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My first pregnancy was not the result of a one night stand, rape, a carefree night of drugs and alcohol. It did not happen with ‘the wrong man,’ or when I was too young, unemployed, financially or emotionally unstable. In the words of the doctor ‘what do you mean the timing is wrong?’ Long term loving relationship, supportive partner, both employed in well paid, stable jobs, physically healthy, late 20’s, the means to support and love a child – I could tick all the ‘I’m at the perfect stage to start a family’ boxes.
I had no excuse to choose an abortion.
But I did. I chose to terminate my 8 week and 5 day pregnancy for reasons that when I repeat them sound fickle and selfish. I wasn’t prepared. It was too unexpected. I was just getting started in my new career. We still wanted to travel (again). We still wanted to get to know each other (more) before we had children. I didn’t want responsibilities. I didn’t want something to depend entirely on me. I didn’t want to have to live with the consequences of an accident for the rest of my life.
‘You will live with the consequences for the rest of your life which ever option you choose,’ is what she told me.
She was right. I will never forget. I had to make the decision the day after I found out I was pregnant in order to have the option of a medical abortion. My partner was overseas at the time. My parents were also out of the country. I told my partner and a friend over the phone. And I took the second set of pills at home alone.
My friend told me I was ‘strong’ and ‘brave.’ My head told me it was the right thing to do. But my heart remains uneasy. My heart tells me a braver woman would not have closed her eyes and told the nurse she wanted to proceed with the termination, when she saw the tiny smudge that was a life inside her on the monitor. A stronger woman would have taken what life threw at her and listened to what her body was telling her was right. A less selfish woman would not have immediately seen a baby as the end of her life as she knows it; she would have tried to make it work.
Do I regret my decision? No. Was it the right decision? Maybe, maybe not. It was the option I chose and I am learning to live with it. Do I wonder about what might have been had I chose to keep my baby? Always.
View the original version here at Business Day’s site.
Is there something sensational about saying “my first?” I think we all cling onto a trauma we remember, because it gives us an explanation for how we are, and/or because it made us stronger. So we are creatures of sensation, hopefully not creatures of self-pity, or who recycle our experiences in a way that doesn’t help.
My idea of “firstness” has changed to include invisible firsts, things we don’t remember because we have blocked them out, or because we were too small, and I think a lot of people have these kinds of firsts.
I was on a family holiday in the Western Cape in 2012. Our house was full of early morning children making noise, endless gifts, and happiness to be all together again. My happiness was extreme, because I have always looked up to my brothers and sisters enormously, and only recently started to feel that I can connect with all of them, as though before I was behind a film of childhood and inhibition.
My brother was sitting in the lounge with me. I had the strange feeling that he, busying himself with something in his bags, had something to say. I held myself together, tried to juggle with the historical need to impress him, even in stillness, and ignored it. After all, I do have my own things to be getting on with.
He asked if we could go for a walk outside. I thought he might want to discuss an idea for the next step in his career – being at a crossroads, there are various options open to him.
When we were outside on the driveway, he said, “I wanted to talk to you about something that happened, in the past.” I felt a strange feeling of separation, bafflement, and knowledge. I interrupted, saying, “You mean the big fight with dad?” – referring to an enormous battle that I had had to listen to at age 8 or so which contained an anger I could not understand then. I jumped to this assumption though it was clearly not the thing he wanted to talk about, and this was just a delaying tactic coming from my gut.
He went on to explain that he wanted to talk about something that had happened between him (i.e. my brother) and me. Just hearing that, was enough to tell me that it had been a sexual encounter of some sort: this dawned, like a thing I had always known and never suspected. He asked whether there was anything unresolved for me, about this past encounter between us, that I might want to talk about. I explained I had no memory of it at all.
As he spoke I got the sense from him it had been just a once-off thing, though I did not question him closely. He said he had been about 12 and I was about 5 or 6. He had used the intimacy we shared, and my trust in him, and had abused it. I didn’t ask him for specifics so did not find out exactly what happened. My whole mind expanded to take in the bushes we were passing, the stones we were walking over, and all the years and tiny events this explained. I thought out loud that he had been living with this all these years and that it must have been terrible, and he said he had lately started to wonder if it had left scars for me. Much of the shame in his adult behaviour started to fall into place as more clearly understandable. And my idea that “this kind of thing” does not happen to or in my family, broke down like so much dust. With it went any kind of horror this could have held for me. I knew my family was strong enough to engage with this issue (even if it just remained between him and me) and understand this as natural, and possible, and also as a damaging thing.
For many reasons, I know it was not one of the more straightforward “doctor doctor” plays that can be acted out between siblings or friends in childhood. It must have been loaded with his frustrations and resentments he was suffering at the time. That was borne out by the impact the experience did have on me. I understand now why I learned so early to masturbate; why, when I got to the age of 11 or 12, I engaged in similar – coercive but not abusive – sexual play with slightly younger children of about 8 or 9 which I have always felt terrible about. I understand why being physically close to just about anyone, even sitting next to them on the bus, can be embarassingly sexualised for me. I understand the feeling of physical and sexual distrust I felt towards this same brother in my teens. I suspect this experience might also be the reason why, when having an interaction one-on-one with anyone or in a confined space, I at times get a strange feeling of disassociation, an urge to flight.
The night that followed was a strange one, where I went down to the bedrock, and looked at it, emotionally speaking. I thought I saw something small sitting on it, a potential for weakness and passivity down there that I wanted to fight back against in every fretful and determined way that I could. I felt, wrongly or rightly, that the weakness had been left to me through this experience that I did not even remember. I thought about what emotional damage means, and how if the circumstances had been just a little bit different – if he were meaner, if my family were a bit different, if he had been someone older with another set of intentions instead of just a scared, powerless, curious 12 year old boy, how different and harder my life would have been. I gained a lot of respect for people who have such a challenging road to tread, to recover and to forgive an abuser.
Several other family revelations followed that holiday – for some reason, it was time to air the dirty laundry. I was tired by the end, and this issue had taken a back seat in my mind. But it was important, I feel he gave me the key to my own life in a way, by telling me.
It also made me think about what it means to be a person and to be as complex as we are: that these early experiences and many others can leave us with special defenses, mental loops, or ways we cling to control, like little animals biting our own tails for comfort. The loops return us to ourselves, and can look like madness or eccentricity to the rest of the world. The things we go through can leave us with sensitivity to others, sometimes, and intensity that ratchets up and down the scale. And I wouldn’t give that up.
You have come home.
I can only imagine how it must feel for you to have re-entered our frightful, violent motherland again. I can’t say anything to make you less scared, or less mistrustful of the fragile security you have experienced here. It must make you want to ask yourself ‘when will I be next’ and feel constantly afraid. I am so sorry that this has been your experience.
I think though, that there is no place like our country. That there are no people as down and out who remain generous and kind. There are no women like ours, beaten and raped and poverty stricken, who open their hearts to each new day and keep on going. This doesn’t mean we must burden ourselves with flying the South African flag high, or trying to push against the violence. Our first and most important priority as women and feminists is to take care of ourselves so that we feel able to encounter the challenges we face here. If that means we need a time to be away from here, then we must take it and feel grateful that we have been offered the opportunity.
I remember when I came back from London’s security after just three months there, and felt enraged that I couldn’t just LIVE here. It took a long time to be able to walk around without feeling frightened. With your particular experiences, it will likely take much longer.
Don’t be too hard on yourself about the difficulty you’re experiencing in re-immersing yourself with a country at war with itself.
The only thing I want to say is don’t lose hope. One day you’ll come home and it will feel like home again. The home of ice cold cokes sipped outside corner cafes in the warm sunlight that I really believe is like no other sunlight on earth.
We can’t be the change we want to see when we are afraid. We have to take steps to embolden ourselves. Take those baby steps when and however you can.
I’m with you all the way.
I was 14 and everything seemed wrong and hypocritical, and also it was at that stage where you feel you’re the first to ever experience it.
Social compression and boredom forced me into what my parents would have called ‘rebellion’ and I was amazed, as Lucy must have been in Narnia, to find a microcosm of disillusioned deracialized children from alternative schools, who accepted me, allowed me to feel part of some broader adolescent experience. I pantomimed appreciation for third-rate metal bands, learned to smoke pot and read Catcher in the Rye.
It was a time of blurry-faced young people molten in alchoholic fumes, and hitching rides with truckers at night in order to find some stranger’s party.
I met this Cyril (age 17) in one of these dreamy nighttime sprawls. He had an archaic name and a face like an angel, a young steam-punk Narcissus trawling the darkened suburbs with the grace of a gazelle. I was in love with him the minute I saw him, and I never ever believed he could love me back. In the way of adolescents, we ensnared one another with Myspace and sexual innuendos. One night we got to sleep over in the same house, and, in the middle of the night we both jolted up and started kissing. I could not believe I was holding someone so liquid and golden in my arms. I hadn’t kissed many boys then.
When I started going out with this Boy, my two worlds fused: the daytime one, in which I was a nerd at a private school, with my secret nighttime self. Cyril in the daylight, in my parents’ eyes, was this scruffly youth with broken sneakers and a sullen demeanor. He was allowed to sleep over but emphatically in different rooms.
So began a ritual of sneaking into the spare room at night, where we would undress one another, suck and kiss each other’s bodies until our mouths were numb with a slightly sour taste. I gave my first hand job, blowjob and so on. I was slightly alarmed at penises and even more so when he tried to put it in me. I was small and sexually premature, despite being hell bent on rebellion.
So began a bad time. I was convinced something was wrong with my body, and the pain was excruciating. I would clutch his throat to stop him breathing so loud, and I would try separate myself from my experience and focus on the dark passage where my family lay sleeping.
Because of the creaking bed, I made him try take me on the floor. I remember how it felt to be flattened between the wooden floorboards and his body. The feeling of that dull fleshy instrument against some unspecified region in my vagina, shoveling unsuccessfully into me.
In the daytime, my mother started coming down on me. In a terrible voice, she told me she was not an idiot; she noticed ‘all the tissues in the bin’. That was all she said about it, but our mutual discomfort slapped us both in the face. She thought I was giving hand jobs. The truth made me want to cry. Cyril continued to sleep over and so the ritual of trying to lose my virginity continued, even in the face of mine and my mother’s red-faced shame.
Not only had my contradictions fused, the once binary parts of my life began to interchange. Now me and Cyril tried to lose my virginity in the bright afternoon. At night, as I lay next to his sleeping body, watching the clock for when I should tiptoe back to my room, I felt young and little and wanted badly to be a child again.
I was staving off penetration like it was death, but I began to tell myself that both were inevitable, and I must release my body to him. That afternoon something was different. He put on the condom and moved into me with fluidity we had never experienced, and I could feel myself permeable to him. My overriding feeling was triumph, that I was not an anomaly. Once it was over I held the condom, still warm from my body, and contemplated the semen inside.
That night we went to ‘The Fountain’. A damning movie to lose one’s virginity to if ever there was one. I have since re-watched the movie and have felt tired and disappointed.
I’ve always seen the value in being alone. I might not like it, but I see its value because it keeps me from getting hurt.
Being the lone wolf, however, is not a strategy that gets one very far. For the past couple of years, I’ve let many people into my life. I’ve told them so many of my secrets. I thought that the hardest secret to tell would be about my bipolarity. But it turns out that I’d rather people know that I’m bipolar than that I’m bisexual.
I know that there’s nothing wrong with me. I know that I deserve to be happy and to love openly. But other people don’t know that. It’s amazing, because people who have been so accepting of my bipolarity always have the same things to say about bisexuality.
“But how do you know?” (How do you know if you’re straight?)
“Ugh, I couldn’t like a guy who slept with guys!” (If sleeping with guys is so gross, why do you want to do it?)
“Ugh, that’s so greedy.” (‘Bisexual’ does not equal ‘screwing everything that moves’.)
“You’re just confused.” (I’m not. I’m not and you don’t have the right to tell me that I am.)
I’ve only told one person that in the past three years. She was supportive, but confused. She thought that, because I’d never slept with a guy or a girl, I couldn’t know whether I actually liked both. But her response was generally good, so I wanted to tell more people.
I tried, I really did. I called some of my friends into my room for a study/snack break. Bisexuality came up because a song played on my laptop that was sung by a bisexual male artist. And before I knew it, all but one of them were saying the same old ignorant and hurtful things. I got upset, but I tend to get upset by all prejudice (imagine that), so I don’t think anyone noticed anything out of the ordinary. But it hurt. It hurt more than anything has hurt in a long time because I knew that they would feel differently about me if I told them. Our jokes would all seem inappropriate (we’re masters of innuendo), our hugs would change.
So now, I’m beginning to see the value in being along again. The real me, the one I lie about every day, is alone. And I notice her more and more every day.