Warning: this piece includes themes of rape, abortion, depression, anxiety and PTSD.
I’m facing the blank page in the wake of the #MeToo movement, as challenging anniversaries rear up from their holding pens, demanding attention. The anniversary of the rape makes itself felt with the rising symptoms of PTSD: the night terrors, the jumpiness, the sleep deprivation, the inescapable self-loathing and sadness. But the anniversary of the abortion that followed is, for me, the more difficult one.
While the experiences of rape and abortion often go hand in hand, rape receives more air time. Abortion remains the elephant in the room, a persistent taboo. The shame sticks to me. I’ll talk and talk and talk about my rape. Rape elicits understanding, sympathy, empathy, admiration for your courage. Speak about abortion and you meet uncomfortable expressions, they all look away. It’s too hard, the eyes seem to say, shifting uneasily from wall to floor, anywhere but your face.
I want you to look me in the eye when I tell you about how I chose to terminate my pregnancy. Because that process, not the recovery from the rape, was the most gruelling thing I have ever done. I knew I was pregnant when beer started tasting different. I vomited if I ate anything other than vanilla yoghurt or salt and vinegar crisps. Then I felt the aching in my lower back and I knew. I knew. I was so tired. I thought I had cried all my tears in the past eight weeks. But I was wrong.
My body wanted to be pregnant. I felt the wanting in every move I made. My hips were making room for an expanding womb, my breasts filling out and hanging heavier. I was still reeling from the rape, having trouble leaving the house and scared to the point of tears every morning when I had to get naked in order to shower. But the rush of pregnancy hormones centred me long enough to find the way out of bed and back into the world. Forced to see a doctor by my own body, I grew stronger.
I didn’t want to terminate. It felt wrong to take away something that my body wanted so desperately. It felt wrong to stop this process that had been the catalyst for my healing. But knowing that this foetus had been created out of violence, not love; that dwelled on my mind. I listened to the advice from friends and family and heartbreakingly kind nurses. I sat on the balcony with my crisps and my yoghurt and surrendered to the inevitable. The appointment was made, and it fell on my birthday, which just made me laugh cynically. How perfectly depressing.
Afterwards, nursing a bleeding body back to some semblance of health, I dreamed of babies constantly and became accustomed to the guilt that plagues me still. Thanks to the rape, I have chronic pain and my mental health would be best described as high maintenance. Thanks to the abortion, I have a grief that will never leave me and an appreciation for my own resilience. I can promise you that if you face the same choice, it is not the easy way out. You will be okay, but it comes at a price that is paid with broken heart that only you can heal. And on my birthday, I cry. Then I pick myself up and go back to the blank page.
Words by Heather Briony McGinn
Photography by Maria Petroff