When you have an abortion, a lot of things happen that people won't tell you about. For instance, that you’ll have cramps worse than those of your early teen periods, or that you’ll have blood clots the size of your fist falling into your knickers for the coming weeks. Or that you’ll have to find pads with a larger wingspan than a transatlantic jet to prevent your knickers looking like the backroom of a butcher’s shop. Or that the first people to greet you as you make your way up to the clinic will be a group of pro-life (more often than not) men with placards of your foetus’ development, looking at you like you’ve just escaped from Broadmoor.
But in my case, the thing that no one forewarned me about, the thing that was more dizzying than the blood loss, was that for the foreseeable future I would feel about as sexy as a limp liver chop. My partner and I didn’t have sex for a good few months after my surgical abortion. For those less in-the-know, a surgical abortion involves putting your legs in stirrups and a dildo-shaped vacuum cleaning you out while you lie unconscious. The only 'jobs' performed in my post-abortion household were cleaning, cooking and getting bloodstains out of my very nice and expensive sheets.
Like an increasing number of women who choose to have an abortion, I was (and still am) in a serious relationship when I chose to terminate my pregnancy at 13 weeks. Last year, there were nearly 200,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales and of those, an astonishing 70% were on women who were in a relationship of some kind. Call me selfish – actually, don’t, because that’s ill-informed and pooh-poohs my right to do whatever I want with my body – but I didn’t feel guilty about my choice. I just didn’t want a child, regardless of the fact that our relationship was more than equipped to handle one – and I still stand by my decision a year on.
It’s horribly conflicting being pregnant but not wanting the baby. On one hand, your boobs have swollen to the most magnificent proportions, they stand to attention when you look at them and are rock-solid – it’s nature’s own Wonderbra. You’re a bit plumper but it feels good, well-deserved and natural. On the other hand, you’re enjoying all of the above knowing you’ll be the one putting an end to it very soon.
As my body began to flourish, so did my sex drive. I was secretly proud that I’d managed to get pregnant even though I’m on the pill, chain-smoke, drink my 15-stone boyfriend under the pool table more than I should and exercise for me is walking to the vending machine at the office and back. Getting pregnant felt, well, thrilling – and as my confidence sprung into action, my bedsprings followed suit.
If you google how big your baby is at 12 weeks, you’ll discover that, by this point, your foetus is being described as a “human”. Now, if that doesn’t pull at your long-lost tampon string, then perhaps its size might: “His face looks unquestionably human: His eyes have moved from the sides to the front of his head, and his ears are right where they should be. From crown to rump, your baby-to-be is just over 2 inches long (about the size of a lime) and weighs half an ounce,” says one website.
Ultimately, having an abortion is only a couple of handshakes away from the sex that got you there in the first place, so your relationship, and sex, is bound to change.
So when I went into the abortion clinic, every image of a foetus at 12 weeks’ gestation brandished by those pro-life campaigners felt like a fail on my brain’s part. I was going against my body’s instinct and relying on a tiny voice in my head that was working out my salary for the next tax year if I had to give up work and look after a baby. Even as my body protested, that voice walked me into the clinic. It is still the most out-of-body feeling I’ve ever had. And as I was being administered the anaesthetic, legs spread, with a doctor making awkward jokes, I couldn’t have hated myself and my body any more. Then as my consciousness left me, so did the idea of sex. My partner and I left the clinic and walked home. We didn’t hold hands, or each other, for a long time after.
Ultimately, having an abortion is only a couple of handshakes away from the sex that got you there in the first place, so your relationship with your partner, and sex, is bound to change. What with the blood escaping me daily, wearing sanitary towels the size of nappies and my body deflating like a balloon, the idea of sex felt like a joke. A post-abortion relationship is a post-mortem relationship. To make matters worse, even though he’d never say it outright, I knew from friends that my partner had wanted to keep the baby and, if I’m really honest with myself, I don’t think he’s ever really forgiven me in his heart of hearts. Knowing that is quite the passion-killer.
We didn’t have sex for the next few months and when we eventually did, it was lights off, eyes closed, get-the-job-done kind of sex. My libido was gone, sucked out along with the contents of my womb. I felt bruised and sore. My body – which had been so good to me for years – was no longer mine; it felt like I had somehow betrayed the natural inclinations of my organs, like I had stabbed an old friend in the back. It’s only now, nearly a year on, that we’re back on track.
I’ve had friends who had a termination and never spoke about it again. I really can’t relate to them. What did help in reclaiming my body was knowing that I’m horribly privileged to have even had the choice: nearly 25% of the world’s population live in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws. I may not have felt sexy but the guilt and the out-of-body emotions faded when I really thought about how lucky I was just to have control of my body. I could get pregnant, I could decide what I wanted to do about it, and my government would support, facilitate and pay for my decision. Choice? That’s sexy.
Since going double Dutch (the pill and a condom, not the children’s skipping game), I’ve become that neurotic contraception-taker who sets an alarm for her pill. And rightfully so. My partner is getting better at being intimate, even though for months he would pull out before he came. I knew this wasn’t because my belly was the helipad he preferred to land on, it was because he couldn’t bear the thought of going through that again. Frankly, neither can I.