Story 33 - 26.07.2020
“I am now almost forty years old, a workaholic, in a relationship with a very caring, understanding, supportive, open-minded partner. My partner is a foreigner and much older than me.
My family is Maltese and very catholic. I never heard my parents use the word sex… never ever. Not even to explain, for example if someone had a baby and would say, “The sex of the baby is a boy”… or if maybe we were randomly filling in a government form and there was the word sex, their facial expression changed. This is to explain how I have been raised. I love my family and cherish every moment of my childhood.
I was sent to a church school until secondary school. You would expect that your mum would explain that you get your period, that your body would change, etc. I was told nothing. Luckily, I had my first period when I was at home in summer, when I was the age of 11. I was very shy, self-conscious, insecure – it was not easy for me to make friends. My family never invited their friends over. I don’t think they had any actually. We only had relatives over to our house, so I never invited any of my friends as I thought I was not allowed to.
After finishing secondary school, I went to college, and after that I had started working. I was still a very timid person at that age. Actually, thinking about it I don’t think that people ever noticed me. I was the perfect nerd and didn’t care about men, plus when I finished school my dad would pick me – I never used buses.
So, as I said, I started working. I was 20 years old at the time and started noticing that the opposite sex was interested in me. This made me feel intrigued. I started making friends at work, going shopping on Fridays, and going out to Paceville on weekends. I felt happy and made good friends – friends who liked my company. I had noticed that when I drank alcohol, I did not feel that shy.
Well, at around the age of 23 I could handle alcohol quite well, and never got drunk. My family did not interfere as I never arrived home drunk and I always returned home on time. I did not have any boyfriends yet. I had kissed a couple of men, but never really fancied anyone in particular, plus I did not want any commitment. I had not yet felt comfortable to have sex with anyone, and most of all I was worried I would feel pain. I am a person who cannot stand pain. I am afraid of blood and was also afraid to have sex. I thought it was painful for a woman.
At the time, a friend of mine had decided that for her birthday we should party in a farmhouse in Gozo. I had decided to go and was super excited to wear my new summer dresses. I lied and told my parents that I was going to Gozo with a catholic group for a prayer week. You might say – at the age of 23 you could do whatever you want! Well, yes and no. If I told them the truth, I would break the harmony of the ‘perfect family,’ and I didn’t want to do that to my parents. So I went to Gozo, to this farmhouse with a pool, Jacuzzi, alcohol bar, etc… My friend invited over whoever she wanted, and we were around 10 people, I didn’t know all of them. On the first day, we went shopping for groceries, alcohol, make-up, sunblock, etc. There were a couple of cute guys, and my friend was encouraging me to talk to them and make a move. She knew how shy I was and that I had never had sex. She was not pushing me to do it but just to have fun, enjoy myself, and feel comfortable. She used to tell me, “Your face is tense.”
Well, during that week, we stayed in the farmhouse, playing cards, swimming, saying jokes, watching movies, cooking, etc. We drank… we drank so much that one night I could not remember anything of what happened. I didn’t feel sick nor dizzy, not even the slightest headache, but when I woke up, I found myself half-naked in bed and I stank of alcohol and sweat. I thought I must have felt hot during the night, as at the time we had no air-conditioning. And usually, I am a person who just removes clothes during my sleep without noticing and continues sleeping. I was going to take a shower and noticed some blood in my pants, and initially I thought my period was due. I had never had a heavy period, it only lasted 3 to 4 days usually and was very irregular.
When the week was over, I went back home and returned to work. After a couple of weeks, I felt bloated and I had a heavy bust. And I started noticing that my breasts started feeling somehow strange. I felt the nipples were more sensitive. Since it was summer, I thought it was somehow strange as it was not cold. I felt somehow tired and thought maybe I caught a cold. Circa 3 weeks had passed since we had been to Gozo, and a colleague of mine was joking with me that my breasts got bigger and that I should buy a larger bra, and that we should go shopping after work. My mind kept on thinking that my breasts felt unusual but I didn’t feel the need to get checked by a doctor. I used to check my breasts myself, just in case I had lumps as women from my family sometimes had, so I used to be super cautious.
Circa four weeks had passed since we had been to Gozo, and I was at work. I was feeling tired and my boss told me I looked pale in the face. So he signed me off to go home as sick leave. Back home I went to the bathroom and I noticed that I had this sort of curly discharge in my panties. I had never noticed such a thing before. I went back to work the next day and was ok. This feeling in my breasts kept on persisting – hard nipples all of a sudden – and it used to make me feel uncomfortable. So the next day I was at work and asked my colleague who her gynaecologist was, as I had never visited one yet. And I was thinking that I could ask the gynaecologist to also check my breasts for precaution. I had no intention to ask my mother, since I didn’t want to worry her in case I had something. My colleague gave me her gynaecologist’s number, so I booked an appointment, and she offered to come with me as I felt extremely shy.
The appointment was for just a couple of days after, as I said that it was an emergency as I needed to check if I have a lump or maybe something serious. So I went to this doctor, and he asked me some personal questions as I was at his clinic for the first time. He asked me to explain why I wanted to see him. So I explained that I wanted to check my breasts, and since I had never been to a gynaecologist before, to do a general check-up. When I said this the gynaecologist asked me if I noticed any other symptoms with my body and I mentioned the curly discharge. My friend was still with me and kept on telling the gynaecologist that I was worrying about nothing. The gynaecologist checked my breasts and said that everything was fine. After that I had to lay down to get checked internally down there. He explained everything to me and was very cautious, since I explained that I was afraid. After checking me thoroughly he asked me again if I had sex and when did I think my period was due. I replied that I hadn't had sex and that possibly it was soon due as my breasts tend to swell and feel tender (remember my period is very irregular). He asked me if he could perform an internal ultrasound scan. I was scared but said yes to get all the check-up I needed at once. He asked me if I wanted to let my friend stay in the room whilst he performed the internal ultrasound scan, and I said yes. She was behind a partition, so she could not see anything. He prepared the machine, and I closed my eyes instantly. The doctor put some gel on this device and he slid this huge thing gently into my private parts. My eyes were open wide and shocked. I still remember the gynaecologist’s cough. He stayed quiet and continued checking. This moment felt never-ending. The doctor removed the device from my body, stood up and was getting something else. He changed the device and checked me again. He coughed again. I asked the doctor if something was wrong as his facial expression changed and I could see that he was a bit tense. The doctor at that time told me, “No, you have nothing wrong, your body is fine. I have to let you know that you are pregnant.” I was speechless and my initial comment to the doctor was, “How?” I didn’t know what was happening in my life, but I instantly thought about Gozo – that was the only thing I had done differently in the last couple of weeks! I started trembling. My friend was in the room and had heard the doctor as well. I was extremely ashamed about the news and asked, “What am I going to do? How do I get rid of it?” The gynaecologist told me, “You cannot do anything. In 9 months you will have a baby. You have to do another appointment and I will then let you know when the due date is.” As I was not that naïve, I knew something could be done, so I paid and rushed out of the clinic without doing the follow-up appointment.
That night I spent hours at my friend's house trying to understand what the hell happened. She was shocked too. She was asking me many questions and if I wanted the baby. I always said “NO! I don’t even remember how, when it happened” and most of all “who the father was” – that is something else I could not digest. That night I informed my parents I was going to sleep at my friends' house because after a couple of drinks I was not feeling well. My friend was not with us in Gozo, so she was asking me questions, and we concluded that it must have happened in Gozo during that night I mentioned earlier when I got drunk and woke up not remembering anything. Something that came into my mind was that someone could have drugged me. However, during the stay in Gozo I had never seen anyone make use of drugs nor mention them.
I did not go to work for 2 days as I was not in the right state of mind. I wanted to figure out how to get rid of ‘it’ before I possibly knew who it was. And most of all, I did not want my family to notice. My only option was getting an abortion! My head was thinking… how, where, and when! How and where – I did not go back to the same gynaecologist to ask. My colleague friend and I did some research at work on the internet. Fortunately, we had internet at work. It was not that common at the time to have the internet at home. She also informed me that she knew someone who had already done an abortion abroad in the UK and remembered from her memory the gynaecologist who her friend had been to. This gynaecologist had given her good advice. So I decided to go to this one and ask for advice. I did not want to go to a butcher or harm myself by doing something at home. I was wishing I could get hit by a car, but my family would know eventually I was pregnant. I had also thought of committing suicide, but I think it's too messy.
I remember well that I had to wait a couple of days for the appointment with the new gynaecologist. My colleague friend came with me for support, but this time she waited outside in the waiting area. I am a person who is always early for an appointment and I was there at least 30 minutes before. In the waiting area, at least two couples were waiting – pregnant. I thought of how ironic life was – I was there to terminate it and these were happy soon to be parents.
I remember my colleague friend noticing that I was losing weight – really strange – my trousers were really baggy. I think it was out of shock, no appetite, and the sleepless nights I had. Well, it was my turn and I decided to enter alone and let my friend wait in the waiting area. I remember well that I was red in the face when I entered the doctor’s visiting room. He looked at me saying, “Hello, you don't need to worry about anything. How can I help you?” I instantly replied, “It shows that I look worried then.” The doctor told me, “Yes, but it's normal. You are a new patient.” So I had decided in my mind that I would not talk too much and ask the question directly to the gynaecologist. The doctor asked me about myself – the usual questions to open the file and what I was there for... so I told him this: “I know I am pregnant – I have checked in another clinic – and don't want to keep it, as I don't know who the father is and I am not prepared to have a baby right now.” The doctor stopped for a moment and asked me, “But why did you come to me?” And I replied, “I am determined to do it and I don't want to harm myself or go to a butcher. Plus someone who had an abortion came to you and you gave her good advice.” He stopped for a couple of minutes and asked if I could be checked by him before giving any type of advice. So the doctor checked me, confirmed that I was pregnant, and asked me what I had in mind. I said, “I was thinking to go to either the UK or to Sicily.” He then told me that to give me the name of the place I would need to promise him to book a follow-up appointment to get checked again after the operation... the abortion. He told me that ideally when I book I should ask for full anaesthesia so I would not remember anything. He told me to book as soon as I could because the fewer weeks of pregnancy I had, the better for me and my body. The doctor decided to suggest to me a safe place where to go. He wrote this on a paper, which he meticulously folded, closed, and glued. I could only see the place suggested outside, away from his clinic. He told me not to mention that he suggested this as I could get him into serious trouble.* I shook the doctor's hand and thanked him so much, and he looked at me saying, “I will wait for you to come back and get checked by myself.” I replied, “Definitely.”
Out of the clinic, my friend and I drove to her house and opened the doctor's note. There was written: ‘Marie Stopes UK.’ We decided that the following day at work we would check on the internet and get all the information, such as: what was the process, the cost, and I had to think about the flights as well. I was not financially well. I had no savings and could not ask for exaggerated amounts of money from my family as it would have raised questions. In the meantime, my colleague friend offered to lend me some money, but I didn't want it. I was determined to get this sorted by myself in some way or another. The following day at work we found all the information on the internet and I called their clinic, which was extremely helpful. Since it was an international call they also offered to call me back on a preferred number. They explained everything to the last detail, even which hotel I could stay in and which bus I should catch, etc. They were really sensitive and understanding. I was surprised by how caring they were over the phone. They also informed me that when I reached their clinic there could be people who might try to stop me and be outside protesting. I was advised to: “Ignore them and ring the bell, give us your name, so we will let you in.” I was told I could call them or email them and give them the date of when I wanted my procedure to take place.
When I had all the information about the procedure and the costs involved – this was around seven hundred Maltese lira – I needed to check about the flights plus accommodation costs. I went to a travel agent and got a quote – one for myself only and one for myself and another two persons travelling with me. I decided to go to a bank and ask for a personal loan. I gave the bank the quote from the travel agent for the highest amount. I was asked many questions, but eventually the bank granted the loan. After circa a week from the last gynaecologist appointment, I had the name of a safe clinic to go to, the money for the abortion, flights, and accommodation. As soon as I was out of the bank I went to book the flights and accommodation via the travelling agent, and after that I just had to call and book the abortion, which I did. That was the first night after many that I had slept. Everything was planned for two weeks to go!
I made some excuse to my parents that I would be away for a long weekend with friends. I, fortunately, had no morning sickness, only my breasts bigger and this curly discharge from time to time. I was happy as ever waiting for the day to arrive. I travelled alone. I didn't want to get anyone into trouble or in financial loss because of my troubles. I had only 3 days in the UK – the day of arrival, the following day for the procedure, and the day after I would be back on the rock.
As I arrived in the UK I had all the directions provided by the Marie Stopes nurse in charge of my case, from my first step out of the airport to the hotel, which was very close to the clinic. As I arrived at the hotel, I left my luggage and went on foot to see how far away the clinic was, as I had an appointment the following day. The hotel was a 10 min walk from the clinic.
My abortion was early in the morning, so I could rest all day, and the following day I had a late flight. I could not sleep the first night. I was happy I had managed to find a solution, but worried something could go wrong during the abortion. I woke up early. I could not have anything to eat and went to the clinic on foot. I arrived at this lovely clinic and did not notice any people protesting. I rang the bell, was asked my name and my case reference number, which I provided, and was let into the premises.
There were already people in the waiting area, all accompanied by someone. I was alone and extremely shy. The clinic was nicely decorated, and the waiting area was very relaxing. The lady at the reception gave me a document to read and a questionnaire which I had to fill in, and told me to have a seat and wait till someone would call my file number, not my name. I did not wait for a long time. I was let into a very small room and was asked to hand over the questionnaire I had just filled in. We discussed calmly all the questions I had answered. They needed to know about my medical history and explained that they wanted to make sure that the treatment was safe for me. I had to disclose if I had any medical issues and if I was taking any drugs. They asked me the reason for wanting the abortion. The nurse performed an ultrasound scan. She took blood pressure and pulse rate and blood sample to check for any blood conditions. I was also informed that legally they had to disclose that they had me as a Maltese patient, and that my personal information would not be shared. Knowing my story, the nurse advised me to have an STI test at no extra cost and to call for the result in 15 days. So I decided to do that as well.
After this consultation, I was told to wait again for a few minutes as the file would need to be examined by the doctor/surgeon in charge, and I would be informed if they accepted to do my abortion. I was informed that the abortion could be done and was told to go into a pre-operation waiting area and choose my armchair, which would be allocated only to me for the day. When I went into this open plan there were no beds but just huge armchairs with partitions, few patients, and a nice colourful table next to each armchair where one could leave their personal belongings. A nurse explained to me that when I felt ready, I could get changed into a clinic gown behind the partition, and as I was having full anaesthesia I could not eat nor drink before the procedure.
Not even half an hour had passed, and I was called into the operating theatre. I was asked my name and a few questions. I remember well that I told them I was scared but was extremely positive I wanted to proceed with the abortion. They told me that I had nothing to worry about and that it would end in a few minutes. I was given anaesthesia and was told to count backwards from 10. After that I only remember myself awake in the armchair I had chosen surrounded by more women around me having different procedures.
When the nurse in charge noticed that I had woken up, she came to me and asked me how I felt. I asked if the abortion was done and if all was ok. She smiled and said, “Yes.” She asked me how I felt and if I could stand up. I wanted to give it a go, and managed to stand up slowly with her help. I sort of felt my tummy bloated and was also sleepy. I was offered to drink tea/coffee/water, etc., and was told to get changed and leave the clinic only when I felt ready. I was provided with a small bag containing paracetamol, pads, and an aftercare booklet. The nurse explained that I would possibly have a heavy period for the next couple of days and that I had to rest, that I could take paracetamol, and that if I had any questions I could call their number for assistance. I was hesitant to leave the clinic and go back to the hotel and rest. I called a taxi to the hotel – this was around two in the afternoon. I told the reception that I wanted to be reminded about my flight the next day and to call me at a certain time. I was worried I would not wake up. I went into the room and slept for many hours and woke up noticing the bed sheets with blood. I also had like a bloated tummy period pain, so for precaution I took the paracetamol and went back to bed till around 10am.
I woke up and asked for food to be delivered to my room. I was feeling fine but did not want to get tired or feel sick as I had the flight back home that night. I had a small walk around the hotel to make sure that all was well, so I had tea in the hotel garden and stayed there for a couple of hours. I, fortunately, had no pain, just the heavy period-like blood. I then took the flight and arrived home safely.
The period-like blood took around 10 days to stop. I was not sick nor in pain and mostly happy that I could not remember anything of the procedure. Back home I made an appointment with the gynaecologist who gave me the proper guidance and found that everything went well. I then also called for my STI results after 15 days.
I must admit I was lucky – I had no complications, and I believe that having an early-stage pregnancy helps, even for the body to recover faster. Marie Stopes performed only abortions up to a certain number of weeks at the time – say 18, I don't remember exactly – and I was much less than that. At Marie Stopes, they also discussed with me what options I had for contraception so that this would not happen again.
After this experience, it was not easy to trust men. I completely stopped drinking alcohol. I was of the idea that it was my fault because I let it happen.**
I still think, when I see teens, that I could have had a kid that age. But still – understand that given the situation I was not in a position to take care of a child if I had not grown myself as a person. I did not want to disrupt the harmony of my ‘perfect family.’ I wanted to continue developing in my career and become a better person. I wanted to be in control and not let go as I did at the time.
After a couple of years, I had one long relationship which lasted almost six years. He was always thinking about getting married and having kids, so I had decided to let him know what had happened. I informed him about the situation and that I had done an abortion. He was not supportive and was blaming me for my actions. He was also of the idea that if I had done an abortion and lied to my family I could lie to him in the future, so he decided to stop the relationship there and then, as he could not trust me.
Till this present day, I don’t know who the male that I had sex with was! I don’t know if it was a rape or consensual since I was drunk (possibly not drugged). I do feel better not knowing. I live without hate or doubt. I did not need to ask for permission to get an abortion.
My life now is much better – at least that is what I think. My partner knows what had happened and does understand; he does not judge. He listens to me and he knows I am a person who was weak and that I have also grown from this experience. He understands that in a certain month I remember what had happened and I have my moods. He understands when I stare at kids and think about my actions. He is very supportive and always figures out a way to make me smile.
To whom reads my story – thanks for reading and not judging. I am thankful that there are these groups such as Doctors for Choice Malta and Break the Taboo Malta. I wish that here in Malta things change and it would be easier for whoever needs to make their own choices.”
* This gynaecologist may have been worried about getting into 'serious trouble' with his employer or perhaps because of abortion stigma. However, we need to point out that it is actually perfectly legal to give information about abortion. Healthcare professionals cannot face any legal repercussions for providing information.
** A person who is unconscious or asleep cannot consent to sex. This woman is definitely not responsible for the sexual assault. A victim/survivor is never, ever to blame - no matter how much alcohol she had or what she was wearing or any other reason. That is victim blaming, and as a society we need to acknowledge and address it. The only person responsible for rape is the rapist.