When I saw the two lines appear on the at home pregnancy test, I immediately told my boyfriend (it was 7am, and he’d barely opened his eyes).
I went into full panic mode and got on the phone. My first call was to Family Planning to ask what to do next. I had an IUD and was concerned about a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. Family Planning palmed me off to the hospital, saying “they should probably take the IUD out, but I’d have a better chance of getting in there quicker”.
My next call was to the hospital. The woman who answered the phone seemed annoyed and perplexed as to why I had called them, but reluctantly sent away referrals for an ultrasound, swabs and bloods.
None of the interactions I had were particularly warm or helpful. I was still very confused about what was to come, who I was to see and how long would I be pregnant for.
At least I knew my abortion would not be a crime.
I feel very fortunate to have come into the system in 2021, just one year after the Abortion Legislation Bill became law. Up until March 2020, abortion was a crime in New Zealand. The procedure was not considered a health issue, but a criminal issue. Abortion was the only medical procedure considered a crime in New Zealand.
When I started doing research, I found headlines from all over the world using language like ‘New Zealand passes landmark law’ when writing about the law change. I see the historical win for women in our country, but one that has come so late in the piece.
I felt more sadness than pride for our country. Sadness that for so long, women were forced to jump through hoops just to have a medical procedure they were entitled to, and that can be traumatic and difficult enough on its own.
The rigmarole of having to work around the law delayed and reduced access to the medical procedure, resulting in women having abortions further along in the pregnancy, with more risk and pain.
It may not have been warm, but my experience was professional and efficient. I was seen by solid, no-nonsense female doctors and nurses that respected the decision I had made, offered counsel at appropriate times, but for the better part, just got on with it.
That’s not to say the decision was an easy one for me to make. But once I made it, there were far fewer obstacles in the way of ‘getting it done.’
I’m hoping that writing this article might offer those in the same position I was, some guidance on where to go next and share some of the advice I was offered during this time.
(This isn’t guidance on how to make the decision to have a termination, only you can make that decision with the help of professionals and those who love you).
It’s positive. What do I do?
Call your GP. If you are comfortable talking to your GP about termination, I suggest going straight there. This is what I was told to do after making all of the uncomfortable phone calls to the hospital and family planning. Let your GP coordinate the process for you. Your GP will be able to:
● Confirm the pregnancy.
● Discuss all options with you.
● Arrange blood tests, swabs and ultrasound referrals.
● Offer guidance and refer you to counselling services.
● Discuss the different methods of termination.
Your visit to the GP should be fully funded as well.
Methods of abortion in New Zealand
There are two different methods of abortion available in New Zealand.
● Medical abortion – this involves taking pills to end the pregnancy.
● Surgical abortion – this involves a minor operation.
It’s best to talk to your GP or chosen healthcare practitioner as soon as possible. The procedure becomes more complex and riskier as the pregnancy progresses.
I opted for the medical abortion.
This involved an appointment with a doctor and nurse at the Gynaecology unit, a blood test and taking the first medication. I took the second medication at home the following day. I had to insert the medication into my vagina and the pain relief was a suppository (inserted in the rectum). I’d never taken medication this way. I was nervous already.
Around four hours later the cramps began and I went downhill very quickly. The process was extremely painful for me and something I wish I had been a little more prepared for.
I don’t want to frighten or put anyone off medical abortion. But I think it is important to talk about this part so everyone can be prepared. I am so glad Sam was with me because I was terrified. I didn’t know if it was a normal reaction and I didn’t know how long the pain was going to last. I have a propensity to faint when I experience a high level of pain. Luckily Sam is used to this. But it’s still a scary thing to go through and to witness.
Make sure you have a support person with you. Make sure you have pain killers ready and set aside the full day to recover. Everyone will have different experiences and I’m sure pain levels and the amount of bleeding will vary between us.
Talk to the nurses and doctors about what is normal and when to go for extra help.
Most abortion services and related counselling services are free in New Zealand. This is great, as the process and decision do come at a cost of time and a toll taken on your mental and physical health.
What to expect.
The abortion won’t happen right away. It takes time for blood results and scans to come back. This leaves you with a bit of time being pregnant. I ‘flip-flopped’ from wanting to have a baby to knowing it wasn’t the right time for me.
Expect to change your mind.
Although your decision may be more clear cut, you could experience some sadness and grief. There is no way of telling how you are going to feel after you make the decision.
Allowing myself some space and time to really think through what it would be like to be a parent was useful. I was sure that having a termination was the right thing to do as soon as I found out I was pregnant.
But as the week went on, I swung in the opposite direction. I felt extreme sadness at the thought of not going through with the pregnancy. I allowed myself to feel all of it. This was not easy and I had many difficult, painful conversations.
In the end, I chose to terminate the pregnancy and I do not regret it. I wouldn’t have regretted going through with the pregnancy either. The best piece of advice I received was, ‘Once the decision is made. Move on from it’. Don’t torture yourself by obsessing over what could have been. Do accept help and counselling if you are struggling. There are professionals there for you and it is funded.
Talk the decision through with friends or family you trust and value the opinion of. This is not something you need to go through on your own. There are many stories from people who have chosen to terminate or have gone through with unplanned pregnancies. Find comfort in these.
The decision is one of the biggest you will make in your life. Don’t down-play that. Accept counselling if you need it and don’t bottle up any sadness, grief or unexpected emotions. You may be surprised at how many women have been through the same thing and there is so much comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in this process.
The wonderful thing I got from my unexpected pregnancy was an enormous wave of motivation. To go after the things I wanted.
I now know that I do want children, but when we are ready for it. For now, I want to focus on career and health. And enjoying the years Sam and I have to ourselves before we bring someone else into the world.
For more information on abortion in New Zealand, see the links below.