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An Australian Sanctuary

It is my twenty-first birthday, and I am depositing the contents of my stomach onto a blank canvas. How is that for artistic expression? For once I am grateful for my tendency to arrive to class long before any of my fellow students – this is the last thing I need an audience for.


The circular room does nothing but aid my dizziness and the low-hanging mahogany beams appear to be inching closer and closer to me. Like a wounded bush animal, I stumble down the spiralling staircase and towards the bathroom. The tiled floor is a small comfort to my burning skin as my stomach continues its assault on me and my unsuspecting victim: the toilet of the first cubicle. My bag hangs on the back of the door and mocks me knowingly as I reach into its lining to fumble for what I need amongst a well-stocked collection of contraceptive pills. If the worst thing I must endure today is an unexpected meeting with my closest confidante, Clearblue, then it may just be the best birthday yet. There is one thing I know for sure: I am not ready to become a mother. I am not sure what kind of appeal that could have to a girl just trying to get through university – a girl who is barely more than a baby herself. But then again, maybe I am the problem.


Only when I am completely sure that I am still alone and cannot hear anyone in the near vicinity do I dare leave the sanctuary of my cubicle. Swallowing my pride, I wash the front of my fawn brown hair in the sink, being sure to add some dampness to the back of my head while I am at it. For all anyone knows, I just did not have time for a blow dry this morning. The towering mirror threatens to swallow me whole as I suddenly feel the insignificance of my own existence. What if this is all I am meant to do – bear children? My mind is in overdrive as I wait for the plastic pregnancy test to share its prophetic knowledge with me. I think of Klaus and how much he adores me, but how much he also longs for children of his own. I would not be able to stand the distraught expression that would adorn his features as I crush his hopes and dreams of becoming a father right now. The worst part is, I know he would be more upset for me than himself, and that guilt eats away at me as I await a result. His poor girlfriend who isn’t ready to fulfil her ‘life’s purpose’ which she was bestowed with at birth, or – as I prefer to see it – who wishes to remain free from Rhea’s curse.


As a child, Mum would tell me stories of Greek mythology as I fell asleep. I am not quite sure how much of it stayed true to legend and how much was her own creation, but that is just because she always was such a gifted storyteller – I would believe anything she said, my bright eyes eager and earnest. She could have been so successful in the literary world. The one story that stuck with me most throughout the years, however, was that of Rhea – the mother of the gods. Daughter of Gaia and Uranus, and Titan goddess of female fertility and motherhood – Rhea created the first Olympian generation. She was burdened with the task of maternal protector very early on, due to a prophecy received by her husband, Cronus. Cronus was warned that he was ultimately destined to be overthrown by one of his children. With his patriarchal power threatened, he proceeded to devour each of his first five children upon their birth. With their sixth child Zeus, Rhea was forced to bear him in secret and, upon his birth, hide from her husband in a cave. When their location was found, she had no choice but to deceive him with a swaddled stone. Zeus’ life was kept a secret from his father until he ultimately defeated him and consequently freed his brothers and sisters. Rhea’s grief and burden were something that haunted my dreams for most of my adolescence. A woman with a domineering husband who lived solely for her children. Not only that, but despite being a devoted and selfless mother, Rhea still could not protect all her children – this duty was instead left to her son. I never wish to have those same shackles on my wrists. I could not bear it.


The glaring pair of red lines confirm just what I suspected, though I had hoped it was yet another false alarm. The green eyes staring back at me are dull and lacklustre. “Happy birthday to me.”


I do not need time to consider my options, and I am beyond grateful for it. I have been prepared for this moment for years now. Not because I have been waiting in anticipation for it, but because I knew it was almost inevitable. My clammy hands struggle with the door handle, and I can feel the tears of frustration prickling and burning behind my irises. I just want to exit this damn building. It finally opens from the other side, and I am met with a confused-looking Ivy.


“Freya! Happy birthday! Wait, are you leaving? It is 10:56am? You know how Astaire feels about tardiness!”


“Ivy, hi! Oh, yeah… I am going to have to miss this one unfortunately, turns out Klaus planned this whole surprise thing–” “That man! You really found a good one there.”


I can feel my stomach churning yet again. It is as though something sharp is being rammed into its lining.


“Yeah…”


“Oh, but it is Kahlo week! You cannot miss Kahlo week!”


I know Ivy means well, and it does disappoint me that I am missing the one week we are studying my favourite artist, but I need to get out of here.


“Lucky I am knowledgeable on the topic! Let me know anything I miss!” I am already making my way down the cobblestone footpath as I yell the farewell behind me.


The medical centre across the road from the National Art School has four arched windows above the awning that remind me of the inside of a church. Perhaps that is why this building provides me with such solace. Or perhaps it is just because it will always be here for me when I need it. A small sanctuary amongst the bustling and vibrant culture of Glebe, nestled amid weathered storefronts and vibrant heritage homes. The green trim, together with the brown brick, have the calming sensation of nature and the ageing exterior gives the impression that the establishment has helped many other women before me. Women of all ages and circumstances, who too have exercised their right to make their own decisions regarding their life and body. I notice I have three missed calls from my mother. Those will have to wait.


“Freya! How are you?” I am greeted warmly and immediately upon closing the door. Though the receptionist tries to appear uplifting and positive, I sense the concerned undertone of her voice and the slight pull of her eyebrows. I am not due for a renewal of my prescription, and she knows this. The women’s clinic was my safe space, and I had shared everything when I first started coming here. I had explored what my options were if I were to ever fall pregnant and was warned of the risks and repercussions of termination. Standing here today, I knew I wanted to terminate this pregnancy. When I had stated a couple of years ago that this would be my plan, they supported my choice. However, they also assured me that it would be perfectly fine to change my mind when the time comes. The nurse had mentioned that a lot of women are overwhelmed with emotion and feel quite a strong connection to their baby after learning of its existence. I do not feel this connection, even after several hours left alone with my thoughts in the waiting room. And though it has still only been a short period of time, I am not willing to wait around and determine whether this will change.


“Are you sure this is what you want, Freya?” There is no judgement in the nurse’s calm tone.


“Yes, positive. Thank you.”


She squeezes my hand at that point and promises to not let go until I ask her to.


A silent tremor rolls through my body, like that initial flash of lightning in the distance before the storm unfurls. The very structure of my bones is splintering, and it is as though my soul is being spliced, severed, and brutally ripped. It is a cool sense of dread that slowly drips down my spine at the realisation that I do not know what is going to happen. Not just to my body, but to my relationship with Klaus; with my parents. It is impossible to decipher how I can keep this from them, or even look them in the eye again knowing how badly they want grandchildren. But what I do know is that the feeling of dread and despair that had clouded my mind all day will soon be released. Thank God I live in Australia.

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