My story: In October 2013 I found out that I was pregnant. If we back track from there, I was a statistical marvel. The 0.01% chance that you can do everything right but still things go wrong. I had recently split with my boyfriend, but during our relationship I was on hormonal birth control (Nuva Ring) as well as using timing-based approached to prevent pregnancy. Despite this, methods do fail and that is exactly what happened to me.
I was involved enough in the community to know that it would be a challenge to access an abortion, but I didn’t know the scope of what I was up against. Unable to get at any clear information, I called the QEII in Halifax. They were quite supportive and gave me the contact information for the single clinic on PEI that would reliably give a referral to a woman without a family doctor and instructed me on how to proceed. The next day I called the clinic and asked for an abortion referral appointment which was scheduled for almost two weeks later. At this point I had no clear idea of how far along I was or what I was about to go through.
When I finally did have the appointment, no examination took place. The doctor was quite clear in her suggestion that I should go to Fredericton and pay $800 to have the procedure done in the private clinic. I explained to her that it was my right to obtain the service for free, covered by Canadian health care, and that I wished to access it as such. The doctor then told me clearly that wait times for ultrasounds on PEI can be up to 35 weeks and that my appointment is considered non-emergent and therefore low priority. I was told that if I chose to get the procedure done in Halifax I would have to get blood work and an ultrasound in PEI, and that it was very likely that people in my community would work in these clinics. The doctor stressed that there was no way to keep my chart private in this regard, and that it would be up to me to deal with the associated “stigma”. Leaving this appointment I had no idea when the follow up would occur, and still do not know the stage of pregnancy or what the abortion procedure would entail. This ambiguity still remains one of those most challenging emotional situations I have faced in my life.
Almost two weeks later I was called by the hospital and given a date for an ultrasound the following week. The technicians at this appointment were not informed of the choice that I had made and proceeded conversationally as though the pregnancy was planned. You can imagine what hearing “Congratulations!” and “Would you like to see the screen?!” feels like when you are already coping with an emotionally intense decision. Again, no details from this appointment were shared with me at the time and I was told that the results would be sent back to the doctor who provided the referral the following week. Again, I was left waiting for a call without being provided any context, time frame or support.
I was told at my initial appointment that the doctor would not submit the referral until they have received the results from all of these appointments. I was not informed when the results were in, when the referral was submitted, or given the results regarding the pregnancy status. During this time I got a call from the clinic explaining that they had misplaced my blood work and telling me that I must come in and repeat the testing. How does something like this happen? Another hurdle. I was left in the dark entirely with limited or no access to clear guidelines and supports. Throughout this month I wasn’t myself. I was riddled with morning sickness and I was emotionally detached. I am lucky to have not struggled with depression throughout my life but this experience was the closest I have come. In a word, it was terrifying.
Eventually I received a call from the QEII in Halifax with an appointment date. This brought the entire process up to 6 weeks. More than a month of ambiguity, fear and confusion. After this point things began improving and in some regards I do consider myself lucky. My ex-boyfriend was there for me throughout the process, he was very supportive and came with me to Halifax. The nurses in Halifax were amazing. I had a vehicle, the flexibility to take the time off without question and the support systems that I needed. Many women are not as lucky.
In Halifax, I was informed again that the QEH in PEI had incorrectly labelled my blood work results and had to have them re-done the morning of my procedure. This makes two additional tests simply because of negligence in our provinces hospitals. For any other non-pregnancy related blood work at QEH I have never had a single error or mis-label, so it makes me wonder whether the results of women seeking abortions are treated with less respect and importance than other patients results.
Other than this additional testing, the procedure in Halifax was organized and supportive. I met with counsellors before and after. I got to have a meeting with the doctor providing the procedure before and he gave me a clear outline of what it would entail. I was counseled about birth control options (given my unique circumstances all of the doctors suggested unanimously that I get an IUD). Interestingly, I met another woman in the waiting room who was also 10 weeks pregnant, but she had only found out 2 weeks ago. A stark contrast with how long it takes for Island women to access these services.
I have always been a pro-choice advocate, and I was surprised that when put in the situation it wasn’t nearly as cut and dry as I had always envisioned it would be. I didn’t second guess my decision, but the immense stigma and judgement I felt on PEI was something I could not have anticipated. Even when you are sure of your decision, it isn’t an easy one. I am proud to live in a country that supports woman in having the right to choose, but I am ashamed of how our province treated me and the many other women making this tough choice.
Anonymous – PEI