I told him. I didn’t say the word, abortion, but I told him.
In that moment it felt like, by just telling him, he would understand. To me, when I hear that word, there is a myriad of locked-in memories, emotions, gut reactions, tensions in my body. My breath catches; I feel and hear my heart beating. For the first few months after having the abortion, I did not say that word out loud. To me that word, that experience, carries weight, it is integral to me. I respect it.
To others, I realise now, it can be just a word.
Something that other people go through. That’s how it was for me when I think about it, before I had the abortion. I had no idea of the complex situations people can be put in, of the experience of loss it can cause and the isolation. I did not appreciate how long the healing process can be. It is different for everyone, but not having talked to anyone who had been through an abortion, I didn’t really know. Just to note, abortion is not traumatic in itself, it was the circumstances of my situation that made it difficult. I was in the hospital twice for a few days at a time, and watched people coming in and leaving, with relatively little complications.
At that moment, when I told someone recently, it was in a heightened moment of trust, of intimacy. I felt like they could read me, see my memories etched in me, like my past was radiating, like it was obvious; he would know what I had been through. The courage it took to say it felt like it would be enough for him to understand.
He listened, which I appreciated.
I realise, being a white woman in a country where abortion is legal, I have a certain amount of privilege in being able to talk about abortion. I won’t lose my job or be incarcerated. If there is a way to use it, part of it is to break the stigma and isolation that people can sometimes experience.
It seems like there is a dichotomy. In some cases, there is the intensity of needing to say, to freely communicate your lived experiences; to bear witness to your own story. On the other side however, there is also the awareness of saying. There is the fear of not being understood, of being misunderstood, of not being able to explain the magnitude of the experience; just telling someone the fact, doesn’t always communicate enough. Realising that I had never talked to anyone about their experience of an abortion before I was in the position myself, makes it clear that it’s not something people easily talked about. It can be painful to talk about, but maybe it is also hard to judge the appropriate space. Telling someone that you have been through having an abortion, or other experiences that are stigmatised or taboo, should not be unspeakable. There should be space to talk about these things. Not to seek attention, but to increase understanding and solidarity. Empathy can go a long way.
So I said it.
But I misjudged the space.
After I said those words I realised my connection to that word was not the same as his. I’m grateful I made this mistake, in a safe environment, because it threw me into a train of thought that has enabled me to further accept and understand.
We bear witness to our past, to poignant moments in our lives. When we choose to enunciate, it is an act of bravery in a society that is fraught with stigma. When it is related to something taboo, like sexual activity, there are added layers of complexities.
I think I have come to a conclusion, an acceptance; I cannot expect people to understand.
I feel like I’m alone, but there is independence in it too. I see solidarity in that we probably all, at some point, face similar challenges. It can feel heavy on my shoulders, but we are not alone.
We can carry these experiences with courage, our arms open to those who have the time and patience to listen to our stories. Resilience to those that don’t. Understanding that we need practice in how to communicate something so integral. Trust is essential, as well as to trust in yourself.
To those who carry a weight of the past; give yourself space to make mistakes. Give yourself time to pick up the pieces. Give yourself time to reflect. Be courageous.
I am determined to see clearly.