Powerlessness and Power, in the Context of Life and Death

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How do you deal with the emotional trauma of an aborting a child when you yourself are not yet an adult? The prospect of ‘facing reality’ or ‘doing the right thing’ is subjective and pressuring. Sophie Hall shares her experience and how this affected her later in life.

The I really wanted to ask for a copy of the ultrasound so that I could take it home with me. 

I saw it as my only opportunity at sourcing a tangible memory, desperate for anything. But I’ve often had good foresight… and in those fifteen minutes I knew I couldn’t realistically ask for that. Because it’s not what I should be asking for at an abortion clinic. I was here by myself again, after being turned away two days earlier from the nurses having suspicions about why I was here by myself and so devastated. I knew asking for a copy of the ultrasound would get me turned away for the second time, so I held myself back from asking. I didn’t want to have an abortion. Subsequently, I kept the medication box instead as my tangible memory.


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The nurses at the abortion clinic were the first people I encountered who asked me what I wanted to do regarding the pregnancy. My GP, although understandably with no obligations to emotionally care about me, made his verdict clear without further discussion, “you know what you should do”.  At 17 years old, to have the first person I was in love with, my GP and this narrative drilled into me from the get go without a strong enough relationship with my own family to tell them at all, I was rapidly caving in to pressure, overbearing domestic manipulation and total loss of autonomy in a private meltdown, hoping this would all be over before it even started. The people who you will be suggesting I should’ve spoken to, I either tried to and was told I will not be keeping the baby, or I simply couldn’t because the foundations weren’t there.

I never forget leaning over my chest of drawers beforehand at home and apologising profusely to this 8-week-old thing which I didn’t have the resources or powerful-enough courage to stand up for. I was looking at week by week diagrams online trying to place the physical development on a scale to later use against myself with hatred. Not long afterwards, the trauma and objective nature of events began shredding me from the inside out like glass. I couldn’t bear the irreversible life-long decision I was being forcefully dragged down and I was desperate to be out of this reality. But I would be acting like the whole thing never happened to everyone else around me, and no one ever suspected a thing. Being turned away from the clinic a second time wasn’t an option which I could emotionally deal with. I couldn’t emotionally handle being told any more that I wasn’t going to keep the baby. It was so obvious at that point, a putrid reality of betrayal and control from someone I was doing anything for. 

Everyone who’s reading this will have heard how the love you have for your own child is like nothing else, and that you don’t know how it feels until you’ve had children. I never wake up with a burning desire to make people wince or cringe, nor do I ever want pity, but I really do know what the love for your own child feels like. However, what should be my ‘living evidence’ isn’t here to prove it, no point beating around the bush.

I was 18 and crying hysterically into pillows every night, saliva, tears, full-body convulsions from an alien process of trauma, lack of autonomy, and years later what I was reassured was grieving. To have my experience recognised as grieving and validated like that, firstly by a psychotherapist, was so eye opening for me because it was a monumental reassurance that I had actually gone through what I was emotionally affected by? For a long time, I was smothering my horrible face into pillows so that hopefully no one would hear nor wonder what on earth was going on with me, but I would be able to exude what was going on inside of me, to myself. The complete privacy I sustained for myself gave me the fragmented comfort of knowing that at least I wouldn’t be giving people the chance to trivialise my pain by retorting “well at least it’s aborted! None of our lives or reputations ruined”.  And that became my driving force to keep it all private – I couldn’t handle the verbal or physical power people had had or could continue have over me, without it meaning anything at all to them.

Why would I have ever wanted to tell anyone when there was no one to tell when I needed them. It was too late, you can’t reverse death, you can’t reverse this, there categorically was absolutely nothing positive that could’ve been done by that point, and I mean it. On reflection, I was a ticking time bomb of disaster in regard to when/how/where/if I would ever share what had happened… all by the same person and all in secret because I was too uneducated in that field to have self-belief or self-worth in trying to fight my corner with him. My facts were treated as opinions and my opinions were “wrong”. No one would’ve understood the gravity of the situation and it was even more isolating when I couldn’t find any relatable material online as a source of support. 

I would be effectively distracted at school, along with the comfort of no one knowing, and fortunately enjoyed a lot of my time there. But I would be emotionally drained when at home, the best front I could achieve there was a melancholic, dreary and emotionally absent. I was permanently like that for so many long years that I can now verify my family thought that was simply and innately who I was. 

I couldn’t leave my boyfriend because my state of mind had become imprisoned to the notion that he was the only person I had. I couldn’t leave him because he promised that we’d have kids later on, even though he’d already said that before I got pregnant and clearly vehemently went back on himself, so when was his timeframe referring to? I couldn’t continue rejecting sex with him, because he said that we can’t be in a relationship if we didn’t have sex. But he was the only thing I had left to remind me of the baby which I so wished was alive. So, I needed to pull myself together and pretend like I wanted to have sex, because I couldn’t not be with him. But I couldn’t continue having sex because I was so depressed, and isn’t sex for getting pregnant? So why did he want sex with me? I was becoming existential in my thought processes. I should engage in sex and then everything will be fine. But surely, I was being used? I had aborted the pregnancy for him to not have “his life ruined”. But now my life is very quickly unravelling? Now he’s telling me that having sex with me is like “****ing a dead animal”. I still didn’t have a good relationship with my family at this point to open up about any of it.

When I was taught anything about rape growing up, it was only in the context of walking down a dark alley at night where a stranger would be waiting to jump out at you, not in the context of a relationship – but I understand why, because love isn’t meant to breed abuse. When you experience a specific trauma for the first time, I believe that you don’t know how to react instantaneously because your mind is trying to process everything as it’s happening, which will often take much longer than real-time events because trauma isn’t natural, and your brain goes into various states of shock while trying to comprehend it. When you haven’t got any previous experience to refer back to as a reference of judgement on how to react, and you’re also being verbally told by the abuser that you will like what he is doing, the mind becomes very confused. But I’m relieved to say I did begin to forcefully push him off of me. He’d taken enough from me already, for me to know that this is absolutely not the after-treatment anyone deserves. But it took me many years to validate it as rape in my own mind, because I used to worry it could only be rape if the man finished inside of you? Awful example of being subconsciously influenced to believe that we need to wait on a man’s ‘achievement’ to be validated first before your own pain.

My veins were weighed down every single day with the weight of injustice from having a part of my life/what should have been a life taken away from me without my own consent.

Referring to my writing now, I’m not talking about having “down days”, nor am I discussing “hard times”, because everyone who’s lived goes through those natural periods. I’m talking about a tragically, all-too-often terminal, illness which is still belittled and not believed by so many. I constantly feel the inner scramble I have in my mind when writing about depression, because I know it can all be put to one side by the ‘listener’ and replaced with ridiculous and irrelevant statements as if to imply gratitude cures illnesses and that’s what I need to “focus on”. Sometimes you really struggle to explain it, you can’t convey it, but you’re trying to and you’ve been reassured that you can confide in this person, and then all of a sudden you feel like you have to justify whatever you’re trying to explain because it’s being met with offensively dismissive comments. And then you get the people who insist that you can talk to them, but they’re only doing it for their own conscience-stroking. Eventually they get bored of waiting to be the one to ‘save’ you and they leave you. And it breeds this circle of frustration going round and around but never quite resulting in anything which breaks the degree of separation between yourself and who’s listening. 

At its most unpredictable in 2015, my suicidal thoughts and plans were the only thing bringing genuine comfort into my life. The seed had been sown long ago now, in regard to an ongoing freefall of depression, by fact it was far too late for anyone to have been able to have any significant influence or power over changing my mindset. It was out of my control and never was in anyone else’s. The chain of falling dominoes was fast approaching its end and I felt such peace of mind to think of my own passing where I could be eternally unconscious forever. What stopped me at one of the final opportunities was guilt, for my mum, because she’d lost both her parents at 19 and didn’t have any siblings. The reasoning in my head didn’t go any further than “guilt” at the time, nor did it steer me towards a new outlook on life, I was just stopped in my tracks and feeling incredibly futile that this obstacle had got in my way. Although by no measure were my mum and I emotionally close at all back then, intertwined with my regressive mental health I actually felt a lot of spite towards her. I certainly didn’t halt my plans because of a euphoric awakening of personal worth. It felt like a big part of what become my journey towards getting better involved a significant amount of time me not feeling able to do anything. (Worth noting: I’m incredibly close to my mum now for the first time starting in 2016. I think it’s safe to say neither of us thought a strong relationship would happen… It’s taken a lot of work but she’s put in everything she’s got and has done/will always do anything for me, as I now would for her)

I remember breathing by way of sighing, it sounds dramatic but clinically severe depression changes everything about your ability to live, physically and psychologically. You become completely unable in an unpredictable plethora of ways and lose all sense of self. Control of your thoughts is seen as the highest form; you don’t have that. My own clinical depression was tumbling so rapidly that I further developed PTSD from a particular memory which happened in 2015. Around Christmastime, I see now that I was developing the onset of a psychosis, becoming convinced of certain things which are horribly dark and not grounded in any empirical facts, but I believed I was living as a result of those “facts”. Referring back to the depression, I remember days at a time not being able to leave my bed. I wasn’t eating, and I wasn’t drinking, I couldn’t get out of bed. Until I would wake up occasionally and feel so nauseous, that I would eventually remember the necessity of needing to drink water.

I’d been revisiting the parallel universe of hell whilst physically but barely surviving in this reality. I feel like anyone who’s survived the worst possible state of mental health can never express the extent of it, because there really just aren’t enough words. I’ve previously explained in a podcast how the first experience of a family member’s pregnancy in 2015 revealed the truth of my own past, and I’d like to keep that there for now.

March 2016, I’d been seeing someone 14 years older than me for a few months and he kept refusing to use a condom. This of course caused quite a lot of stress and I did express this to him without going into my personal history, but he was insistent about pulling out and all would be fine. Ironically, we were about to break up anyway and the only time he did wear a condom was the last time we ever had sex. He told me afterwards that the condom had broken, and I felt a heavy, sinking feeling come into my chest. I took the morning after pill the following morning, did everything that you were advised to do, and a couple of weeks later discovered I was pregnant. 

Upon finding this out, I broke down again by myself, purely out of fear for how my brain was going to handle this, given how I was still intensely dealing with trauma, depression, and suicidal tendencies from the first pregnancy I had. It was a pure day of fear, entirely fear of myself. That day I was actually due to see an NHS psychotherapist for my third out of six free sessions, originally only for my past histories. I told her, and I can’t completely remember what happened but the whole sequence of events was bizarre. Even my new (and the best I’ve ever had!) GP said you couldn’t write this. 

I told my family perhaps a few days later, and I can’t believe I did this but I filmed the whole process out of sheer desperation to complete an ethnographic film module for my degree in anthropology. It was horrible, ridiculously intense and entirely uncomfortable. I’d already been deferring other modules and exams, and out of the wide variety of challenges I had to deal with at the time, I have to look back and almost laugh now as if I was throwing in the filming for good measure. 

It was so different the second abortion. After being emotionally granted some time to think about what I (!) wanted, and truthfully meandering through the three options including adoption, I realised that this pregnancy wasn’t going to bring back the first one. And I’d say it maybe took me around 10 days of thinking to realise that decision-making epiphany. I realised in my own time that the circumstances of the second pregnancy didn’t have to be read as ‘a sign’, nor ‘meant to be’, because it was science and logically a very normal explanation behind it, even if the odds of it happening as it did were unbelievably slim. Through my own investigations I’d discovered that the father had been hiding a partner and 1-year old child from me all along. The circumstances how we met were originally bred from my own reckless decision-making because of the state of mind I was in, and he was also the person who I asked to make a joint ‘plan’ with me, when we realised we were both living with depression. All of these factors together don’t make for a good foundation and we are better off without each other! 

My mum was there to drive me to the clinic and pick me up, although I was very adamant to go in by myself because I felt most comfortable doing a lot of things by myself at this point and still do. I didn’t have to ask the reception staff to call me a taxi and I didn’t have to pretend like I was coming down with the flu to my family when I was losing temperature and shaking as a result of the medication. This all happened the day after my 21st birthday though and by no means was it a textbook milestone celebration. But I only ever cried once after that visit to the abortion clinic in 2016… I hadn’t aborted the second pregnancy by committing suicide like I’d initially promised myself out of panic and ongoing agony from the first. I’ve never felt guilty about the second abortion. I’ve never felt any sense of loss over it, neither grieving nor hate/pain/related depression.

I think it’s so, so poignant to note how there isn’t any snowball-aftermath directly following the second pregnancy like there was with the first. There are so many binaries accompanying the two parallel but polar opposite experiences of the same thing. Not being allowed to have an input over my own body; having the luxury of being able to think about what I want. Not having a support system to confide in; having the support system to confide in. Being forced into a life-changing decision I never wanted to make; choosing the life-changing decision for myself. It fascinates me to remind myself of it because I know we all have our reasons why we should give ourselves more credit, and this is mine, simply through making it this far and overcoming mental horror with the reblooming of my innate character. It’s the biggest life lesson I’ll ever have directly laid out in front of me, and I want to use it as an example to show how neglect and abuse can transpire, how mental health patients need our patience and belief, and that one situation really can have the widest scale of different outcomes depending on deep-set variables, and what those outcomes can possibly lead to.

Unfortunately, I did end up getting into a second, emotionally abusive relationship later down the line, but I’ve also had really enjoyable and non-dramatic romantic experiences. Most recently, I had a relationship worth noting where although things didn’t work out, I didn’t experience any sexual abuse in it, which was bloody great can you believe it, and it was then for the first time that I understood why people often talk about missing an ex or only focusing on the good times after a break up, because normally awful things don’t happen ? It’s bewildering when you reflect on what was a set standard in your life and you begin to see it for what it really is, albeit with professional help. No bloody wonder I’ve got my own set of issues, as we all do!

There’s very little I won’t speak up against now if I morally disagree with it, whether it regards someone else or myself. I don’t feel uncomfortable or ‘awkward’ doing it because I know how detrimental the other option can potentially become if you allow a red flag to slip through your fingers, and I don’t like allowing those dice to be thrown. My psychotherapist is to thank for turning my life around when it wasn’t possible. Therapy is a situation I would mentally scorn at for years. Whenever it was brought up to me or to someone else within earshot, I would think with disgust “how the **** would a stranger know to help me when the people I have around me can’t?” I deemed it as pathetic but wow I can tell you now and forever that it is the best way I’ve ever been proven wrong. 

As a current outsider to my own past, I find it so, so hard trying to really explain any of this it because language isn’t intricate enough. And I was by myself so I can’t look to anyone else for suggestions on how to convey it, to this day I’ve never been able to find relatable material online to find solace in, and that’s why I want to write about it – to contribute or create a window of opportunity for someone else to maybe relate to what I’m talking about or be able to make sense of their own experiences and emotions from what I say (or try to say). You can’t fake the state of mind of an illness or trauma, which means even I have trouble sometimes trying to get my head around how I’ve gotten through what I have, considering how I was then. Dealing (or not) with the vast majority of this by myself, has meant I’ve become quite stubbornly independent and I’m grateful it’s meant that I’m always fairly peaceful/happy/trusting in my own company. I love my close group of friends dearly who have been a miraculous god-send to me, my unequivocally re-born relationship with my family which I never saw possible in this lifetime, and my persistence in the face of adversity which has, although intermittent, survived me through living under a long, long hell. Ironically, I lost faith believing in a religion when all of this started happening but reading that last sentence speaks the power of one to me. And those are my relationships, my foundations, my support systems and my pillars. What I needed at the beginning but what I have now. And what we all need and deserve to have. Helping that happen for other people is what I hope to have used/will use my life for.

By Sophie Wild