I am admittedly suffering from ante-natal depression at the moment. It’s a condition that has affected every single pregnancy, but this bout is particularly bleak. I am struggling to find a light at the end of the tunnel.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know why this has been exacerbated. I’m not going into the tedious specifics, but since the beginning of February I have been the subject of a prolonged smear and hate campaign which has hit me, whack full-on at a time when I am feeling especially vulnerable, for a multitude of reasons. I simply can no longer cope with the abuse and latent threats.
I am primarily disengaging from Twitter for a while for my own mental health, I may still tweet the odd link, but it’s best, in the short term to concentrate on my own well-being and upon the odd blog post, which I find therapeutic, carthatic and healing. If it’s inspirational or informative , that’s simply a bonus.
Due to the issue of abortion being firmly back on the political agenda – and yes abortion is a political issue, it always has been, those campaigning in favour of the 1967 Act were more than happy to politicise the matter, once again the notion of acceptable time limits is under discussion. There has been a massive sea-change of opinion since the incredible advances in very detailed 4D diagnostic imaging pioneered by the likes of Professor Stuart Campbell. Babies of only 12 weeks gestation can be seen playing, smiling, sucking their thumbs, exercising, in minute detail. It is increasingly difficult to deny the humanity of the unborn child and the vast majority of the public favour a reduction in the abortion limit to 20 weeks. Over half of UK women believe that the current abortion laws are too lax, according to a recent YouGov poll conducted in January 2012. A more recent Angus Reid poll from March 2012, shows that over half of the respondents and 3 in 5 women believe that the current limit of 24 weeks should be reduced.
Discussing abortion limits is a minefield for pro-lifers and Catholics who believe that all abortion is the taking of innocent life, a viewpoint with which I am very much in accordance. To campaign for a lower limit seems to concede that it’s perfectly acceptable to kill an unborn baby at an earlier stage. Most abortions performed in the UK are now under the 12 week mark – to imply otherwise is misleading and disingenuous. Honesty and integrity matter when discussing such ethical topics. The problem with implementing a reduced limit, is not only does it imply that earlier stage abortions are acceptable, but it may also rush a woman into making a premature decision, aware that the clock is ticking. Another factor that comes into play is that the earlier the abortion is performed, the more straightforward and thus less risky the procedure. A surgical abortion at 12 weeks will be less physically traumatic for a woman than a procedure at 22 weeks. So if we’re looking at women’s welfare, its something of a double-edged sword. An earlier procedure may well be better for her (not the baby) but the existence of a time limit may not give a woman enough time to properly consider her different options.
Pro-choicers on the whole aren’t keen on any delay, they believe that a woman should be able to have swift access to abortion as soon as she “requires” it. Whilst this logic is understandable, most women faced with a crisis or unplanned pregnancy do need to be able to take some time to fully consider their options and not be rushed into an abortion by clinics, relatives or abortion limits. At the end of the day an abortion results in the end of a life, regardless of whether or not one wants to play around with the semantics of whether it is a real life or simply a potential for life. I know where I stand on that scale, but that’s an argument for a different time. An abortion cannot be undone ,therefore women must not be rushed. As the law stands, if a woman has made up her mind that she wants an abortion, she can go and book one for the next day, without counselling if that be her wont. If, however, abortion is this difficult decision that is only arrived at via a lot of soul-searching, then it seems right not to exert any undue pressure with time limits. Clinics already do enough of that in terms of rushing women into taking the abortion pill, because for them, this is a less costly and riskier procedure, regardless of whether or not the abortion pill is the right option for a woman. Let’s say, for example, I discovered at 6 or 7 weeks in pregnancy that the developing fetus had died. Would I opt to take a pill to induce a traumatic miscarriage or would I go for the surgical option under sedation or anaesthetic? The answer would most definitely be the latter – but surgery isn’t the option that is promoted for women in the early stages of pregnancy for obvious reasons.
An aborted baby/fetus, whatever terminology one wishes to use is just that, it can’t be magically revived, whatever stage of development it is at. Obviously, when we come to pregnancies post 2o weeks, there is the hotly disputed issue of fetal pain, awareness and viability. The general public are as a whole a lot more squeamish about later stage abortions because of the huge advances in neonatal care. Babies born at 24 weeks can and often do survive. This baby girl survived being born at 21 weeks and 5 days. At 22 weeks a baby has a 0-10% chance of surviving, increasing to 10-35% at 23 weeks and 40-70% at 24 weeks.
Ideologically speaking, limits should be something of a red herring, either abortion should be on demand right up until birth or it should be against the law, unless abortion is a necessary side effect of a procedure undertaken to save a woman’s life.
If only life were that simple. I admit to a personal heavy investment in the notion of reducing the limit, which I firmly believe would reduce the number of abortions. Not that there should be an acceptable number or quota, but one life saved is better than none. Someone close to me aborted healthy twins at the 23 week stage. She had already taken the decision to keep the babies following a 19 week scan, kept things quiet until she was 21 weeks, but was coerced due to an enormous amount of family pressure, led by an overbearing and dominant mother who was concerned about the shame that would be brought upon the family. The ironic thing being was that the pregnancy was already known about by most people and there was more shame, stigma and distress in the late stage abortion of twins than there would have been in actually giving birth to the babies. The situation was heartbreaking and no blame should be attached to the vulnerable 19 year old who was put in an insufferable position and convinced that an abortion was the only solution. Were the limit lower, then this would not have happened.
Time limits act as a cut-off point, beyond which it is deemed unacceptable to abort a baby, which is why for many they are an irrelevance. The very existence of a limit gives a protection to the unborn child beyond a certain age. It stops people from “unnecessarily” aborting their babies. I was won around to the idea about half an hour ago.
I’m having a very hard time, I am struggling mentally. That is not pure hyperbole, it is fair to say that I am on the edge. I find pregnancy difficult enough as it is. I am daunted at the prospect of coping with the demands of a breastfeeding baby, a hen 16 month old and 33 month old in a bungalow the size of an average flat. I am terrified by the prospect of another cesarian, my 3rd in 3 years. The last two were no walk in the park. I don’t know whether or not I will cope. My degree will need to be deferred – again. At any other time, I might be more mentally equipped to cope with the sheer undiluted spite that has been flung my way over the past few weeks, and that is no exaggeration, but coupled with everything else, it’s all proving far too much to cope with. I am having moments of panic, despair, darkness and anxiety. I am exhibiting signs of severe depression, losing appetite, finding menial tasks overburdensome and dreams filled with anxiety. I wake up drenched in sweat after being chased by an irate female client from my old job or troubled because I’ve had to sit an exam which I didn’t previously know about and for which I’ve done no revision.
Perhaps this is too much personal information, I’m not putting it out there to play victim as often accused, but to say look, I’m a normal bright intelligent woman with no previous history of mental illness (contrary to the 16 unsolicited emails sent to a lawyer advising me) but the strain of pregnancy coupled with a few months bombardment of internet harassment has proved too much. There should be no stigma or shame, I know I’m bent out of shape at the moment and I am fortunate to have a loving husband who is encouraging me to go and seek the help that I need. That is not an admission of any wrongdoing of which I’m accused either, I don’t want any amateur psychologists putting two and two together and making the invariable five. I am a very stressed and vulnerable pregnant woman. I am well aware of that, which is why I know that I have to take a break from Twitter which is proving enormously self-destructive. It’s like a sore tooth that I keep worrying away at, I keep hoping that it will get better, that I will get the much longed for apology or retraction, and am freshly hurt every time the invective recommences.
So, with all of that in mind, I’ve just come off the phone to someone well meaning. The conversation consisted mainly of me crying, which is what I have spent most of the past week doing. Either crying or getting into a blind rage, which is what those who are winding me up, want to happen. The next few months will be tough. There is a light at the end of the tunnel in that I’ve never suffered from post-natal depression, normally once the baby is delivered and the breast-feeding hormones kick in, I’m in my element.
The person to whom I was speaking recognised that I’m in a dark place and that life is difficult. They are really worried. I am 22 weeks and 3 days pregnant. I regularly feel my baby girl squirming around inside me. We’ve chosen her name. Doubtless several clinics would be prepared to carry out a termination on the grounds that this baby will probably be my last and is my fourth girl. At some stage it might have been nice to have a boy. It’s lucky I’m not married to a Tudor monarch or living in a culture that puts little worth on the life of girls. But anyway after repeatedly expressing the sentiment that it was a great pity that I did know when the baby was conceived because otherwise I could have taken the morning after pill, well meaning person came up with a solution. They were so worried about me that they had found a clinic, made preliminary enquiries and discovered that there was availability/feasibility for me to have an abortion next week, around the 23 week mark. I can see why it seemed an answer. I can also see why, to a person who is worried, anxious and suffering from depression it might seem the only way out.
Up until 24 hours ago, I thought I was managing fine. Today I’ve realised that isn’t the case. I am experiencing a crisis. Were I of a a less tenacious and stubborn persuasion or less affirmed in my beliefs about the sanctity of human life, then I can see how at 22 +3, a late stage abortion might seem appropriate. If I were to have an abortion next week (rest assured I won’t) it would be because the law says I could. My baby is healthy and moving, she is literally alive and kicking.
There is a myth that says late-stage abortions are necessary and only occur in the case of babies with life threatening abnormalities and it is for these reasons that the limit stays at 24 weeks. Given the law also shockingly states that it is fine to abort a disabled baby up until birth, something that should be an anathema to most people with any sense of a moral compass, there is a pressing case for a reduction in limits, provided no other grounds are ceded.
If I were to abort now it would be a short term solution that would generate longer term mental health difficulties. To abort would be a gruesome sticking plaster and panacea. If the mental health of pregnant women is of such pressing concern, surely more resources need to be put into making sure that they can cope, that they have the medical, emotional and practical support that they need? Surely that has to be a better solution than traumatically ending the life of a baby with a chance of survival outside the womb? Would an abortion be the answer for a woman in my situation? There is only one way to find out, and that’s a decision that cannot be undone. With a 20 week limit, a woman in a similar situation would not be faced with a choice. There would therefore be no other option for her other than to seek the support that she needs. With a lower limit fewer women are pressurised at a later stage, if circumstances suddenly and traumatically change, i.e. a partner walks out or the family faces redundancy. No woman should have to abort her baby because she feels she has no other choice. Would more women be pressurised prematurely, I think that’s unlikely. The later the limit, the longer the opt-out clause which some people will always leave til the last minute.
I effectively have no choice, I’ve not had a choice since the moment I’ve discovered I’m pregnant. That is not necessarily a bad thing and has been the case of millions of women since the dawn of time. Choice should not be mistaken for the Holy Grail or defining value of our age. A lack of choice forces me to find the help and support that I need. I’m no superhero. If I was a better, stronger and more heroic woman I wouldn’t be struggling quite so much, but stoically, quietly, patiently enduring and offering up my suffering and glorying in the miracle that is reproduction and the privilege of carrying my own baby. The fact that I am not coping is a testament to my own shortcomings and so if I can get through this, then anyone can.
But prayers much appreciated in the meantime.