I remember looking at the white ceiling while lying down on the hospital-like bed. My legs were wide open. The two women working on me were talking about their boyfriends. The unbearable pain prompted me to scream, but my cries fell on deaf ears. Instead, my yells were met with emotionless expressions. Cold faces.
The process was so painful that whenever I think about that day, I still feel the pain.
Only I was not in an actual hospital. I was in a dirty flat where I was having an abortion at an illegal provider.
Next to my bed was a bucket filled with the remains of the fetus of the person who had lain here before me.
One day I felt the need to share my experience. I wanted the world to know the pain and consequences of an illegal abortion. So I shared my experience on Facebook.
Watch: The stigma around abortion is real — even when women seek legal services
Listen to what one hospital worker told journalist TuyeimoIvawa Haidula as she helped us develop #SizaMap, SA’s first online directory of free, safe abortion providers in the public sector.
My post went viral, and many women and girls flooded my inbox with their experiences. They voiced their fears, loneliness and desperation. Some simply thanked me for “coming out”.
I then created a group called Black Womxn Healing Garden. It’s a haven where we share our pain and help women who need to access a safe abortion. Termination of pregnancy is a right that every woman should have, just like everybody else has the right to the autonomy of their bodies.
On that day, in that illegal abortion clinic, on that bed, I could have died. Many women probably do die.
It’s important that we give women and girls access to the information they need. They are still the most vulnerable people in our society.
Abortions are legal in South Africa. You can terminate your pregnancy safely. Back then, I didn’t know this. — Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile, the founder of the Black Womxn Healing Garden, as told to Nelisiwe Msomi