More than 13,000 abortions were performed in New Zealand last year, yet the reasons why women have one remain largely shrouded in secrecy. If we’re to have a more open discussion on the subject, we could start with the fact that most women who have an abortion already have children. Here, Auckland woman Emmaline Matagi tells her story.
This essay is republished with permission from The Native Collective.
Test Result: Positive 3+ Weeks.
My stomach drops. I haven’t even realised I am seven weeks late. I’ve been so busy with life; three kids, teaching full-time, studying for a Masters part-time, being a wife, a volunteer, a woman. When was my last period? Last month? The month before? I don’t even know.
My health history is a complicated one: three children, three emergency cesarean sections, two resuscitations and a nine-week premature baby.
I tell my husband the news. He’s devastated. “There’s no way we can do this, we just cant lose you,” he says. “Look at how sick you are! Look at you, this is happening all over again we just cant lose you!” His words stick in my mind for days. And so I finally get up the nerve to see a doctor.
Doc greets me, his usual smiley self. I tell him I am pregnant. “Congratulations! I’m so happy for you!” I cringe inside.
We discuss my past experiences and talk through my options: birthing and adoption, or abortion. Just the word abortion is enough to send all those nervous thoughts through my head: What am I doing? Should I do this? But I could totally have another baby! I wouldn’t die, I’ll be fine, we can do this!
The doctor wants to get a smear, swabs, bloods and a dating scan as soon as possible. And when I say as soon as possible, I mean he wants them then and there. I’m not quite ready emotionally, but I comply, still mulling over my options and what-ifs while I am poked and prodded and scraped from the inside out. When he finishes with the smear and swabs he casually mentions that 50% of women change their minds and I have plenty of time to do the same. Yeah, thanks mate I really needed to hear that. Like it wasn’t already going through my head and making me feel sick already.
I put on my fake ‘thanks’ face and force a smile, but on the inside I want to crawl into a hole and cry.
The phlebotomist is a lovely woman. She is so excited for my pregnancy and starts chatting away. Which would be fine under normal circumstances, but this isn’t your everyday happy pregnancy situation. She continues to gush about how wonderful it will be and how she hopes I stay healthy through my pregnancy.
When I am done, I hop in the car and cry.
I cry because I know this pregnancy isn’t going to happen. I have made up my mind.
I make my decision for many reasons: I am selfish and don’t want to take another chance with my life. I don’t want to feel sick all over again for another 40 weeks. I don’t want to not be there for my children should something happen. I just know it isn’t the right time.
I feel so, so guilty! I know it is the right decision but the guilt…
I get home and go straight to bed. I cry for hours and apologise to the baby inside me. Then I cry some more.
My next appointment is a dating scan to see how far along I am. It’s advised that terminations are not done too early – usually not before seven weeks, just in case it doesn’t work properly. So off I go.
“Hi my name is XX and I am a trainee. Is it ok if I do your scan?” Sure thing go ahead girlfriend. Away she goes pushing down low, rubbing the jelly in. Up on the screen pops the baby. HOLY SHIT the baby is huge … How far along am I? Panic sets in and I begin freaking out. I know ultrasounds. I know what babies look like in ultrasounds at different stages.
After some measurements she tells me I am around 9.5 weeks. WHAT THE F$&%! No way! I have definitely had a period in the last 9 weeks – there is no way I am that far! But I am. She congratulates me once again, saying how excited she is for me. For a moment I get lost in the fake happy conversation. I was never going to tell her this wasn’t happening. Her tutor comes in and re-scans me and he congratulates me too. If I hear one more “OMG congrats are you excited?” I am going to scream!
I walk out, get in my car and cry. Guilt.
I head back to the doctor’s that same afternoon. He fills out an online form and asks me “medical, surgical or you don’t care?” I have no idea what he is talking about. He explains as bluntly as he possibly can – because why would a doctor sugar coat this, right?
“Medical: you take a pill and it causes you to cramp and you expel the foetus. Surgical: they knock you out and suction it out of you.” FULLSTOP THE END. This in itself makes me sick. I can’t even answer him so he leaves the form blank.
If you have an abortion in the public system, you have to have an up-to-date smear, swabs, bloods and a dating scan. After which the health professional referring you fills in an online form and a clinic calls you to make an appointment. You go through two appointments: the first is a consultation, the second is the procedure.
The date for my first appointment arrives. I have been so disgustingly sick for weeks. I don’t know what to expect. I had thought it was one appointment and done, but no. I go in and am met with a locked door. It’s a reminder that the idea of abortion isn’t accepted by everyone – the security is for patients and workers alike. I buzz the receptionist and go in, accompanied by my sister. The receptionist asks for my passport and gets me to fill out a form and wait. We are moved to another waiting room. A nurse tells us what to expect from the procedure and of course she asks if I am 100% sure. We are referred to a doctor who talks me through everything again and fills in the legal paperwork.
I leave the clinic feeling ok about the situation, the decision and where I am mentally. The doctor was so helpful – she talked me through my questions and was compassionate and open about the situation. Where the hell was she when I needed her two weeks before?!
A message from Emily Writes and The Spinoff.
The Spinoff Parents only exists because of Flick Electric. Switch to them now – click here or call 0800 4 FLICK. By doing so you’ll keep The Spinoff Parents thriving and we will get to share more stories from parents around Aotearoa. You’ll also save money which you can spend on wine or food that your child can throw on the floor.
Do it now.
Appointment number 2.
I walk into the clinic feeling nervous. This is the day. There are ten of us having the procedure. We line up and get called into a separate waiting room to talk to the doctor doing the procedure and sign off the final paperwork. We sit in a waiting room and a radio plays in the background, breaking the silence. Then we all see the doctor.
In a big room there are ten beds; I am number six. I get undressed and wait for the nurse. She gives me five pills: two Panadol, one relaxant and two to soften the cervix, which starts the process. I take the pills. This is the point of no return. Once you’ve taken the two pills that’s it.
My sister comes to join me. It’s an hour-long wait after you take the pills. I fall asleep, and my sister does some work. I try not to listen in to the other patients but the lady in the next bed is crying and sobbing while the nurse tries to console her. It makes me sad for her. She is only an arm’s length away and I want to tell her “It’s ok sister girl, we are here together.” But she probably would’ve jabbed me.
So my time comes. The theatre nurse comes to get me. She walks me into a room with a bed with stirrups and I get up on the bed and lie down. She puts some drugs in my arm through a cannula and gives me some gas. “Take this and breathe the whole time – deep breaths and don’t stop until we tell you.” So I do. I am as high as a kite. She starts talking to me about my tattoos and about my C-sections, and I try to reply through my teeth while breathing the gas in. It’s a weird experience.
The doctor comes in and puts a speculum in and some local anaesthetic around the cervix, and the procedure begins. I am fine – no pain just weird feelings. Then comes the last part. “You might feel a bit uncomfortable now,” she says. Yeah nah! I am in legit pain but I am so high on gas and whatever drugs are in my arm I can’t explain it. I cry at this point. It really hurts in my abdomen. Once that was over it is so much better. The procedure is all over in 10 minutes or so.
And just like that I’m not pregnant. Along comes the familiar feeling, GUILT, mixed with relief – then some more GUILT because of the relief. After the termination I am walked to my bed where my sister is waiting. Another nurse comes and hooks me up to a machine to check blood pressure and oxygen saturation. Three observations over an hour. I’m experiencing cramps of doom – more like birth contractions than period pains. I am given a heat pack and some Nurofen. Then, just like that, it’s time to go home.
My sister drives me home and I go to sleep.
I can’t even begin to explain the feelings I have about my termination. I still feel guilty and sad. I feel relieved that I am still alive and here for my three children. I feel selfish for the exact same reasons. A few days after my termination I read some comments online about women who make this choice. I felt the guilt creep up on me, but then I remembered I did this for a reason. As selfish and irresponsible and wrong as people may say it is, I had a reason for going through with my termination. If I didn’t there is every chance I would die with this pregnancy. I am so thankful that this service exists for women. I am so thankful that I live today and not the 1930s, when doing this might have killed me in a back alleyway basement somewhere.
Abortion isn’t talked about enough. I feel it’s something we need to start talking about openly and supporting others through. I never want anyone to be go through this alone – to be the woman next door, within arm’s length but with no one to talk to about the situation she is in.
So that’s my story. I hope it makes people think, support the women around them and share. It doesn’t matter what your reason is for choosing termination. Whatever it is, know that you are loved and supported by women just like me.
From the The Native Collective editors: The Native Collective is a new website whose purpose is to provide a space for our Pacific people to share their stories, opinions, work, struggles and success. The Native Collective is for our everyday people to share and be inspired by others just like them. It is a collaborative space and anyone is welcome to share. Our worlds become more meaningful when we can relate to one another on a basic human level. We aim to give ourselves this space to be who are we are free from judgement or ridicule. A space that gives us the freedom to just be.
This content is entirely funded by Flick, New Zealand’s fairest power deal. In the past year, their customers saved $417 on average, which would buy enough nappies for months… and months. Please support us by switching to them right now.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.