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Life in the Time of Coronavirus (3)

Posted on Apr 16, 2020 by

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Today I’ll publish only one story from the Coronavirus series, because this one is a bit longer than the rest and it deals with a more delicate subject. The story might be upsetting for some, informative for others. It shows that life with goods and bads, weird and unexpected is not pausing just because “it’s Corona-time”. I am grateful to our storyteller that she agreed to share this with us.

A Woman,

the Netherlands

What I had planned to write about in this interview was a short semi-cynical view on the pressure for self-improvement, the need for privilege self-checks and perhaps something about the importance of developing some collective mental resilience and empathy in these weird times. What I’ll actually be writing about is my experience with abortion in the Covid-19 Netherlands of April 2020.

Last week, after noticing a delay I was attributing to the change to a self-isolation lifestyle and its toll on my stress levels, I decide to take the first pregnancy test of my adult life. Just to put my mind at ease. There was not much to worry, I knew when the sex had happened, I knew it had been protected, nothing went wrong that me or my one-time partner were aware of at the time. Just a couple of days after that, I had moved to staying at home. So overall, high chance of just an expected hormonal imbalance and low chance of anything else.

Except that, before the 5 seconds of “sample collecting” were over, a blue plus sign was showing and I had the feeling you have when film scenes become real life and you’re not quite sure how to deal with it. A bit like this whole social distancing story which still feels like a surreal movie sometimes. Today is my 28th day of social distancing and in the past week I had a positive pregnancy test, worried about being able to be received for my appointment, and reflected a bit on what it means to go through this process in the Netherlands during a pandemic.

I’ll be honest and say that I approached the whole situation with a degree of amusement and curiosity. I mean, out of all times to need to organize the logistics of a pregnancy termination, a global pandemic is certainly an unusual time.

Think of (and I did think of all these, believe me) the taken for granted aspects that suddenly don’t apply. Accompanied by a friend? Tricky, a lot of people I know practice hard-core social distancing and wouldn’t expose themselves or their families to a full afternoon in a clinic waiting room. Needing to take public transportation to and from the clinic? Yeah, virus galore. And to make things more exciting, the clinic’s home page has a big announcement in red reading “you will not be permitted to enter and will need to reschedule if you show any symptoms”.

Great, there commenced my first serious overthinking episode; I strongly hoped no such symptoms appear in the space of the 3 and a half days between my finding out and my appointment.

Luckily, all went well. The doctor at the Abortuskliniek Amsterdam was lovely. I went straight to them without a GP referal, with a call on Wednesday morning and the actual visit on Friday. I am not fully sure, but I believe they may have replaced the initial conversation with a phone one due to the current situation.

Depending on how far along you are in your pregnancy, you might need to have a “5 day waiting/thinking time”. I am very happy I didn’t need to do that, and honestly think having needed to wait longer would have been unnecessarily stressful and also an unwritten message that something about my decision and other women’s decision is not fully reliable and needs at least the chance for further consideration. Aw wait, I may have heard that view somewhere else.

I was eager to schedule the actual procedure as soon as possible, both because I had zero doubt about my decision and because the more it got delayed the more my brain went into overthinking all the possible ways in which I could suddenly get Coronavirus symptoms and not be able to get it done.

Some reflection that I had in the past few days:

  • Listening to the latest episode of the Damn, Honey podcast (a Dutch feminist podcast which you can listen to on Spotify) I found out that the Netherlands is one of the countries where the use of the abortion pill (or pills, to be precise) is lower compared to the in-clinic alternative. In most European countries the opposite is true. I understand this has to do with a preference of Dutch medics due to the legal status of performing abortions.
  • I was somehow surprised to find out that in the Netherlands, abortions are part of a list of procedures/actions to which citizens can be legally submitted to under very specific circumstances. The right of police to grab someone harder when arresting them is part of the same list. This has implications on a legal level for all professionals involved in performing abortions. And, if I’m to sum it up in my words, has the implication that abortion is seen as an “acceptable aggression” and not a right.
  • While I didn’t have any doubt about wanting this procedure, I wasn’t fully sure about which of the two options of having it done I should go for. I did feel like I was missing some information when calling the clinic, and while the reception person did give me some details about the procedure for both options, I somehow had the feeling I wasn’t receiving the whole picture, so I asked to call them back with my decision of which one I prefer and used to time to do some more research. I ended up going for the pills, took one at the clinic on Friday and the second set at home on Sunday.
  • Every one of my friends were very supportive during the past days and I definitely had a very good feeling about it all. However, one observation I couldn’t help but make is that there still seems to be an expectation that any woman going through this will inevitably have some “feelings” about it, sooner or later. And well, I can’t deny that the physical part is quite exhausting (strong consistent pain for 6-7 hours straight), but so are other interventions. Like that time I had my wisdom tooth taken out and couldn’t move my mouth for a week, yet no one asked me about my feelings. So maybe it’s worth thinking about why this projection of inevitable emotionality exists, and how we can truly start seeing it as a personal experience.
  • Overall, the whole process was smooth and not stressful, but that was also due to the mental comfort I had of knowing exactly how far along I was in the pregnancy and how quickly the appointment went. It definitely could be better. Only 13 places exist in the Netherlands that can conduct this procedure, and if I were part of a vulnerable group needing to stay at home, the fact that telemedicine is not possible in the case of the abortion pill would have definitely made things more difficult for me.
Soup provided by friends during an unusual weekend aka the only thing you can eat during 7 hours of stomach cramps

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