The year is 1980.
You are a 25-year-old woman and live in an industrial neighborhood in a provincial town. You share a two-room apartment with your husband and two-year-old child. You are pregnant. Nicolae Ceausescu has been the General Secretary of the Communist Party for 15 years, and for seven years he has also held the position of President of the Republic. Ceausescu’s rules are compulsory for everyone, even for the unborn. In Romania, abortion has been banned since 1966, and pregnancy is a duty to society.
But you don’t want to keep the baby.
You have two options. The first is to perform an abortion by yourself. You have heard of all kinds of mixtures that you can swallow, but also of plants that you can introduce into your uterus. Some have told you that it also works with liquid soap. You’ve heard fermented yeast works too. You could also try the rubber tube, but you need someone to teach you how to use it.
The second option is to find someone to perform curettage, where an instrument scrapes the lining of the uterus, removing its contents. But that costs a lot of money and is risky. You remember there was a midwife in your native village who attended your own birth. The midwife helped women. Sometimes she also performed abortions. But that was a few years ago. The year is 1980, and the Romanian state has brought midwives into the hospital system in order to monitor their activities.
In the week after you find out you are pregnant you consult your network of acquaintances. Your husband knows someone who can put you in contact with someone who taught a colleague’s wife how to insert a probe. You get hold of a probe, a syringe, and physiological serum. You put the probe inside the vagina until you think it has entered the cervix, just as you were told. Then you apply the physiological serum, and wait.
A day passes, two, then three. Nothing happens. You try again. How many times can you try? Three, four times? Every time, nothing happens. You’re probably doing something wrong.
It’s been three months and you’re still pregnant. You are afraid to try another method of abortion, so you decide to continue with the pregnancy. You have no alternative. In Ceausescu’s Romania it doesn’t matter what you want. You are officially a pregnant citizen. One who will live in the coming months for fear of giving birth to a defective baby because of your potential mis-use of the rubber tube.
The day you give birth feels like a fatality. You will never forget it. The pain is terrible, and the nurses yell at you for not trying hard enough. You faint from pain and exertion. A slap to the face wakes you up. The doctor is shouting at you: if you don’t push, you will kill the baby. And then you feel the elbow on your stomach. You feel it with your whole body. You scream in pain. Until then, you tried not to make a fuss. You are in the hands of the system, but you still want to live.
After your scream comes the baby’s scream. You can’t see it, you just hear it. Is it okay? Nobody tells you anything. Someone shouts that it’s a girl. That’s all you know. Then the baby disappears. She will only be brought to you the next day. Before putting her on your breast, they will wipe you with alcohol, so as not to infect the baby. They only leave her with you for a few minutes. Then they take her away again.
You get about a hundred days of maternity leave. The interval is strictly calculated: pre-birth days are included. Then you go back to work. You call in your mother from the countryside to help you out. Now you are five people living in the two-room apartment. The factory allows you a break to come home and breastfeed. You don’t use it. It would be impossible. It takes 30 minutes just to get home.
After a month, your mother decides to go back to the countryside. The girl that you brought into the world, because this was what the Party wanted, is four months old. You beg your mother to take the baby with you, because you can’t manage. You will go and visit her every weekend.