I had an abortion at Cambridge, and I was shocked at how taboo it still is
In an university with so many ‘clever’ people, I was shocked at how uneducated others were
A few weeks into the Easter vac of my first year, I had an abortion.
This is not a secret. Those who know me closely and on a personal level will know that I was very open with the procedure, mostly because I was so reliant on my friends support through it.
But the difficulty and the mental suffering didn’t come with having the abortion. The decision to go ahead with it, and in the following few weeks brought me nothing but relief. The past few weeks had been hell – I had forgotten to take the pill for two days, and stupidly had drunken sex a few weeks into Lent Term. It wasn’t a big deal for me – having been in a long-term relationship during college I had had unprotected sex before in a casual way and nothing bad had happened.
I didn’t think twice about missing my period, until I realised I was over a week and a half late. I told my friend and she said to leave it a few more days. When I approached her crying in panic a week later she went out and discreetly bought a pregnancy test for me, sat with me whilst I waited and comforted me once it said positive. I was due to go home in three days time and there was no way that I could tell my parents.
Due to the incredible support from my friends, sending me information about support services in my local area, I managed to go about the whole thing without them finding it out. Uni friends offered to come and stay with me to emotionally support me during the time, but I told them I didn’t need them. The thing was, I genuinely didn’t need them. I knew that this decision was right for me, it didn’t contravene any of my personal beliefs and I was not doing anything wrong. It was my body, it was my life. I was not going to let one mistake destroy my Cambridge career – Cambridge is difficult enough as it is, without adding pregnancy and the possibility of a child on top of it. I have plans. I want a career, a life, to find someone, get married and start a family with them.
I went to a Catholic school. I know exactly what the religious retort to this is – that I am being selfish, that life is a life from the moment of conception. But personally, I call bullshit on the bible in favour of science. What I was doing was ridding myself of a ball of cells.
It was only back in Cambridge that the cruel words and actions of a place supposedly shrouded in liberalism made me doubt this. I went to the cash clinic a few weeks into Easter term, after having had penetrative sex without a condom, to have an STI check. I was treated by an old woman who clearly belonged in an 19th Century convent more than she belonged in a sexual heath clinic. She asked my sexual history and I included the abortion when describing it.
Immediately when I said the word abortion, her feelings were shown all over her face. She took my blood test in silence and told me “You’d think that after an abortion, you would learn to be more careful”, when I was leaving the room. I felt so humiliated – I wanted to turn around and shout at her that I was on regular contraceptives, that there was nothing wrong with what I did, but I was worried about what else she might say.
This experience stayed strongly in my mind for the following week. One evening, a group of people I was familiar and comfortable with were sat in the bar drinking coffee, procrastinating revision. We were discussing religion, and somehow religion came up. On basically all issues, people condemned the conservatism of some religions, but on abortion they were not so sure.
Both guys and girls I was sat with labelled women who have abortions ‘selfish’. “It is your mistake, you should have to stick with it”, one girl said. Another guy proclaimed “I don’t think I could ever date a girl who has had an abortion, it’s just wrong”. He offered no further explanation. I wanted to push him, challenge this fucking archaic view, but the blasé way in which they passed judgement on others forced my silence.
With the pressure of exams already causing me huge amounts of stress, I began to think about my decision. I had been so secure in what I felt, and luckily today I still know I made the right decision. But I began to think at this time that I was a terrible person ( I wasn’t), that I had destroyed a life (I hadn’t) and that I was selfish (apart from being selfish about eating the last piece of pizza, I’m not.) These thoughts began to impact my ability to focus on work – I became increasingly depressed and anxious, unable to focus and continuously falling deeper into this pool of despair.
Cambridge in exam term seems to be able to deal with student stress, and literally nothing else. We had a college counsellor present, but when I went to one of the drop-in sessions she attempted to blame my struggles on ‘overload of work’, and dismissed my concerns about the abortion with the fact that I was concerned “it was a distraction from my studies” and that “work is my focus”.
Both my DOS and tutor are middle aged men. I tried to explain to my tutor what I had experienced, that I was fine with it at the time but that the guilt had eaten my up when other people had said things about it, and he just went very red. Honestly, I don’t blame him – it can’t be a comfortable experience having a nineteen-year-old attempt to talk to you about sex, periods, and everything in between. In the end, he referred me back to the useless college counsellor, saying that because she was a woman she would understand it better.
I was passed around like an unwanted Christmas present – an anxious person with an uncomfortable problem that nobody wanted to address.
I cannot have been the only person to have an abortion at Cambridge. It has to be something other people have experienced, but it is just not talked about. There need to be more resources advising young women what to do. They are on the CUSU website, but welfare officers should advertise this, ensure that there are confidential sources within college where girls can seek information.
Abortion shouldn’t be a dirty little secret. It is a decision that does require thought, and whatever the outcome girls should be supported. A girl is not a hero for deciding to continue an unwanted pregnancy to term, nor should she be shunned for getting rid of it. People need to be more educated about abortion, so they can form educated decisions and opinions rather than blasé remarks about something they know nothing about.
The stigma needs to end.