In February last year I got pregnant. As I sat on the loo at work, my Clearblue Digital pregnancy test screamed “PREGNANT 3+ weeks”.
I always thought you had to be pretty stupid to get pregnant like this. I mean, you’re only fertile for 2-3 days per month so all you need to do is avoid having sloppy sex on those days and you’re good to go. So how the hell had I let this happen?
At some point in December I had decided to go off the pill for a number of reasons. My boyfriend and I were going through one of those traumatic breakups, the kind where one second we’re screaming at each other, the next we’re having super emotional sex. But by the time I took the test, we had called it quits for good and had moved into the hate phase of breakup. So as I sat there all I could think was FUCK.
I felt stupid, really stupid. I had assumed that it would take a month or two to get fertile after having stopped the pill, but clearly that wasn’t the case. My body felt pregnant. My boobs were massive, I was constipated as hell and my stomach had been cramping on and off for about three weeks. The signs were all there. Why had I been so stupid?
"I’m not a teenager and I’ve always wanted kids, but not like this. Not with a man who was toxic to me and not when I was so unprepared."
The next couple of days were intense. I went from moments of happiness, to extreme anxiety attacks, to moments of total denial. I’m not a teenager and I’ve always wanted kids, but not like this. Not with a man who was toxic to me and not when I was so unprepared. I had seen children with separated parents shoved around from mother, to father, to nanna, to father’s girlfriend’s mother, and I didn’t want that...
I wasn’t ready to tell anyone. I don’t know why because I have some pretty logical and liberal friends, but the voices in my head had enough opinions of their own. I didn’t need any more.
In the days that followed, I thought about everything: the baby's life, my life, my relationship with my ex, making it work, how I would tell my boss, how it would affect my career, how I would cope financially, how my parents would react, how to hide it from nanna, sushi, what my friends would think, where I’d live, whether the child would be like his father and I’d give birth to Satan’s spawn…. I thought a lot, and the more I thought the more I knew this wasn’t what I wanted for this child and wasn’t what I wanted for myself.
"Since I was still in the very early stages of pregnancy I could opt to have a medical abortion, which is something I never knew about... it wouldn’t involve surgery at all."
After a couple of days, I considered abortion.
In case you didn't know, abortion is illegal in Malta, very illegal. It’s not something we talk about, not socially, not politically. We only really talk about it in a religious context where the message is clear: it's wrong, period. At school, Form 5 girls are taken to a school hall and made to watch a video of a woman having an abortion. The video is very graphic and shows a heavily pregnant woman having a surgical abortion. It’s horrible. Not only does it look excruciatingly painful for the woman, but you can see the fully developed child’s bones and flesh being torn apart and disposed of. An educated discussion about it doesn’t follow, you’re simply told “see how bad it is, don’t have sex, don’t get pregnant, and if you do, don’t even think about having an abortion”.
Having absolutely no reference point I turned to Google, and learnt pretty much all there is to know about abortion.
The internet, being so impersonal, is a bit tricky. The articles and blogs I read varied a lot. Some made it out to be a walk in the park whilst others said the whole experience was not only excruciatingly painful but left them feeling empty and sad after.
I learnt that since I was still in the very early stages of pregnancy I could opt to have a medical abortion, which is something I never knew about, and that it wouldn’t involve surgery at all. It would feel pretty much like a miscarriage, you’d be given pills and you would bleed out and pass the pregnancy.
I learnt that women of all ages had abortions for different reasons and that it was a very personal decision for all of them. That different women experienced physical, emotional, and psychological pain in different ways and varied degrees.
I learnt that not all clinics offered the medical option, while some only offered it to locals.
After days of non-stop research I told my ex and we agreed that having an abortion would be the right decision.
"The taxi driver dropped me off outside a very British-looking house which looked nothing like a clinic..."
I made an appointment at a clinic in Birmingham. They promised complete confidentiality, were very professional, sent me a reading list, asked me an array of questions about my health and lifestyle and gave me a couple of days to consider opting out. I didn’t.
I booked the only decent hotel close by so commuting to and from the clinic would be easy. I flew out a few days later.
I was terrified and alone. I didn’t have any support from my loved ones, and as much as I felt it was the right thing to do, the voices in my head had their doubts. The closer I got to Birmingham, the worse I felt. I felt everyone knew why I was there and everyone was judging me. From the receptionist at the hotel, to the guy that brought me room service, to the taxi driver, everyone thought I was a horrible, baby-killing monster.
My first appointment was at 8:00am. I had been given a code and briefed that I wouldn’t be allowed into the building unless I was on time and had the code. They did this to prevent protesters and the like from entering the premises.
The taxi driver dropped me off outside a very British-looking house which looked nothing like a clinic, and blended in with the rest of the houses on the street. I got out of the taxi and cried for a moment in the clinic’s drive way, pulled myself together and rang the bell.
After giving my details to the receptionist I was greeted by a nurse and taken upstairs. The nurse performed an ultrasound and confirmed I was six weeks pregnant. She took some blood tests, checked my blood pressure and went through a list of questions about my health and why I had decided to choose abortion.
She then gave me three Mifespristone pills and a glass of water and left the room. I held them in my hand, knowing that from here there was no way back. I swallowed them and left. You’re asked to choose whether you’d like to return six, 24 or 48 hours later, for the second pill which would actually cause the abortion. I choose 24 hours. I was eager to return home.
That afternoon I walked around the city aimlessly. I bought additional painkillers, a book and a pair of tracksuit trousers and had lunch. I didn’t cry again. The process had begun and there was no going back. You don’t feel any pain in the first 24 hours although by the evening I did have a little bit of blood.
The next day I returned. They had told me to take painkillers beforehand, so that once the process started it wouldn’t be as painful. Gulp. I was given the second set of pills and told by the nurse to keep the pills between my lips and my gums for an hour before swallowing them to avoid puking. I paid the bill, which was around €600, and left straight to the hotel.
I started seeing blood within 20 or 30 minutes of getting back to the hotel. There was a lot of blood and it hurt like hell. I must have sat on the toilet for a good hour or two before working up the courage to stand up. I was hot and cold and crying and in a lot of pain for the rest of the morning. I cried a lot but I had to make my way back to London to catch the evening flight home so I needed to pick myself up and get going.
The whole trip was a nightmare. I was in a lot of pain, dehydrated and weak, still bleeding heavily and needing the loo often. Airport loos aren’t exactly the epitome of comfort. Once at the airport I was faced with another reality: Maltese people. I obviously looked and felt like a mess and didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone, so I hid in a coffee shop till it was boarding time and pretended I was asleep throughout the flight.
Aside from the physical pain I didn’t really feel much. I didn’t regret it and I didn’t feel evil and empty as I thought I would.
I arrived home to my mother’s oblivious interrogation. It was late and she was tired, so luckily it was brief. She asked how my holiday was and said I looked like shit, and asked what was wrong. I shrugged her off, topped up on painkillers and got into bed. The next morning I went back to work and life went pretty much back to normal.
"I had a lot of nightmares involving a child, they went on for weeks. I’d wake up feeling sad and empty and shaken."
I bled heavily for four or so days and moderately for around two weeks, but was almost pain free after the first week. I knew I had made the right decision yet it did torment me a bit. I caught myself thinking about the baby a lot; what s/he would have looked like, whether I’d be happier if I kept her and countless other thoughts. I also had a lot of nightmares involving a child, they went on for weeks. I’d wake up feeling sad and empty and shaken.
After a couple of weeks, I opened up to some friends who were very supportive. I made an appointment with a psychologist whom I saw regularly for some time after. Now that some time has passed, I have no regrets. For some time I wondered if the decision was selfish. Perhaps it was, but I didn’t want to bring a child into the world under those circumstances. I knew it would be hard for me, hard for the child and hard for those around me. There was another option.
I’ve always believed that when people are empowered to make choices, they more often than not make the right ones. Some people might think that people will only do wrong unless guided on the right path by legislators and all-knowing educators, but I disagree.
This article isn’t intended to wreak havoc, though it might. It aims to give guidance and a first-hand rendition of what it’s really like, and to support anyone who is going through something similar. That said, I think it’s about time we entertained a discussion about abortion in Malta so that women of all ages can have better control over their bodies, their lives and their happiness.