A medical student's experience of abortion
As a medical student in my first year of training, finding out that I was pregnant left me utterly bewildered. I was fortunate to be in a stable relationship and had no pressure placed on me either way. We sat down and made what I still believe to be the most kind and sensible decision for all of us based on a number of very personal reasons: could students care for a child well? We had no money and no parents close by so was it fair to raise a child in these circumstances? How many people have abortions? Is it safe? What about conceiving again, afterwards? After weighing up all these decisions I went to my GP who, due to the stage of the pregnancy referred me to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
I have two reasons for posting my experience here.
Firstly, at this point I think it's important that (and this is only my opinion - but it may help!) whatever your reasons for under-going a termination, they are your reasons and your reasons alone. You do not have to justify yourself to anybody if, after balanced thought, you reach the decision to terminate. I don't regret it - even when I sit through lecture after lecture on the developing foetus and the ethics of termination blah blah blah. It was right for me at the time.
What I have suffered from however, is the after effect of appalling care on behalf of the BPAS. I think it is VITAL that women who make this incredibly brave decision receive supportive and compassionate care. It is your right. For a long while, I confused feelings of anger towards the way I have been treated with feeling guilty and remorseful. I appreciate that many will feel guilt afterwards. I did for a while afterwards. But it was only when I sat and reflected on the experience four years later did I realise that my anger and sadness was focussed on the experiences and staff who "cared" for me throughout my pregnancy:
At six weeks pregnant, I arrived at the clinic at my allotted time and, just as I was about to be taken through to the anaesthetic room - a light broke in theatre. Unable to fix it, they discharged me and promised to phone with a new appointment. The new appointment was seven weeks later. It was very important for me, psychologically, having made the decision to terminate and knowing how babies develop not to begin to show before I had the abortion. Seven weeks of carrying a baby that you don't want is a long time. I tried the best I could to get an earlier slot, but they flatly refused. I had to go to my grandfather's funeral carrying the baby and it was awful. My uncle telling me to "ease up on the cake, love" was perfectly fine (he is bit of a moron). "Fat from cake" is a much easier conversation than "fat from baby", so I let him run with it. It wasn't the most self affirming moment of my life, though. On arrival at BPAS, the nurses were cold and uncaring. Ironically, it was their attitude and lack of compassion that made me feel like I had done something wrong. The recovery period was too short for a general anaesthetic procedure with too little monitoring. I went home in agony without the right pain relief - in medicine, this is a HUGE neglect of the care for the patient and very very poor practice. Nobody should be sent home in pain. I was very inexperienced then. If I had known what I know now, I would have demanded better care.
As a patient, it is your right to be cared for in a compassionate way.Having a termination does not mean you deserve anything less. In fact, we need more support to address the huge emotional and physical/hormonal changes we experience before and after having a termination. It is very difficult to challenge poor practice, especially if you are young and inexperienced - it is scary. But it's essential that we do, by using all available channels. If you don't feel confident in challenging then and there - file a complaint, name the staff involved and demand a response. Allow them to reflect on your situation. But above all do not let anyone make you feel like your decision is wrong - least of all the people who should be caring for you most.
I will be spend the rest of my career advocating for compassionate care for women in our situation.