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24 / 02 / 2010 - Four abortions ..now I`ll never have children
With the number of women having multiple abortions rising in Britain, Karen Collier explains why she's had four - and her devastation at now being left childless.
Terminating a pregnancy, is a decision no woman wants to have to make. However valid her reason for choosing an abortion, it is always a traumatic and terrifying experience.
But Karen Collier, who has had four abortions in 14 years, says she has paid the ultimate price for ending her pregnancies as she now faces the prospect of being childless.
"I take responsibility for my actions, but I think I've been very unlucky. I would have loved to have been a mother," she says.
Karen, 43, represents a growing trend for multiple abortions. Almost 210,000 women had abortions in England, Wales and Scotland in 2008 - the highest figure in Europe. Of these a third were repeat abortions, with rising numbers of women having three, four or more terminations. And last week new statistics showed the number of unplanned pregnancies in the over 40s is now the same as the under 16s.
Karen has been left with a terrible legacy from her choice. "I am not someone who has slept around," she says. "In fact, I've only ever had a handful of serious relationships. All I've ever wanted is marriage and a family, so it's not easy to admit I've had four abortions - and it's a confession I'm sure will make many people angry.
"But none of my terminations was undertaken lightly, and I have paid the ultimate price."
Karen, from North London, believes her parents' separation when she was eight had a lasting impact on the course of her life. The separation left her craving affection, which she found with her first boyfriend at 16.
"One thing led to another and I lost my virginity to him. We were so naive, we didn't use birth control and I got pregnant.
"There was no question of my keeping the baby, even though my boyfriend said he'd stand by me."
Karen went into hospital at 11 weeks, afraid and riddled with guilt. "I wanted to be a mother but I also wanted a career."
She was 18 and at art school studying fashion design when she met her second boyfriend, Simon, 20. "I fell deeply in love with him and he said he loved me too, but he was horrified when I became pregnant while on the pill at 21."
Karen was living in a small rented room on a student grant at the time, and Simon lived with his parents. He knew Karen had already had an abortion, and made it clear he did not want a child. Reluctantly, Karen agreed to have a second abortion.
Karen clung to the hope that they'd stay together but they split when she was 27.
"I started seeing Max, who was 10 years older than me," she explains. "I knew he'd make a good husband, but there was no chemistry between us. After a few weeks, we split up - and I found out I was pregnant even though I was on the pill.
"I was angry with myself, and felt it was my fault for being intimate with Max. He wasn't the right man for me and, because I didn't want to bring up a child alone, I decided on another abortion.
"It left me deeply traumatised. I'm not the kind of woman who embarks on a sexual relationship easily and I don't consider I was reckless with contraception. I was just unlucky and seemed to get pregnant no matter how hard I tried to prevent it."
Karen avoided close relationships for some years, then began seeing Julian when she was 30.
"I really liked him and when we eventually slept together, I made sure we used condoms in addition to the pill. To my horror, I still got pregnant. I have no explanation for it.
"Julian said he'd stand by me, whatever I decided to do. Though we were not married, I began to wonder if this was the baby I was finally meant to have.
"I didn't want another abortion but I'd just got back from a holiday in Africa and had been taking anti-malarial tablets. My GP warned me the tablets may have damaged the baby, and advised having a termination."
Julian supported the decision. Karen had been too ashamed to tell him about the other abortions but after finding out through a mutual friend, he was stunned.
Karen explains: "It made him think I had a habit of getting pregnant and having abortions - an addiction - and I couldn't defend myself because, although it wasn't deliberate, it was true.
"Julian yelled: 'It's not just one previous abortion, it's three!' His anger was devastating. I felt he hated me, and I hated myself."
Experts have identified a worrying pattern of "abortion addiction" in some women. Author Irene Vilar, 40, caused outrage recently by publishing a book about how she had 15 abortions in 17 years.
In Impossible Motherhood - Testimony Of An Abortion Addict, Vilar says she became addicted to repeat abortions because her husband did not want children, yet she craved being pregnant. Some 50% of American women who have an abortion will go on to have more - a trend that also seems to be growing in Britain.
But Karen says she is not addicted to abortions. "I am as shocked as anyone to hear a woman can have 15 abortions. Judging from my experience, the toll they must have taken on her mind and body will have been immense."
Karen and Julian split up, perhaps inevitably, and Karen felt heartbroken by the choices she'd had to make. "I still longed to be a wife and mother, wanting a baby to take the pain of the abortions away," she says.
"By then I was in my thirties, so my friends were raising families and my sister had five children. I lived alone, with a busy career and lots of freedom, but I hated going home to an empty house. I longed for companionship, and grieved for the children I had never had. I wished someone had counselled me about continuing the pregnancies and giving my babies up for adoption. At least then I'd have given them life and happiness to childless couples."
"When a close friend of mine was having trouble conceiving, I even offered to be a surrogate for her. In the end, she decided to adopt."
But meeting James on a blind date set up by friends provided the promise of a much more positive future for Karen, who was 37 then. James, 40, was divorced with no children - they hit it off, fell in love, and were married in February 2006. Karen was 39 by then.
She recalls: "After all the misery I'd been through, I was thrilled with what I saw as my happy ending. With my 40th birthday looming, I was desperate to be a mum and euphoric at the thought that, at last, I may get to have a child of my own and atone for the pregnancies I'd ended."
Sadly, it turned out Karen had left it too late. She had developed fibroids around her womb in the 10 years since her fourth abortion, which meant she would be unable to conceive or carry a child. In fact she needed a total hysterectomy.
"I had the operation in June last year and it stirred up so many emotions," she says. "I was relieved to be rid of a hated part of my body which had caused me so much grief, but I was heartbroken that I'd never be a mum.
"At the time of each of my pregnancies I had been caught up in what felt like impossible situations, or with men who were not right for me. At those times I thought abortion was the right choice.
"I am happily married to a man I adore, but I will always wonder what might have been and I like to think I would have been a good mother.
"Although there will always be a part of me missing, I count my blessings that I have finally found a man who truly loves me - whatever I have been through."
* SOME NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED
Source: Angela Carless - Mirror.co.uk
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