Photo: The Broadly Gender Spectrum; Getty Images/Inti St. Clair, Inc. Editing: Djanlissa Pringels
"Women are better at talking about it than men."
This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
When we talk about men and abortions, it's normally to stress that they shouldn't legislate bodies that aren't theirs. But of course, millions of men across the world are affected by abortions, and many of them experience their own feelings of grief, guilt and shame that come with abortion stigma.
We reached out to men whose partners went through the procedure, to learn more about the other side of the story.
We found out my girlfriend was pregnant in the spring of 2018, even though we were using contraception. Just a month before that, we happened to have had a conversation about what we would do in that situation. I was sure I didn't want her to have an abortion, but my girlfriend didn't know how she felt.
After the pregnancy test, things changed. She knew right away she definitely didn't want a baby. I was still at uni - it wasn't the best situation to raise a child. I still had my doubts, because I've always known I wanted to be a young father. Growing up, my dad was terminally ill, so I missed out on an active father figure. I kept going back and forth - at times it felt like the perfect moment to start a family, but rationally, I knew it wasn't possible. Eventually, my girlfriend put her foot down.
Before the procedure, we had a GP appointment, which went terribly. The GP insinuated that she didn't actually want the abortion and I was dismissed as the bad guy. We left his practice angry and disappointed, it only made the situation worse.
Our appointment was at 8AM at an abortion clinic in Roermond [200km from the Hague, where Rik lives]. All the other clinics were fully booked. Unlike our GP, the people at the clinic were very helpful and non-judgemental. I stayed in the waiting room during the operation, I felt I had to be there in case anything happened.
The days after the abortion were the hardest. My girlfriend's hormonal balance was totally messed up. I felt like her pain was my fault. Sex still isn't as fun and carefree as it used to be. The topic feels taboo even now.
You can't just go around telling everyone you feel like shit because your girlfriend had an abortion. I made a very conscious decision about who to tell. I was afraid of people misunderstanding or judging, but also that I wouldn't be able to control myself if someone reacted negatively.
In some weird way, the experience brought us closer and made us stronger. We're really looking forward to being ready for kids.
I was living in New York when it happened. I was 16, she was 17 and we had unprotected sex. She was convinced she was infertile because she had had problems with her ovaries, but a few weeks later, she texted me to say she was pregnant. I was shocked.
She said she wanted to go to an abortion clinic with a friend and asked if I could chip in to pay for it, since abortions aren't covered by the American healthcare system. We also didn't want to tell our parents. I agreed, but I was 16 and had no money, so I was completely stressed out. I had to find US$400 [308 euros in 2010] within a couple of weeks, so I sold a lot of weed.
After the abortion, it took a few weeks for me to feel the relief. At first, I was scared she would blame me for everything, but that didn't happen. We talked about it superficially a few times, and it did create some tension. I wasn't sure how much she would let me in emotionally. I felt a lot of shame and guilt. The procedure she had to have was my fault - that's how I felt about it.
The abortion made me realise for the first time how important it is to be financially conscious and that I wasn't just a sexual being - I was able to reproduce.
It's sad that there's so much shame around abortion. Both of our families are very progressive and pro-choice - we'd internalised that negativity from broader society.
I didn't really understand what it all meant back then. It was the first "adult" emergency I had to deal with on my own. But the right and responsibility to make this decision is of course way more important for women. Abortions are a woman's choice since her body is at risk, not mine. And while the person actually having the abortion is always the most important, everyone should be involved in protecting the right to choose.
My wife had two abortions, one four years ago and one two years go. About a year after our first child was born, she got pregnant again because we were both - very stupidly - not really paying attention to birth control. It was terrible timing. She had just opened a pub and I was about to start studying again. We had decided we wanted more children, but it wasn't right time.
Both times I felt that I was mainly there for support. I wasn't allowed in the room during the consultations or the procedure, which is good for many women, but makes you feel left out if you're in a loving relationship. You just have to try and sense how heavy the experience was, you have to make do with the signals and words you get from your partner.
It was really sad, but the grief also provided a certain comfort. We could be sad together. The pain lasts a while. The whole thing is a bit unreal, like you're breaking up with someone you barely know, but who you had a huge crush on. In the following weeks, I noticed I was thinking about it a lot less than she did. The grief came back to her much more frequently; she was in far more pain than I'd imagined. It makes sense because she also felt the physical effects.
I am glad that abortion is a choice in the Netherlands, but it still isn't really a subject you can casually bring up. Luckily, I had friends I could talk to. I felt ashamed because I knew people who had tried everything and couldn't conceive and I really wanted it to work out for them. I also found it difficult to talk about, because I felt those emotions weren't mine to have and I needed to focus on my wife's emotions because they were more important. I think that's why it's difficult to have a more open discussion about abortion - women are better at talking about it than men.*Name has been changed
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