Shortly after we lost Teddy, the abortion debate was really ramping up in Queensland. Changes to the laws were sitting before State Parliament. The proposed changes included decriminalising abortion as well as lengthening the amount of time in which a woman could gain access to services. Protests were happening, it was all over the news, not to mention social media.
Yes, good old social media. It’s very interesting when debates like this happen (like what’s happening in the USA as we speak) it brings people out of the woodworks. It is an emotive subject. It is also incredibly complex.
I saw friends and family, people who I didn’t even realised would have an opinion on this subject commenting and sharing articles to support whichever side they were on. I saw people sharing their thoughts based on the rights of the child, based on the rights of the mother, based on their religious freedoms.
For me, after having just made the decision to bring forth the end of Theodore’s life, the timing of the debate meant I was still extremely raw. In addition to this, having just been through it, I knew how restrictive and difficult it was to access to services.
Three local private hospitals declined to allow me to have the procedure take place in their facilities due to religious reasons. My local public hospital said they would consider it but only after review of my specific case, endorsement by the Hospital CEO as well as endorsement by the Hospital Ethics Committee. I was told this could take a month, potentially longer.
This hospital would also restrict and ultimately decide the type of procedure I could have, meaning by the time their approvals had come through (if their approvals had come through) I would be passed the point of being permitted to have a D&E.
I was etching further and further into my second trimester. I was already showing. My little boy was so sick, he was in pain, he was suffering and he was going to die. And whilst I was willing to put myself through as much pain as it took to keep him, I couldn’t fathom the thought of making him suffer any more than he already had.
My OB managed to find a place that would take us. We drove over two hours, out of a large Australian metropolitan city to access services and paid thousands of dollars for the procedure to take place. We were fortunate enough to be in a financial position to afford to do so and even if we weren’t, we have a wonderful support network of family and friends that I know would have pitched in to help us. I recognise in this instance; we were in a fortunate position – if it can be called that. Many others simply are not in financial position nor have the support network to have been able to privately gain access to services and because of this they would again have had their already restricted access to services, restricted even more.
We had very few options available to us but more than others. The lack of access, having to travel (a 5-hour round trip in the same day) and work out logistics was all added stress at what was one of the most devasting and overwhelming times of our lives.
So literally having just been through all this, when a friend who I grew up in the church with shared an article that was against the changes to the law, I started to read the comments.
For good or for bad, who knows what on earth possessed me to (now I think about it, it was probably a mix of residual pregnancy hormones and grief), I decided to share our story and our decision.
Ok, some of you might say I walked straight into it. Truth be told I did. I’ll admit I was stupid to think that I might be able to able to arouse some empathy from those people and help them to understand that the debate wasn’t as black and white as their view. That it’s an incredibly complex issue, there’s a lot of propaganda and misinformation out there. That lack of access to services and appropriate health care puts women’s lives at risk. Not to mention, it’s also proven to put the lives of any living children in that woman’s care, at risk too.
I never thought I was going to change their minds completely, but I thought that by sharing the other side of the story, the story of a woman who needed these services, I might bring some compassion and understanding to the argument.
Of course, the backlash was swift, fast and vicious. Some of the responses were piercing.
I had one-person comment saying they supported me because my decision was for medical reasons but that they would never support ‘those other women’.
Another keyboard warrior shamed me for my choice and told me I had no right to feel sad that my baby died. I had no right to grieve. I was told that if I mustn’t have really wanted my baby if I could make the choice that I did – that a good, loving mother would have never made that decision for her baby.
But the one that stung (and I feared) the most was being told I murdered my own child.
I’m not going to lie. As I sat there reading the responses my heart was pounding so hard, I was sure I was going to explode, and I even envisioned my own impending obituary reading something along the lines of ‘died of an aneurism after argument online with Christian Internet Troll’.
Not surprisingly, there were a lot of tears. I was deeply affected by people’s comments. There was a lot of frustration and anger. There were a lot of half drafted, highly emotional, inarticulate responses that started with the words ‘GO FUCK YOURSELF!’ (and yes, it was written in caps).
Things finally settled down when my sensible, loving husband came in and deleted all my social media apps from my phone.
Looking back on that experience now, over a year after it happened, I think a lot about other women in my position, particularly women in the US who face a more vicious and relentless campaign. I’ve been thinking about what it means to be on the receiving end of such vile comments and hate.
Even just writing about this stuff in a public forum I fully recognise that I’m potentially exposing myself to again be targeted. And look if I was, the truth is that for me the sting has been taken out of it, I’m not afraid of it now. They’ve said the one thing I feared, and I survived. In fact, I’ve come out the other end better equipped and even more determined to contribute to the conversation and help others going through these kinds of heartbreaking choices.
A few things stuck out for me in the wake of this whole debacle. One was that this ‘troll’, was a woman. She was publicly advocating for the reproductive rights of other women to be stripped away and at the same time shaming someone who she’s never met for making an impossible decision. Ok, I understand it wouldn’t personally be her choice but why actively oppose and try to limit the choices of others, particularly when it comes to gaining access to vital healthcare? I’ll personally just never understand it.
The other thing I’ve given a lot of thought to is about why the hate and vile words were targeted at me and only me? The woman.
My motherhood and love for my baby was called into question. My ability to make informed decisions for my child’s life and future was attacked and called into question. Why do we and why is it so easy to shame and target women when it comes to issues of this nature?
Why was it only me that was told I murdered my baby and why weren’t my husband and I both condemned to hell as co-accused by the ‘Christian Internet Troll’ when we’d researched, discussed, attended all the same medical appointments and made all the decisions together?
I mean I didn’t exactly make the baby on my own so why all of a sudden was it all about me? Look, I’m not saying share the hate around so the men get it too but what I am questioning is why are women targeted in this way? Why is all the blame and shame placed on solely on the female?
Truth be told, I don’t have any real answers to any of these questions. Obviously, the physical link of carrying a child holds more weight (quite literally) than that of the parent who is not the gestational carrier and therefore these people felt I was more responsible. The fact that society says I would have more than likely been the primary caregiver to this child probably also plays a part.
What I do know is that we clearly have a very long way to go, not only in terms education and support for women’s reproductive rights and access to healthcare but there is also a lot of work to do in terms changing the conversation and stigma around these sorts of medical procedures.