I listen to different abortion debates with dread. I was following the news about the proposed abortion ban in Poland and wept. Because abortions are not done by faceless, heartless monsters. They are done by women in serious need. By women like me. This is the story of my abortion.
I am young. I mean, I am 22, but sometimes I even forget that I’m not underage anymore. I am still wild and free, without the grounding and calm that is usually ascribed to adults, still dealing with issues from my own, less-than-perfect childhood. I travel the world, in hopes to make the world a better place and that the world will make me a better person. And, when talking to my friends, I will sometimes refer to “the time I almost died in Indonesia”. I mean, there were many times when I almost died in Indonesia – the first time I crossed a street in Jakarta, for example. But whenever I say that, I think about the time when I decided not to condemn myself and an unborn person to a life of torment. About the time when a doctor was holding a baby girl in his arms, as I lay in front of him, bleeding out, convinced that I will die. About the time I had an abortion.
I was 21 at the time, volunteering in Indonesia, teaching English to kids in a small mountain village, where they had seen no more than a dozen foreigners in the last decade. I had gone to Malaysia for a week, where I was dealing with visa issues and using the school holidays to explore. It was Valentine’s day. His eyes were chocolate brown, his smile was charming and he showed me the sights. He was wonderful. If he had tried to seduce me, if he had asked a couple of hours later… and if he had listened to me saying “no”, it would have been perfect. He didn’t. I told my family that I had had a wonderful time and made new friends. I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want them to think that I’m weak. I didn’t go to police – after all, there had been no physical violence, he had been almost caring as he raped me. And I was leaving the next morning anyway. Can you tell I was in a state of shock? I couldn’t at the time.
I went on. Life went on. I went to a doctor or two to check if I had any diseases, but it was a rural town and reliable doctors were too far away to visit often enough. So I just kept on living. Went on a 20 hour bus ride to meet some other Latvians. Caught a horrible cold. Kept teaching. Kept baking cakes with the kids, kept jogging on Sunday mornings. Felt more and more sick. Went to a hospital. The doctors prescribed me some medicine. Just before she handed over the recipe, she casually asked – are you pregnant? You know, pregnant women can’t drink this medicine. I shrugged, smiled and said, absolutely not. I thought there was no chance, and my menstruation wasn’t late yet.The medicine helped a little, but not enough. I fell sick, barely eating, barely having the strength to cross the room to get a glass of water, vomiting a lot. Surely that was just a strange strain of infection or something, after all,I was across half a world. And the good hospitals were horribly far. I would be fine.
One morning I woke up deaf in one ear. That was it. I got on this rickety, 4 hour bus, where everyone was smoking and screaming over the traditional music blaring from the speakers. Somewhere halfway my other ear fell shut. My stomach was being all weird. I was weak. I hadn’t been able to eat properly in days. I spent most of the road composing messages in google translate that I’m sick, that I need this hospital, that I can’t hear you, could you write this down? I had a horrible infection in the ear. That was it.
The doctor went over my results, frowning, cleared my ears from the mucus (Hearing is such a wonderful thing. The world was suddenly full of tiny, wondrous sounds.), and sent me to do some other analyses to check if everything else is OK. Progressively, the doctors started acting stranger and stranger, alternatively frowning and smiling cheerfully at me, and suddenly I was sitting in a waiting room for a UV scan, with my urine test results in my hand, with this casual, oh so casual check next to the word “pregnant”. The world was spinning. I wanted to call my sister. A doctor called me into his office. It occurred to me that abortion is illegal in this part of the world. There was no question of trying to keep it – I was young, I had no real source of income, there was no father, for fucks sake, the father had raped me, I was battling my own demons, and – more than anything – I had been drinking heavy duty antibiotics and a whole plethora of other medicine for the last month. And I had to keep drinking them to get well again. There was no way two whole human beings would come out of this. I held all the other documents tightly in my hand and handed over the slip that said I’m pregnant and need an UV scan. The doctor smiled and congratulated me. Asked after my husband (Oh, no, we are not married yet, but some preparations will be needed, I said, smiling as if my life wasn’t crumbling in that moment), showed me the spot where the baby was forming (I could barely look at the screen), told me that the baby is roughly 7 weeks old (Six, actually. As if I could forget) and after searching for something for a while, pushed a button and I could hear it. The heartbeat. A completely normal heartbeat. Except it wasn’t mine. It came from the tiny being inside of me, the one that I knew would die within the next few weeks, or carry on living a life that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone – with severe physical and/or mental disabilities, with a nervous wreck for a mother, a life where none of the things he deserved would ever be his.
Because, you see, in that moment, I loved the tiny heartbeat and the person it represented immensely. I wanted him to have a perfect life, I wanted him to only know enough pain to know what it means so that it would never cause it to others, I wanted to shower him in love and kisses, I wanted him to know my sister, and my friends, I wanted to show him the wonders of my home and the world, I wanted to give him everything he deserved. But all I could give him was pain, and suffering and injustice. I loved him too much to give him that. I am afraid of hearing heartbeats to this day.
I called my sister. Then I called my mother. Both of them were worried, but didn’t have any questions either. They know me. They know that I am not cruel enough to give suffering instead of a life. The question of me returning home came up, but I quickly dismissed it. I was strong, and independent, and I would figure something out. I would keep going. This was my dream (sans the rape and the child in my womb) and I was not giving it up. I would figure something out. Even if to my knowledge there were no countries in the near vicinity where abortion was legal (wrong) and I didn’t have enough money anyway (Why was this even an argument? I could have figured something out) and after all – everything was going to be fine. I would figure something out. (I hate how convincing I can sound when I am in state of shock. I hate that I didn’t let anyone talk to me about going to another country, returning home, anything but what I did.)
Eventually I found Women on Waves – a site that delivers safe medicine to induce abortion, all over the world, to women in situations exactly like mine – to women that find themselves in the need of abortion but are restricted by laws or people around them. I did my research. A whole lot of it. As much as I could do on my smartphone in the little village in the mountains, with the internet being patchy at it’s best. As much as I could, while still barely eating, barely moving, not talking with anyone around me about what’s happening, being sick.
In a different situation I might have found out that abortion is legal both in Singapore and Thailand. In a different situation I might have understood that returning home would be anything but weakness. In a different situation people might have wings and rocks might be edible. I was exactly where I was – lost, scared, determined to prove that I am strong, and not thinking clearly. The word I am looking for is dumb. But I am terrified to think what would have happened to another girl, without a family back home to talk to, without the internet connection, without the support that I accepted. My sister paid for the pills (my account had been drained by the doctors’ bills and the insurance hadn’t come in yet). I wrote down the address. I did the research on every possible holdup. On whether or not it was legal to ship this medicine to Indonesia (it was dodgy, but it was). I decided where I will go to drink the pills (a safe, quiet place, with a hospital within an hour’s reach, and more importantly – away from possibly judging eyes). And I waited.
And waited. And waited. And waited. Never rely on the Indonesian postal system. It’s slow. It’s horrid. Delivery will be late. I made plans to visit my friends in Papua, after I recover (I gave myself 2 weeks, just to be sure). I said a slightly sour goodbye to the little village in the mountains (It was clear something was wrong, but no one knew what. Just the westerner girl being weird). The medicine finally arrived. I went to this lovely little hostel that I had been using to run away in weekends, to speak English, to meet other travelers, to eat western food, to talk with the lovely people working there. They knew me. I always got stuck there.
I took the pills. They stuck in my throat. I messaged my sister, talking and talking, and waiting for the medicine to work. I was playing a videogame. I was crying, because damn you if you think that I could do this easily. I was killing someone. Because in this moment, it was the only love I could give to the little creature that deserved the whole world – a mercy killing, not being condemned to half a life. Because of my poor health, because of the medicine I had been taking, there was no chance he would be OK.
I started bleeding. There was pain. There was a sea of pain. And an ocean of blood. I waited. It would pass. It would pass. It would pass. My phone battery was dying. I wanted to talk to my friend that makes life seem like it could be organized. I broke down. I screamed for help, hoping that someone might hear me. I wanted to hug the friend that never told anyone about her troubles, but always listened to yours. Two boys from the room across the courtyard rushed in, and I explained that I need a hospital, could they ask in the reception to bring me there? I wanted to cry on the shoulder of my friend that always asked if I was ok. It was late. Everyone came in night gowns and scarves that they had hastily thrown on. The man that brought me to the hospital noticed blood running down my ankle, and tried to reach for me, but I snarled at his hand in my pain and confusion. I wanted to hear the friend that had helped me figure out my life up to that point say something infuriatingly logical. There was almost no one in the hospital. Through the pain I could barely talk in English, let alone in Indonesian. The nurse seemed to be annoyed for being woken up from her nap, we had to wait for the doctor. I was begging for pain killers. I wanted to know that one day I could laugh again with the friend that I had spent countless nights being silly in our kitchens. I didn’t think I could laugh ever again.
The doctor came and told me not to cry, that the baby will be fine, that the UV scans show that everything will be fine (There were clots of blood and flesh falling out of me) and that no, I can’t have pain killers, they might be bad for the baby. I think I screamed “It’s dead!” in Latvian. A daughter of the hostel owner came to translate for me, to help me. She asked what happened. I told her that I had been sick and unexpectedly became pregnant and that these were side effects of some of the medicine. She told me I should have gone home. I screamed at her. She was right.
I was wearing the prettiest dress I owned at the time. It was the easiest thing to put on amidst all the pain and chaos. So I was lying in a room, waiting for the doctors to do something (The baby will be fine), watching the white flowers on it turn red from my blood, watching the white sheets turn red, realizing for the first time, that I might actually die. The doctors weren’t allowed to do anything unless my life was in immediate danger, or so they had said. But everyone was half asleep and I was just kicking up a fuss. There were pieces of flesh spilling out of me. I defiantly piled them on top of the blanket, for nurses to see. I wanted to say sorry to my mom. It took 2 nurses and the hostel owners daughter to notice the gruesome pile on my blanket.
I was brought to a different room, with four beds. In one of them – a woman, surrounded by her family, holding her husband’s hand. It took me a while to realize why she was there – she was giving birth.
The doctor told me that my life was in danger (I was not surprised as I was drenched in blood), and that I will need to sign a release form that allows him to do this procedure. My signature, his signature, and someone else’s. Wait. Someone else’s? Did I actually need someone else to sign a piece of paper, that essentially said “I, Ofelia Spector, being sound of mind, give this doctor the right to save my life and not let me bleed out to death in this blasted hospital”? The hostel owner’s daughter stepped up and signed (I never learned her name. It’s a shame). We had to wait for the anesthesiologist. The doctor told me not to scream – look, the other girl was giving birth, she wasn’t screaming. It couldn’t possibly hurt as much. I was fading in and out of consciousness. I was recounting all the people I wanted to meet one more time. So there we were. One, a girl, surrounded by her family, giving birth. Second, a girl, absolutely alone (I don’t think I ever really understood the word “alone” before that), recounting the names that mattered, the dreams that had to be fulfilled, bleeding out half a world away from home.
A baby girl was born. The strongest pair of lungs I have ever heard. The doctor was standing at the foot of my bed, facing me, holding the girl. To this day I am not sure if that actually happened, but I have memory of him saying “It could have been yours. Stop screaming. This is your choice”. I hated the world. I hated the world so much. I wanted to hear my sister’s voice. The needle came. I faded out.
I came to my senses in the previous room. My stomach felt odd (Empty?), all the white flowers had been painted red, I was incredibly cold (How could a human being be this cold this close to the equator?). There was an IV needle in my arm. The hostel owner’s daughter was sleeping on the couch. There was a bird singing in the courtyard. A nurse came with breakfast (The best rice porridge of my life). I was alive. The room reeked of metal, I felt weak, the world was spinning. But I was alive. I hadn’t died in that room, lonely, across half the world, surrounded by a cruel doctor, a family for whom loving meant giving life, and a woman that had helped me without giving her name. I was alive.
The nurses would ask me how I was feeling, how come I’m in Indonesia, where’s my husband. (The conversation always ended at my husband, and the nurses that asked this never came back. I didn’t have it in me to make up a story). At midday the doctor came, quickly checked me over, and without asking me much told me I’m good to go. I could barely sit up, let alone stand. I didn’t have cash to pay the hospital. I was still in the blue dress with red flowers. I wanted to be home.
The hostel owner came over, to check on me, brought me clean clothing from my bag and lent me the money (Which would amount to more than two months minimum wages. She gave it to me the moment she understood that I have no cash). Her son drove me to the hostel. All of my stuff had been moved to one of the best rooms. They came over to check on me every couple of hours, kept all the coconut water for me, asked me if I needed anything, and smiled comfortingly when they saw that I had been crying. They let me believe in humanity again.
Eventually I was able to smile again. I was able to stop the couple of haunting songs that had been playing in repeat. I was able to speak with my family, and eventually my friends. I was able to get up. I was able to get better.
In a couple of weeks, I was able to go on, go to meet the people in Papua. Still in a state of shock, still needing to cry quite often, still talking with my sister, still writing down odd tidbits, still flinching from the smell of metal, still taking a couple weeks more to write to Women on Weaves, explaining what happened, telling them that the medicine I had been taking previously had interfered, that in this already horrid situation, I had been a part of the 10% that needed medical help afterwards, and that the laws of the place I was in denied me the help until last moment. But I was able to move on.
In a couple of months, I was able to mention it to a newfound friend when completely drunk. In October, when he would have been born, I cried a lot, but I was able to talk about it when sober. I laughed a lot too. I was alive.
He would be just shy of a year today. I would have loved him to the end of the earth in a different world. But in this world, loving him meant not hurting him this much.
I wish there was a world with no abortions. I do. But not because they are outlawed, demonized, made dangerous and unreachable. No abortions, because they are not needed, because science and medicine has advanced far enough that unwanted pregnancies don’t happen, that health risks involving can be resolved.
And yes, I regret that I had to make this choice But I will never regret the choice that I did make. Even if I had to relive that over and over again, for the rest of my life, as long as the circumstances remained the same, I would, quite definitely chose to leave a country that’s ready to endanger life over judgements that are not theirs to make, but I would never change the decision – not to give suffering instead of life.