You know where the ideal place not to have a miscarriage is? While walking around Paris, that’s where. As I wandered through the streets of Montmartre three years ago, with the friends I had come to visit, it was becoming hard to ignore the cramps in my stomach, and I was quickly realising that something was not quite right. That’s how I found out, firsthand, exactly what I just told you.
I was 20 years old when I had an abortion and 21 when I had a miscarriage. While I wouldn’t wish to repeat either experience, the latter was unexpectedly the worst of the two – by far. For those of you thinking: you’ve got be an idiot to get accidentally pregnant once, but you’ve got to be practically moronic to do it again, I get it. I did feel like an idiot, and I still do now. But hopefully we’re all in a place where we don’t routinely judge and condemn people for their reproductive choices and mistakes. Needless to say, these were mistakes.
Abortions are, thankfully, no longer the taboo that they used to be. They can be done relatively quickly and painlessly and are readily available for free to those who want and need them. When I became pregnant at the beginning of my second year at university, I found out, called my Mum, cried down the phone, told my boyfriend, cried, booked in for an appointment with the Marie Stopes clinic a week later, cried there, and that was that. I had full support from my parents and my partner and, although it was far from a pleasant experience, a week later I had all but put it out my mind.
The second time occurred almost exactly a year later. And it was so very different. During reading week, I realised that my boobs had grown to about twice their normal size. Days later, a pregnancy test confirmed what I basically already knew. I didn’t tell my family – for obvious reasons. It was with the same boyfriend as before, but we had broken up a couple of months previously and at that point in time he was, to put it nicely, not my biggest fan.
I went straight back to the same Marie Stopes clinic, but when they did the initial scan they said I was too early to have the medical procedure. I had heard nightmare stories from friends who had taken the abortion pill so I decided to wait. I returned every week for three weeks, and every time I was told that it was still too early on. By this point, I was becoming increasingly anxious – but worse was the ever-looming sense of isolation. I knew that I’d made my bed and had to lie in it, so I tried to do it as quietly as I possibly could. And it was horribly lonely. A trip to Paris to visit my friends studying there had been pre-planned and booked months in advance, and I was all for doing something to take my mind off things, so I went.
And that is how I ended up in the so-called city of love, having what can only be described as A Very Bad Time. Not knowing what the fuck to do about the bleeding, my friend and I went to buy some sanitary towels and then sat in a café until it was all over. Physically, it was unpleasant and quite painful, but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised this experience might have a more lasting effect.
As one friend pointed out (I think she was trying to be helpful): ‘You didn’t want it anyway, so why are you so upset?’ Of course, if I was being straight-down-the-line logical then yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have been upset. I didn’t want it; I had planned to have an abortion. But somehow it felt so much more irresponsible to lose it than it had to have got pregnant in the first place. I came to think of it as a reflection of my worst traits: irresponsible, uncaring, unable to deal with the consequences of my own actions.
In the end I opted for a one-off counselling session over the phone with someone Marie Stopes put me in touch with (at this point, I feel duty-bound to point out what an amazing organisation they are – even though you’ve probably already worked that one out). It helped a lot, and I was able to fit myself back into the university bubble and get on with everything.
I’m obviously not the first girl this unfortunate series of fertility events happened to, and of course I won’t be the last. Nowadays, thankfully, we are able to talk more freely about unwanted pregnancies and abortions without being scared of automatic condemnation, and that’s fucking great, it really is. But I think it’s important that we open the discussion a little more – talk about the things that are not comfortable or easy, and the feelings that aren’t either – because that’s exactly why it’s sometimes hard to do so. After all, shit happens, so when it does, it would be nice that we could all talk about it together. The feelings that I experienced after my miscarriage were difficult to talk about and hard for my friends to acknowledge. I can’t help but feel that if everyone had been a bit more open, it might not have been that way.
Needless to say, I have yet to return to Paris.