Magazine

From relief to regret: Readers' experiences of abortion

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On Thursday we published the story of Diane Munday, who had an abortion before the change in the law - 50 years ago - which made it legal in Britain.

In response to her story, many women sent emails with their own experiences of abortion over the last half century and more. Here are a selection.

I was 20 when I had an abortion in 1982. My boyfriend was black and my parents would not have approved. I'd already left home at 18 and was living with him without their knowledge when I became pregnant. I ignored it for quite a while and when I eventually went to a hospital clinic to discuss abortion they sent me away and told me I was old enough to have a baby. I didn't know what to do until I contacted the Pregnancy Advisory Service who put me in touch with a charity that paid for it to be done privately. By this time I was around 18 weeks pregnant and only just within the timescales for a legal abortion. I think I went ahead because I panicked about the consequences and felt completely unable to cope with bringing up a child. Sometimes I regret my decision as I never got pregnant again but it's something I live with. Jackie

It was 1996 and I lived in South America. I was 16 years old when I found I was pregnant. My father had died the year before and my family of six siblings and my mother was struggling with poverty. Some days we used to have dinner 10 pm after my mum brought home money she had earned cleaning people's houses. My older sisters promised to support me if I chose to have an abortion and so did my mum. The ultimate decision was mine. My boyfriend's father came to see my mum the following day with the money to pay for a backstreet abortion. It almost seemed the logical thing to do. And then my mum out of nowhere refused the money and decided to do not allow me to have the abortion. And the truth is: I was relieved. I needed someone willing to believe that it was possible for me to keep my child. I needed an excuse to do it. I did not feel until my mother stood up for my pregnancy that I had the right to say "I want to have this baby." Last December he became a 20-year-old smart and caring boy. My life as a teen mother was hard. But it was hard even before he came to my life. Maria, London

I'm now 38, I'm a paediatric sister on a high-dependency unit. I had two abortions at 17 and 18 years old, they were both with the same partner, and the relationship ended after the second abortion. I now have a three-year-old daughter who I had wanted for several years - my husband and I had three attempts at IVF and we are very lucky. I have never regretted having the abortions, even in later years when infertility played a big part in my life. I still feel guilty and somehow my punishment was my two failed IVF treatments. But I know that I made the right decision 21 years ago. I do think about how old they would be from time to time, and they are in my thoughts at times. Laura, Birmingham

I was booked to have a abortion in 2015, after being put under pressure, and already having a very young child. I cancelled my abortion the day before it was due, and honestly wouldn't change a thing now. My baby, who was due to be aborted, is happy and healthy. I suffered serious mental health problems back then and having this abortion would have made it much much worse. My miracle baby is now one, and due to be a big brother himself very soon. Sophie, Birmingham

I have had two abortions. For me, both were sad experiences, but I will always defend my right to a safe termination and in no way do I feel guilty, though the grief remains with me. The second termination was for a very much wanted girl who was found to have Edwards Syndrome (described as "incompatible with life"). After much, deep thought I took the decision that it was kinder to her to have her life brought to a close while still tiny rather than either be stillborn or die a few days after birth. It was heartbreaking for me, but I am certain it was the best outcome for her, the most humane, to protect her from future pain. Some people may find this shocking - but it's none of their business. My great-grandmother died of an illegal abortion in 1901. My grandpa was an orphan at 18 months old. Safe abortion should be a woman's choice and right. Sue

I was forced to have an abortion by my then boyfriend. He was violent and controlling and I found out after having the abortion that he was married. Over time I have mixed emotions, sometimes I am relieved I had an abortion but I mostly feel guilt. I already had one child from another partner and the abortion experience left me with the feeling that I would not have any more children. I did go on to have another child with my now husband and the feelings of guilt were dreadful. I love my children dearly and hated myself for ending a pregnancy. I have recently had a miscarriage and the feeling of guilt is back. I have thought my miscarriage is karma for my abortion. I can't change the past and have to live with my decision. It was a terribly difficult decision to make and should not be made lightly. I have only told my mum and husband about the abortion as the stigma is terrible. Louise, Staffordshire

I am currently pregnant with our fourth child, unplanned. I had two appointments for an abortion but couldn't do it - it would be awful if my children ever found out that I had terminated their younger sibling. However, I'm not nesting and am not particularly excited about this baby. My husband was very upset about it and really wanted me to abort. However, I (we?) trust that in a year or two the dust will have settled and we'll have become used to a larger family. I think that it's so important women have open access to abortion services. However, I worry that abortion has become normalised for men who view it as an emergency contraception, whilst for women it's still a very taboo subject. I would never tell anyone that I can booked in for an abortion but, statistically, I must know many women who have had terminations and don't talk about them. If you use this, please publish it anonymously. Anonymous

I almost had an abortion in 1981. I was unmarried and it was an unplanned pregnancy. The doctor I saw at the hospital was not very kind and I found myself saying that I would not have an abortion in response. My daughter was born in Jan 1982. I don't regret having her and I am very proud of the woman she has become but I do regret having become pregnant as I was too young and too unsettled to have a child at that time. I found that I was blamed for the pregnancy and my partner was not. There was still a stigma against unmarried mothers at that time and I did feel quite alone. The ward sister, when I had a c-section, was particularly nasty and I was not as tough then as I am now and did not stand up for myself. I believe very strongly in a woman's right to choose and for better sex education and access to birth control for all girls and women. Beth, Cambridge

I became pregnant at the age of 24 and was delighted at first, even though my partner was mentally unstable and both psychologically and physically abusive. The relationship broke down and I left, but because of the pregnancy I went back to try once more. It was soon clear nothing would ever improve, and I decided very regretfully on an abortion. I had grown up in a two-parent family and felt most strongly that a baby would need both a mother and a father to care for it. I also had no funds to raise a child in my mother's tiny home. I was prepared to end my own life to escape the situation and I let the doctors know this. While my mother was keeping me company in hospital when the termination was taking place - sadly late at around 20 weeks - she shared that she herself had a late backstreet abortion in the early 1940s, before she and my father could get married. It had made her very ill and she really disliked anything to do with childbirth. My experience in 1980, although scary and sad, was far less traumatic and did not affect my health. Thanks to a more merciful culture, I was free to enjoy giving birth later to three healthy babies in a stable and loving marriage. Clare

I feel that the two doctors approval is an important safety net to prevent women and girls from being forced into terminations against their will... as I was when my parents forced me to have an abortion when I was 16. Unfortunately this rule was not adhered to in my case - I never saw anyone who presented themselves as a doctor and I was never seen alone. I am strongly pro-choice even though mine was taken away; I am immensely grateful that this is a freedom we have. H, Taunton

I had an abortion when I was 19, in 1997. When I arrived at the clinic there were protesters outside. I am married to the man who got me pregnant and now have two beautiful children. We had only been together for three months when I got pregnant and were using birth control. I don't regret the decision we made because I don't think we would have made it as a couple. We were far too young and didn't know each other enough. I would have ended up as another single mother. Nineteen years later we are very happy. Toni, Stafford

I had an abortion. I was 18, 1961, it was illegal. My husband (we were newly weds) managed to find an abortionist through a friend. It was the syringe and dettol water job, I was aware and conscious throughout. It did not work immediately, and the abortionist sent me home, frightened she would be located and found. The abortion happened hours later, bloodily and horribly. I was over four months pregnant because we had been unable to find help before. I had no bad medical effects afterwards, and never doubted what we did. My husband (now ex) has never recovered from what he saw that day, and having to dispose of the foetus. Of course abortion is never "good" but it is frequently necessary. Sue, Fleet

I was 21 the first time I fell pregnant. I'd only been with my boyfriend a couple of months and I was eight months off completing my final exams at university. I knew straight away what I needed to do, and with the support of my (visibly scared) boyfriend I had a medical abortion a couple of weeks later at the local hospital. I told a few friends and the next day I told my mother who wasn't as sympathetic as I'd hoped. Unfortunately, two years later it happened again - I was still with the same boyfriend and we were now in low-paid jobs but there was no way we could have taken care of a baby. This time I asked for a surgical abortion. And this time I only told one close friend. Ten years later and we are still together, we now have good careers and own our own home. We also have a one-year-old son who is the light of our lives. Absolutely no regrets. E, Cardiff

I had an abortion three weeks before I was due to start university, and I simultaneously regret and don't regret the decision. It's sometimes hard to think of what my four-year-old child would be like now. Emotionally I wasn't ready for a baby. Financially, I wasn't read for a baby. Selfishly, I wasn't ready for a baby. I was 20, with my life ahead of me. Yes, a baby would have interrupted my career plans, but at the forefront of my decision was the fact that I was having those thoughts in the first place; if I had a child I would look at them every day and think of what it had cost me - and no innocent child deserves that. On top of that, I couldn't bring a baby into this world without knowing how I was going to feed it, clothe it, love it and nurture it. I grew up with six siblings and a single mum; who tried her best but we struggled. I looked at my friends lives, and resented them. I didn't want that for my child. I think of how far I've come in these four years, and how much I've contributed to society; these are things I wouldn't have achieved if my decision had gone the other way. I've grown into a person I never imagined I could, because that decision was the hardest one I'll ever have to make, and it affected me in a way I never thought possible. I made it my mission to ensure a positive outcome - I channelled the emotion into achieving great things. I will have children when I'm ready, emotionally and financially, but most importantly, when I can give them the best possible start in life. Anonymous

I had an abortion about five years ago when I was 26. I was only four-to-five weeks along and the decision was made between my partner and I based on the fact that we didn't feel ready for a child. We were living in a rented flat, had little savings and worked full-time to pay the bills. Childcare is so expensive and neither of our parents would have been able to help care for the child whilst we would have been at work. We also were not married and it meant a lot to me that we either be engaged or married before I fell pregnant. Looking back, I think we do regret it now. A lot of our friends are having children and I do not seem to be able to conceive. Felicity, Uckfield

I'm in my 20s, I've had two abortions and the stories could not be more different. The first pregnancy was due to my doctor prescribing me antibiotics but not noticing I was on the pill. This medication stops the pill if they're taken together and - eventually - I fell pregnant. I didn't find out this mistake until later and blame was heaped upon me from the father and my family. I knew from the second I took the test that I would not have the child, either I had an abortion or I would kill myself. It's impossible to explain the certainty of that thought to other people. The second abortion was with my current partner and we fully intended to have the child. My family are career-orientated and pressured me to have an abortion, I'd just started a new job that week and felt I'd be let go and that would make my parents even more disappointed. I decided to make the choice to terminate. The timing wasn't right, I told myself. This abortion does weigh on my mind and I've had therapy. The strangest thing about having an abortion is knowing you're now hated by a wide range of people who don't know you. You can't take part during debates because people say you just want to feel better about the choice you made. What I remember most clearly about having an abortion is - as I was being put under - finding myself thanking the attending physicians over and over again, almost to the point of tears. Swelling with gratitude that this was an option for me, that these doctors and nurses were helping me. That and the fact that the waiting room was full of women with children already, who simply couldn't afford any more. Not the stereotypical view of young stupid girls having casual sex at all. Kayleigh, Plymouth

I am completely opposed to abortion for two reasons: 1) religion and 2) if it had been widely available 50-odd years ago I probably would not be writing this note! However, that is only me, I cannot judge others. OK, you might say... but I've been a personal tutor in a Sixth Form college and of course some of the youngsters in my charge have wanted to find out about sex... and when talking to those young women who found themselves pregnant I'd tell them: "This is YOUR decision, and whatever you decide is the right choice. There will be times when you'll regret what you choose to do, but lay them aside, your choice is the right choice because you have made it." Whatever they decided, I would support them, encourage them, help them... and never tell them what I myself believed, as that would have been inappropriate. Megan, Cheshire

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