New guidance means that women in England are currently able to take abortion pills at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Here, one woman who chose to have an abortion just before the UK entered lockdown explains how the process made her feel.
Rewind two months, and the world we live in today would be unthinkable.
The promise of tomorrow with plans in the diary and soft, unchapped hands were luxuries that we took for granted. Two months ago, the future filled me with excitement. Because my life two months ago was quite sickeningly perfect.
February was rolling on and my New Year’s resolutions were still resolute. I’d been lucky enough to escape the UK for some winter sun and was bronzed from my far-flung holiday. I had just passed probation at a new dream role, and I was finally out of debt. I was about to move in with my kind and supportive boyfriend who I’d met a year before, offline and in a storybook fashion. I was 28 years old.
I had planned for the next few months to consist of home decorating and connecting with my inner domestic goddess. I wanted to go on more weekend trips away to European hot spots, while also putting away some funds for our future and making more progress at work. My partner and I were building a life together and luckily our ideals were aligned.
My life finally felt on track following almost a decade of utter chaos. Like most of us, my 20s were a rollercoaster ride of the usual twists and turns: I had a negging boyfriend, a crippling Zara habit, and a less than desirable job. But I felt like that life was in the past. Things were finally perfect.
Until, just a few weeks into settling into our new home, they suddenly weren’t. With cardboard boxes still unpacked in every room and ill-thought out Ikea purchases already made, I started every morning the same way: listening to the headlines on Radio 5, and nervously opening my menstrual tracking app Flo to see how many days late I now was for my period.
This went on for a week and a half, although deep down I already knew I was pregnant.
A couple more days passed as my partner and I joked about the size of my now-enormous boobs, hoping that making light of the inevitable truth of the situation would somehow make it less true, and that my period would arrive after all. But I was exhausted. I fell asleep straight after dinner each night and the only things I fancied resembled a child’s diet of beans, chips and fish fingers, supplemented with endless bowls of Coco Pops.
Hungover on Sunday morning, and blatantly still trying to pretend that things were not disastrously off track, I took the pregnancy test I’d been carrying around in my work bag all week. I didn’t have to wait two minutes before two red lines flashed up, a literal pause sign on the slowly building happiness that I had been accumulating over the past 18 months. The result was immediate, and I was terrified, but I already knew what I was going to do.
Luckily, my partner felt the same, even though it seemed like the perfect time for us to embark on the next steps in our lives and having children was something we both knew we wanted. All of our friends were having children, we were settled into our careers, we knew our future would at least contain each other. But we also knew we didn’t want it to feature someone else just yet.
Following a brief chat where we both vehemently agreed that we didn’t want to be a family yet, I made three phone calls. The first was to my sister, who I always depend on for sage and wise advice with absolutely no judgement, even though she’s years younger than me. She didn’t disappoint. The second call was to a close friend who is always my lifeline in harder times, perhaps because we’ve been through so much together. She directed me to Marie Stopes, the NHS-funded abortion clinic service, which became the third call I made.
Marie Stopes provides services for 70,000 people in the UK every year, and has over 60 clinics and a 24-hour counselling service. I called, stumbling over my words, and was quickly put at ease by a voice on the other end of the line, who assured me that I would be able to find help and a solution for any decision I decided to make.
They set up a consultation call for the following Wednesday, where they could assess my criteria for an abortion. But Wednesday was three more days away and I was already two weeks late. “Do you have anything sooner?” I pleaded. They didn’t.
On Wednesday, I huddled in the entrance of Waitrose watching customers clean the shelves of lentils and parmesan as rumours of a lockdown started to circulate, thinking that I could pick up some Heinz tomato soup to have for dinner after my consultation. A nurse from Marie Stopes rang me at 4.45pm. Questions spanning my weight and height, as well as the date of my last period, my contraceptive methods and details on whether I may be at risk or danger from my partner or family if they learned of my condition were sensitively checked through as I stood outside the shop trying to answer each question as quickly as possible.
It took close to an hour to complete and following that, an appointment was made for me at a clinic close to my house. It would be another two weeks until I could go through the medical procedure, which involved taking two drugs to induce me to abort. I walked into Waitrose silently adding up the days in my head, trying to work out how pregnant I would be in a fortnight. There was no soup left and the shelves were bare, so I returned home empty handed.
I rang Marie Stopes every day in the hope that someone would cancel their appointment, and I could take their place. The news had become alarming; Italy and Paris were in lockdown and we were being warned that the UK might follow suit. My mum rang me, warning me of the perils of the Tube and asking me whether it was best to come back home.
I said no and listened to her recount everything she had heard on Covid-19 until my ears pricked up again: my aunt, undergoing treatment for cancer, may have her treatment delayed as it was considered a non-emergency. If cancer was to be re-classified as a non-emergency, then what would my choice not to have a child fall under? The next two weeks were fraught with worry. Nausea had kicked in and the threat of losing my job on top of it all due to coronavirus started to loom.
Then Wednesday finally came, and that morning, Marie Stopes rang to ask if I would come in earlier due to a cancellation. I was quick to agree, keen to put this blip of my life behind me and un-pause from where I had left off.
My boyfriend and I walked to the train station, and I noticed every badge-wearing mother-to-be, clad in gloves and masks. A lot of them were on the way to the same hospital I was, presumably for their monthly check-ups. I thought about the fears that would be running through their minds right now, bringing new life into a world that was so uncertain.
At the hospital, my boyfriend was asked to wait outside as the doctor scanned me, smearing jelly on my lower abdomen to see my womb and confirm my pregnancy. It wasn’t how I imagined this scene to play out. Half an hour later, having taken the pills, we left in an Uber, keen to put it all behind us.
I went back to work the next day, bleeding heavily but thankful not to be pregnant and ready to press play on my normal life.
At work, things were changing. My boss told us that we were all to work from home from then on, and that some of us would be losing our jobs in the next few weeks due to the coronavirus. The news was constant, terrifying, and the death tolls were rising. 5pm meant that the nation was glued to Boris Johnson’s briefings, rather than planning for the pub as it might have been. Panic buying and stockpiling meant we couldn’t buy toilet roll and eggs, let alone paracetamol.
What would all this have meant for me if I had called Marie Stopes two weeks later? I wonder if I would have been able to get an appointment for the procedure at all, let alone been asked to wait for a fortnight. During a global pandemic, how essential is the need to not be pregnant? For me, it was vital.
As a nation, we are now on pause. Romantic meals in restaurants, holidays in the sun, birthday parties with friends and even visiting our families is forbidden. We all want to fast forward and get back to the old normal, the mundane of Monday morning meetings, the queue for a coffee and the squash of the evening Tube. We want to plan for the future and have the option to be able to.
I’m lucky I did, but I can’t stop thinking about those who might not be able to.
For support, information or advice, please visit Marie Stopes here or call the 24 hour advice line on 0345 300 8090
Images: Getty, Unsplash