An anonymous Western woman sent me this story of getting an abortion in China. She hopes her experience will help other expat women know what to expect.
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I woke up early with a nervous knot in my stomach. I grabbed the pregnancy test off the bedside table and made my way to the bathroom. Two weeks ago I’d been through a similar scenario, and the test had come back negative. My husband and I were overjoyed that we weren’t pregnant. Of course we want kids. Someday. Not now. We just registered our marriage in June, we had a wedding planned for January, and we wanted to finally visit my parents back in the States for the first time. We had a plan.
But how two weeks change so much. I am still late, craving large amounts of food, nausea in the morning, tired all the time. I knew I couldn’t blame it anymore on starting a new job or moving to a new apartment. I just knew.
We are always so careful. How could this have happened? But the evidence in my hands left no doubt about it. Pregnant.
And there begins the two worst days of my life. I sat on the toilet in shock and tried to avoid walking back to the bedroom and showing the test to my husband. I thought to the day before, when I had visited a friend who just gave birth to a baby girl. Just one week old. Tiny and sweet. But I remember what I said to my friend when she asked me about having children of my own. “I’m not having children for a very long time. At least five more years.”
I shook my husband awake. He took one look at my face, looked at the pregnancy test in my hands and said, “Shit.”
I burst into tears. He took me in his arms and said apologies in my ear. He said that it’s all his fault, that it would be ok.
Eventually I rubbed my eyes and looked at him tearfully. “We need to go to the hospital.”
He looked sad. “I know.”
It’s a talk we’ve had many times before. What will we do if birth control somehow doesn’t work? We would have an abortion. My husband has a job lined up, but he hasn’t started yet. I’m the provider, working as an English teacher in China. I’ve been told by my brother-in-law and by people at my school that, as a foreigner, if I get pregnant I will probably lose my job and my working visa. We knew what we would decide if we got pregnant, but making the decision and going through with it are two very different things.
The upside of our decision was that I was in the right place to do it. Abortion procedures are so easily accessible in China. There was no need to search for abortion clinics or see which hospitals could perform the procedure. We just had to take a short trip to a nearby hospital, whose Gynecological department was swarming with heavily pregnant women and very young and scared women I surmised were in a similar situation like me. My white skin and tall stature made me stick out like a sore thumb, but for once in my life in China, no one really stared or pointed. People respected my privacy as we spent the better part of an afternoon trudging from doctor’s offices to blood sample rooms. We had to wait in an absurdly long line of pregnant women to get an ultrasound, which we had to repeat twice. Finally, our situation was confirmed. Pregnant. Approximately 5 weeks.
Before we had a chance to process the news, the doctor turned to my husband, “Do you want to keep the baby or have an abortion?” He quietly answered the latter. And non-judgmentally she went through two options. One is a series of pills they can administer at the hospital that has its own list of side effects. The other, of course, is surgery. When my husband began translating the first option to me, I shook my head.
“Surgery. I want this over.”
Please understand that at this moment, even more than before, I am terrified. All I can think is no. We are not ready. NO. Not now. I can’t. We can’t. I asked if we could get the surgery immediately, but the earliest we can get the abortion is the following morning. She then laid out the process to my husband in detail, while I failed to keep many of my tears at bay.
More damn tests proceeded to see if I’m able to have an abortion. When I was deemed able to go through the surgery, I was scheduled for the next morning around 9 AM.
At home, I laid in bed and cried. I cried because I was sad. I was crying because I felt guilty. Mostly I was frustrated. I wanted it over. I felt like I couldn’t wait another day. I felt an awareness inside me and it didn’t feel like a growing life to me, only a ticking bomb. We didn’t sleep much that night.
In the morning, I was not allowed to eat or drink anything besides water. The hospital was bustling with people. My husband tried to help me feel better about the situation, but he was also dealing with his own grief. It’s hard on both of us. There are lots of forms to sign. My husband had to pick up the general anesthesia, and some other vials from the hospital pharmacy. I had to bring my own toilet paper, and some pads for after. When we were talking to the surgeons, I noticed that there are many other girls who look younger than me and who have the same stack of papers I do: Blood work, EKG results, ultrasound. Some of them were alone. A few of them had a friend with them. I tried to send some of them a light-hearted smile, which I’m sure turned out more like a grimace. And in a group of four, they took us behind the double doors labeled “surgery rooms”. Then they split us into pairs. Me and another girl followed the nurse into a room, where another doctor called my name and told me to undress everything below my waist. The other girl stared openly as I complied and set my pants and underwear in a tray. Then the nurse led me into the surgery room.
To my shock, I saw I’d been taken to a proper surgery room, equipped with not one, but two tables. One was already occupied with a girl laid on her back with her legs wide open and tied to stirrups. In retrospect I understand the practicality of this, but it was so morbid. Like an assembly line of abortions. My heart was pounding so much I was afraid I might be having an anxiety attack. One of the nurses used my roll of toilet paper to lay on the end of the table. I climbed onto the table and assumed the same position as the lady lying on the table next to me. After they tied my legs onto the stirrups, the nurse told me to relax. I did the exact opposite. The girl next to me stared at me and I looked back at her and tried to give her a reassuring smile, which she returned. Once the anesthesia began to take affect, my nerves slid away and then it was black.
I lost all sense of time. Suddenly, I was gently shaken awake. I heard someone say to me, “It’s ok. It’s over.”
I somehow had been moved onto a gurney and wheeled into a recovery room. But as soon as I heard it’s over, I felt my back ache and pain in my lower abdomen. Then I knew for sure. It was over.
I recall reading once that the most common emotion women feel after an abortion is relief. So surely something must be wrong with me because all I felt was a sudden rush of intense sorrow. I stayed in recovery longer than others because I couldn’t stop weeping. Nurses crowded around and tried to help me calm down because my heart rate was too high. I kept telling them the same thing over and over. Sorry. I’m sorry. I’m not sure who I was saying sorry to. To the nurses? The aborted fetus? I’m not sure.
Those nurses were the definition of support. I couldn’t pick myself off the gurney, but somehow they helped. One of the nurses rubbed my back as I sat up and told me I’d be ok. Another took my underwear and stuck on one of the pads I brought with me. The third nurse took some tissue I had brought and wiped my face. Light-headed from the anesthesia and crying, I needed help getting dressed and help walking to a chair. I sat, still grieving. The nurse was desperately telling me it was ok and wiping my tears. I’m sorry, I said.
After a short while, I felt a strong need to be with the only person who could give me the comfort I needed. My husband. I swallowed my tears and nodded to the nurse I was ready to leave. Walking made me realize how sore I was after the procedure and how dizzy the anesthesia made me feel. A nurse steadied me as I walked back down the hall toward the double doors leading into the waiting room. She tells me I can’t eat spicy food and that I need to lay down as much as I can the next few days. We walk through the doors and she calls for my guardian. My husband springs up from his seat and puts his arm around me, helping me walk.
I’m glad to be in his embrace but I can’t look him in the eye.
“Are you ok?” He asks. “No,” I answer.
We went home in a taxi. Every bump and jolt hurt. When we arrived home, I went to our bed and laid down. I tried not to cry because I can see this is taking a toll on my husband as well and I don’t want him to feel upset. But not crying just isn’t an option. I dissolved into tears and he silently took off his shoes and spooned in behind me. I’m sorry, we said to each other. I fell asleep. When I woke up, he has cleaned everything, and ordered beef stew and bread. He watched me eat every bite.
As I just began a new job, there was no one who worked at my school who I trusted enough to tell about the abortion. So the next morning I had to piece myself back together long enough to teach classes. And the next two weeks went on very similarly. I would go teach classes, walk home, crawl into bed and sleep. I didn’t see my friends. I didn’t want to see my friend or her new baby. I would often burst into tears.
Slowly, after about a week I finally started telling some of my most trusted friends and one of my sisters because I realized I needed to talk to someone other than my husband. They all listened and told me I did what was right for me and I can feel however I need to feel about what happened. One of those friends was my friend with her newborn baby. I went over a little more than a week after the abortion and my friend let me hold her baby girl in my arms for the first time. I held that baby, trying not to start weeping. My friend sat next to me, threw an arm around my shoulder telling me it’s ok to be sad, but I don’t need to feel sad forever.
And so now it’s been three weeks. Am I still sad? Not really. Sometimes. I can at least talk about it without sobbing. Finally, I feel relief. I’m confident in the decision we’ve made.
I’m even more confident in my choice of spouse. Before, I was very cautious with the idea of marriage. It seemed to be an institution that was more convenient for men rather than women. I know too many women where this is the case. If I ever had any doubts about marrying my husband, those two worst days of my life washed all uncertainty away. He doesn’t realize even now how amazing he was — how wonderful he cared for and treated me.
He gave me full agency over this decision. “It’s your body. I will not tell you what to do with it.”
He reassured me that whatever my choice, he would agree with me, and he would continue to love and support me. In the end, it’s a decision we made together, and we dealt with it together. I sometimes think about those other girls at the hospital who had come alone to go through the surgery on their own, and wish those men who had gotten them pregnant had the decency to support them. In those moments I think how happy I am to have someone I can lean on during hard times.
But I cannot go through this again. The next step for me is to obtain better birth control. I had been on the pill before, but since finding out that IUDs are very easy to get in China, I’m already making plans to get one of my own. I want to make the chances of us having children now almost impossible. I want to start a family when we are financially and mentally ready to take care of children. I want to experience that moment where you read pregnant on the test and you burst into tears of joy. But not today. Not anytime soon.