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Let's Talk Abortion. Because Someone Must.

When I had my first abortion—or 'termination,' as I had preferred to call it—I was in a country in which premarital sex and abortion were illegal and legit grounds for deportation. Going to a doctor was out of the question. They were legally bound to report any instances of unmarried pregnant women. Undoubtedly, I was scared. Scared for my life, scared for what lay within me, scared for everything the future held. My boyfriend at the time chose to play the silver lining card. “At least now I know we can have kids.” Yeah, great. Let me get my uterus flushed, while you gloat over your athletic sperm.

To give him due credit, he did arrange the necessary pills through a pharmacist cousin back home. But I had no medical advice except from a small town pharmacist. I had no one to tell me what would happen. The lack of information online was appalling and so was the disregard shown to my health by everyone involved. When two common friends came to know what was going on, they chose to dwell on the moral grounds of a pregnancy and termination. They chose to cut off ties with someone who was 'morally loose.' The pills came into the country illegally through an acquaintance who had not been told the purpose of the contraband. When the pills were passed to me secretly, I didn't know what to do with them. The medical-expert pharmacist cousin chose to speak to my boyfriend only, not to me. What if the loose morals were contagious?

I was informed that after I took the two pills, I would start my period, which would be slightly heavier than normal. No one told me when it would start. It could be a day, or two days, or even a week. It started the next day, while I was at work, unprepared for the river flowing down my legs. I didn't know whom to tell or what to say. With every panic attack, I reminded myself to not show it. I didn't want to be deported. I would brave it for the sake of my career. The 'slightly heavier' period was straight out of a gory horror movie. I felt chunks passing through, which worried me for two painful days, till I was told that it's normal. Every bit of 'crucial' information that the pharmacist chose to ignore was happening to me. Despite wearing two sanitary pads, the blood was staining my clothes. Running home to change was not an option, so I did what I told myself I would. I braved it. When I did reach home, I collapsed in a bundle of pain and blood. When my boyfriend saw me, he called up his cousin and asked if it was ok for me to have a painkiller. I don't know what he was scared of hurting inside me with extra medication. I had the painkiller, tried to sleep but couldn't, cried through the night mostly because of the physical and emotional pain. I hated that my boyfriend referred to the foetus as our child, I hated that he wanted to name it and make a donation in her name. In his head, he had assumed it was a girl. It seems as if it would be easier for him to bear the loss of a female child. As expected, our relationship didn't last long after that.

I should've gone back to my country and had a proper medical examination, but I didn't. Despite the negligence on my part, I recovered soon enough. Physically, at least. Emotionally, it took a while. I didn't have the option to take a break from work and try to work it out in my head. I had to earn a living and I had no savings to fall back on. I don't know what made me put it behind me, eventually. It could be that a strong survival instinct kicked in for the lack of any external support system. At first, I felt like I had lost a child. I gave in to the blame game that society would happily encourage. But I soon realised that there was no point in blaming myself. I did what I had to do. At 23 years old, I was not brave to go through with the pregnancy.

Four years later, the mistake happened again. I was assured that the condom didn't break, that it wasn't possible for 'the boys' to have gone through, that I didn't need to take the emergency contraceptive. That pill has always had a disastrous effect on my body and menstrual cycle, so I avoid it like the plague. When I was assured that I wouldn't need it, I didn't take it. But I should've paid heed to that tiny voice in my head to take it anyway, and bear with the relatively minimal consequences. A few of the superhuman sperm cells did make it and they did what they had to do.

After a skipped cycle and a blood test which confirmed a pregnancy, my boyfriend and I decided that we couldn't go through with it. He didn't know about my previous abortion. Even though I knew he would understand and would not have drawn any conclusions, I didn't feel the need to mention it to him. I went to a gynaecologist who had earlier been very kind to me and had treated me with gentle firmness, which I appreciated. She sat across from me and looked at the blood report. With half a smile on her face, she said, “You're definitely pregnant.” A few seconds later, when she saw I wasn't sharing her muted joy, she asked me, “Are you married?” I said no. The smile was wiped off immediately and she asked me another question. “Do you want to keep it?” I said no. She asked me if I wanted to consult the father and decide in a couple of days. I said no. The muted joy turned into not-­so-­muted disgust and judgement. I knew what she was thinking.

She told me to get an ultrasound to know the duration of the pregnancy. I thought that was the end of the judgement, at least. This time, I knew what to expect in terms of physical pain but nothing could prepare me for the task of telling strangers that I was getting an abortion. For all the sensitivity drilled into our medical professionals at the time of training, it seems to lose its way somewhere between patients. During the ultrasound, the doctor (a different one) showed more joy than necessary when she spotted the blink-­and-you-­miss-­it foetus. She didn't ask me and I didn't tell her about my plan. A few hours later, I got the report and went back to the doctor, where I was made to wait for over an hour. I was considered lowest priority. After the customary weigh ­in, the nurse noticed a slight increase in weight from the last time. She exclaimed, “Are you pregnant? Congratulations.” I decided that it was time to end this.

“I'm getting an abortion. Can you please ask the doctor to see me? I have to get to work.” That stopped the spurts of joy and expectant stares at my body from the nurses. I went inside to meet the doctor and she had really changed from my previous encounters with her. She didn't look at me, glanced through the reports, prescribed a couple of medicines and told me to leave. After two weeks of very expensive treatment, I never went back to her. This time, I took a couple of days off from work to recover. I discussed it with my boyfriend who opened up to me about how he felt too. He didn't give it any names, he didn't assign a gender, he didn't harp on his overachieving sperm. He just talked to me and I talked to him. A few months later, I spoke to a friend about it too and found out she had gone through the same thing. She had felt wary discussing it too, just like I did. We spoke for hours through tears, hugs and laughter. We walked away from each other lighter. We didn't feel guilty when we met the next day. We didn't feel like murderers. We felt like women who made a painful but correct choice and moved on stronger and braver.

No woman has the same experience during an abortion. Not everyone has to feel any emotional loss. Some women don't feel the loss because they don't want children anyway. Some will feel it but will recover. They won't live with it for the rest of their lives. Some feel the loss forever. For most women though, recovery would be a lot easier if they were supported for their choices.

Women have been shamed endlessly for making choices about their bodies and deciding not to go ahead with a situation they have little control over. They have been judged by doctors, society, people who have never been through anything close, and everyone else. This has forced women to get incorrect medical information and landed them in serious trouble. It's easy for a man to walk away from an unwanted pregnancy. Biology gave them that advantage. But a woman needs to take matters in her own hand because unconditional support for terminating pregnancy is still a rarity.

According to Indian law, an abortion performed by a registered physician at a government approved facility is legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. But that doesn't mean it's easily available. According to a study by NGO Ipas , 60% abortions performed in India are unsafe and one woman dies every two hours as a result of abortion-related complications. Young women who are financially weak cannot afford good medical care if they want an abortion. They are too scared to ask anyone for financial help which leads them to the local pharmacy. Even though the pills needed to induce an abortion are supposed to be sold by prescription only, they can be procured over the counter. It is much cheaper than going to a doctor and paying a hefty fee. However, this is extremely dangerous. Pills don't always induce an abortion and can cause an infection as a result of an incomplete termination. From damaging the reproductive system irreparably to death, the consequences of a botched abortion can be nothing short of disastrous for a woman.

We need to remove the stigma around abortion and remove the obstacles to information on this crucial procedure. It's only with information and education that the world can make sure its women are leading healthy, safe lives. An abortion does not mean that you're any less of a woman, or that you won't be able to have children again, or that you're a 'murderer.' It just means that you made a choice and stuck to it.

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