Nadine Pungs doesn't want to have children, nor does she want to have a family of her own. But for such a decision, the writer writes, the woman still has to justify herself and listen to offensive slogans. Behind this is a partially outdated image of society, which is also reflected in German legislation, according to the author.
Her concern is sexual and reproductive self-determination, which women in Germany have not yet fully achieved.
Pungs (born in 1981) therefore goes on the offensive, confidently defending her “not being a mother”. For her book of the same name, the qualified literary scholar and historian spoke to mothers and non-mothers, read studies and evaluated specialist literature.
At the same time, she tells honestly and in clear words how far she herself was willing to go for her fertility happiness - for example by disclosing an abortion and her sterilization.
“This book is an attempt to place my non-motherhood on an equal footing with being a mother and to establish awareness of this form of self-empowerment in social discourse. And yes, my methods are radical. Because non-motherhood is political,” she writes herself.
WELT presents an excerpt from the book.
Düsseldorf, Tuesday morning, 5:32 a.m., I'm staring at the pregnancy test. When, after a few seconds, a second pale blue stripe appears in the viewing window, I get dizzy, a feeling as if an elevator is descending very quickly inside me, I have to hold on to the sink. A minute of silence, but two centuries of racing hearts. Pregnant.
Then inhale, exhale, go into the living room, boot up the computer and google "abortion". I scroll, land on a homepage of the so-called lifeguards, who rant about “Babycaust” and show pictures of fetuses torn to pieces. I read sentences like: "You kill your child!" Or: "The little body is torn to pieces during the abortion!" And again and again: "You murderess!" But even reputable online media speak of feelings of guilt and depression as possible consequences of an abortion .
I shut down the computer and feel shabby. That doesn't change my decision. In Germany, around 100,000 women abort each year; the majority of them, almost two-thirds, are already mothers (often in their mid-thirties) and they know exactly what to expect.
An abortion can very well be a responsible decision. Abortion, like childbirth, is a part of human existence. One in three women worldwide will have an abortion at least once in her life.
I call the man, he answers, we talk, he accepts my decision, shares it, carries it. We hang up.
My gynecologist's office will open in an hour. Waiting. The receptionist on the phone gives me an emergency appointment, today at 12:50 p.m. Waiting again, afraid, wandering through the apartment. I do not know more. The memory of the four hours between the phone call and the appointment lies in semi-darkness. In practice, I am allowed to go straight into the examination room. The doctor squeezes the ultrasound gel out of a tube onto my abdomen. It is cold.
Then she slides the transducer over my stomach. She looks at the monitor, moves the transducer back and forth, pushes it in deeply. "Yes," she says, "you're pregnant." I close my eyes, now it's true. I'm actually capable of producing something like that. "Would you like to see it?" she asks. I say no and she turns the screen away.
I'm in the sixth week. The embryo is the size of an oatmeal, later I read that it looks like a tadpole at this point. (...) I say that I want to have an abortion. The doctor doesn't ask my reasons, she writes the address of a colleague on a piece of paper. "Go there," she advises, "it's not a butcher."
In the afternoon I call Pro Familia. In Germany, an abortion is complicated. And illegal. There is no right to an abortion. Shortly after fertilization, the woman's freedom to make decisions about her own body ends. Section 218, paragraph 1 of the Criminal Code states: "Anyone who terminates a pregnancy shall be punished with imprisonment for up to three years or with a fine." The additional paragraph 218a was not issued until a hundred years later. According to today's Article 218a, the act goes unpunished if the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, she was raped or if she can explain to a state-approved counseling center that carrying the child to term exceeds a "reasonable victim limit".
The abortion is only exempt from punishment if a counseling certificate has been issued and three days have passed for reflection. She is not allowed to do that. Punishment is merely waived, but the abortion remains unlawful (for the woman, not for the producer). There is not a single law in Germany that specifically intervenes in the body of adult men. Paragraph 218 of the Criminal Code, however, still theoretically legitimizes that a woman can be forced to actually carry a pregnancy to term. Against her will.
Is my belly mine? Not at all. In the case of abortion, however, it is suggested that the helpless embryo (or fetus) must be protected from me – the selfish woman. The seedling is in my stomach. Not outside. Woman and fetus are one. Without her body there is no new life. A semantic separation of the two can therefore only be ideologically motivated.
Pro Familia won't be making appointments for another two weeks, says the woman on the phone that nothing is available. I don't want to wait that long. I try the municipal health department - and I'm lucky. I can go tomorrow. In fact, "pregnancy conflict counseling" is forced counseling, even if the often dedicated counselors don't like to hear this word. But without the permission of the counseling center there is no counseling certificate and without a certificate there is no termination.
Why is it not enough to talk to my doctor? It goes without saying that there must be neutral and free psychosocial counseling services available nationwide for pregnant women who are actually in a conflict situation (even after the possible birth), but their use should be voluntary. Now the whole process is predetermined from the outside. I am treated like a child. It's humiliating, and it should be. My dignity is touchable.
The journalist Teresa Bücker writes: "The way in which abortions are regulated in Germany is patronizing and a demonstration of power by a system that resists the idea of real equality." Just as problematic as the counseling regulation is the reflection period imposed. Three extra days in an unwanted physical state, although any delay means risks. I get the impression that the state wants to make my abortion impossible with constitutional hurdles. It's about control. To preserve an antediluvian social order.
What hardly anyone knows: under constitutional law in Germany there is a “legal obligation to unsubscribe”. Yes, mandatory! The Federal Constitutional Court clarified this in 1993. I'm only allowed to have sex if I'm willing to carry any embryo that might result from it.
Nonetheless, there is a glimmer of hope. The traffic light coalition wants to set up a committee of experts on reproductive self-determination and reproductive medicine and examine whether the regulation of abortion is possible outside of criminal law.
Next day, health department, 1:45 p.m. Ms. S. invites me into her office. She's in her fifties, wears rimless glasses and a brightly colored wool sweater. Files pile up the walls. It smells of paper and old wood. I'm queasy, I don't know what to expect, I just want the appearance and no discussion. Ms. S. introduces herself as a pregnancy conflict counselor.
I tell her that I don't need conflict counseling because I don't have a conflict. She asks why I want to have an abortion. I say that I don't want the embryo, never wanted it and that nothing will ever change that. Ms. S. nods, doesn't try to change my mind, she doesn't judge my decision. She says I have six weeks left and hands me a list of doctors who perform abortions, on which I spot the name of the gynecologist my gynecologist recommended. After twenty minutes she signs the counseling slip so that I can avoid prosecution. When I say goodbye, she wishes me all the best.
The time between appointments is unbearably slow. Like swimming through syrup. Everything in me and around me is determined by others. The wait. My body. I have abdominal pain, can hardly sleep, my breasts are tense as if they are going to tear at any moment. I can no longer manage the three floors to my apartment without a break, I feel drained, as if someone were sucking the blood out of my veins. It's my body's aggressive land grabbing. An annexation. I wish for an empty stomach. But I have to watch myself grow. swelling. I'm going to my mother's. And tell. She listens, caresses my cheek and makes me a hot cocoa.
Two days later I'm sitting in the doctor's office, whose address I received from my gynaecologist. I hand over my referral and the counseling slip. The doctor doesn't ask my reasons, he goes straight to the essentials, goes through the formalities with me and seems relaxed. Smile lines curl around his eyes, and a bushy white-grey beard makes him look like Santa Claus. There is something comforting about him. I can choose between two methods: surgical abortion or medical abortion. The latter is only possible up to the ninth week.
The doctor explains: Two appointments in the practice are required for the medical abortion. On the first visit, I took an artificial hormone pill that blocks the effects of progesterone and also causes the lining of the uterus and the amniotic sac containing the embryo to detach. Bleeding could occur as early as the next day. At the second visit, a day and a half later, I would have to swallow several pills of another drug to stimulate the expulsion of pregnancy tissue.
Within four hours, contractions and bleeding would begin, and the sac would be expelled, the doctor explains. Similar to a miscarriage. I would probably have a stomach ache. I might have to vomit.
With the other method, surgical abortion, an anesthetist would put me under general anesthesia and once I fell asleep, the gynecologist would open the cervix with a stretch splint and then suck out the pregnancy tissue with a plastic tube. The upper layer of mucous membrane, which normally bleeds off during periods, would also be removed. The suction would only take a few minutes, the doctor says. After that, the uterus would contract to stop the bleeding.
The feeling is similar to menstruation or the aftermath of childbirth. Fifteen minutes later, the operation would have been completed, the anesthetic had already been drained, and I could relax in the relaxation room. At 500 euros, suction is more expensive due to the anesthesia than medical abortion, which costs 350 euros. The health insurance does not reimburse anything.
I decide to have a suction because, under the impression of the last few days of being controlled by others, it no longer occurs to me that I could use pills to determine the process of my abortion myself. That I literally had it in my own hands. The suction also goes by faster and I can raise the money (the man pays half), although general anesthesia and the loss of control that goes with it scare me. The doctor nods and notes my decision on a form. Today is Friday, we make an appointment for Wednesday, he shakes my hand, smiles, his wrinkles ripple
I'm in the seventh week. The embryo is the size of a small blueberry. Gradually he gets facial features. The two eye sockets, the mouth and the nostrils are already visible. The sexual organs begin to differentiate. The lungs develop. The liver begins to form blood cells, forming a bud that will later become the trachea. Yet the embryo has no consciousness, no feeling. He cannot process pain stimuli.
He doesn't hear, doesn't see, doesn't think. He has no desires, no intentions, and no interest in survival. He doesn't know he's there. I swallow two tablets meant to soften my cervix. Then I climb onto the examination chair. "I'll tie your legs now," says the doctor's assistant and smiles under her face mask. "Don't be afraid, nothing bad will happen."
She's younger than me and her voice sounds like the first warm day of spring. There's no morals, no guilty verdict. I guess I'm lucky. With practice, with the short notice of appointments. Lucky to live in a big city and not in the country. The anesthetist opens the syringe. He also seems relaxed, asks how I'm feeling, flirts with the doctor's assistant.
Now the gynecologist enters the room, his laugh lines rippling. The bushy beard oozes out from under the face mask. He greets me and says: “You don't need to be nervous. Think of something beautiful. If you wake up, you'll be fine.” He squeezes my cold hand encouragingly. The anesthetist nods and suggests a vacation beach. "One like in Greece," I hear him say as he taps my elbow with his finger and pushes the needle into the vein. But before I can imagine a beach, the night surrounds me.
"How are you?" I open my eyes and a woman in a white tunic smiles at me. Behind her is a framed photo of the Düsseldorf skyline. "Welcome back. There are shortbread cookies next to you.” I'm lying on a bed wearing thick sanitary pads. When the woman leaves the room, I cry. The last few days are falling off me like skin after a sunburn.
The pregnancy is said goodbye, I live alone in my body again. Despite abdominal pain and bleeding, I am happy. As if I had finally found my way home after a long walk. Now I am one of the 100,000 abortifs in Germany every year, one of those who used to be drowned in the river.
Even today, years later, I have no regrets. No contrition, no trauma, no guilty conscience. The narrative demands that I suffer the loss, because to do otherwise would nullify the mother image. But I don't suffer, I don't go through the day grief-stricken. On the contrary. My life is happier without an embryo. Every time I see a woman pushing a stroller, I am overcome with a feeling of gratitude that that woman is not me.
My relief coincides with scientific knowledge. Well-founded studies show that self-determined terminations of unwanted pregnancies usually leave no long-term damage. What remains is liberation. This was the result of the turnaway study from the USA, among other things. Over a period of several years, around 600 women were followed and regularly interviewed after an abortion. The result: One week after the termination and three years later, 95 percent of the participants were convinced that they had made the right decision.
Nevertheless, the term “post-abortion syndrome” keeps popping up in political discussions. This means an alleged mental-emotional disorder as a result of an abortion. In fact, no reputable institution recognizes the syndrome. Neither the so-called post-abortion syndrome is classified as a disorder in the ICD207 of the World Health Organization nor in the DSM208 of the American Psychiatric Association. This ideological term is part of the vocabulary of radical opponents of abortion.
Up until my abortion, I assumed I was living in a country of equal rights. It was the first time that I felt discriminated against by German legislation and public opinion. Paragraph 218 must be deleted from the Criminal Code without replacement.
Because as long as abortion remains a criminal offence, neither the supply situation nor the training of the medical profession will improve, nor can the service be covered by health insurance. It's true, my demolition is the prevention of a possibility. I am aware of the responsibility and the decision against new life and for my own life is complex. Still, an abortion can be trivial. That too is part of the truth. The emotional dramatization comes from the outside. The procedure itself is safe and quick, and performed in a protected environment, it's not even particularly bad.
Yes, I felt sadness too. Not sadness for the embryo, but sadness that I didn't function as a woman. That this happened to me To break up this false ideal and to overcome the ostracism that coincides with it, we must not only delete the paragraph, but also find a new language. English knows the term abortion care, loosely translated as "abortion care".
The thought behind this is that abortions are not the opposite of pregnancy, but rather part of it. A pregnant person needs security and care, whether carrying the fetus to term or not. In the Netherlands there are so-called abortion buddies who lovingly accompany women during the abortion process. Like a doula or a midwife. Wouldn't that also be a nice approach for Germany?
Nadine Pungs: “Not being a mother. About the decision to live without children.” Piper Verlag, 18 euros.
Collaboration: Kerstin Rottmann (WORLD)