Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Addressing the A-Word (Talking about Elsie's Abortion)

Feeling better today, and slightly regretting that I didn’t write about Ladyfest Ten while in a less distracted frame of mind, because it was really good and there was lots to say. Also, my stats jumped following the post meaning that there was some interest in the event, and it was perhaps a bit of a strange entry to come in on. That’s what you get if you will go around reading a middle aged woman’s diary though. Hello if you’ve come back for more, I so love that people read Dee’s Diary, you are such a wonderfully select bunch.

Although I can’t afford to lose any readers, (and if you need to look away now, I’ll understand although you may as well stay as I’m not writing in any attempt to change your mind), I’m going to talk about the A Word. A is for Abortion and since Ladyfest, I’ve been thinking about the issue and talking about it to my daughters and at Uni. This was prompted by the session ‘Still talking about ‘The A Word’ – Keeping Abortion on the agenda, which was taken by the women from Education For Choice. There was a screening of The Coathanger Project which I think everyone should see because it gives voice to people who have experienced abortion personally and in their work.
Around one in four women will have an abortion in their lifetime, which is a statistic that interests me because that’s the same ratio as the number of people who will experience mental health problems (and regulars will know how often I bang on about depression, so I'm continuing to say the unsayable unless it's about a university lecture see yesterday). In spite of the high numbers, abortion is even less talked about, except perhaps by those religiously opposed. Really though, there must be a lot of us that support legal abortion. I suspect that we’re just a bit quiet about it, not wanting to upset anybody. Perhaps also, we’re just as likely to be poorly informed as those who are opposed. We must keep it on the agenda though, otherwise it looks like we’re not bothered either way, our rights will be eroded and before we know it, we’ll be resorting to using coathangers as women did in this country all the way up to the end of the 1960’s and as they do in other countries today.

My Nan told me about her sister’s abortion only last year. I don’t know why she thought I was ready to hear about it. She told it as a shameful secret, but I’m outing it because her although her sister is long gone to earth, her experience ought to count in the debate. I’m changing her name, but everything else is as I remember it being told, if you can imagine the Cornish accent:
Elsie was born in 1905. A weak baby, she had rickets and wasn’t strong as she grew up. She got married when she was in her teens and had her first baby. A couple of years later she caught again but wasn’t well. She got worse as the pregnancy carried on and her husband was afraid for her health. The nurse said it was going to be twins but that Elsie was very weak. Her husband, growing progressively concerned went around the men he knew until he found someone who sold him some powder to bring on an abortion. No one knew exactly what was in the powder, and you wouldn’t dare ask the nurse. They didn’t see doctors for anything. The family sat around the table and talked about it. My Nan said she was against it because the powders might kill her sister. In the end, with the thought that Elsie might die from the pregnancy or the delivery, Elsie took them. She lost the babies. My Nan helped her through the labour, and cleaned her afterwards, there was a lot of blood. Elsie’s husband took the twin babies that were, according to my Nan, each the size of a ‘good egg’. He buried them in a field some way away. The abortion was never discussed again. Elsie recovered although she didn’t have any more children, but brought up her four grandchildren and lived into her eighties.

The Coat Hanger Project got me to thinking about my own experiences around abortion. I’ve never had one, but have considered it twice, once when I was pregnant with my eldest daughter (I didn’t, I was late working out I was missing periods, and Nick was keen on a baby which he said wasn’t an accident but rather a surprise), and again three years ago when I had a bit of a scare (it wasn’t a pregnancy so nothing came of it). My daughter’s friend had an abortion, I know this because my daughter went with her. I was anxious that it was too much responsibility for a sixteen year old to take on, escorting her friend on the bus to an unfamiliar town and back again all in one day. It made me doubt not the decision, but the service provider's care for the individual. Apart from that, I don’t remember discussing the issue with either of my daughters. I daresay they were aware of my views by osmosis, but along with putting condoms on a latex phallus in a darkened room, I left abortion to the school. Now I find the school only covered abortion in RE in a ‘these religions are opposed’ kind of way. No facts and few feelings. Luckily, I’ve still got time to talk to them.
Education For Choice has information to fill the knowledge gap, properly researched and reasoned, with no moral or religious bent (you can always add your own later). They’re only small though, and there’s a big far right religious wave due in from America any time soon. Elsie may turn in her grave.


Education for Choice Blog including mythbuster Mondays.

1 comment:

Graham said...

Dee, as a man, I guess it's difficult for me to fully understand or appreciate the female perspective. I'm neither pro or anti abortion - I believe it's a personal choice, and it can't be an easy decision to make, whether it's an unplanned pregnancy or a decision to terminate because doctors say the child will have no quality of life etc.

It's hit home that a former friend of my eldest daughter (14) is already on her second abortion. In her circumstances, it's largeley because she's been left to her own devices by her own family since she was very small & has fallen in with a crowd of kids for whom anything goes. I pray that I never have to help anyone through this.

A friend of mine has been through mental health trauma for slightly different gynaecological reasons, and she's seriously fucked up as a result. Her support network hasn't been great and I've helped her through some of the trauma since, but it isn't easy, as she thinks about the experience every minute of the day & feels guilty about stuff that is way beyond her control.

I'm openly crying thinking about the decisions that have to be made. I pray that people such as yourself will continue to talk and educate others, so that they can make an informed choice and receive the support they need when tough decisions need to be made.