the things about abortions – they’re sort of common. Which is why it’s so confusing to me that many people still don’t seem to fully understand them. Abortions are hard. Not necessarily for the reasons everyone thinks they are. The hard part is the after part. The part where you feel that you’ve lost some of yourself. Because you aren’t yourself, you’re changed. Your hormonal makeup switches up so fast, and then changes again, and again, and again. It scrambles your brain. I lost my sense of self. I was so confused all the time, emotionally scattered. Afterward, I thought I was fine, and that’s what I told everyone – that I was fine. Three months later, however, I was desperately trying to get help from people in no position to give it. Nobody could have helped, I think now, because I was the one who hadn’t successfully dealt with the situation. I’d internalised those feelings, and now they were manifesting themselves as problematic behaviours. Call me crazy – I was. I was out of control, and it became about blame. Which in any circumstance, whether you’re with your partner or not, can destroy your self-esteem to the point of no return. It’s a complex topic to explore – I know – because everyone’s experience is different. Women I spoke with who had gone through the same process all had striking periods where they felt detached, depressed, and overwhelmingly lonely. These aren’t simple minor emotional instances; they are shifts in the way in which we view our lives. Whether the effects are short or long term, they will leave a mark. If it sounds like I’m trying hard not to sound angry, it’s because I am angry. Angry that a lot of women must go through what I went through. If luck and privilege, played a part in my experience, so, too, did ineptitude and thoughtlessness. After my first appointment at the clinic, I was sent to a hospital for another ultrasound. The nurses and doctors at this hospital had no idea why I was there. Three times to three separate healthcare professionals, I had to explain that no, I was not going to keep the baby. Why? Because I just wasn’t ready. I was given the report of the ultrasound regardless, which highlighted that it was a viable fetus with a viable heartbeat. I was in this weird baby universe of swollen bellies and midwives, it was farcical – almost, but not quite, laughable. I remember seeing my GP directly afterward and crying for 15 minutes in her room. It wasn’t until she told me that they had messed up that I realised I had a right to be angry. The characterisation of the ‘hysterical woman’ is not a new one. The penalisation of these sorts of behaviours are also not new; in fact, the etymology of the word hysteria is rooted in negative attitudes towards women’s bodies. The word literally means uterus in Greek and it was believed for a long time that the diagnosis behind a woman’s ‘hysterical behaviour’ was due to a deformation of her uterus. A person’s reaction to trauma can sometimes be hysterical. Get over it. But why disallow a topic like abortion that affects so many to be solely focused around the act itself? In regards to the law, it is essential that we question the rights to our bodies, so in turn, the act becomes the key factor. But there needs to be more support for those dealing with a loss of a different sort. For those who don’t have the access to information and safe healthcare that I had. I was lucky I am from the UK and I was lucky I had the NHS, however, it was, and still is to date the loneliest I have ever felt, so I can’t possibly imagine the feeling of those without that support. There will be others who have felt like this or will feel like this in the future and it is so important to feel as though you have a right to lose your mind a little bit. Ultimately the effects of changing your hormonal makeup are unavoidable. Whether it’s in the form of taking the morning after pill, getting an abortion, going through the menopause, or simply being put on contraceptives. The hormonal shifts that people experience throughout their lives are not addressed clearly as changes that can affect our mental health. What can be avoided are the feelings of losing oneself that come as a symptom of all these changes. Being informed by professionals that yes, you are going to feel a certain way, of course you will; the balance in your hormones have been brutally thrown off-kilter, so it’s normal to feel a little bit insane. All that is needed is an open conversation among medical professionals in preparing individuals for these reactionary emotions. Reassurance that these feelings are totally valid, not leaving people in this floundering state of self-doubt and loneliness. I am able to write this as a person who has the support of those around her and who doesn’t have to keep her experience a secret. I am also able to write about effects on mental health because my abortion was safe and I could eliminate the fear of detrimental effects on my body. I am one of the lucky women who came out of this experience with my full physical health and sympathy from those around me. If I have a wish for this account of my experiences, it’s that it might contribute to a better conversation on how we deal with abortion in relation to mental health, and on how women can use their narratives to provide support for those who don’t have the access and assistance that I did.