Nine years ago, I had an abortion in Cambodia. Today, I still have no regrets.
We begin with a bowl of noodles.
I’m halfway through motorcycling the 1,864 curves of the remote mountains of northern Thailand, along the Mae Hong Son Loop. This trip and all my trips beforehand have had one mission only: to truly learn who I am, what I want, and what I’m capable of. After checking into the hostel, I follow my nose and end up slurping down a bowl of street noodles with another solo female traveler.
I eat one bowl. And immediately want another.
“Are you eating for two people or something?” she says. I laugh it off. But when I return to the dormitory, I check my dates. I’m late.
I tell myself that travel is just disrupting my natural rhythm. I reassure myself that it’s just my current diet. Every time I have back pain, I reverse it in my mind and tell myself that I’m experiencing period cramps. I start to mindlessly drive faster and faster. I’m visiting temples more and more, praying that I’m wrong and that I’m being unnecessarily anxious and fearful.
But the intuition that we women possess is undeniable.
I finally make it to a town where I can buy a pregnancy test. As those two lines emerge, everything is confirmed. I’m pregnant.
Like a robot, I immediately jump into action and process what needs to be done. I have always been what I call a “delayer.” Any time strife has appeared in my life, I go through the motions with the utmost efficiency and cry about it later.
I message the man to tell him. I vigorously research where I can access abortion services. I am in Thailand, after all, and abortion is illegal. But I’m lucky. I have options. I realize that my best bet is to go to Cambodia and access services through Marie Stopes. I book an appointment to discuss my options and grab the next flight as soon as I can.
At the airport, while anxiously waiting to board for Siem Reap, the confusion, heaviness, and shame start to set in. I choose to confide in a couple of friends. One fully supports me. The other tells me I’m stupid to have gotten myself into this situation.
Later, when I decide to openly write about my experience to help others and create a comprehensive abortion resource, international media pick up on the story and the comments start to appear. They call me a witch. They tell me I’m an embarrassment to travelers. They say I’ll be punished for what I’ve done. Friends tell me they can’t be friends with me anymore.
And yet, the private messages that I receive from others, saying that they have been — or are going —through the same thing, are many. Travel bloggers I am close to open up and confide in me too. I find community.
But in Cambodia, as I take yet another pregnancy test, hear the nurse at the hospital “congratulate” me during the ultrasound, and then swallow those abortion pills, I feel very alone. No partner there. No friends and family.
I don’t want children and still feel 100% certain that I did the right thing. But what about those of us who want to keep that child but can’t because of financial, physical, and other reasons? I’ve had women reach out to me who have been with an abusive partner, are within a very religious community, or do not have the financial means to support a child.
I think about how it could have been different. I’m lucky that I was able to get my abortion at three weeks pregnant and was able to do it with pills. Going through a surgical procedure is something else.
Still processing what I’ve been through, I venture through the largest religious monument in the world, getting lost among the strangler trees of Angkor Wat and fluctuating between moments of relief and disbelief. I continue on my journey through Phnom Penh and all the way down to Sihanoukville, all the while getting to know a country that is still trying to understand who and what it is after so much brutality under Pol Pot’s regime.
Six months later, in Vietnam, I am still trying to work out who I am. I wake up one morning panicking that I am still pregnant. One year later, still on the road, I can’t deny what has happened any longer and book a to rest and recuperate. I am going home.
I share my story because speaking up about it has not only helped me heal but has also helped so many other solo travelers who have been through similar experiences, often in silence and many miles from home. If you or someone you know are seeking services, support, and understanding, help is available:
- The Center for Reproductive Rights has an interactive map that details abortion laws each country.
- Women on Waves provides medication worldwide if you are unable to access a safe abortion in the country you are currently in. Make sure to use a VPN to access their site, as they can be censored in certain countries.
- Women on Web is a sister organization of Women on Waves, which can also help you get access to abortion medication.
- MSI Reproductive Choices, where I received help, spans across 37 countries and is incredibly supportive.
- Planned Parenthood is a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive healthcare in the United States and globally.