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Foregrounding pain in self-managed early medication abortion: a qualitative study.

OBJECTIVE: To explore experiences of pain in the context of early medical abortion (EMA) in the UK and to guide best practice around anticipatory guidance on pain.

METHODS: From late 2020 to early 2021, we recruited individuals from across the UK who had undergone abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic to participate in in-depth, semi-structured telephone interviews. A storytelling approach was used and data were analysed thematically using NVivo 12 software.

RESULTS: Focused coding and thematic analysis addressed accounts of pain, which were prominent in many interviews. We constructed the following subthemes: expected pain is manageable for some; the problem with unexpected pain; pain (co)produces fear; and problematising 'period-like pain'. The key issue which our analysis draws out is that while EMA pain experience might vary, for some it may be much worse than anticipated. Moreover, the common trope of likening it to 'period pain' can be misleading and a source of additional uncertainty at a potentially already challenging time.

CONCLUSIONS: For some individuals, pain experienced in EMA will be severe and/or worse than expected. Insufficient preparation for pain can result in extremely negative experiences of EMA. Alongside development of improved analgesia, improvements should be made to anticipatory guidance on pain, particularly for those self-manging EMA at home. Framings of 'period-like pain' do not clarify expectations and should be avoided.

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