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“You’ll ruin my life”: one woman’s experience of abortion and the Catholic church

“Asking the nurse not to turn the ultrasound away, I saw our baby, the same size as a chickpea, and wondered how an innocent thing could ever be shameful.”

Two nuns wait on the pavement. Photo: Getty
A year later, I can’t say that I would have made a different choice, given the chance. Photo: Getty

“Only God can forgive you,” two nuns repeated, forcing leaflets into my hand as I pressed the buzzer on the abortion clinic door.

My baby was 7 weeks and 3 days old. Some suggested that it would hurt less to call it a foetus. Some asked why I took vitamins to nurture a pregnancy I’d planned to terminate. And of course there were others still to damn me and wish me straight to hell.

But this is what I know: nothing is straightforward. There’s no instruction manual. No experience akin to another. And almost nobody wants to talk about it.

All we can do is what feels right for us. Yet, that itself is a privilege.

The father was a 30 year-old man terrified of his devout Catholic family. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that our baby would ruin his life. We weren’t in love, we weren’t together, let alone married. There was little talk permitted for accountability.

Asking the nurse not to turn the ultrasound away, I saw our baby, the same size as a chickpea, and wondered how an innocent thing could ever be shameful. To me it was beautiful, with power enough to grow the instinct inside me, telling me to run. But I didn’t. Instead, my voice was stuck in my throat and the religious pleading kept ringing in my ears.

“You’ll ruin my life.”

 “Only God can forgive you.”

“You’ll ruin my life.”

 “Only God can forgive you.”

This is where I tell you I’m agnostic.  I have no God, no Allah, no churches or mosques. What I have instead is faith in humanity. To me, religion, like love, is a freedom.

And all I needed then was to not feel alone, to appreciate the women who had faced this before me, to know that they had survived.

“Do many of us come here, not knowing what to do?” I asked the nurse.

“Yes.”

I left a pause, a deliberate beat, a request that she continue to fill the silence I couldn’t bear.

I heard about a 13 year-old girl who had saved her pocket money so she could get to the clinic, travelling there alone, not wanting her parents to find out.

I heard about a Catholic teacher whose treatment was privately paid for by the church, her baby fathered by a priest.

That’s when I pictured them both, tucked them away to keep them with me.

My baby was 8 weeks old on the day of treatment. That morning, I did three things: I took the vitamins, fell to my knees and prayed. Hands clasped, desperate. “You’ll ruin my life.” How could I be responsible for that? I wiped my face clean of make up after crying it off a second time.

Inside the clinic, inside myself, I was breaking, my mind screaming at me. Screaming at me for being so polite to the woman who handed me the paperwork. Screaming at me for saying, “Thank you ever so much,” when she handed me a pen, when all I wanted was to say, “I don’t want to be here. Please help me.”

There is much to say about a society that raises us to be polite and not to make a fuss.

In the waiting room I asked again if keeping it would be the worst thing in the world: “Yes.” That night, he showed me a pair of jeans he’d bought while I was in surgery.

I wasn’t prepared for what followed. The tears that wouldn’t stop. The sound of me screaming into my pillow, a sound I didn’t recognise. The regret of not speaking up, haunting me beyond pain. The grief.

My first step towards closure came some months later. I was exiting the tube at Oxford Circus when the notes of Amazing Grace from a Salvation Army brass band hit me in a wave. I froze on the corner of Argyll Street, and all the tears I had in that moment fell; one heavy tear after another until my body forced me to breathe again.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me...”

I’ll never know if she would have been a girl, but she became one to me: Grace. Named after a Christian hymn. I smiled at the irony.

A year later, I can’t say that I would have made a different choice, given the chance. Along with peace, time has given me clarity: that it wasn’t the right time, the right situation, and certainly not the right person.  

But in making my decision, I wish it had been my voice alone that I’d heard. Not the voice of any man or church or faith. Because ultimately, alone in the clinic, that’s all there was. Just me. And that’s OK. That, I could have lived with.

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