Did you know that in Switzerland you can get a pregnancy test in the vending machines at pretty much every train station? It’s a little, purple and white box, in between the snickers and the tic tacs with “maybe baby” scrawled across the front in chunky, friendly letters. It might as well be a snack.
5th April 2015, 7.30 pm and I was late. My body works like a Swiss clock and it’s not unusual for my period to start at the exact hour. That month, for the first time it didn’t. It was a Thursday evening, I was about to go on a long weekend trip with my best friend. Just for peace of mind I bought a 15 Franc, snack-sized pregnancy test. I slipped in each of the three heavy five Franc coins into the red vending machine hearing them clonk against the metal frame.
I went home, well it wasn’t really a home, it was a shared flat with a friend of a friend, where I slept for three days a week. It didn’t look or feel like my own place, but it was close to my work in one of the two cities I was working, juggling two jobs I loved, straight out of university. I was bright-eyed, eager, and naively excited about the beginning of my professional life and officially becoming an adult. Whatever that meant.
I peed in a cup, whilst making a sandwich and brushing my teeth – so grown up! I placed the stick in the plastic cup and took a bite out of my sandwich. Ew, the cheese must have gone off a few days ago. Crumbs falling, I started packing my bag. “Why do short weekend trips feel more stressful than they should?” I thought as I reminded myself not to forget the pee cup in the bathroom before my roommate took a shower.
Two faint lines. Pregnant. Double check the instructions. Still pregnant.
Suddenly, everything hit me like a wave of shock. My boobs felt tight against my bra, my tummy bulged, I had flashbacks to the previous week of me having to puke early in the morning on the way to work. Seriously, how did I not notice? I should have known! Was I too busy to notice my body changing?
I instinctively called my best friend, numbly packing the rest of my bag, telling her in disbelief, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. An eerie calmness came over me, I didn’t go into panic-mode, I didn’t shed a tear, because I knew in that moment right there and then, there was nothing I could do to change what was happening inside me. Cancelling our weekend trip wouldn’t change anything. Everything would be closed for the next three days. Welcome to Switzerland.
I could not have a child. I was still one myself. Or was I really? 25 years old, first job – well, two jobs – I guess I could have been considered on my feet-ish. My mum had me when she was 26. And as a gullible kid I thought that was THE perfect age and always said I wanted to have my first child at 26. Quick math, the exact age I would be 9 months from now.
My best friend and I had one of the most bonding trips we’ve ever had. We switched from her yelling at me about how irresponsible I was, to her promising she’d always be by my side and if we have to switch cocktail evenings to afternoon playdates, so be it. We envisioned scenarios of what my life and career would look like – or not. We were in a magic, time-capsuled space of 48 hours, where nothing would ever be the same once we got back to normal life on Monday and I’d have to make a decision that would fundamentally change me.
Arriving at the hospital my heart sunk into the deepest part of my stomach. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me and judgment oozing out of their upturned noses. Beautifully put-together nurses, with their tight hairdos and pity-ridden forced smiles. It was all very professional, medical and sort of standard procedure. What else did I expect?
Until I had to sign a piece of paper that stated that I was neither physically nor mentally capable of raising a child. A second shock wave went over me. But my decision was clear as my name and the date on the bottom of the paper.
Mifepristone. I took the first pill there and then, the doctor watching me, not a sense of empathy in her demeanor.
Misoprostol. The second pill. Swallowed back with the tears I felt ashamed of sharing in front of the doctor who looked like she wanted to get back to actual work.
I did the same. The office was close to the hospital. Everyone assumed I’d had a long lunch break and hardly noticed I’d been gone. I left a bit earlier than usual and bought myself a yoghurt on the way home.
My mum likes to tell me the story about how her biggest pregnancy craving when I was in her tummy was yoghurt. One day the cravings got so bad my dad drove her to the shops and she couldn’t wait any second longer, so she sat next to the car in the parking lot, scooping yogurt out of the cup with her bare hands. I love that picture and the fact that I already seemed to have a personality then.
I love yoghurt. The smooth calming texture as it runs down my throat. It’s my go-to comfort food.
With it’s little Swiss integrated clock my body did exactly what the doctor said it would do and the cramps started 2 hours later. I sat on the toilet in the cold bathroom and the third shock wave hit.
Cold tears ran down my face. You know when you’re angry or in love – or both – and you feel tears of rage and passion hit your hot cheeks alive with emotion? These were cold tears, sad tears, helpless, ugly tears covering my whole face. Everything I’d bottled up leading up to this moment found its way out my body as I simultaneously cried, bled and puked. My bare feet were shakingly placed on the cold tiles, the warm sweat from my slight fever collected on the soles of my feet turned cold as soon as it came in contact with the floor. I had one hand clambering over the bathtub. Half of me wished I hadn’t put on a brave face and told my best friend I didn’t need her, the other half glad I was alone in the most vulnerable state I had ever been in.
The physical pain itself was bearable, sort of like a bad period ache. It felt fair to feel pain and I had been waiting for some higher form of punishment.
Cue the fourth shock wave: the emotional pain. It was wrenching. It felt like I was being ripped open and something was leaving my body. Something I told to leave my body. I puked over the side of the bathtub again. Instinctively cleaning it up, washing it down, keeping the bathroom clean like any good roommate should.
My roommate didn’t hear a thing. Or maybe she did.
As I stood up, I turned around to look down the toilet. Ever since being a kid I have been fascinated by my body. I kept each one of my teeth, wanted the doctors to give me stitches back and am weirdly amazed every time I empty my menstrual cup. This was more than the contents of a regular period cup. Gooey brown red clumps. One piece was the size of a large lime. I leant over the bathtub to vomit again, but there was nothing left inside me.
I stared into the red abyss, until it blurred with the last few tears before I flushed.
I tiptoed back to my room, the light under my roommate’s door still shining as she was chatting away on the phone. I didn’t want her pity. I didn’t want her to know. I didn’t want anyone to know. Ever.
I lay in bed, shivering a bit, the fever wearing off as I took out my phone. The cold blue screen glared at my tear stained face. Facebook refresh. Life around me went back to normal with a downward swipe.
Two days later I went home home, to my parents house, still a bit puffy eyed. No-one knew what I had been through and it was better that way. I didn’t have the words to talk about what had happened and how I came to the final decision, which had somehow been clear all along. I walked into the kitchen, my bare feet on the kitchen floor. My mom looked up at me and knew something was not ok. I told her I had had a bit of a cold as I moved closer to her. She knew there was something else. I sat on her lap and started to cry. As she held me close and my feet lifted off the ground slightly, the warmth running back through my toes to the rest of my body. I told her everything I thought I would never tell her. My face buried in her chest out of comfort and not being able to look her in the eyes
She rocked me like a baby in an embryonic position. A very large baby. Her baby.
The fifth and final wave came over me. Slow, but all-encompassing. A wave of relief. My mum held me close for as long as she could. No judgement, just love. Pure love, like only a mother can have. No resentment, just forgiveness. Forgiveness only a mother can give.
I hope I can do the same for my daughter one day.
This personal essay was written by an anonymous friend.