We have a mug filled with flowers in our bathroom, it is the body of a pregnant person with the words “I should have danced all night” inscribed on it. These words have haunted me from the moment I saw the word “pregnant” on my test.

St. Stephen’s night I was in a nightclub with my friends. I went outside at one point and saw a guy I occasionally work with who I had gotten with once before, he was older, and I enjoyed his attention. We were talking, and he convinced me to go back to his house near town. He removed the condom at one point which I thought was fine because he didn’t “cum” in me. I ran back to town because my mother was collecting my friends and I. No one asked any questions and I thought nothing of it.

I was in sixth year in secondary school. I was 17 years old coming up to my pre Leaving Cert exams. My friend had whispered to me one day in maths class that she was scared she was pregnant, I jokingly laughed with her that I might the same and we would be grand. Weeks passed her period came, mine didn’t. She was the only one who knew. We kept laughing about it until it felt more serious. I did some research and found out the more you stressed about it the more you delayed your period. I convinced myself it would be fine.

One Wednesday night when both my parents were out, I drove to the nearest late-night pharmacy. I received what I thought were explicitly judgemental looks from the male pharmacist. I went into my spare room and peed and waited and prayed for my suspicions to be wrong. They were not. I texted my best friend, who I was fighting with at the time, she immediately reassured me she was there for me. We decided we would get the 7-hour bus to Marie Stopes in Belfast and say we wanted to go shopping. I even started dropping hints to my mum about it the next day.

I emailed Marie Stopes that night and to be honest I hadn’t even considered any other option after my research. If I could have gotten an abortion the next day I would have. For me that was my only choice. My child would have been born in September, I would have been eighteen and a half. I would have to either sit my leaving cert 7 months pregnant or not at all. I don’t believe I would have been able to go to college or to work.  To some people that may sound selfish and I can understand that, but I knew I wasn’t ready. Even to this day any close encounter with a baby/child reaffirms that for me. Pro-life people say every life is precious, but I wouldn’t have been able to give that child any life. I wouldn’t have been able to provide financially, mentally or emotionally for that child. I haven’t told the father which I am aware might seem unfair, but I knew my decision and wasn’t prepared to have that contested as I know it was the right one for me.

After my initial phone consultation, I learnt I could not go to Belfast unless I was suicidal and numerous doctors signed off on it. I was in the middle of studying for what we are told are the most important exams of your life, trying to decide my future and plan a trip to England. To say the thought of suicide hadn’t crossed my mind is an understatement. The pain of feeling I couldn’t tell anyone, the shame I felt and that I would bring to my family especially my parents.

Fortunately, my brother was in college in London at the time. I told my mum that the plan had changed, we would go over visit my brother, stay a night with him, do a bit of shopping and get a late flight home to celebrate being finished our pre exams. It was midterm and all my friends were so jealous of me going on holidays. So, the day after Valentine’s day I had my pre French oral exam and then got the flight to London. We arrived at my brother’s flat which he shared with a few friends. We ate cereal and I pretended to watch First Dates. We went to bed early because we said we wanted to get as much shopping as possible done. My brother said he would bring us to Oxford Street at for 9am but we said no we were going to get up earlier than that. I could see he was hurt, but my appointment was made for 8.45am and it was one of the first times in my life I wanted to be early. When we got on the 6am bus my friend didn’t have an oyster card and the bus driver refused to let her on. There were no purchase points around and if we didn’t get this bus we would miss our next connecting one. My voice was breaking as I pleaded with the bus driver. He asked where we were going to and when I told him he immediately told us to just sit down. I still believe he knew.

I organised my abortion through Marie Stopes and I’ve honestly have never had healthcare like it. From the initial phone consultation to the receptionist at the last moment I left the clinic they were exceptional. I never once felt like a stupid shameful young slut that I felt like in Ireland. They were considerate and caring in their work especially in the way they conducted their medical assessment and the fact the nurse angled the ultrasound scan away from you.

I found out I was later in my pregnancy than I thought I was. I was told I couldn’t get a medical abortion as it wouldn’t work, and I can vividly remember my heart sinking. I envisaged going home and having to come back, how I could lie to my parents again, how I would afford it, when could I go with school, the worries were endless. The nurse was amazing at calming me down and informing me I could still get a surgical abortion that day if they had an availability. They took into account my flight home and fitted me in later that day, for that I am forever grateful.

We went away to a shopping centre, came back a few hours later and this time I walked into the centre alone. I sat alone in the waiting room watching Four in a Bed for what felt like forever. The waiting room was packed, and I desperately wanted my name to be called. A nurse brought me upstairs and instructed me on what to get changed into. She led me into the prep room where I had to put my legs into stirrups.  I cannot remember her face, but I will never forget how much I appreciated her holding my hand as I went under general anesthetic.

When I woke up I was lying on a bed in a room surrounded by other women. There was a nurse’s station in front of me, as I opened my eyes I immediately felt the mental and physical pain and began to cry. It struck me that no one else was crying, this also struck the nurse who rushed over to me. Again, she was exceptionally kind offering me tea and painkillers. I felt an inordinate amount of relief but also sadness that I was doing this journey on my own. I waddled to the bathroom and realised that someone had changed my underwear to an adult nappy. I remember thinking how strange and wrong it felt that the last time someone changed me was my mother when I was a child. Now it was a person I didn’t even know in a country I didn’t call my home. I was warned I couldn’t leave until I peed to ensure everything was okay, but I couldn’t and lied to the nurse.

I left the clinic with my friend; a pro-life protester was outside the clinic shouting obscenities at me. I have never seen such a disregard for a human being as I saw in that man; shouting at a young woman who very obviously had just undergone a trauma. We hurried past and it finally hit me that my mum was not with me. I knew she would have stood up for me. We sat in Starbucks and I have not felt such elation since. The worry that had been consuming my life since the start of January was finally over.

I sat on the last row of the plane and read an article on the Kardashians. My best friend’s mum collected us and when I was dropped home my parents were delighted to see me. I went through a scathing amount of lies of what we did that day, how amazing it was, how unfortunately there wasn’t much really that I wanted to buy. I didn’t feel any real pain since I left the clinic.

The next evening my mum had been out and came home drunk. I had been in bed in agony most of the evening. She came into my pitch-dark room bumping into things as I silently sobbed in pain. I told her my period cramps were bad and she tried to help but I ended up snapping at her to get out.

I know I would be classed as having a “bad” or “unnecessary” abortion by some people. I wasn’t raped, I didn’t have a foetus with FFA, the pregnancy wasn’t due to incest. I was just a 17-year-old girl who should have been more careful. I only blame myself for what happened to me, but I blame so many people for the order in which I had to obtain my procedure. And I was one of the lucky ones.

I had the freedom to drive and buy my pregnancy test. I was able to research and plan my trip from my phone. I got pregnant at a “good time” because I only had to wait a few weeks until we had midterm. I had the money saved up from working the previous summer. I had the support of my best friend. I had so many things available and accessible to me that so many pregnant people in Ireland don’t have. Abortion access in Ireland as its stands is deplorable. If I was at home in Ireland I would have been able to get a medical abortion weeks earlier, and I believe I wouldn’t have felt as ashamed and been able to open up to my parents and closer friends.

I never received any follow up consultation due to lack of supports available and my own desire not to find help. A weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I swiftly moved on. I had my 18th birthday, finished my Leaving Cert, went to college did all the things I have been planning since the previous year and life moved on seemingly unaffected.

It is now coming up to two years since my abortion and its becoming harder and harder. I’m actively involved in the repeal campaign and not having many people to talk to is wearing me down. My boyfriend is truly amazing and has been since the day I told him, helping me in every capacity possible. I just wish I didn’t have to feel this shame and stigma. Airports and planes are an extremely sad place for me. I feel sad for all the pregnant people who have gone before and after me. There are times I just want to scream my story at people but because only a few close friends know I am still very much in the shadows. I wish I had the courage to tell my parents, so I could be more vocal about it for the repeal campaign but for now I cannot. Getting an abortion wasn’t the hard part, living with the institutional shame is.

Can you think of someone to share this story with?