I carried my pregnancy test into a mall toilet. A friend had advised me to purchase it and emphatically reminded me: “Do it away from your home. Take it to a mall or anywhere else away from your home. Throw it away right after. Don’t take it with you anywhere at all. Don’t even put in in your handbag. Get it done somewhere else. Check the results, and throw it out when you’re out of the house.”
I was pregnant. That’s what I needed to deal with now. There was no time to absorb the shock, no space to break down. I was pregnant and I had to deal with the situation.
I called my partner. Hours later, we were searching online for the most appropriate abortion method. We found the name of an abortion-inducing drug and we agreed to use it. Questions popped up in my head one after the other: How could we do it? When? How many days did we need? It just so happened that we had four days available to us, so we felt we had to make full use of them. Was that all? A place to hide and a few strips of pills?
We prepared the space. We bought sanitary pads, painkillers, some food, and we shared our fears. He was afraid of possible complications and I was afraid because I was about to do something I never thought I would have to. Years ago, a gynecologist had told me that I only have a 30 percent chance of getting pregnant. But here I was, pregnant at 22, and I didn’t know how to feel about it. Should I be happy? Should I be sad? How do I express my happiness and sadness simultaneously and equally? On our preparation list, we had noted emergency numbers for female friends I trusted. I had compiled those, even though these friends were in a different governorate altogether.
Everything was ready.
I had never been there before. My heart was heavy with anticipation, and I had to hide from the neighbors to make sure no one would see me and wonder what a man and woman were doing there on their own.
I went, and left four days later. Four days spent among drugs, vitamins and the intimacy of my partner. I think my discomfort stemmed from feeling that I didn’t belong in that place. It was not my place. However, I’m not sure whether or not it’s good that the incident is so tied to a place I will never return to.
By doing it somewhere I won’t have to go back to, I can make sure that the memory will never return with the same strength it would have if I’d done it in my own room at home, for example – a place I would return to daily and therefore would have to revisit the memory for months in the future. Or not? I can’t really tell for sure. Is it really better that I had the pregnancy test done somewhere I will never go again? Or would I have been better off knowing exactly where I leaned against the wall, where I lay on my bed sheet and what I placed on my dresser? I think I am the kind of person who is more inclined to not want to remember … I think I am more in favor of believing that it’s better not to have to go there ever again.
Even though I had decided to tell some friends, the space was the main controlling factor. It didn’t allow for visits from people I really needed at the time. I had to remain in hiding. It was simply not an option to receive visitors. I think having close friends with me would have absorbed the feelings of confusion that my partner and I shared.
Had I been married, I would have had the abortion at home. There would have been no need to make up excuses to escape my family during that time. I would have been able to receive my friends at home, or at least I would have been able to use the bathroom freely without having to kneel whenever I passed in front of the window so the neighbors wouldn’t notice me. Had I been married, I would have been able to go to any hospital as soon as the bleeding started. I would have been able to pretend that this was an accidental miscarriage and I would have received medical attention. Had I been married, I would have received the news of my pregnancy differently, even if I decided to abort in the end.
Much of my resentment arose from the feeling that I was doing something illegal, even though it’s my own body. If I were in a different country, I might have been able to go to a hospital and request counseling. It’s disturbing not to be able to ask for help, to feel oppressed under a guardianship imposed by law and society.
I took the first of four doses. I placed the pill under my tongue and waited. Nothing happened. Where was the pain? Where were the convulsions? I started to panic, thinking I was one of those women for whom the pills wouldn’t work. I worried that I’d need an operation. I thought a lot and my head was full of anxieties around the expense of such an operation — if I was lucky enough to find a willing doctor in the first place. I was afraid I would need more doses after the four days. Would I be able to find the time and space? There was no way I could take any extra doses in my own home. By the fourth dose, I started to feel a light tingling in my uterus. Then the pain started. Followed by the bleeding.
We cried together at the first drops of blood. Our balance disappeared along with any sense of composure we had maintained until then. Even though I had read over and over that a fertilized egg has no soul, I felt that I was killing my son or daughter. I felt the pain of loss and I was troubled by my questions: Why did I have to do it this way? Perhaps I was worried more about the standard of living and the kind of life we had — if I didn’t have to struggle so much to eat and drink and do everything else, would I have opted to keep the baby?
My partner held me and I held him with equal intimacy. I considered myself luckier than the heroines of the stories of abortion that I have always heard and read about. I had always heard that male partners disappeared in these situations and that the whole relationship would end soon after. My partner was very responsible. He was the one who arranged for the space, obtained the pills on the black market, bought the sanitary pads. He was very careful about me taking the doses and the vitamins at the specified times. He took care of the cooking. We spent our time between each dose watching a list of movies he had prepared especially. Every time I used the bathroom, he waited for me and took the sanitary pad to throw it away. This comforted me. I felt accepted. He wasn’t disgusted by my blood. I didn’t have to worry about the practicalities. I stayed focused on the pain I felt in my lower abdomen.
It’s such a false notion that only a husband will act responsibly and care for you — the notion that you should get married in order to have a man by you. No, the truth is that the man who took care of me during that period was one with whom I had what society sees as an illegitimate relationship.
Despite this warmth, I felt that something was missing. I needed a friend.
I told two friends but I was certain that they would have done nothing had there been any complications. They had never gone through something like this before. Nothing of the kind had even touched their circles. The most they would have been able to offer was consolation. The friends I included in the emergency list were ones I met online. I knew that we had similar experiences. It would have made a difference if I had been able to call one of them at the time, to ask them to visit and stay with me for a day. Or to be able to say, “I don’t know how to be alone now. Come so I can see you, even if just for an hour?”
At the end of the day, if I had suffered any complications, they would have needed at least six hours to get to me. If I had suffered a panic attack, it would have ended by the time they were on their way. Do you know what gave me some reassurance? It was the knowledge that there were people I trusted to do the right things if I were to die. I was certain they would know how to handle the situation.
Despite my persistent need to have a woman by my side at this time, I never imagined that my mother could be that woman. Our relationship wouldn’t allow it. Everything I do goes against everything she believes in. I am in a relationship, which she knows about from Facebook. The idea of being in a relationship was itself too liberal for my conservative family.
The more important point was the future of my very small family, whose escape from my father was brought about by circumstances in which I played a key role. Our separation from my father made my presence at home a source of strength to my mother. I was the eldest daughter and always supported her. I was the one who encouraged her to leave home when she was still with my father. It would have been a major letdown if I acted as an independent entity. We were a family paying the price for choosing our own peace of mind. That price was living in a home beneath our social standing and having much less money to spend than we were previously accustomed. So I faced a dilemma: If I left them, this might drive them back to my father. Also, if my father learned of this, he might force them to return, arguing that my pregnancy was proof that my mother was unable to handle us on her own.
As the days passed, my partner and I were brought even closer together. The bleeding did not last very long. My partner kept asking me if I was still bleeding, if I needed any medication to stop it. When the bleeding finally stopped, it also seemed to stop time at a certain point.