oh, do they mean me?

“I’ve never chosen to terminate a pregnancy, so it was some surprise to discover that I’ve had a medical abortion. It’s all in the language.” That was the line that kept me awake.

Marie Stopes International have opened a clinic in Belfast, offering advice, guidance and medical abortion within exisiting NI law, and there has been uproar. Our media and religious groups like a bit of controversy.

The sexual and reproductive health clinic is open two days a week in Belfast city centre, widening access to support already available through GPs and the Family Planning Association.There is no suggestion that the clinic will do anything other than operate within the current legal framework- that is, apart from a range of sexual and reproductive health clinic services, medical abortion up to nine weeks, where the woman’s life is in danger, or her health would be permanently and severely damaged by having a child. There is no provision for legal abortion in the case of foetal abnormality, nor in cases of rape or incest, nor to protect the life or health of the mother after 9 weeks gestation. Currently in Northern Ireland between 30 and 40 medical abortions are carried out per year. Over 1,000 women giving NI addresses travelled to England and Wales for terminations of pregnancy in 2011.

Somwhere in all the publicity surrounding the opening of the clinic, I was sure I read something that suggested that the words ‘medical abortion’ didn’t simply apply to those whose life was in danger, or whose health would be permanently and severely damaged by pregnancy. I understood the article to say that procedures such as Evacuation of the Retained Products of Conception (ERPC, sometimes carried out after miscarriage) counted somehow as abortion. I concluded that although the intention of the procedures was very different, technically they were much of a muchness. I found that odd, but thought no more about it. Yesterday, catching up with Nick, I considered it again.

Would those protesters be shouting at me too? I’ve had a miscarriage and a procedure to Evacuate the Retained Products of Conception (Our hopes, our future. Our baby.) If they’re going to be waving placards at those who are seeking contraceptive advice, routine gynae, STI screening, those going through miscarriage, how will they know who are the abortion seeking people looking to save their lives? They’ll waste all that energy shouting at the wrong people! Down with that sort of thing! And seriously, if they’d shouted at me, I’d just have dissolved on the spot. I was an emotional wreck. Overcome by loss and failure, I was as vulnerable as I’ve ever been. What do those protesters know about the physical or emotional state of anyone else? How can they presume anything?

We discovered that our baby wasn’t really a baby- just a blob of cells that stopped developing at about 6 weeks, although my body kept on thinking it was pregnant until nearly 10 weeks. A blighted ovum. We went home and cried. I cleaned things that had never been cleaned before, nor maybe since. Spurs Fan went to work, as if he wasn’t being bereaved, as if his hopes too weren’t pooling in blood at my feet.

We went back to hospital, to the Emergency department. I had to shout through a glass that I was miscarrying. I had to pee in a bottle, and see the nurse balk at all the blood that got into the sample. I stayed overnight. The nurse sent Spurs Fan home. All of the next day I waited, still bleeding heavily. On the second evening, ready to eat the arm off the next person who walked in, I was taken to surgery. I kept my glasses on until I was actually in the theatre- my world was upside down enough without being unable to see.

It was over. I was advised to take lots of iron. I cried for weeks. We went on our planned trip to New York where we did none of the late night party city stuff. I got divorced. More failure. More loss. A summer of feeling fat and frumpy. Failing and fat. Miserable. And fat. And queasy. And doesn’t coffee taste really horrible all of a sudden… Girl1 was on her way.

All this stuff was fermenting in my head all day (thanks, Nick) and, most annoyingly, stopped me from sleeping. It takes a lot to stop me from sleeping. I had a first line and I needed to use it. So I got up to sort it all out, to find those figures and put the world to rights. Except, I can’t find them. It appeard those figures don’t exist. Either I made them up totally, or the little side box they were in got taken down, probably because it was full of wrong information. My mind is usually foggy or flighty, but I don’t think I normally just imagine things like this. So, having got out of bed to be irate, and not yet ready to retire, chastened, I poked about a bit. This debate on procedures and language was as much as I could find. (It is late. My blood is coming off the boil. I’m not a researcher… and other excuses.)

After all that, it looks like I was getting annoyed about something that wouldn’t apply in my case – but the point stands. Who is anyone to presume, or to judge? Who knows what circumstances people are in?

The cold people outside with placards have the right to protest. Women don’t have the legal right to choose to terminate a pregnancy in Northern Ireland, but they do have the right to seek help, support and guidance without fear of hectoring or being made to feel guilty for the choices they do make. We don’t have to agree with each other’s choices. So if the protestors could do so quietly, and women could try and not look pregnant when they go into that building on Thursdays or Saturdays, then maybe we can all just get along.

photograph from the Guardian

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31 thoughts on “oh, do they mean me?”

  1. The wind has changed directions.

    Now that is a voice am glad I did not miss. The kind of voice I hope will echo forth, penetrating walls, till it finds the ones whom need to hear it and there are many.

  2. A very good summary of the situation – much better than mine. And I’m sorry I got you fermenting and losing sleep! As you say, how will the protesters know if someone is seeking an abortion or just sexual advice? Or maybe they don’t believe in sexual advice either? Their intentions are far from clear. But yes, if they protest visibly but quietly, and don’t try to bully people going in to the clinic, then there’s no problem.

    1. I’m baffled by it Nick. There are many sexual and reproductive health clinics without visible protestors. I’ve never been challeneged in all my years of attending them. It seems that this new clinic will make the process more straightforward for women who do choose not to continue with a pregnancy. If they can’t be stopped from leaving the island, the anti choice folk must ensure they have as little support as possible?

    2. And of course, one of the great joys of blogging is how we read something elsewhere and that sparks off a wondering and a wandering in our heads! Nothing wrong with a bit of ferment every now and then; it shows my brain is trying out thinking 🙂

  3. Awesome, passionate post, Fiona. I hope you’re sleeping better today.

    This is one of those issues that seems to polarize everywhere. And, I don’t understand it at all. I do not understand why something like this is anyone’s business, or why people think they have the right to insert themselves into a situation that is so profoundly personal.

    1. That’s the debate I think, ‘personal issue’ or ‘part of a Grand Plan for Life’. Unfortunately, too often support for birth doesn’t equate to support for equal opportunities in life, but that’s a whole other rant…. 🙂

  4. The protesters are on a mission, they think they are on the side of ‘good’, they cannot focus beyond the fight for what they see is right but they don’t seem to understand reality or compassion. Those are my thoughts anyway. And while on the subject of my thoughts your blog is to put it simply – a winner.

    1. Isn’t it weird how so often ‘right’ excludes ‘love’, ‘tolerance’ and all those sorts of things?
      Thank you, Slightly- It’s where I try to make sense of the world, not always successfully 🙂

  5. You just ask people to listen, and listen again, keep this up, well said. The protesters ask people to swallow their view whether it suits people or not whether people are thirsty/hungry or not; they have lost kindness and compassion which means hearing other people. You do that – it shows in the blog, keep up the passion and the posts.

    1. Hi Curtis, good to see you 🙂 Thanks for calling round
      This is why I couldn’t write a niche blog; I’m too busy being all about mememe, what I think, from weighty issues to flowers and handbags 🙂

    1. Great link! I’ll be back there…
      Yes, Spurs Fan is the lucky 2nd Mr McSpec. The first one and I were fortunate to come to our senses before too much damage was done 🙂

    1. I know not everyone would agree with me, but that’s grand. They don’t have to. Variety is necessary and welcome. It’s the judging of possibly vulnerable people looking after their own health that I find problematic.

  6. Oh Speccy I am sending you one huge hug. What a terrible thing for you to have to go through. Your post is amazing. So honest and well said. Many of those protesters don’t seem to have any empathy.
    Well done.

    1. Thanks Ellie. I’m sure the protesters think they are full of empathy for the foetus, but I think it’s difficult to exclude the real situations women are in.

  7. And as others before me have mentioned, there is so much specious, pernicious, self righteousness about the anti-abortion campaign. Such belief in the absolute sanctity of life would surely also demand loud anti-war/anti-poverty campaining???

  8. “Who knows what circumstances people are in?” It should be tattooed on each and everyone’s forehead. That way, every time we get ready to judge, we’ll have to do so only after being reminded of the truth of the matter. Nicely done, Speccy.

    1. t, sometimes the bloggy me is more reasoned than the real me (cue gales of laughter from those who’ve read my thoughts on the current UK government). I need reminded of these truths, and sometimes writing them down helps with that- I try not to just rant at the world, but I don’t always succeed 🙂

  9. Every time I think I know you, you share a little more and didn’t I tell you the other day I admired your complexity? There are crazed fanatics in our country who kill abortion doctors, Fiona. When those acts of violence began to appear it became very clear that the divide on this subject was something I would never understand. Women’s reproductive rights and the right to choose is one “debate” that polarizes our political parties on the macro level and divides friendships on the micro. I am tremendously sorry that you experienced the personal loss of a new life, and I’m really sorry to hear that some of the fanaticism I’ve witnessed in our country has a base in yours, too. I go back to my original statement–I really never will understand the behaviors of some people. The lack of compassion and inability to see such a personal issue from another person’s perspective and need is something that truly makes me rage. oxo

    1. It’s so hard to find compassion/ empathy for those who choose to behave in ways we disagree with isn’t it? There’s a line to be walked between peacefully stating one’s protest or turning into a misogynist bully, and a line between accepting someone’s right to protest or just accepting outrageous behaviour. The world is too complex for my head some days 🙂

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