The past few weeks I have felt a deep sadness at the news reports of not one but two women being prosecuted for terminating their pregnancies. It’s 2016 and women are being demonized for making responsible choices about their futures. There seems to be an idea in the minds of many people that women having terminations have them like having a flutter on the horses but this simply isn’t true.
I know a woman who three years ago found out she was pregnant . This was three years after she had her first child , a child she desperately wanted. She has had two miscarriages prior to the birth of her baby, a result of a rare condition called uterus didelphis meaning she has two wombs . She spent her pregnancy with her little boy on terrifying tenterhooks – she had been told to prepare for a stillbirth, to go into early labour , that the pregnancy might not end in a live baby as like with her previous losses, it may run out of room to grow. She spent endless nights in hospital convinced she couldn’t feel any movements as she entered the third trimester. One afternoon in work she realized she hadn’t felt anything and frantically went to the hospital, her head whizzing in fear that the pregnancy had ended , that her dream of being mother to a child taken from her once again.
But , at 39 weeks, she gave birth by planned c section. Her two wombs meant she had two tiny birth canals, meaning she couldn’t give birth to her baby vaginally . Amidst the doctors and medical students in the room who had been invited to see a baby being born to a woman with a plethora of gynae wonders, her little boy was held up in a beacon of light by the consultant and her husband kissed her head and held her hand. Their beautiful much longed for baby was here , their new joyous life was about to begin. The baby was placed on her chest while she was put back together and he breastfed from her like the books had said he would . All was wonderful, he was here , she was the mother she always wanted to be.
But an hour later , something changed , very quickly, very dramatically. The girls mum arrived to see the baby and instead of being enthralled with her new grandson, she was drawn to her daughters face. Her daughter, who had an hour before delivered the baby she has always wanted , was sat on the bed staring into space. Her mum said she looked spaced out , like a zombie, and asked what was wrong. Her daughter replied she was fine but it was very clear she wasn’t. In her mind , while everyone else was looking at the new baby in their life, she was looking intensely at the window working out if she could climb out of it . The baby in her mind , the mind that one hour before had fallen in love with it , had suddenly become so terrifying , she couldn’t look at him and all she could think of was a way out.
Over the next three days in hospital, he behaviour became more erratic. She was crawling around the floor of her hospital bed while frantically trying to close the curtains so no one would see her. She started writing long lists of things that were needed and wrote long messages to friends about the baby but she got the words in the wrong order. She made sure she didn’t do these things in front of other people so they thought she was the happy mum she had been for that one hour after her son was born but as her mind was descending into a deep haze of delusion, her considered fascade quickly slipped away.
The day she left hospital, when her face hit the outside air, she collapsed. When in the car , she burst into floods of tears. Her kind and patient husband kissed her in the head while her sister sayidthe tears may be the start of the baby blues as a result of her breastmilk coming in – everything is normal , everything is ok. According to everyone else.
The girl could barely hear anything , it was if her ears had become muffled and the world was whizzing around her head at a million miles an hour. She heard a voice that sounded like it was miles away but was coming from her husband next to her ” baby, shall we put him next to you for the journey home?” . He was stroking her cheek and kissed it . The girl, her eyes blurring , shook her head and said no, no it’s ok, put him next to you, I’ve spent all my time in the hospital with him. But , in her mind, what she actually thought was no , no don’t , I don’t want him anywhere near me .
The days and weeks that passed after the baby came home carried on in this fashion. It became very clear very quickly, that the mum , instead of relishing her new baby and the life it had brought with its birth , was terrified of being near him. She couldn’t be in the same room as him, she was scared of touching him, she couldn’t look at him. His very presence sent her into such a state that she started saying he had trapped her . She would walk around the house chanting ” he is here forever he is here forever he is here forever” and the thoughts of this consumed her. These feelings then descended into feelings of being trapped in the world. She would look to the sky and think about how she could escape from earth , could she cut through the clouds? What if the world was a trick ? What if it was like the Truman show and she was the star? She thought she was floating in the corner of the room , thought the duvet cover was dancing , tried to climb out of the living room window to escape the world she felt trapped in,and thought cling film was over her mouth and would viciously try and tear it away to stop the suffocation she was convinced she could feel . Her hair had started to fall out , she had rubbed her skin raw to rid herself of the feelings that were whizzing through her head and became convinced that the only way away from the baby who was devastatingly afraid of was to not be in the world anymore.
All she wanted to do was die.
The first six weeks of her child’s life , while she was descending into the grips of a serious mental illness, she had become a shell of the vibrant , confident woman she once was. The blond bubbly girl who had been a senior policy adviser in government when she was 8 months pregnant , who had once been described as having a zest for life no one had ever seen before, had turned into a fearful terrified , scared young woman who was so frightened of her own baby she couldn’t be in the same room as him. Her mind was consumed with thoughts of an escape and she would stand in certain spots for hopers on end – one afternoon she stood in the kitchen in one place for an entire afternoon refusing to move because she was convinced something terrible would happen if she did .
For those six weeks, her husband knew something deeply distressing and dramatic was happening to her. The midwife visited the day after she came back hospital and the girl had sat there unable to speak. Her husband asked the midwife about postnatal depression and said he was concerned about his wife and her behaviour but the midwife wasn’t and this opinion was the same from every medical practitioner he took her to for the next six weeks. At some points he was taking her to doctors twice a day begging for help while his wife sat there rocking . Most said she was sleep deprived , maybe a touch of the baby blues , to get her to rest. Turns out they had never seen anyone ill like her .
At five weeks , the health visitor came round after a panicked call from the husband. The girl had screamed hard in fear of being alive and he didn’t know what to do. The health visitor admitted she hadn’t seen anything like this in all her years and suggested they go and stay with family where there was more medical support and so they did – 200 miles away. It was here , a week later that the girl woke up and decided that day was the day she wanted to die. She was banging her head against the wall in the bedroom , had screamed so much her mouth was bleeding and was walking up and down stairs over and over saying she was scared of the baby and her only way out was death. She had been taken to hospital six hours earlier and a doctor has asked if she had planned her own suicide yet. The girl shook her head as the cold harsh reality is she was too confused to plan her own death – before she was taken to the hospital in the middle of the night she had tried to get dressed and realized she couldn’t – she had forgotten how to put her clothes on , her mind in the mist of such deep delusions.
Her husband demanded care and help from psychiatrists and she was assessed that day, her baby now six weeks old. It was clear to the doctors she was ill with a rare mental health condition that affects only a number of mums after they give birth called postpartum psychosis. She was admitted to a psychiatric mother and baby unit where she stayed with her baby to start her recovery – as she walked to the ward she was convinced she could smell burning flesh and when she saw the baby would be in a cot next to her bed in the same room as her , she had a panic attack. To scared to be on her own with her child, a nurse sat outside her room with the door open for the first week she was there.
It took three months for the girl to be able to be on her own with her baby and another month before they could return to their home in London. She had been in a psychiatric unit, had to learn how to be near her child , had exposure therapy and was on medication eight times a day. Her husband had been granted compassionate leave from work and she had clawed back from being devastatingly close to ending her life and leaving her child motherless.
Three years past . Recovery was an ongoing thing – mental illness after the birth of a baby is extraordinarily hard to recover from and she had been diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder as a result of what had happened to her. Her year of maternity leave was taken up with psych appointments and therapy but she was doing it. And most of all, she was not only learning to be near her child , but she was falling in love with him, deep love. Even though there was always a slight pang of oh god I’m on my own with him or the occasional panic attack, she was becoming attached to her beautiful boy. She breastfed him, he co slept with her and her husband and she made friends with other women with babies. Though tough at times, she had a wonderful husband , medical teams and friends helping her. And a baby she loved dearly.
Three years later , one afternoon in work, her doctor called to say they couldn’t send her urine off for analysis for a suspected wee infection until she had done a routine pregnancy test . The girl said yeah sure , I’m on the pill so it will be negative but I’ll do one after my cheese sandwich and diet coke. She waved the pregnancy test in front of her friend Julie and said I just have to go and wee on this , back in a sec and went to the loo.
Three minutes later, she saw two lines on the stick. Two blue line staring back at her so bold they could have been 87 feet tall with flashing lights sound them in Piccadilly Circus. She went and saw Julie with a frozen look on her face – ” you’re joking ” said her friend. The girl shook her head and sat down and called her husband . He sat there open mouthed while the girl emailed the consultant who had delivered her baby ” you may remember I went slightly nuts after I had my son … I’ve just found out I am pregnant again and even though I am utterly terrified , I am happy”.
And she was . Her husband was wonderful , supporting her and she felt ok. She loved being a mum to her son so much and she thought , I can do this, I did it before.
But a few days later, she was sat in the sofa and felt her eyes squinting . Her brain started to whizz and she found herself shouting oh god out loud. She recognized the feeling-she was having a panic attack and all that could fill her mind was thoughts of what if I’m ill again . What I’m ill again and don’t get better and what if I kill myself ? I’ll have two children with no mother. What if I have to go into a mother and baby unit again ? My son is due to start school soon and what if we have to travel 200 miles away again to get help. And what if I try and kill myself ? I might die . What if I try and kill myself again ? I can never ever go through that again.
And so her mind started to slip into a deep delusion once again. After cuddling her to sleep that night , her husband woke up and found her in the living room sitting on the floor , banging her head in the radiator over and over again. He heard a voice on the phone – it was the Samaritans asking if she was ok. He sat down next to her and said what can I do to help you baby. She was in tears , pulling her hair at its roots. She was shaking and banging her foot on the floor and was saying ” what if it happens again” on repeat. Her little boy ran into the room and wanted to give mummy a cuddle but the girl looked at him and felt a pang of the fear she had had three years before of him. She was right – it was happening again and she hadn’t even had the new baby yet.
Her husband took her to casualty as she had started taking about death. Casualty agreed she needed to see a psychiatrist and so she waited , no exaggeration, 19 hours until 4am to see one in the local psychiatric unit. They saw her for less than 5 minutes and declared they didn’t have facilities to help women like her who were pregnant. So the next day, her husband took her to Nottingham once again to access help – the Mental Health team there couldn’t believe the state she was in and she was diagnosed with ptsd.
During this time, familiar physical issues with the pregnancy had reared their head. The bleeding she had had in the pregnancies that has ended in miscarriage had come back with a vengeance . She had crippling stomach pains and had an emergency scan and was told the pregnancy was in her small womb and wasn’t growing properly. The girl looked at the screen and cried . There was the start of a pregnancy – she loved being a mother and would love another baby but look at what was ahead of her – what if she miscarried late as the doctors had said could happen . What if she had a still birth? She weas bleeding and she was physically unwell . And then there was her mental health – what if the baby was born and she became ill again? Two children , with a mum in the midst of postpartum psychosis in a psychiatric unit with the baby while her three yr old who cuddled his mummy to sleep every night was without her at home. And what if she got so ill again her attempts to end her life were successful this time ?
After much soul searching , the girl and her husband agreed to do something that lots of people may not agree with – after consultation with medical staff looking at the pregnancy and reaching a prognosis that if she continued with it , it was likely she would lose it again and risk serious illness herself and then after talking it through together , the girl and her husband decided to end the pregnancy. To have an abortion . It was a gut wrenching decision especially after seeing the scan but the girl needed to stay alive for the child she already had . To carry on a pregnancy with so many issues wouldn’t have been fair on her , her son or the fetus in her. A fetus that looked as though it may heading for the same ending as her previous pregnancies.
A week later , she headed to the termination clinic with her husband. Down a small side street, an unassuming building seemed to have a later crowd of people outside it with leaflets and banners and some people had rosaries. As the girl walked through them shielded by her protective partner , their mouths were shifting so close to her she could hear their breath . ” do you want to be a murderer” . They thrust leaflets in her hand and one tried to put a rosary around her neck. All she could, hear were screams from people she had never met telling her she was committing a sin and they could help her as she through the doors of the clinic. She stood there and cried . She had read about protestors outside of these places but didn’t think it really happened . They were like a hound of dogs after a fox , totally unaware of the hell and terror she had been through not only of the previous few weeks , but off the last three years.
The termination attempt didn’t work – the pregnancy was growing in such an odd place, it couldn’t be removed. Two weeks later , she returned to the clinic , still bleeding from what may have been a miscarriage happening within her . Again , the hoard of angry wolves were camped outside with their banners , vocalizing their disgust, trying to block her way in . Her husband again protected her but she wondered if these people head ever considered why some women have to go to these clinics.
The second attempt didn’t work, again the pregnancy too hard to reach. Eventually, a third and final operation was needed and the pregnancy was removed . She was devastated and was signed off work for six months – it was determined that her ptsd was from the unresolved trauma of her psychosis and anxiety three years earlier and she needed to be treated with intense therapy called EMDR and go back on medication. She also needed to rest her body – miscarriages , one live baby from a fraught difficult pregnancy where she had been on hormone treatment for 9 months to strengthen her womb and then a termination of a pregnancy that seemed to be slowly and painfully ending in her , sending her into such a spin at the fear of being mentally ill again , she had started to visualize death as the only answer.
This girl isn’t a murderer. She isn’t evil. She didn’t commit a sin or an act of violence.
And the reason I know this ? I know this because the woman I have talked about in this blog was me.
It’s me . And let me tell you, having a termination is no walk in the park. I’ve read some devastating things over the last few weeks from people who have never had a termination , who have never talked to someone who has had one. They seem to think it’s as easy to get as a fake tan and that people wash it away when they can’t be bothered with it anymore.
It isn’t easy to get one – two doctors have to sign it off. Having an abortion isn’t like picking a sandwich up in sainsburys and thinking hmm , do I want this one ? And if not I can just sling it in the bin and forget about it a second laytr . The case in Belfast say the flat mates of the girl who reported her found a dead fetus in a bin but I doubt it was thrown there with the wild abandon its been claimed. I don’t think anyone who has to resort to buying DIY abortion pills on the Internet tosses the remnants into a bin easily while putting their mascara on – it’s not a pain free process let me tell you. Some have said ‘oh but for some it is an they treat abortion like a fancy contraceptive’ but how does anyone know that ? You only know if you have been through it.
I can remember my second abortion attempt. I wasn’t knocked out as much as the first and can visualize parts of the operation . I was in pain afterwards and fouod it hard to walk . I was bleeding heavily and when John came to recovery I didn’t and couldn’t have said hello sweet cheeks , let’s go and put some dancing shoes on and drink a pile of gin in soho as the little baby problem has jogged on.
If you are anti abortion then that’s your choice. And I don’t want to change your opinion as you are as entitled to it as I am mine. But what I do ask is that just because you wouldn’t have one , it doesn’t mean that should be forcing women around you to give birth , or attempt to give birth to babies. I read one head bangingly awful article which practically compared terminations of pregnancies to terrorism. Think what you like , but to the women who say have had terminations as a result of rape, do you really think that is an acceptable thing to say? Should a woman have to live with a lifetime reminder of the violent act that was committed to her if she doesn’t want to?
I respect your rights to disagree with abortion. But disagree with it for you. If you are content to follow the pattern of have sex, make a pregnancy , have a baby for the rest of your life, go ahead – I’m delighted that your mind embraces this. Having a baby is forever – once its here it doesnt go away. You cant divorce it like a husband , you cant sell it like a flat. So should we really be making women give birth to a child they may not really want ?
If a woman falls pregnant on the Pill should she really be forced to give birth to a child she was actively trying not to conceive ? What about the men whose sperm helps to make these pregnancies ? Are we telling them to hold their wild horses as I see no evidence of this ? All I see is evidence of women being vilified and bullied into keeping pregnancies they arent ready for or want.
Are we not going back to some awful age where women are being forced into a life they dont want to live ? Will those pro-life protestors be looking after all children born to mums and families when they need them? Should I really have tried to continue my pregnancy which may have resulted in my death and my son to be motherless because they don’t agree with it ? Would they like to explain to my son why mummy is dead?
You may think abortion is violence as I was told on Twitter. I offered to meet the woman who told me it was but I never heard back from her. She said that as women , our bodies have an amazing gift – the gift of life . And she is right – but I look at it in a different way. My gift of life is to my son , the son who is in bed right now , who has taught me what love is . Where would his life be if I had had another baby and killed myself ? Postpartum psychosis and anxiety was the most terrifying thing I and my family have ever had to endure and there is no way on this earth that I will put my child through that . This woman said ” the woman feeling a need for an abortion needs to be addressed and resolved” and she is right but not just in the one way she thinks off. In my case , I needed it as I risked the life of myself and the pregnancy in me if I carried on – I was physically and mentally unwell and my pregnancy wasn’t growing. The resolution was to end if before it got even more out of hand than it already had.
I have a relative who once wrote a message to his friends on Facebook saying to unfriend him if they thought it was ok to have a termination. I love him very much and he doesn’t know I’ve had one. This post I hope explains why some people have to as women’s bodies are more than a vessel to grow a pregnancy in .
Being a mother is truly the best thing I have ever done. My son is the light of my life and I cannot imagine him not being here . And maybe if I had carried on my pregnancy , things would have been ‘ok’ . I could be sitting here now saying my two children are my world and believe me , I would like nothing more than that.
But , we have to be realistic and live in the real world . Sometimes sad , heartbreaking decisions have to be made. If I lived in Belfast and found myself in the same position as those women prosecuted , I dread to think what would have happened . Well I know really – faced with having to go through with a pregnancy like I had would have sent me over the edge and I probably wouldn’t be alive today.
But I am . I’m here to stoke my sons hair , kiss him forever , to clap when he writes his name. I won’t ever forget the day he said mummy for the first time and before he went to sleep tonight he told me he loved me than all this stars in the sky. And thank goodness he can say that to me rather than being a six year old staring at the sky, thinking of the mummy he used to have.
Women deserve to have access to safe medical care that includes terminations. If you don’t agree with them , you don’t have to have one but consider your words and actions as you never know what position you may find yourself in in the future.