Nora's story is collected especially for the SHHH project. All informants and stories in this project have been anonymised. All names are changed.
Nora's first abortion story
I was a first-year student in a city in the Netherlands and I became pregnant over the summer before the semester started.
My parents and I went to Florida to visit family, together with my cousin and my long-term boyfriend. After a long day of activities and travelling we arrived. Soon we realised that there was no water at the house we rented. We were so tired that nobody felt like going downstairs to get water although we were aware that you should not drink tap water in America.
My mother had the idea to simply drink the melted ice that we had in the Frigo box, I was so thirsty at the time that I didn’t really think twice about it and I drank a massive glass. I spent the entire night on the toilet doing 360° turns gruesomely expelling everything from my body.
For five days I experienced intense vomiting and diarrhoea, all the while regularly taking my pill. Because I was sick, I had stopped having sex, but a few days prior to the poisoning, me and my boyfriend had sex. Which is why, fast-forward to my first few days at university after the summer, I noticed that my period was late and that I was indeed pregnant. The symptoms from my water poisoning caused my body to not be protected by the pill for at least five days, giving my body lots of time to get pregnant!
At the time I didn’t know who to contact, whatsoever. I didn’t know anyone who had had an abortion before, but luckily the information was really easy to find on Google. I called my local abortion clinic and they were very well-informed and informative and it made the experience feel like it was just any other medical procedure, which it is.
I was very nervous at the time because while I knew that my parents were not opposed to abortion and had experienced an abortion of their own in their youth, I didn’t feel comfortable with them knowing that I was pregnant. The circumstances of my pregnancy were almost comical so I knew that it would only be interpreted by them as irresponsible. My relationship with my parents is quite complicated so I did not feel safe including them in the process of getting an abortion. I was very lucky to be in the Netherlands at the time because access to abortion especially back then was very good and there were not a lot of barriers to abortion. I was able to call and make an appointment and receive care in a timely manner.
I went to my initial appointment where I was given an x-ray and a short consultation about how I became pregnant and how I felt about it, we discussed birth control and potentially switching to an IUD (which I was not prepared to do at the time). They explained to me that abortions were free for anyone who was registered within the Dutch government, so I didn’t have to make any expenses whatsoever nor include my parents for financial support which was extremely empowering, for the first time I truly felt like my body was my own.
I was very lucky to have been supported emotionally by my boyfriend at the time, who reassured me that my decision was the only thing that mattered. That made me feel completely certain that an abortion is what I wanted 100% with no guilt whatsoever.
Following the first abortion consultation, Dutch law requires a ten day waiting period before you can get the abortion in order to give yourself time to change your mind. I then had an aspiration abortion at an abortion clinic which went very well. I was put to sleep for about 15 minutes, the procedure was quick, painless and really uncomplicated. The staff was great and understanding, they were specialists and you could tell.
They gave me tea and a waffle afterwards which I instantly puked out, but after getting dressed I was on my way and I felt instantly amazing. Throughout my pregnancy I had been experiencing really bad morning sickness and it felt so refreshing to no longer feel that and I felt so great that I simply went straight to class afterwards. I am very grateful for that experience. I feel lucky to have had it and I wish everyone had the same opportunity to be welcomed in that same way if they need to have an abortion.
Nora's second abortion story
My second abortion was in February 2020. I had continued the same birth-control that I had always been on and since my first abortion five years ago I had not had any issues with it. The pill was a part of my life. I felt like I had finally mastered it. Nevertheless, in February I became pregnant again.
Unlike the last time I didn’t have a clear reason as to why, I couldn’t even blame myself for having missed a pill or taken it late because I hadn’t. When I asked my doctor for an explanation he said “pill’s only 99% effective, and you’re clearly very fertile.” This made me realise how easy it is to become pregnant and how out of control that can be sometimes, no matter how hard you try to control it. I had paralyzing morning sickness from this pregnancy and it was very, very tough for me to endure. It affected my mental health a lot because I felt guilty for having accidentally fallen pregnant again when so many women cannot conceive, and I felt resentment that I was in the situation that I was in despite my efforts not to be.
This time when I tried to get an abortion in the Netherlands, the law had changed and you had to have Dutch medical insurance in order to be able to have an abortion. Being a Belgian expat, my health insurance in the Netherlands was tied to my father’s job and was quite complicated to decipher, so I was recommended to go to Belgium for the procedure. Looking back, I can now see I was very nervous about the COVID-19 situation at the time and not being able to receive the procedure because of border closings or quarantines.
My first consultation in Belgium was similar to my previous consultation in the Netherlands, except I was asked to pay a €3 fee. I was also told that in Belgium the laws are different about anaesthesia and for that reason I would not be under anaesthetic during my abortion this time. This time I opted to stop taking the pill and have an IUD inserted, since I no longer trusted the pill. There was also a 10 days mandatory waiting period before I could have an abortion. Even though I was awake the aspiration abortion went swimmingly. The doctor implanted the IUD directly after the abortion which was quite uncomfortable, and the pain following the implant was quite intense and I had to take a nap with a hot water bottle for three hours. My ovaries felt quite tender following the procedure, but I finally felt like myself again and I am again very grateful to have had such access and to come from a country where access to safe abortions is granted and protected.
It was very important to me that I felt that I was in control and had the agency to make the decision without any external influence. The empowerment I felt from not needing to be financially dependent on my parents in order to have the procedure was unparalleled and I am really grateful that I was able to make the decision on my own. My boyfriend was ready for any decision that I made. To me, it was extremely important to be able to have that privacy and that autonomy.
More than anything in the world, I wish that every single person could have the same access to quality abortion care that I did. I want people to have that choice and the freedom of privacy and no burden of financial responsibility. The human body is a crazy thing and we continue to try to understand it with every passing day, but we can only do so much and I am so lucky to be living in a time when we have understood science enough to be able to have a little bit more control of our lives by having control over our own bodies. I simply wish that people saw abortions as an equivalent to chemotherapy or any dental procedure, because like all medical procedures they can be daunting, but we as a modern society should always allow people to have the access to the care that they need if they want it.
And regarding the guilt I felt about being able to conceive while other can't, I find that that was a little bit narcissistic. Not everything is about me and my ability to conceive has nothing to do with the conception abilities of anyone else. I am lucky to be a modern woman who can choose to have children or not, and I wish that for everyone.
I was very lucky to have two positive experiences with abortion and while I am an advocate for that being the norm, I am also very aware of the threat that is posed towards it. The politicisation of abortion means that it is never guaranteed and that’s terrifying but it’s also a constant reminder that our right to abortion and our right to bodily autonomy is something that we have to spend the rest of our lives fighting for. Our right to choose and have control over our own bodies has always been a fight in human history, although I think people forget how easy it is to lose the rights that the generations before us have fought so hard for. My two abortion experiences were different because of a change in Dutch medical insurance policy.