* Trigger Warning * This interview tells an in depth story of a woman's abortion. If this is at all triggering please contact Lifeline at 13 11 14.
Hi this is Demi. This interview is with a woman name *Hannah. She is 23 years old and is from Adelaide. Back in May *Hannah underwent a surgical abortion. And months later she is still recovering from it - physically and mentally. *Hannah told me I was the first female she had spoken to about her abortion other than her own Mother. She felt like she couldn't tell anyone. But now she hopes by telling her story she and other women will feel less 'dirty' after getting an abortion.
Interviewer DEMI : How did you find out you were pregnant?
HANNAH : So I had lost a lot of weight, quite a drastic amount. Probably 10 kilos. For some people that may not be drastic but I'm quite tall and it was quite quick as well. I had lost my period as well. I spoke to a doctor and he said I possibly lost my period due to stress. So I did some good ol' online googling and found other women had had the same thing. I was in an unhappy relationship at the time, I was working out, I was cutting out all the foods that I loved and was just so focused on looking perfect for that unhappy relationship. So when I lost my period I really thought nothing of it.
Hannah lost her period in January but by May she still didn't have it. She knew something was wrong.
HANNAH : All of a sudden I woke up and thought I've been feeling really weird, tired and suddenly been eating like there's no tomorrow. Like I love food normally but I was now eating endless amounts of food. Everything I could see I would eat. So I took a pregnancy test. It came back positive. I ended up taking 10 pregnancy tests. I drove to the service station at midnight in my PJs to get more pregnancy tests. I think the attendant at the service station was concerned with me buying all the pregnancy tests he had.
All 10 pregnancy tests came back positive.
HANNAH: I was in such disbelief. I had no idea. I always expected when I got pregnant I would have a bump. I didn't notice any major changes to my skin or hair, I was just really hungry all the time. I thought that may have been from work. I searched who to call when you're pregnant. I didn't know whether I should go to my regular GP. I didn't because I think I knew already what I was going to do. So I found a Pregnancy Advisory Clinic in South Australia and called them. I booked the next available appointment.
On the 11th of May Hannah went to her appointment. It lasted for around 2 hours. She had an ultrasound. And she was found to definitely be pregnant.
DEMI: Did you tell someone immediately after the appointment? What was the next step for you?
HANNAH: So I didn't tell my Mum initially. Probably because I was scared. I mean my Mum is wonderful. And I told her eventually and there was no judgement. She actually told me when she was younger she had had an abortion and I had no idea.
So I was with someone new. I just started a new relationship with somebody. I didn't think it could be his as I had lost my period before we started dating. And we had been so cautious and safe because we didn't want to start a family just yet. So I thought it must be my ex boyfriend who I was in an unhealthy relationship with. I just went through every question in my head, like 'how could this have happened?' I was trying to go through my period dates to try and pin point them. We were in an unhappy relationship so we weren't having sex frequently. I spent days thinking 'how did I let this happen?' and' how did I get pregnant?'
DEMI: Why do you think you were questioning it? Was it guilt? Why do you think you kept questioning the 'how?'
HANNAH: I think guilt is a good way to put it. Guilty for myself and the pregnancy; and my boyfriend for knowing that it wouldn't be his. I felt guilty because I was so cautious and so careful and I didn't want to start a family right now. I finished uni, I'm working, I love my career and I love that part of my life. I felt guilty for the pregnancy because I knew I didn't want to keep it. And then I started thinking, 'will I ever get pregnant again?' 'what if I have problems in the future and I can't get pregnant again?' I felt guilty for my boyfriend. I told him I was pregnant and felt guilty because we had just started dating at the time. I called him crying saying I had taken 10 pregnancy tests. He was wonderful though, he was incredible. He is probably 'it' for me, if people like to use that term. He has been supportive throughout this entire thing. He just kept saying 'we'll get through this.' I feel very lucky as I know not everyone gets this amount of support. I just really feel for the people that have ever been in this situation and didn't have a loving partner, supportive parents or access to healthcare.
DEMI: Because abortions aren't spoken about enough there is so much I actually don't know about them. Like when you booked your abortion appointment did it cost money? Where did you go?
HANNAH: I'm really lucky. South Australia's public health system pays for abortions. So there's two types: a medical and a surgical abortion. With medical you take a medication called Misoprostol. And you can take it when you're up to nine weeks pregnant. You can take it at home or at the hospital. And it kills fetal tissue. Beyond nine weeks they recommend surgical abortion which is what I had to do. I'm really lucky with South Australia's system - I didn't pay a single cent. I had an appointment, surgery and a follow up appointment. I did some research prior to the surgery and I think it costs money for every other state except South Australia and the Northern Territory. For some people it can then cost up to $800. I mean $800 out of pocket for something you might not be expecting for some women could deter them from getting one. It's horrendous.
When I first looked up abortion clinics I had to google 'is abortions even legal in South Australia.' I didn't know. Because it's never talked about. I found this clinic in my area that is dedicated to safe sex, contraception, they're friendly to people of all sexes and they're all about being supportive. And I found they do terminations. They never made me feel dirty. And the reason I use the word 'dirty' is because I think when people talk about abortions that's what they think. Like they think it's dirty and that you're killing something. The think the word 'killing' associated to the word 'abortion' is horrific. I wish abortions wasn't so frowned upon.
DEMI: So what exactly is the process of a surgical abortion?
HANNAH: When you book a surgical appointment you fast the day before. I had to be at the hospital by 7am. They first sit you down and go through a list of questions like 'do you want to do this?' and 'are you sure?' They ask what contraceptions you plan on using in the future. They ask have you been forced to do this and if you're experiencing domestic violence. You have to then sign that you have answered these questions.
As Hannah sat in the waiting room she saw four other women waiting to have surgical abortions.
HANNAH: We never spoke but I guess we all knew what we all were there for. And it was nice I guess to know we were all in this together. It felt nice in a weird way that we were all there together.
Hannah was then taken into a toilet cubicle and given a gown to change into.
HANNAH: I had to wear (I guess you would call it) 'hospital underwear.' It had a giant pad as you're expected to bleed after the surgery. I was then wheel-chaired to my hospital bed. The drip was then put in. They ran through the questionnaire again to make sure you want to go through with it which I thought was great in case people got overwhelmed.
Hannah was then instructed to take three doses of Misoprostol. She took two pills every half hour three times to kill the fetal tissue and stretch the cervix in preparation of the surgery.
HANNAH: The reason they want to stretch your cervix as much as possible is because they don't want to damage anything internally. The pills brought on cramping like I had never experienced before. I was hallucinating. I was almost screaming in pain. I was asking for my Mum and my boyfriend. I think I even asked for my dog. I asked for anybody and everything. Because you can't have anyone with you. You're not allowed your phone. I had to plead to them to give me a book to read to keep me sane. I cried. I yelled. I kept thinking I needed to go to the bathroom but then I didn't because I was hallucinating. I was dizzy. I tried to pull the drip out of my arm at one point. It was awful. It wasn't just like period cramps.
Hannah waited five hours for her cervix to stretch fully.
HANNAH: After that five hour period they took me in to get surgery. They put my legs up on stirrups. I was pretty much exposed to a room full of doctors - men and women. Then I remember just going to sleep. The surgery literally took 15 minutes. It's crazy compared to how long I was experiencing so much pain.
Hannah woke up half an hour after the surgery. She was given food and water. Once Hannah came to full consciousness the nurses asked her her name and how she was feeling.
HANNAH: What was really funny when I was taking the pills I kept saying to the nurses I really need to go to the bathroom. And they kept telling me my body was playing tricks on me. Once I had woken up they said to me I had emptied my bladder. So I asked, 'do you mean I peed the bed?' They said 'yeah you did.' I said, 'I told you I needed to pee.' It was so funny.
After the surgery I was bleeding so much. It was the heaviest period I ever had. While sitting in the hospital for an hour I had to change my pad every 10 minutes. But they were great though, they knew it would happen. They would wheel me to the bathroom to change it. It was just constant deep red blood clots. It was just so frightening seeing so much blood. It was so much and it was seeping through. It was uncomfortable, I kept thinking I was bleeding through my hospital gown. I was just so nervous because there is still that stigma around.
Hannah eventually was given her regular clothes and her phone so she could call her loved ones. The nurse informed her about the counselling they have at the clinic.
HANNAH: Through the clinic they have 24/7 phone councillors. They said to call the councillors anytime about anything, even just for a chat. I thought that was wonderful. It meant I could talk to someone from the comfort of my home.
DEMI: So did you get yourself home? Were you able to drive after the surgery?
HANNAH: You can't drive or drink 48 hours. So my Mum drove me home. The nurses gave me a bunch of pads. I was told I would likely bleed for two weeks - which I did. So I basically just spent two weeks in bed in comfy clothes and bled. It was still heavy and there was still blood clots. I called the clinic twice to double check I wasn't losing too much blood. I was told it was completely normal. But then when I went to my follow up appointment the doctor told me I still had fetal tissue inside. So I had to take more Misoprostol. I thought I was going so well and recovering so well until that follow up appointment. So because I took that medication again it meant another two weeks of heavy bleeding. So all up a month of just heavy bleeding, feeling awful and so bloated. My skin broke out. I was so up and down with my moods. You can't have sex for four weeks. I personally didn't want to at all - I couldn't imagine being touched in any way. I didn't feel like myself.
At Hannah's third follow up she had an ultrasound. And it was finally all clear.
HANNAH: I haven't bled since. We got there in the end. It was just so hard hearing I had gone through surgery and two weeks of heavy bleeding yet still had fetal tissue. I hated the fact I had to take those nasty pills and go through it all again and just bleed it all out.
It's such an in-depth process that we just don't talk about enough. Even if you google 'abortions' and try and read up on it. It doesn't talk about the afterwards. It doesn't talk about having to lie in bed and bleed. It doesn't talk about how you going to feel after getting an abortion. It's not just over right after your surgery is over. You got to get your body back and your period back.
DEMI: Are you scared about getting your period and it being on time?
HANNAH: Every time! I've had my period once. It was amazing. I celebrated like there was no tomorrow. I'm due to get my period in a couple of days and I'm just praying that I get it.
I've never celebrated being a woman and having a healthy body and a period. I'm glad I do now. I'm just in awe of women's bodies and what we can do, what we can handle and quickly we can bounce back from things. My boyfriend and I just really love my period - who would have thought!
I just cannot believe how many women have had an abortion and we just never speak about it. I think it's definitely changed the way I think about women's bodies and what they're capable of.
DEMI: So as my last question, for anybody out there that might have recently had an abortion or is possibly seeking an abortion what would be your best advice for them?
HANNAH: I think my best advice is to speak to a professional. Don't spend your time googling. Don't google your symptoms. Take a pregnancy test if you think you're pregnant. And most importantly speak to people. I only ever told my Mum and my boyfriend. I guess I didn't tell people out of fear. I'm so scared of being judged. But I think if you feel comfortable speak to your friends, your Mum, your grandma, the women in your life; just be open about it.
If this story has been triggering please contact Lifeline at 13 11 14.
* Name has been changed