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Finding out that you have an unwanted pregnancy is never fun. Discovering that you are in this delicate condition far from home, away from western doctors and in a muslim country is even worse. Your mind races, should I fly home or to the closest western liberal country you can get to? Is abortion legal where you are? You start to ask hypothetical questions at your guesthouse, feign a stomach bug to your fellow travelers who keep inviting you to come sightseeing and you do hours of research on the internet.
This is the situation I found myself in the middle of in Turkey.
I had been touring around Turkey after a few months of living on Santorini when I realized that something just wasn’t normal with my body. While Santorini is not known for being the party island of Greece let me assure you there is lots of frolicking to be had. I was hanging out with a group of rowdy pirates and not making the wisest decisions to say the least. I left Santorini by boat and entered Turkey in the south at the seaport of Bodrum. I traveled for about three weeks before I got to Istanbul where I planned to catch a flight to Asia to continue my RTW jaunt.
It was there in Istanbul that I discovered I was pregnant. I am glad it was there and not in some of the smaller towns I visited in the more conservative southeastern region. Previously, In my trip I had taken a two-day group tour to visit Mt. Nemrut for sunrise. On this tour I met a few new friends that I had no idea would become such a strong support team. One of them was a German resident but of Turkish decent and the other two were a couple of lesbians from Amsterdam who I ended up staying in the same hostel with while in Istanbul.
When I discovered that I was pregnant I knew immediately that I did not want to become a parent at that point in my life. I was just setting out on my RTW trip after years of dreaming about it. Then there was the man who got me pregnant that never even replied to the email I sent him to inform him of my condition. Sounds like great father material, right? Even though I was sure of my decision, I was very unsure about how to go about getting an abortion in a foreign country. I had no travelers insurance and did not speak a word of their language. I called my German friend to see if it was culturally acceptable to search around for this kind of doctor in Turkey and I had my Dutch friends nonchalantly bring up abortion in general conversation with our new friends who ran the hostel in Istanbul to see if it was legal there. I also searched the internet for any information I could find. A few of the useful sites I found were the Summary of Abortion Laws Around the World, the almighty Wikipedia and also the Pew Forum’s article on worldwide abortion laws.
In addition to these sites I stumbled upon one other invaluable organization called Women on Waves. This is a non-profit organization based in Amsterdam that provides support, information, and even in some cases Abortion Pills to women who are in countries where there is no access to safe procedure. Women on Waves answered a handful of emails from me in less than 12 hours. I can not speak highly enough about them and the support they offered.
After finding out that abortion was legal in Turkey and deciding against flying to a nearby country such as France or Holland to have this procedure done, I began my search for doctors in the city. A quick internet search came up with only one name, Dr. Nevra at Kurtaj Rehberi. One name in a city of around 14 million.
Since I did not speak the language and was too uncomfortable to ask anyone at my hostel to help me make an appointment, I instead wrote down the address and took the subway out to the clinic. I was far from the tourist center of Istanbul, far from the friendly smiles of kebab hawkers on the Istakal. It was the end of July and the heat was oppressive in the city. I felt weak and exhausted as I searched the streets for the address I had in my hand.
What I found was a decrepit apartment building. The dimly-lit foyer and rickety staircase scared me so much I almost turned right around. Taking a few deep breaths, I ascended the stairs. When I found the suite number I hesitated before knocking. What was I doing? ‘Is this the kind of thing that leads girls into being sold for sex slavery?’ my mind had wondered. I pushed my fears aside and knocked.
I was greeted by a well dressed women who welcomed me with broken English into the waiting room of the doctor’s office. I immediately noticed that unlike the corridor, the office itself was clean, well-furnished and nicely decorated. It didn’t feel sketchy at all! After a few exchanges of broken English and Turkish the secretary handed me the phone and let me talk to the doctor. I explained my situation and that it needed to be taken care of ASAP as I had a flight booked out of the country in a few days. The doctor told me she couldn’t discuss things further on the phone but to come back in a few hours when she would be at the office.
When I returned I was introduced to the doctor, a very fashionable women in her mid-forties. She answered all my questions about the legality of the procedure in Turkey and put aside some fears. She told me that she could operate on me that afternoon upon receiving payment of 700 US Dollars! Wow, but what else could I do? I couldn’t continue traveling as planned to Indonesia another even more traditional muslim country and I did not want to go home. So I sucked it up, handed over a months worth of living expenses, and joined another patient in the waiting room.
People-watching in this room was probably one of the most surreal parts of the whole experience. There were three other people (one young lady, an older woman who I guessed was her mom, and one man who must have been the father) in the waiting room with me. They were all well-dressed with both women were wearing traditional headscarves. The young women of the group had a steady stream of tears rolling down her checks. The man and the older lady looked stressed and uncomfortable. None of us looked each other in the eyes, in fact, it was impossible – we all wore sunglasses.
The other young lady was called back into the doctor’s office first and about 20 minutes later the nurse came out to get the family. I later found out from the doctor that they were a well-off family (Mom, daughter and son) from Saudi Arabia that had flown in just for this procedure. The doctor informed me that a lot of her patients come from neighboring countries where the women are often faced with ‘Honor Killings‘ or unsafe illegal abortions.
My procedure was performed under general anesthesia and after a few minutes of rest in the office I was allowed to leave. I was given some antibiotics and papers on what to expect over the next few days, as well as symptoms to watch out for. Since I was unable to return for a follow-up appointment the doctor told me to take a pregnancy test 2 weeks later to make sure my hormones were back to normal.
In a groggy state I found my way back to my hostel and crawled into my dorm bed and fell straight asleep. I spent the next few days in that bed pretending to still be recovering from a stomach bug. My friends had flown home and I was due to leave the country in a few days. I just wanted to leave Istanbul and put that bump in the road behind me. That is just what I did with a month of healing on the beautiful island of Bali.
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