What we do
Campaigns & Events
Abortion in N. Ireland
"I need help..."
Make a Donation
Find us on Facebook
23 / 04 / 2010 - At 19, Sarah had an abortion. Now 38 and childless, an email from the unborn baby`s father has made her question her whole life.
When I saw his email in my inbox, I felt a momentary thrill. After 15 years of silence, years of dreaming of what might have been, my teenage sweetheart had finally come back to find me.
I stared at Richard's name, wondering why he was contacting me. Then, gingerly, I clicked on the email he had sent and found my heart pounding as I read the words: 'You don't seem to have changed very much.'
He'd found a picture of me on the internet and his flirtatious banter made me think he wanted us to get back together.
I bashed out a quick reply asking how he was. A second email followed, but email three made reference to his wife Rachel - the girlfriend he had met after our relationship ended.
I suddenly felt sick and, as I read on, the feeling got worse as he mentioned his two young sons, then aged one and four.
I felt like I'd been stabbed. 'Wow, you have two kids! I don't know how that hasn't happened to me yet,' I emailed back. 'Why not? Richard asked. 'Don't you like children?'
It was painful to read that, coming from him, knowing that he and I shared a painful secret that had bound us together for two decades.
I was 19 when I fell pregnant. I was in my first year reading pharmacology and physiology and although I'd been on the pill, I'd forgotten to take it one weekend when I was staying with Richard, who was also 19.
We'd been together since we were 17-year-olds and I adored him. But I was numb with shock when I found out I was accidentally pregnant.
I knew, even before I rang Richard to tearfully break the news, that I couldn't have our baby. I didn't see how it would be possible to combine my studies with being a mother, and there was no way I could see myself being able to give a child up for adoption.
I just wanted it over with as soon as possible. Richard, though stunned by our predicament, said he would stand by me whatever decision I made.
He never expressed an opinion, though I sensed he was relieved I wasn't keeping the baby. He certainly never tried to persuade me against an abortion.
I nervously announced my news to the other girls in my flat. They all went quiet and, when they asked what I was going to do, I admitted: 'I'm going to get rid of it.'
It was not something Richard and I wanted to tell our parents about, knowing they'd be disappointed.
So we tried to remain as practical as we could and, when denied an NHS abortion on the grounds it was for social not medical reasons, we clubbed together the £400 needed for a private abortion.
Richard, who was very supportive, accompanied me to the clinic when I was nine weeks pregnant. I had no doubt I was doing the right thing.
Thankfully, the procedure was over very quickly and, after two hours, I was on my way back to university, struggling to cope with what felt like heavy period pains, but full of relief.
I honestly believed I had made the right decision and, as the weeks passed, I didn't waiver. By the time the baby's due date arrived close to my 20th birthday, all I could think was: 'Thank God I don't have a baby!'
How strange that seems now. I did want to be a mother one day. My mother had me when she was 25 and that seemed the ideal age.
I was sure I'd be settled by then. Richard even asked me to marry him after the abortion, but I said no, saying we were too young to be tied down.
I'm sure we'd have stayed together if we'd met later in life, but when you are young, you think you have plenty of time.
And although I loved Richard, we'd started to argue. Eventually we broke up after four-and-a-half years together, during my very last week at university.
It had been two years since the abortion, but it was something we'd never spoken about since the day it happened. While it was not the reason we split up, it was always there, hovering unspoken between us.
I recall being upset when - short of money following the termination - Richard became a sperm donor in return for payment.
It made me feel uncomfortable that we had just ended the life of our child and here he was trying to help some other woman create a new life.
I called him a month after our split, but he gave me short shrift and said he didn't want to know me any more. And that was it. He'd been such a big part of my life and I really missed him.
As the years passed, I heard snippets about him on the grapevine: he'd stayed on at university to do a Masters degree and began living with a girl called Rachel.
A mutual friend of ours once passed on a greeting for me. 'Sarah says hi,' she told him. Apparently he retorted: 'I don't care what Sarah says.'
So I never expected to hear from him again and tried to put him out of my mind as I forged a successful career in the pharmaceutical industry, though now I run a web design business in Nottingham. I spent my 20s meeting men and enjoying my £50,000-a-year salary.
I assumed that eventually I'd meet someone and settle down - I thought I had plenty of time. Suddenly, however, I was 30 and aware that while I was still single, my university friends were getting married and having babies.
Gradually I felt left behind and my biological clock began to tick, only softly at first, but, by 35, it was deafening.
I began to think about the child I'd never had and look at the children who were the same age as mine would have been.
I began to wonder what he or she would have looked like, if our baby would have been a son or a daughter.
And then Richard emailed me and brought the past back into sharp focus and made me question the decisions I had made as a young woman, unaware of the impact they would have on the rest of my life.
After the first few hurried emails, Richard continued to write affectionately about his boys, completely unaware of how his happy family situation had made me reflect on my own childless life.
I wondered what would have happened if we'd had our child together - would we have married and spent the last 20 years together?
Our child would now be turning 19 - the same age we were when I had the abortion. He or she could have been at university themselves. Would we have had a second child?
Instead, I have to wake up every day with this infernal ticking clock counting me down to my 40s and the possibility of a childless middle-age. In three months time, I will be 39 and the thought of reaching the end of my 30s having not had a child, fills me with panic.
I'm well aware that if I don't fall pregnant within the next six months, I'll be in my 40s before I become a mother. That's if I'm lucky enough to conceive and the rest of my life somehow falls miraculously into place.
I am seeing a kind and caring man who would also like children, but ours is a relatively new relationship and we do not know each other well enough to start trying for a baby.
Clearly, I would have had a very different life if I'd had a baby at 20 and I would not be the person I am now. But knowing it may have been my only chance of motherhood does now leave me with extremely mixed emotions.
Remaining childless while Richard is enjoying parenthood is a very bitter-sweet experience. Though I don't begrudge him his children, I do so wish I had one of my own.
My student abortion has affected the whole of my life, yet Richard appears to have escaped unscathed. Over the following few months, I exchanged several emails with Richard who apologised for his behaviour when we'd parted.
He kept asking to meet up, but I refused. There was no point. He had another life now and our life together was in the past. But there was one thing I wanted to ask him which he never mentioned - did he ever think about the abortion?
Yes, he admitted, when his children were born, it did make him wonder what might have been. But he'd never told anyone about it, not even his wife.
As with many people, the whole topic of abortion was taboo with him. Yet with me, the older I've got, the more I have examined if I did the right thing all those years ago.
I like to think Richard got back in touch because he was sorry about the harsh way he treated me when we broke up, that he still felt something for me and perhaps because the child we conceived together will always bind us.
But he had no idea of the pain he was inflicting on me when he told me he had children and then asked me why I didn't.
When I admitted to him in one email that I was worried about getting too old for a baby, he told me cheerfully about his sister who'd had three children post-40.
He said he hoped I would be lucky, too, and while I know he wanted to be encouraging, I was irritated by his seeming lack of depth of understanding.
More than a year on from that heart-stopping first email, I still get the occasional word from Richard. I don't really know what he wants from me now and wonder if there are problems in his marriage making him seek out the young girl that he once adored.
But while I'm sure he needed to lay his old ghosts to rest, this voice from the past has made me question the path I have chosen in life.
Inevitably, I think about what might have been. When you are 20 you make decisions easily. The world is black and white. It is only later that you look back and realise how the past can overshadow the rest of your life.
• Richard and Rachel's names have been changed. Interview by Angela Carless
Source: Daily Mail