Here is a four-hand and two-voice personal experience of abortion told by me and Ivano (bold text), who’s my significant other. We wrote our pieces separately and that’s why you might find some repetitions.
We had relocated to the UK eights months earlier, after moving our lives from Turin to Bristol into four luggages, in a search for a future better than the present.
We were still trying to sort out our everyday life after the transfer, a one-week AirBnb stay and the frantic quest for a less temporary accommodation, a one-month cohabitation and the frantic quest for an even less temporary accommodation just for the two of us, the transfer by bus to our new two-bedroom apartment and the crazy choice to turn what was supposed to be the guest room into an AirBnb room.
Our rented flat was nestled in a quiet and family area of the city surrounded by the green and was periodically animated by the human beings of all ages, shapes, colours and backgrounds that came from all around the world, moved in and out of our lives and cyclically filled and emptied the cupboard, a part of the fridge, the shared dining table, sofa, and bathroom.
We listened to the stories of transfer students, professionals, casual tourists and we compared them to ours, eagerly trying to catch insights and signals that could help us decide how to weave the fabric of our lives.We felt hopeful for the future but unstable in the present. We still couldn’t call “home” the country that welcomed us with an incomprehensible British accent and the forcibly polite smiles, but not even the one we had left with our respective families, friends, clients and all the things we wanted to leave behind us.
We jumped between works and clients that allowed us to partially express our creativity but that never made us feel fulfilled enough.
We still had to find the answer to the question which above all has always dug into our days: what do we want to do with our life? We just knew that, whatever it was, we wanted to do it together.
During that questioning and indecipherable time, the absurd, the unexpected and the extremely unlikely (but seemingly possible) happened: I got pregnant.
Being late had become part of our life as a couple, and in our delay we had dragged everyone from friends to clients. No matter the meeting, the deadline, the circumstances. It wasn’t a form of lack of respect for others, just a trait we had come to accept as an integral part of our everyday chaos.
Living in this loop, we never kept track of the exact days of the menstrual cycle or worried too much about the flow frequency and intensity. After stopping the pill, there have been months of missed period and others when it happened twice. Winning lottery numbers were more predictable than Morena’s ovulation window.
So we had accepted that uncertainness as a part of our general delay, learning to handle the anxiety of waiting and also to make a joke out of it – Did you get your period this quarter?
It was inevitable to use the condom to silence our anxieties and, unfortunately, also a large part of the sensations experienced during intercourse.
It wasn’t that tragic actually, thanks to some recent personal, relational and sexual experiences together that had allowed us to grow both as individuals and as a couple and to take a lot of pressure away from sexual intercourse, which we considered in the same way as other sexual/erotic activities equally or even more fulfilling.
This awakening was happening simultaneously with our new life in Bristol, where we were lucky to have a flat all to ourselves and we enjoyed that genuine feeling of thrill of discovery that we now call “Primark enthusiasm” (because Primark was still a new thing in Italy).
We played “Find the 100 massive differences with Italy” in the real life’s crossword puzzle, compulsively buying everything that was most cheap and instagrammable.
We looked at the personal mess of the people surrounding us and we felt happy when we closed the door of our home after saying goodbye to our AirBnb guests so that we could go back to make loud love.
Our professional life was in a stand-off and we were trying to make ourselves known as professionals in the UK. We did some agency work during the day and we met with friends or went to the gym or to party at night.
In all of this, we had sex, a lot of, at all weird times of the day and night: it made us feel closer and in love.
We had discussed the possibility of having a baby multiple times and we thought – Why not?
Actually, we didn’t feel ready and, despite we enjoyed the idea of having the life turned upside down by a child whom to give all of our exceeding love, we knew it would have been almost impossible for it to happen by chance.
And not just because of the condom, but also due to evident obvious biological conditions. On one side, there were menstrual irregularities; on the other, there were surgeries I had in my genital area following some sports injuries that could have compromised the future of my sperm.
Embracing a stupid bravado, confident that it simply couldn’t have happened, we firstly loosened the reins of contraception, then we completely took leave of common-sense. We became fixated on unprotected penetrative sex, almost as if we were playing Russian roulette with our future.
Christmas was coming, and when we finally agreed to buy yet another pregnancy test the period was already missing for several weeks, just like it had happened before.
The situation seemed to be under control, but I felt like there was something different between us: what if it wasn’t like it always was? We decided to postpone the test after Christmas, almost as if to stigmatise something that wasn’t supposed to happen. (What if it was actually happening?)
On the afternoon of 31 December 2016, we had to know: we couldn’t bring this doubt into the new year. Moreover, it was going to be a boozy night and we needed to know what to do, just in case. But it couldn’t be. While I was waiting outside the bathroom, I spent time doing meaningless things like folding t-shirts, washing glasses, loading the laundry machine, everything that could possibly convince me that it was all going on as usual.
The double line on the pregnancy test couldn’t be more explicative. We read many times: il could hardly result in a false positive.
We skipped the «How did this happen?» moment. We knew it too well.
We couldn’t believe it was happening to us. We who used to weigh every sort of decision, including the meaningless ones, until exhaustion. We who had fantasised for years about moving abroad and finally decided to do it only once we had measured all pro and cons of each country of the world. We who couldn’t follow our gut even just to choose a new t-shirt, not before having made sure that we’d actually wear it, that it’d match our wardrobe and that it’d last enough to justify the cost.
We who pictured ourselves as future parents. Just not this way.
Just not in that moment of deep uncertainty and economic, emotional and geographical precariousness. Just not there, in a foreign place where we didn’t even know where the hospitals were. Just not alone, away from the people who could help us. Just not so unaware and unprepared, not without choosing, designing and cultivating the project of a child, clueless of what going through pregnancy and parenting really meant.
But there was no time for ifs and buts: it was time to make an important decision, and it better be informed.
We attempted to catch “signals” to follow (I know, it sounds so hippy), to read the reasons behind what was happening to us, using both rational and emotional thinking. We tried to hold on to our unquestionable love and to lower the volume of the fears that populated our minds to improvise a future built with “perhaps” and “we could”. The truth is, we simply weren’t ready.
So we said it: abortion was the name of our decision. And after that horrific process, we would soon learn that we weren’t ready for it either.
I didn’t know how to feel. Was I happy? I had no idea and I looked at Morena to try capturing her feelings. Didn’t you notice something different? I asked with genuine curiosity. Something like changes, sensations or signals from your body preparing for a pregnancy. Nothing at all.
That night we went out, the new year came and the next day we’d handle the situation.
I’m used to imagining the worst possible scenario while hoping that it doesn’t happen, so to be prepared for it.
We spent the following week weighing choices and consequences. There were so many unknown factors. Starting with our uncertain job as sole traders and ending with the lack of whatever network of friends and family or people that maybe had already been through it and could support us morally. We never counted on family, they weren’t even willing to come visit us in the Uk. Let alone offering us support. That’s probably the price to be paid when you follow a path so distant from their view that they stop understanding it and start judging you, and you stop seeking their approval.
On the one hand, we were happy about the idea of having a baby as it was something already existing in our plans for the future. So we tried several times to make projections about how things would’ve changed in the short term.
No one knew how things would’ve ended. What’s sure is that they went in a way we weren’t prepared for.
Once the decision was taken, there was no more time left to think.
We were so sure that pregnancy was basically impossible (and so used to my irregular and dilated menstrual cycles) that before buying the test we cumulated a considerable delay. The day we finally decided to question the revealing lines it was the 31st of December, full Christmas Holidays, when every medical facility was working with reduced hours and staff.
If there’s something that British people take seriously, that’s Christmas. They start preparing months in advance and since august, you can browse the restaurants’ a-board that promote Christmas Parties scattered on sidewalks to plan your celebrations.
The other untouchable British institution is the process, whatever it regulates. There’s a process for every possible case of life and you must follow it. Ergo, begging the receptionist of your GP with panic in the eyes doesn’t save you from any step of the process.
Also, no one studies English by simulating conversations about abortions, so we had to check the translator before we set foot in any centre.
Very pragmatically, while we were making assumptions, we called several numbers to ask what options we had. We spoke with many people, all polite and professional, who never made us feel judged for our accent or for the kind of choice we were evaluating, meaning Voluntary Termination of Pregnancy (VTP).
We were in the middle of the winter holiday season, that period going from Christmas to Epiphany, and in the UK many services were suspended or reduced. After a rough calculation, we knew we had only a few days left to decide and start the process.
After a few days and a lot of morning nausea, we managed to book an appointment and the scan in record time.
The psychological evaluation preceding the scan was made one-on-one between Morena and a specialist nurse, so to safeguard her health and will: no husband/partner/brother was allowed, that choice could only be taken by who was physically involved in the pregnancy. At that moment, I wondered if I was harming Morena, if somehow I was psychologically forcing her to an egoistic decision that didn’t take into consideration her will and her emotional and physical complexity.
The scan was meant to confirm the pregnancy status and the number of weeks. The nurse was not authorised to let us watch the screen so as not to affect us emotionally and psychologically. We were left with an info brochure showing the treatment options: surgical or medical abortion. We were said that medical abortion was a less invasive and low-risk procedure.
We were reassured about the smoothness of taking the abortion pill. It would imply heavier bleeding and stronger cramping compared to a normal period. Nothing too worrying though, it would have sufficed to take some pain relief tablets such as ibuprofen or paracetamol.
We opted for medical abortion, that seemed to be less invasive and less risky. But it was viable within a tighter time window, and many of the 9/10 weeks of pregnancy allowed had already gone by. We were recommended to turn to a licensed clinic and that’s where our process officially started: Marie Stopes UK.
At my first appointment, I had another scan to confirm the pregnancy status and my eligibility for medical abortion. After that, I would come back twice, with a break of 24-48h between the first and second medication: first, the mifepristone that blocks the hormone needed for pregnancy to grow; then the misoprostol that causes the softening and opening of the cervix (neck of the womb) and contractions of the womb (in some cases the miscarriage may occur before taking the second set of abortion tablets).
That’s the raw procedure, that went exactly as mentioned in the many brochures, on the clinic’s website and in the posters covering its corridors’ walls.
Everything that happened around was exhausting and made me deeply uncomfortable.
The consultation with the medical staff, the forms, the questions of the nurses responsible for administering medications. Ever since I set foot in the clinic and until the instant before placing the tablet above my tongue, I had to state and restate that Yes, I was really sure I wanted to get an abortion and no, nothing and nobody could make me change idea. Yes, I had considered all the options and that was my final decision. No, I wasn’t undecided and I would have had no second thoughts. Yes, I was aware of the contraceptive methods and Yes, I was conscious about their importance.
I had to do it all alone, while Ivano was left alone with his thoughts, waiting for me, holding my hand just metaphorically whereas I wished I could physically hold it tight during every consultation and every administration of tablets.
Instead, the whole process is designed to protect “the woman”, to be sure that she’s in the clinic of her own free will, that no one forced her to get an abortion, that she wasn’t harassed, abused, raped.
Obviously, I understand how fundamental is this form of protection but I’m also aware that, in my case, it translated into a mental burden that I had not enough energy to handle.
All I wanted was to share the experience with the sole person capable of making me feel supported and protected; the only one I could share the responsibility of the choice with and the one with whom I would work through the consequences. The only one who would then sustain my body exhausted and torn by pain once we would leave the clinic.
So I took the first tablet. I don’t remember experiencing any particular disorders after that. But I remember exactly every single instant of what’s happened after the second medication.
I had listened to all the nurses, I had read all the brochures and I thought I knew what to expect: a heavier flow, they said, with cramps more painful than usual. Nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea, fever/chills were part of the side effects. Ibuprofen and paracetamol were what I was suggested to take to relieve pain.
I always thought that I have a rather high pain threshold and I always had menstrual flows with little to no pain., so nothing too unbearable could happen to me, I thought.
In Italy, the abortion procedure requires that you get released from the hospital or other medical facility only once the miscarriage is complete. In the Uk is different, and now, if you’re eligible, you can also decide to take the misoprostol tablets home.
I returned to the clinic to take it and I was required to head back home immediately after the assumption, necessarily accompanied by someone (who, in my case, was Ivano). We got there by bus and we would come back home with an Uber but they wouldn’t give me the medication unless there was a car waiting for me in the parking, ready to leave and take me home the second I walked out of the clinic. I realised the reason for that when we were about halfaway, when the first symptoms kicked in.
Weakness, dizziness, nausea. Nothing that I hadn’t already experienced during some fainting episodes, only this time it felt like they were escalating fast and ripping all my energy off.
I was seated in the backseats and I was meeting Ivano’s eyes in the rearview mirror, trying to silently tell him that I wasn’t feeling good, that I needed to get home as soon as possible, but without alarming him too much. I could read the worry on his face, but also the effort to keep a cool head, while he tried to ask the driver to be quick, as far as possible, without pressuring him and continuing to listen to his skiing adventures around the world, constantly checking on me to be sure I was still conscious and responsive, without ever using my pain as an alarm. I’ll always be grateful to him for caring for me so delicately and for never making me feel a helpless victim.
The car stopped and I threw myself out grabbing Ivano’s arm to walk the stairs to the door of our home. At that point, I think I just collapsed to the ground and dragged myself to the couch. I felt like my body was going to be turned inside out. Ivano was trying to understand what to do but I wasn’t capable of putting my pain into words.
We had to show up again at the clinic for the second medication that was given to Morena the next day, along with some painkillers, while a taxi was waiting for us outside.
When Uber dropped us a few metres from our home, we only had the time to go in and Morena started to feel bad, terribly bad.
Just a handful of minutes after we left the clinic, we were alone, at home, with painkillers that wouldn’t have the slightest effect with my body that crawled from the couch to the bathroom and back, possessed by each of the side effects printed on the brochures. Ivano started calling the clinic’s emergency number to ask for advice, a solution, some help.
The answer to all that pain was pretty simple: Codeine.
She couldn’t find a position to relieve the pain in the lower abdomen. Common painkillers weren’t effective and I managed to get the name of the active substance that would save us only after several calls to the clinic to seek assistance: codeine.
We were lucky enough to live right in front of our GP practice, where I got the prescription for a limited number of tablets.
Thankfully, Morena was feeling slightly better after every tablet, being able to fall asleep for some time, then to stand up slowly and reach the bathroom for the miscarriage. Then she returned to the couch and waited to take another tablet and start all over again.
If only they had told us earlier, if only they had typed it into the damn brochures, if only someone had prepared me to face that kind of pain. We would’ve bought the Codeine in time and soothed the symptoms. Instead, I had to wait for Ivano to rush to the pharmacy, twisting in agony on the couch until he came back. Then, finally, the relief came. I swallowed a table and after a few minutes, my body would surrender to sleep silencing my pain. The I woke up, I tried to hold onto every moment of peace until cramps would kick in again and take over my body, waiting for the right time to take another tab and let the eyelids drop again. After some hours had passed, I started feeling better and recovering energy, and the day finally was over.
It’s been a wild 24 hours and we went through hell, completely alone, ending up to a feeling of emptiness.
We had bottomed out. It was time to recover energy and rise again.
From the next day, the physical pain left my body and gave way to the emotional one. And there would be no Codeine that could heal our invisible wounds.
“Sex should be avoided in the two weeks following treatment”, It said in the brochures.
That didn’t even cross our minds. We were living with the guilt of being so irresponsible and little respectful of ourselves and of our relationship that had been weakened by the memory of an awful experience and negative thoughts. We had put ourselves through a pain that we could avoid if only we’d been more careful.
For a month, we loved each other with the eyes, the comforting words, the hugs and nothing else. It seemed impossible to lock that burden in a box and go back to lightness.
And then, I don’t know how, one day we managed to get closer physically and we found solace in what, in hindsight, had always got us together and through the tough times: pleasure. The sexual, romantic, carnal, emotional, genuine and powerful one that we can only reach together.
Looking back to those moments, after some years, I can see that something beyond physical and mental pain has tormented me (and us) impacting the whole experience in a negative way: it was the notion of abortion that I had developed and internalised throughout life.
We are culturally conditioned to think of the abortion as a traumatic event, a terrible loss, a devastating experience that leaves an indelible mark, something to possibly feel guilty for and ashamed of. If you do not suffer, then you’re insensitive, inhuman, disrespectful to life itself. If you do not suffer, then you deserve a double ration of guilt: for aborting and for not suffering.
When it was my time to take the decision, I was already mentally programmed for suffering, resigned to an all-inclusive journey of pain: first the suffering for the decision, extended to the entire abortive procedure, seasoned with abundant guilt; then the repentant and regret; then more suffering each time I would’ve thought or told about the experience, facing the pity look and the silence of people who were supposed to show sadness for the deed and compassion for my understandable pain. And so on, along the never-ending journey of expiation.
But no brochure says that abortion has to be a mandatory trauma or a dead-end tunnel of mental self-flagellation.
Abortion should be first of all a (conscious, reasoned) choice and a right of every individual; and it should be up to the person that goes through the experience (either firsthand or indirectly) to decide how to live it, what to feel, what meaning to give to it; that can’t be imposed by a fictitious morality.
I figured this out only recently, also thanks to many direct testimonies of the people who told us their stories when we addressed the issue of abortion on Instagram.
We asked: “is it possible to experience abortion in a way that is not traumatic from an emotional/psychological point of view?” 67% of the people who responded to the poll voted for “I believe so”, leaving us pleasantly surprised.
Stripping abortion of the narrative of pain and guilt does not equate to banalising it or turning it into a careless choice. Let alone suggesting the idea that abortion can be considered just like a contraceptive method, and this must be clear. Its impact on the body is not negligible.
But while for some people abortion can be sad and tragic, for others it can be liberating, and no experience is more valid or legitimate than the other.
In my experience, aborting sucked and was incredibly painful. From a physical point of view, the intensity of the pain I felt is more frequent than what the brochures let you believe. While we were asking Google how to limit the suffering, we stumbled into so many stories all similar to ours; we read about people who, in a desperate attempt to make the pain stop, started crushing tablets of painkillers to snort them, hoping for a more rapid effect.
I never want to go through that experience again. But I could never give up the right to abortion, to self-determination, to decide for my body, for my future, for my well-being.
In the months following the abortion, Ivano and I have silently wondered many times what would happen if we hadn’t made that choice, how our lives would change.
Today, I don’t want to do it anymore. Today I wonder how I would have gone through that experience if I thought of abortion as a right and a free and conscious choice informed solely by our life experience, our personal context, our needs, desires and feelings.
Today, I also know that if we hadn’t taken that decision, Le Sex en Rose would probably have never been born.