As soon as the condom broke, I knew. In the only feat of what might be described as “feminine intuition” in my life to date, I was instantly certain of two enormous, looming, insurmountable facts: I was pregnant. And I was going to have an abortion.
In these more medically advanced days, the morning after pill would have sorted me out in a trice; but back in the dark times of rotary telephones, analogue music and recreational cave painting, the full-on medical route was all that was available to me. So this whole “having an abortion” business was no small commitment: several invasive and unpleasant medical tests and procedures (when you’re having an abortion and you’ve not had your cervix stretched by prior births, for example, they stick a twig in you to open it up for the surgeon. A twig. I shit you not. For 24 hours), some tricky conversations with doctors and parents, a few weeks’ wait… In today’s terms it’s quite the ordeal, but I sailed through the whole thing with a cheerful demeanour, buoyed by my own certainty and the unstinting support of my mother and my then-boyfriend, he of the overmighty sperm. Thinking back on those weeks now, I can scarcely remember a time in my early twenties when I was as positive, as goal-directed, as sure of myself.
Being a young woman is a pretty raw deal. On top of the usual worries – what shall I study? Who will love me? How can I earn money and be independent? – there is also the not insignificant fact that pretty much everyone seems to be on a mission to fuck with your head all the time. Young women are always and inescapably either too fat or too thin; either too prudish or too slutty; either too meek or too abrasive; either too shallow or too brainy. To be a young woman is to exist in a constant state of wrongness: whatever you do and however you do it, there will be a cacophony of voices ready and eager to tell you that you are doing the wrong thing, in the wrong way, and for the wrong reasons.
Even that would not be so bad were it not for all the people who tell us that not only the things we do, but the things we think and feel are hopelessly incorrect. Offended by sexist remarks from a fellow student? He was only joking. Intimidated by street harassment? “You must have taken it wrong”, as one young man recently told me – it was surely meant as a compliment. Humiliated by inappropriate approaches from a teacher or manager? Well I’m sorry, but you should really get over yourself and not think every man is after you all the time. Also, learn to lighten up and flirt a bit. Use your “sexual capital”. Who do you think you are, with your preferences and individual dignity and expectations that people will actually respect you? A man? Dyke.
It’s no surprise that young women have no idea what the hell they want half the time. If anything, I’m blown away when any of them manage to block out the maelstrom of undermining hectoring long enough to finish a degree (I didn’t) or hold down a job (ditto). So when we, these confused repositories for all the worlds soul-sapping Catch-22s, actually know, really and honestly know that we want to do a certain thing and why we want to do it, more than anything else, it’s a relief. A respite from the crazy-making internal and external voices that combine, in aggregate, to give us the simple understanding that only do we not know what is best for us, we should renounce any such pretentions for the unconscionable arrogance they are.
But by some magic, some inexplicable core of resilience that we have secreted away from the corrosive poison of a dehumanising world, when those of us who are lucky to have that choice use that freedom by choosing what to do with our reproductive bodies, nearly all of us choose well. A recent wide-ranging, longitudinal study in the US has revealed that more than 95 per cent of women say they don’t regret their abortion; perhaps, like me, they are brought by the terrifying realness of a pregnancy to a calm, eye-of-the-storm place in which, maybe for the first time ever, they really, really know what the right thing for them is. And that is a happy, happy feeling. I should know – I’ve felt it.