Taboo Week: What happens during a medical abortion? [Warning]

Image via firecloak's Flickr photostream

CONTENT WARNING: This guest blog post contains graphic descriptions and discussion of abortion. This taboo blog post is co-written between a cis het couple ‘C’ (female) and ‘P’ (male).

C & P want to start a family. They’re committed. They communicate. They have chosen and biological family support. They have jobs. They live together. Despite all this they recently had a medical abortion at 7 weeks.

FINDING OUT C WAS PREGNANT

C: Because so many of my ‘symptoms’ felt like I was just about to start my period, I genuinely felt like it was a 50/50 chance I’d get a positive test, or get to the bathroom only to find I’d started menstruating before I needed to unwrap it. Getting the positive test felt like the weight of the world settling on me, but I wasn’t surprised. I suspected, which was why I was taking it!

P: By the time we were taking pregnancy tests her period was two weeks late and she had other symptoms (extremely tender breasts being the most obvious). We both hoped it wasn’t a pregnancy since we hadn’t been trying, but seeing the positive test wasn’t a surprise really.

C: I did the ‘pee on a stick game’, left it on the side and wandered into the bedroom where P and I carefully timed the requisite 3 mins on his phone. We went in to the bathroom to look together and the positive result was unmistakable. I think my first words were “Oh Shit”.

FACING DIFFICULT CHOICES

P: I think that we both instinctively felt that the timing was wrong. However it’s something we both wanted, and here it was, so why not proceed? It would have advanced our plans somewhat but technically we could have welcomed a child. As soon as we’d gotten the positive test we discussed at some length what we both wanted and we came to the conclusion that if we did continue this unplanned pregnancy we’d be cheating ourselves and our future child out of the start we all deserved and desperately wanted.

C: My heart sank because I knew immediately it wasn’t right. I went down and sat on the bed and burst into tears. I wanted this so much, but not now and not like this. At that particular moment I felt like I had robbed us of the excitement and joy of getting pregnant for the first time. I felt like I had ruined everything.

THE PROCEDURE

P: I wasn’t allowed into the consulting room with C. I understood that this was for everyone’s safety, and to ensure she wasn’t being coerced, but she was going into a situation where she felt vulnerable and I wanted to be there with her. I waited outside not knowing how long she would be or what exactly was going to happen. After a while I needed the bathroom, but didn’t dare leave the waiting room in case she came back and I wasn’t there. I read every leaflet I could find so I could be better prepared for whatever would happen next.

C: I was briefly interviewed and had to sign to consent to understand I was terminating the pregnancy. The nurse was informative and polite and there was no judgement or leading “but are you *really* sure?” type moments which was a relief. I was 100% sure, but I still didn’t want to work to justify our choice to a stranger in that moment! I was given a finger-prick blood test, a blood pressure test, and had my height and weight measured before a transvaginal ultrasound to confirm how many weeks pregnant I was. The ultrasound screen could be angled and I was assured I wouldn’t have to see anything if I didn’t want to. Though curious, I chose not look at the ultrasound since I wanted to keep that first experience as one P and I could share later in our relationship when I was pregnant by choice. After the ultrasound I was given several sets of pills, some intended to prevent me vomiting, some antibiotics, and the two drugs that conduct the actual abortion: The first was a tablet (Mifepristone) which would end the pregnancy and was to be taken orally, and another set of pessaries (Misoprostal) that are inserted into the vagina to help the uterus to contract and expel the pregnancy. I was asked if I wanted to insert the latter myself or have the nurse do it, I chose to do it myself. I was allowed back to see P and we were asked to wait in a room for 20 mins and if I hadn’t vomited, we could leave.

TAKING EFFECT

C: The nausea started within about an hour on our way home, but there was no pain or bleeding for almost 4hrs and I was beginning to worry that it would not take effect. Once things had kicked in the initial pain and bleeding were similar to my usual menstrual period and I was curled up in bed with a hot water bottle and P.

P: Once the bleeding had started, things ramped up more quickly. C started feeling sick and got up to go to the bathroom worried she’d vomit. As she stood she felt very dizzy and lightheaded so I went with her. While she was there she passed some significant blood clots and came back to bed. After another half an hour or so C bled through another pad and got up to go to the bathroom again. The flow was very heavy still so we just decamped to the bathroom. She was in a lot of pain and while she had more painkillers to take, she felt too nauseous to be able to. She sat on the toilet and I sat on the edge of the bath.

C: I remember passing a few particularly large clots then trying to stand up but my vision browned out and a I experienced a sudden bout of extreme tinnitus. That moment was particularly frightening as I could not see or hear and I felt extremely sick. (I understand now it was orthostatic hypotension; just a sudden loss of blood pressure, but neither of us knew that in the moment) I wasn’t sure I could stand and P guided me to lie down on the hallway floor.

P: Once she was on the floor by the bathroom moving seemed pointless. I grabbed blankets and pillows and sat with her there. The next half an hour was particularly scary, all sorts of things crossed my mind, but gradually I could see the cramps become less frequent and eventually she fell asleep there in the hallway.

C: Once I woke up, I felt shaken but almost entirely better. All in, the significant portion of the abortion was probably only 60-90 mins, but it was extremely scary at times.

DID WE DO THE RIGHT THING?

C: Yes. If I had to go back in time my decision would be exactly the same. I would have taken painkillers earlier in the day when the nausea was less severe, and I would have booked the following day off work if I’d better known what was involved, but I absolutely feel like we made the right choice. I want to look at the next positive pregnancy test and burst into tears with joy, not dread.

P: Yes. Our future children and we, as future parents, both need a better start to that chapter of life than this would have been. If I could have changed anything I just would have had more information about what to expect so we could have been better prepared.

FINAL WORDS

P: I hope that if people read this they’re not put off having a medical abortion if that is right for them but I do hope that that they understand better what it can involve so they don’t experience the fear I experienced when I realised what she was having to go through. It’s so much more than, as some of the literature puts it, ‘a heavy period’.

C: I think that the literature we were given is very carefully worded to prevent fear, and that’s important. But also it left us surprised and a little unprepared for the physical impact of procedure itself. The taboo nature of ending a pregnancy by choice means that even finding stories online tend to focus on the “why” and not the ‘what’ or ‘how’, so we tried to redress that a little here.

This post was written by RWL Guest Bloggers‘C’ (female) and ‘P’ (male) are a committed cis het couple who live together. Image via firecloak’s Flickr photostream.

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