• Break the Taboo Malta

Story 21 – 22.05.2019

The following story is from an American who now lives in Malta.





"During a home visit between seasonal field jobs I found out I was pregnant. I was 23 with $35 in my pocket. The would-be father was my boss, the lead on a scientific research project.

At the time I had a BSc in biology and was slowly accepting the sobering truth that a bachelor’s degree means very little in today’s world. I needed more experience, and few would hire me with the little experience I already had. I took the first job I was offered after months of searching: wildlife technician, legally classified as a volunteer so I could be paid a tiny stipend, well below minimum wage.

I stepped through the door with the typical mixture of excitement and trepidation: I was beginning the journey towards a career I had dreamed of since I was 16. This was it. The house bustled with equally enthusiastic young technicians and experienced researchers. A shared room and bathroom with hours working outside in below freezing temperature were part of the adventure. But my insecurities drove me to secluded evenings away from the group, head loosely hung over a book or else nursing panic that I had said the wrong thing or made yet another mistake in the field.

It was my boss mainly that I was able to retain any manner of good relations. In the midst of asking questions I knew the answers to, I felt some of my insecurities disintegrate around him. During the long drives to field sites, we laughed together. It was simple and it kept me from collapsing. And when I walked my dog at night, I often took his dog with me, coddling my anxieties to repeated Ray Lamontagne tracks.

For a while I was clueless that my dog was on the verge of death from an autoimmune disease. Field crew members laughed at his old age and bad breath; it seemed appropriate to laugh with them. My dog went everywhere with me, maybe he was just tired now.

***

The blood test was not definitive, my gynaecologist assured me, after I had casually stated the date of my last period during my routine check-up. It was probably a fluke. A continuous earthquake rumbled inside me the following day as I waited for a call from my doctor to confirm the results. I fought to mutter the words ‘thank you’ as my flooded eyes impaired my speech and proceeded to wail uncontrollably as if I had just witnessed the execution of a loved one. But in fact, it was not death that left me heaving on the floor, it was life.

I could not get past the mere fact that a single sperm made its way to an egg and from there all the genetic information from myself and my sexual partner were joined to start the process of developing a baby. I felt something inside me. I couldn’t say it was just cells, but at the same time I immediately knew that I had to abort.

I didn’t need to spend much time picturing my life with a baby. Student debt had claimed its usual piling upon the shoulders and, perhaps foolishly, I intended to acquire more as I prepared to enter a Master’s program in Europe later that year.

My plan to pursue further studies would float away indefinitely as I move back in with my mother and dig through old boxes to find my button-down white shirt. I would become a waitress again. And there would be a definite connection to a man I had no intention of seeing again in the future.

My boss encouraged me to have an abortion. Fear shook through the phone that I might keep it. The fact that I was sleeping with him only lightly scratches the surface of years of poor decisions with men in which I felt insecure, worthless and stupid. Regardless of his words, my inability to see myself as a confident, intelligent and self-reliant person pointed glaringly at the fact that I wasn’t ready.

I shed copious tears in that short period while cells multiplied by the second inside my ovary. I thought about that; I thought about whether it would have been a boy or girl. I cried without reason, and I cried for my own carelessness.

On top of that, a lingering fear crept in the background that I would be abusive as my own mother was to me. I couldn’t trust her. I couldn’t enter motherhood with the chance that I would carry even a trace of the abuse that I experienced growing up.

I called Planned Parenthood. Years later all I can recall is a woman who sounded cold over the phone. After a brief conversation, I understood that I would have to go through quite a bit of paperwork to prove I was unable to pay for the procedure. It would take time for them to determine if I was eligible for financial support. I didn’t have time. I had something growing inside of me, and I needed it to stop.

Since I couldn’t ask my mother for help and my parents were divorced, I begged my father. I begged my father to not tell his wife, who would have also looked down upon me with judgment and like my mother, proceed to tell all her friends and family. He would have to take money from their mutual account without telling her why. The fact that he would have to lie to his wife pained him, and I felt terrible for putting him in such a situation.

The begging for money did not stop with my dad, however. I begged the would-be father claiming I needed to choose between my dog (who, without seeing a veterinarian immediately and receiving medication, would have died) and the abortion, the latter being clearly more important to pay for. After complaining that he did not have additional money and was about to go on vacation, he eventually produced most of the fees. I resorted to asking a couple other friends before my dad reluctantly produced the remaining sum. I felt humiliated.

How did this happen? Why didn’t I have a proper job after spending four years attaining the knowledge and skills to work in a particular field? Why was I begging? And why was this procedure over $400?

I made a second visit to my gynaecologist. I was told that since the pregnancy was detected at an early stage, it was too soon to tell if it was ectopic (a foetus developing in the fallopian tubes).

Another blood test was administered at the clinic that performed the abortion. I had no paperwork from my gynaecologist showing the second blood test that was already performed, nor had they indicated that they would communicate these results to the clinic. I told them that I had blood work done and knew the pregnancy was not ectopic, but according to their own protocol, they needed to do the test themselves.

I was not a person; I was a number. One test begot another until I sat dumbfounded with time lost as my hormones continued their entropic dance inside my body. My signature splattered over foreign papers. The results didn’t matter and the papers didn’t make sense. I lifted my legs from one overly bright and sterile room to another hoping for darkness, the peaceful kind.

***

I made a futile attempt to remove terror from my face as I entered the clinic. In a few days, blood much like that which is experienced during a period, would come out of my body, the doctor explained. Included with this would be anything from minor cramps to diarrhoea, vomiting and extreme abdominal pains.

The physical pain associated with abortions is a subject I had not come across and was completely unaware of until I went through it myself. As I kneeled over frozen like a hunchback clutching my insides on the sidewalk, I understood that in a way, it was over.

I still cannot define life and vividly recall the days of waiting, questioning and acceptance that I will carry this experience on my back for the rest of my life. But it will be without remorse. I will just... carry it."

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Break the Taboo Malta is an initiative to end abortion stigma in Malta by sharing real abortion stories and experiences.