Sharing stories: What excuse could I use to justify being hospitalised

HidingAs part of our Citizens Assembly submission we gathered the real stories of real women who had been affected by the 8th Amendment. Now, as we approach the referendum to remove the 8th from our constitution and allow compassionate care in Ireland, we are reproducing some of the stories, with permission. We want to thank those who submitted with us. Please share widely.

I was 29, I should have known better. It was a one night stand. I really should have known better.

I took the morning after pill. Neither this nor the one night stand were a habit of mine but I’d taken the steps to correct my irresponsible behaviour.

4 weeks later I felt off. I didn’t notice I was late and didn’t worry, sure that pill does funny things to your cycle.

I couldn’t smoke, the cigarettes I’d always loved were making me gag. Then I noticed that my breasts were sore, really sore. Moving my arms and brushing against them caused pain.

The penny dropped. Where was my period? I bought a test and I was pregnant.

I was 29, if I was ever going to have a baby now was a good time. I was in a decent job, I had no excuses. But I’d never wanted to be pregnant, I never got that urge. Also, I never felt mentally well enough to care for another person. I’d struggled with my mental health all my life and a pregnancy meant I’d have to come off my antidepressants. This wasn’t an option for me.

I knew what I needed to do. I went to the clinic and they helped me to arrange everything.

I took a day off work, drove to the airport and boarded my flight. I was quite cold in my mindset but I knew that this was what I needed to do. Maybe I deserved it for being an idiot, maybe this was karma.

On the day of my appointment I was 9 weeks along. I waited for the guilt. I wondered why it didn’t come. I was so sure what I was doing was wrong and selfish but I never felt the guilt. I even asked the doctor in the clinic to show me the ultrasound. This was my absolute test. Surely I’d feel guilt when I saw it. No, I saw something the size of a peanut that had caused me weeks of sleepless nights, that was going to cause me months and maybe years of mental health challenges. I was certain.

I woke up and felt relief. I shouldn’t have done it only a few hours after an anesthetic but I drove home from the airport. What was the alternative?

I went back to my life and pretended nothing had happened, keeping my secret.

A few weeks later I was still spotting. Who could I ask? I certainly couldn’t tell my GP, it’d be on my medical history that I’d had an abortion. I was sure it’d stop when it all settled down and my periods would return to normal.

6 weeks after my abortion I was rushed from work to the hospital with heavy and uncontrollable bleeding. I would later learn that I had a post abortive infection. I was rushed through A&E and admitted immediately.

I spent 4 days in hospital. This was now definitely going to be on my medical history yet what kept me up at night was “what excuse could I use to justify being hospitalised”.

The care I received was excellent, the staff were lovely but while they tried to treat me for a severe infection in my uterus, my biggest concern was the fear of anyone knowing the truth.

I’m not sorry. I did what was right for me. What happened to me was a direct result of the shame and stigma that prevented me seeking help earlier.
Looking back I feel very lucky. I knew immediately what was right for me and my mental health and I had the money to follow through. I never once regretted my decision or wondered what might have been but I’m furious that I was allowed to feel that stigma and to become sick enough to be rushed to hospital because of that stigma.

Today I fight with thousands of people to break down that stigma.

Illustration by Mollie Little