Abortion (Season 1 Episode 2)
The names of some of the guests of this episode have been changed in order to protect their privacy.
“The day I saw my son in my belly, heard him, heard his heart beating, that day changed my life. I know when I got pregnant with him and I know the day I aborted him. He lived for three and a half months.”
How did you meet your boyfriend… Do you consider him your boyfriend?
“Yep, I consider him my boyfriend, I’ve known him for around 3 years. We discovered that we had many similarities, I was drawn to him, his personality, him as an entity.”
In the beginning, I thought that Leila’s story was one of abortion, but it became clear that the story has layers much deeper than abortion itself.
“All of a sudden, we realized that he and I didn’t just love each other, we were also entirely comfortable with each other, and that feeling of peace is the most important part of any relationship.”
Leila is telling me a story of love, a story about love and loss.
I’m Ban Barqawi, host of the podcast “Eib,” a Sowt production. Real human stories which, in the view of society are still controversial, or even taboo. Or, in a word, “Eib (Shame).”
Leila had been in a relationship with the person she loved for 6 months, even though they had known each other for years. And like any relationship, there were great days, there were exhausting days, there was laughter and tears. They grew closer and closer together. Suddenly, they found themselves facing a great test, one of the hardest challenges for a partnership between two people who love each other.
"I am not married, but I do have a sex life that works for me. He (my boyfriend) felt in his heart like something was wrong, that I had to go check. I didn’t agree at first, until after a while, after a week, at that point I was three weeks pregnant.”
A great number of women have irregular periods, so it’s not always immediately clear what the cause is when there is a change in their cycle. Leila is one of those women, at first she didn’t suspect that there was anything wrong, but then it had been a long while and it began to seem like something serious. She decided to take a test.
“I went into the pharmacy, filled with terror, you walk in and each step feels heavier than the last, but the test didn’t work, it came back with an inconclusive result. So I went and bought another test and took it the next day, I couldn’t take the stress anymore!”
Ban: “Did you go to the same pharmacy?”
“No, another pharmacy in another area. You’ve got to hide everything.”
But the second test left no doubt.
“I saw the result and threw the test away from me. I cried my eyes out. Would those two lines destroy my life? That was the first thought that came to my mind. Those two lines will destroy my life.”
When Leila told the father, she was afraid that he would run away and leave her by herself in her predicament. But quite the opposite, he felt responsibility for her and felt guilty because he might have messed up her future. The father stuck with her from the minute he knew, which was lucky for her, because in the next stage, she would need all the support she could get.
“I decided to go by myself.”
She’s talking about the first appointment with the women’s doctor. Choosing a doctor was difficult. She didn’t want to ask her friends or family because she didn’t want anyone to suspect anything. So she relied on herself, and resorted to internet forums until she found the name of a doctor she felt she could trust and feel comfortable around. But even so, it wasn’t a place her boyfriend could accompany her.
“I wanted him (the father) to be there, because I know but I know what the result is, and I know what the result is, for him to have my back and stand next to me, I want him to be my partner and share that moment.”
But she shared that moment only with the doctor, his helper, and the fetus.
"It was close to 3 months, so the head was clear, and the shape of the hands had started to show as well.”
Then, the doctor asked her a question that would change her life.
“‘Do you want to hear the heartbeat?’ Mmmm… I told him yes. He said ‘Are you sure? Because you won’t forget the sound.’ At that moment I understood that there were two hearts, and that beat was a bit of me and a bit of the man I loved, half and half, a beat for me and a beat for him.”
Ban: “The moment you heard the pulse, did you feel like a mother?”
“To be honest, yes. You feel like your mission in life has grown.”
Ban: “You felt those feelings even though you knew there was no other solution before you?”
“It was hard, that part was hard. If I ate something sweet, the fetus would move. When I woke up, it woke up with me. It drank when I drank water. Everything, me and the fetus. Of course I would feel like a mother. Even though I knew that it wouldn’t be born.”
“‘I’m not able to blame you. My job isn’t to judge you. My job is to help you.’”
That’s what the doctor said when it was time for Leila to make her decision.
"'The first question I want to ask you is if you want to give up the pregnancy?’ And I said to him ‘I don’t have a choice but to give it up.’”
Leila is 26 years old, she says that the idea of marriage and children hadn’t motivated her much. She hadn’t planned for a future with a family. But after she became pregnant, the reasons that had pushed her to give up the family life changed.
“I wouldn’t have a choice as long as I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t have a choice but to get rid of the child. There’s no way to think about it. He said to me: ‘Then get married to the father!’ And I said to him: ‘Impossible.’”
Ban: “Why was it impossible?”
“In my situation? Impossible. Because he is Christian and I am Muslim. That’s the thing that in his opinion and my opinion there’s no getting around.”
The Jordanian Penal Code and Public Health laws prohibit abortion except in cases where the pregnancy presents a serious risk to the life of the mother. The procedure can only be undertaken by order of a doctor and with two other doctors with the ability to confirm the necessity of the abortion as witnesses, and with the consent of the pregnant woman. Any deviation from those strictures can be punished with imprisonment, or hard labor, for a period which depends on the circumstances. The other option for Leila would be to have the child out of wedlock, but that choice presents its own legal and social challenges.
“It would’ve been torturous for the baby, really torturous. Because his father was from one religion and his mother from another, because society wouldn’t accept him, because he would have a ‘special’ national number that designated him as a ‘bastard’ that would stay with him for his whole life and make him an outcast.”
Ban: “If the laws in Jordan had been different, do you think you might have felt like you had another choice?”
“I did think about that. If we were to remove the society, if I were able to leave the country.”
Her doctor gave her the name of another specialist who would be able to perform the procedure and save her from her predicament, but with the stipulation that she not say where she got his name. Leila went to see him and scheduled a date for the abortion. But unfortunately for her, she had to wait another two weeks, two more weeks she’d have to stay pregnant with her child.
“Ok, it’s nearly three months, three months and a little, ok so what will happen? Will that complicate the procedure? Will it create problems for me? Maybe he’ll refuse to do the procedure? But my greatest fear was my attachment to him (the fetus).”
But there was no other choice in front of her. I was surprised when she told me that the procedure was registered at the hospital as an abortion, and that they used her real name and national identification number and medical history. But the rest of the information was fabricated.
“I made up the spouse’s name, I made up his job, I made up his age, I made up everything.”
Ban: “Did they ask you to give a reason? Or the doctor to put a reason?”
“Oh of course.”
Ban: “What reason did you give?”
“We said that it was a nonviable pregnancy.”
Leila decided to trust her best friend and told her about the pregnancy. Leila needed her there, especially since the father would not be able to go with her. So they sat together and put together a detailed plan.
“You need to think about what time you’ll get there, and think about what time you’ll leave, you need to think… you need to think about every single thing. What to wear, comfortable or not comfortable, comfortable for when you get out of the procedure? Will you be able to wear pants or no? Will you be able to be home in time for lunch or not..?”
She needed to request a leave of absence from work, pack clothes without anyone noticing, make an excuse for her phone being off for 4 hours, and hide her car. And through all of that, not let on to anyone that anything was going on.
“The night before, I saw the father. We sat together and talked. For two and a half hours, we didn’t even speak at all. Like a funeral. It was my last night with my son. We sat, the three of us, we were a family now! Tomorrow at the same time we wouldn’t be a family any more.”
Ban: “So the day of the appointment came, what did you do that day?”
“That day, I finished work, signed my leave request and left, and prepared myself on the way because I was going say goodbye (to the fetus).”
Leila’s friend was supposed to go with her to the hospital, but they had a misunderstanding and Leila was forced to drive by herself. In the coming hours, she found herself in the middle of the hardest experience of her life by herself. She waited about an hour before entering the operation room.
“In one corner there were iron shelves, one above the other, full of medical tools, and in another corner there was a table which had the tools that the doctor would use, the bag which said it was for the disposal of bio-waste, with a board above it, half meter by half meter, 60 by 70, with instructions on how to perform a D&C abortion with pictures. Why would I want to see that? My name became D&C! ‘Where is the D&C?’ ‘The D&C has arrived.’ ‘Did you give her an IV?’ They asked me how I met my husband, when we got married… All the last questions in the world I wanted to answer. I started crying, I couldn’t control it… enough!”
When the doctor arrived and comforted her, he put his hand on her forehead and patted her leg in a way Leila described as being like a mother calming down her child.
"I remember the very very last moment I said to myself ‘I’m sorry, baby.’ The hardest, the hardest feelings I’ve felt in my life. ‘I’m sorry, baby, I love you.’ Then I slept. It was cold. It felt cold.”
The procedure took less than an hour. For weeks, Leila had been racing against time, and finally, and she was finally done with this difficult stage of her life. But she still had to face one last challenge.
“I got better little bit little. Of course, I was forcing myself because I wanted to go out! The first thing I did was talk to my friend. When I first saw her, she gave me a hug, somewhere between ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘it’s over now.’”
To the unknowing eye, everything had to appear normal. Her friend returned to work, and just a few hours after the surgery, Leila drove home like it was any ordinary day.
"I made it home for lunch. As if nothing had happened.”
Nobody noticed that you’d been gone? Nobody thought that something had changed, that something was up?
“Nothing. The only thing was that my face was yellow and a bit puffy. Only that.”
How long did you stay home?
“Two and a half hours. The moment that I thought I was finally free… that I could finally let my feelings out, was the moment that I saw the father. I felt that I’d returned home. Now I’m able to mourn myself. Now I’m able to blame myself. Now I’m able to torture myself. Now I’m able to feel guilt.
There will come a time where you’ll feel the urge to spit in your own face every time you see yourself. But at that moment you need to forgive yourself. Because you know that if you had brought a child into this society outside of a marriage, you’ve ended his life. However you try to cut it, the situation was against me, but thank God he was with me, and at the very least a person that I love gave me a chance to feel like a mother, even if for a short time. This experience sealed it in my heart that this is the person that I want to spend my life with.”
I’m Ban Barqawi. Did you like this episode? Stay tuned for the next episode, which will discuss the experiences of queer people and how they realized their sexual orientation. Follow Sowt on Facebook and Twitter, and visit our website at sowt.com to find the rest of “Eib” and to listen to the first episode of the podcast “The Trip,” in collaboration with Doctors without Borders, a program that covers the real stories of people who survived wars and crises.