I had an abortion, and I really think it’s important to talk about it

I’ve never really liked the word – abortion. I think growing up it was because I was taught that it’s wrong. Now, as an adult who has recently gone through it, I prefer to use the word termination; to me it seems lighter, medical and it just doesn’t carry the stigma that its synonym has.

I’m not sure yet how I feel about being someone who can say that now: I had an abortion. It kind of feels like wearing a new piece piece of clothing that you bought completely on impulse and is completely different from what you would usually buy or even try on. It’s obviously not that frivolous, but basically the same principles apply: you don’t really know if you’re into it, if it’s ‘you’, you know you’re going to spend the whole time wondering what people think and whether or not they’re judging you, and most of the time you’re sure it’s all wrong and you made a mistake.

I would like to clarify something right about now: I am not, in any way, encouraging people to do this, and I never will. I am not a pro-termination advocate. I’m also not an anti-termination advocate. I am not, in fact, advocating anything – this is simply my story, and I’m writing it down because it’s how I work through things, and now that I’ve gone through it I really do believe that it’s something we should talk more about (especially in South Africa).

And if I can be a source of support or comfort or whatever to anyone who might be going through something similar by doing so, I feel like I’ve at least helped in a small way. We learn from every experience, and should make the best out of what we go through.

I will also not debate my stance on abortion, at least not here. If you’re very against it, please do not read this and consider it your chance to force your views on anyone – the same goes for those who are very for it. If you’re trolling, well, I can’t exactly stop you there. I only ask that you keep in mind that the world would be a much better place if we all stopped trying to force our views on each other.

So. Now that that’s out the way.

Looking back now, it’s very easy to say that I should have known I was pregnant. But I didn’t, and a part of me will always wish that I had figured it out sooner. I found out I was pregnant when I was already in my 2nd term. And everything gets harder from there.

In South Africa, you are legally allowed to terminate up til 20 weeks – after that it’s only legally allowed if there’s a major medical problem with the fetus. Which is half, basically the entire, reason I decided to go ahead with termination. I won’t go into too much detail, but even 8 months in I probably would have done it. It sounds harsh, and it feels harsh to say, but I had to admit to myself and own up to the fact that I was barely ready to raise a child – not to mention a child with major physical and mental disabilities. And, sadly, that’s what KB and I were looking at.

When I first found out, I thought I was about 1 month pregnant. KB and I basically immediately decided to go to a doctor to confirm – which is when I found out I was much farther along than I thought. Two days later it was confirmed that there was something seriously wrong, and two days after that the procedure was done. So I had less than a week to work through all of this, make a decision, and make sure I’m okay with my decision.

Like I said, it’s easy now to say that I should have known. But all the symptoms I had, I could explain. My period has become very irregular over the last few years, so I didn’t really bargain on that to tell me much. I was very unhappy and under a lot of pressure job-wise, so I thought I was tired and (quite literally) fatigued because of that. I chalked the weight gain (which really wasn’t that much) up to living an unhealthy lifestyle. I’m someone who gets the sniffles (and worse) quite easily, and I thought I was getting sick so often because I was so stressed at work (and again, living quite unhealthily).

I also withdrew quite a bit, didn’t want to go out or do pretty much anything. I realise now just how different my mindset and emotional state was (I wouldn’t leave my room for weekends at a time) and I felt so….different. I thought I was just adjusting to life in Joburg and that starting a new life here was finally getting to me. Turns out notsomuch.

Was I right to terminate? I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever know, and in the weeks after I’ve tried to figure it out for myself. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know how I feel about abortion in general. It’s something I’ve always tried to figure out, but it’s a very complicated issue – where does life begin? At what point are you ending a life? Are you simply running away from a responsibility? Is the woman the one who has to or should make the final decision? Should you raise a child even though it’s not wanted or wasn’t planned? If you’re not religious, how much does morality factor in? (and so on, and so forth)

I’ve (obviously) been thinking about these questions more nowadays. And I don’t know what the answers are. Going through this, what became clear to me was that I had to just deal with the situation as is. I took it one thing at a time, and that’s the only advice I’ll give to someone in the same situation: take it one thing at a time. Get all the information you can and find out what your options are. And, probably most importantly, be brutally honest with yourself.

You don’t have to say everything you think and feel out loud to someone, but I think what helped me was admitting – even what felt like the worst thing – to myself. I didn’t – don’t – want to be a parent right now. I’m too selfish, and that’s simply a statement of fact. I didn’t – don’t – want to give up my coffee, cigarettes, beer, freedom.

But, did I pause and consider whether or not I’d be willing to do it or if a small part of me wanted to?

Hell yes. I know I would have loved my child and given up everything and tried my best. But, deep in my heart and soul, I would have resented this tiny being that didn’t ask to be born for the rest of his life because of it. I don’t know if that feeling ever goes away, or if parents who plan to have kids ever feel that way, but I’m choosing to believe that because would have felt that way, I made the right decision at the time.

I carry quite a bit of guilt because I didn’t take care of myself from the beginning. I’m not clear on the details, because I didn’t ask, but I can’t shake the part of me that says it’s because my lifestyle was so unhealthy that the development and size was abnormal. There will also always be a part of me that will wish things had turned out differently, and that I had gone through with the pregnancy. There are some nights when I ache and when the what-could-have-beens hurt and I struggle to feel okay about everything.

But I have made peace with this. It’s ridiculous to think that I can and could have walked away from this unscathed, and I am okay with not being okay sometimes. When I look at the bigger picture, I am more at peace with my decision than I am unsettled by it. If anything, I have to rationalise that it’s done now and I sure as hell can’t take it back.

One thing that helps a lot, and that’s a source of comfort, is that it was my decision. No one forced me into it, or forced me to go through with it, and so far no one that I’ve spoken to has made me feel bad about it. I’m sure this will change, especially since this is now a part of my life story. But I can’t even begin to express how grateful, and eternally thankful, I am for the people in my life who helped me through this.

I am not blind or ignorant to how many women go through this alone, and often not by choice. I will never be able to thank KB, his mom, my family and my friends for the love and support they gave me, and it breaks my heart to think that people have to go through this one their own. I also had (still have) an amazingly supportive medical staff and I consider my doctor a dear friend now. All these people have changed me forever, for the better.

I think that’s one of the reasons I want to talk about it, because it’s just not right that women die from having this procedure done because they have to get it done illegally. Or that they have to go through it alone, period. I also feel very strongly, now, about free female contraception (maybe this was the wake up call I needed to make more aware of what a problem this is). But that’s for another time.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m not advocating anything. I just know that I made the right decision at the right time for me, my relationship and my future family. Maybe this was God / Cthulhu / Flying Spaghetti Monster / Karma / whoever’s way of bringing me back down to earth. Or, at the very least, a reminder that 99.9% of the things you do have consequences, and you need to live with them and will feel them.

I believe life is 50% fate and 50% choice, and the most important thing you can do for yourself is stand by the choices you’ve made as much as possible. It’s not always easy, you will waver, but you’ll do more damage to yourself if you keep living in the in-between. Most of the time we can only minimise how much we hurt ourselves and others, and sometimes it takes something extreme to make us aware of that.

If you have a story of your own to tell, or just want to chat, let me know. I think for the first time in my life I appreciate what unity is, and (above many things) I would want women and girls to know that they are definitely not alone.

Changing jobs & a clear(er) view on the future: overcoming 2016’s blows

Dear 2016, we need to talk. Like, now.

It’s not you, it’s me. Well…no, actually, it’s both of us. I think we both need to take a step back and think about what we’ve done to each other and accept that we’re both to blame (I think a 40 – 60 split would be fair). It’s already August, and when I think back to how excited I was about being positive only two months ago, I want to cry.

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Everything seemed like it was getting better: I had a new job and an industry I was really excited to learn about. Then that crapped out quite badly and I left. It was the first time I had to deal with a situation like that, and to say that I felt like a failure is a giant, GIANT understatement.

Then July came along and changed me. I’m not sure yet if it’s for better or for worse, but I do know that there are some parts of me that will just never, ever be the same again. There are some good – some great – things that came out of the experience, and for that I will always be grateful. But the experience itself is one I never, ever want to go through again and will never wish on anyone. So I’m a little resentful about that, and one day I will feel okay to tell the world my story. But I need to see the picture a little clearer first, so that what I went through and how I feel about it can hopefully help someone else going through the same thing – which would be the best outcome and is something I really hope I can do one day.

All that being said, I know you’re having a hard time as well. People are killing and hurting each other left and right, and despite the uproars, protests and positive stories, the world as a whole doesn’t seem to be able to get it together. So I get how you can’t take care of everybody, but I’m pretty sure I won’t handle the next harsh blow you deliver very well.

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I’m strong, and I always have been. And not too long ago you taught me that it’s okay not to be strong sometimes and it’s okay not to be okay sometimes. I like to believe that was because you knew that I would need that advice and how to use it so desperately now, and for that I am quite grateful. But, like I said, I do resent it.

But, I am set in my ways and will forever try to stay as positive as possible (stupidly so, it seems sometimes). So here are the good things I will take away from these last few months:

1) I know now that KB is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. He has been an incredible source of support and love, and I am in awe of how safe and loved I feel just knowing he’s in my life. Our relationship has, so far, only gotten stronger through everything.

2) On a personal level, the future is no longer as scary as I once found it. The marriage & kids thing is still scary, but not in the same way it was before. It’s not this mountain that seems impossible to climb anymore.

3) There are few things as amazing as the support from your family.

4) Some things are just going to be the way they are, and there isn’t really anything you can do to change it. Don’t beat yourself up because of could haves, should haves or would haves – and it’s okay to be okay with whatever decisions you make, as long as you make them for YOU and what’s best for YOU.

5) When an experience threatens to change you, sometimes you just have to let it. Use the fear and all the doubts to push you forward.

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So, 2016, let’s just get along for the next few months, and then we’ll never have to deal with each other again. Okay? Okay.

My first and (ultimate) bucket list

I’m not the kind the person to make something like a bucket list. It’s not that I think it’s stupid or anything, or that I think I’m above it for some reason. I’ve just never really been someone to actively make a plan or put plans in motion to make something big I want really happen.

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It goes without saying, but the idea behind a bucket list is obviously that it’s something personal and for only you, and you can’t ever really – nor should you – justify it. A quick Google search immediately brings up terms like “goals” and “dreams” you want to “fulfill” and “achieve”.

But it’s something I have to (need to?) justify for myself, I guess, maybe because I’m in this constant struggle between ‘living in the moment’ and ‘planning ahead’ and ‘actually getting off your ass and making, following and achieving something BIG’. Because for me, that’s what a bucket list is and should be – I somehow don’t see the point in making or following one if it’s filled with things that seem small or easily achievable. But I also seem to LOVE making life unnecessarily difficult and complicated for myself, so what do I know.

Anyway, since the whole bucket list thing went from being something new (to the general public, and by this I obviously mean the majority of the internet), to a buzz word, to a way of life, and now just something we all accept as what is done in life, my over decisiveness sometimes went into overdrive thinking about what I would like to put on mine if I were to write one. Obviously things like traveling and experiencing other cultures, seeing certain movies, eating new things, etc. are on there by default and will probably always be there., because we all want to experience a hundred other lives and versions of ourselves all the time. The fact is that there will never be enough places you can visit, cultures you can experience, movies you can see, new food you can eat, interesting people you can meet, etc – life is just too damn short for all of it, and for you to enjoy it when you really want to.

But getting to my point before I bore you with seemingly pointless thoughts, some time ago I read an article on Upworthy that I actually enjoyed for the first time in a while (when I first came across the site I spent pretty much every spare moment on it, but I have to agree with the critics that it sometimes goes a little too far in some ways).

It’s not a bucket list or anything even close to it, but it me narrow down the things I really would like to do before I die and figure out which things I would actually make a plan to do in this lifetime:

  1. Visit the most remote place on Earth, Tristan da Cunha
  2. See the Arctic (and yes, I do mean practically the entire thing and all there is to see in it / on it / around it / about it)
  3. Visit another remote corner of the world, SGang Gwaay
  4. Get over my claustrophobia and head down to the deep sea, and particularly the bottom of the deep sea – head into the abyss, as Sir David Attenborough describes it. This is mostly to see the creatures down there.
  5. Learn to dance, and I’m putting this here because I’m a terrible, and terribly insecure, dancer
  6. Learn to speak one of the Khoisan languages; the area where I’m from (Namaqualand) is one of the few places in South Africa where the Khoisan culture is still very much alive, and the language is one of the most incredible I have ever heard
  7. Write a book – this has always been a dream of mine, and I’ll feel like I’ve betrayed myself if I don’t accomplish this one (and it has to be fiction and at least 250 pages)
  8. Have a lizard as a pet, because, well, lizards are freaking awesome
  9. Try acid (sorry parents). I have a bit of a fear of psychedelics, but I’d want to try this at least once – because why not?

New things (Part 1): can someone *please* give Reality a day off?

At the end of last year I remember describing it as the most uncomfortable year of my life.

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“Uncomfortable” really was the best word I could find that fit the experience:

  • I had finished my six year stint as a student, and had made peace with the fact that I would probably never be a student again (and if I were able to / decide to, I would be heading towards my Master’s Degree, and I was okay knowing that it would never be the same as it was when I was 19)
  • I had accepted the fact that I had changed cities and moved to Johannesburg for the foreseeable future . Technically, I had moved out of the house when I went to boarding school at 13, but after that Stellenbosch had become my home, and leaving that to start over and create a new home wasn’t easy
  • I was living – like moved in and shared things and learn to compromise living – with my boyfriend and we were, albeit by silent agreement, planning a life and future together (which has to be somewhat scary / intimidating to any normal person, at least for a little while)
  • I turned 25, and thus crossed the quarter-life barrier (this freaked me out quite a bit, and I’m sure I’m nor sure the only one)
  • And, probably most importantly, I had landed a legitimate job where I earned a salary and paid taxes and had to pay my rent and medical aid and all those things (this is the biggest thing that makes the real world real – and there is nothing that prepares you for properly for it and nothing that cushions the blow)

The list goes on, but you get the point. Growing up – as defined by the points above, not like you do as a first year who thinks going to a 10 am class with a hangover is growing up, or as a final year who hands in your last project before prematurely celebrating the end of the academic year – is literally shedding a skin of your former relatively care-free life. And it’s UNCOMFORTABLE.

But it was a good kind of uncomfortable. It felt icky (again, legit the best word I could find that fit) and I knew things would only get harder from there, but it felt like I had overcome the worst in terms of ‘becoming an adult’: I had accepted it and was riding out the wave as best that I can.

Looking back now, I realise I was definitely more than a little naive. Which I’m fine with (now), because a year has taught me that I will, more often than not, fall on my face due to inexperience and nativity, but that I would learn from it more than I would feel failure from it.

And unfortunately you can’t be wise all the damn time.

And now there’s this year. 2016. The big continuation of what was, at the very least from my point of view, the second act in what I considered to be a pretty damn good sequence of wise choices, great accomplishments and amazing experiences.

This year has, so far, not really held up to that view or, for lack of a better word, expectation. Life kicked my ass in ways I never expected it would and I had to wrestle demons I not only knew I didn’t have, but demons I thought I put away years ago.

Let’s start with The Fear:

I learned that as you get older, The Fear will never go away. Yes, you can teach yourself to live in the moment or give into just going with it, but there will always be something that scares the living shit out of you. I went through fear of disappointment, fear of failing, fear of letting everyone around me down – the normal ones, I suppose – the boss at the first level of the game that you feel so proud of to beat.

And then I was introduced to another boss; the kind of fear that can literally cripple you mentally: what if my decisions that lead me to this point – the point where I’m supposed to plan a future and start setting myself up in order to proof that my parents’ decisions were right – were absolutely the fucking worst ones?

What if I can’t make it in this big city and prove to the small part of myself, the one that always doubted my abilities, that it was right? What if I wake up 10 years from now and realise I made the biggest mistake of myself by choosing this career, relationship and lifestyle path?

I’m going to go ahead and say that most people 10 years my senior will say that it’s normal to feel like that, and that those doubts and concerns are absolutely normal things you go through. But that’s not the point.

The point is that for someone like me, for someone who decided a long time ago to not regret most things in life, that train of thought set off a chain reaction that threw me into a kind of mental state that I never really used to believe in: depression.