Leading up to Christmas, I want to share with you FIVE GIFTS of LIFE. These are five real stories of local women who fell pregnant young, outside of their plans, and made good anyway. Each Friday between now and Christmas, I’ll publish another. First was Rachel, second was Stacey. Third was Lucy. Here’s the fourth: Carly.
You walk into the clinic and take a seat beside your boyfriend.
Three other women are seated in the cramped waiting room, one with her mother.
A stack of magazines sits untouched.
There is no music.
The four women waiting for an abortion that day are deathly silent. They look at the floor, at their hands, at the walls. The hush amplifies the voice of the receptionist as she makes phone calls. When a doctor strides in and tells her that appointments must be cancelled that day, his voice is as clear as a heartbeat. Those waiting lean in.
I have a plane to catch.
But women are counting on this.
Too bad. Make it happen.
They’ll be devastated.
Do you want your job?
Then, the click of the phone being lifted from its cradle and the receptionist’s voice, “I’m so sorry…”
This was the room and reality that 18-year-old Launceston woman Carly walked into after deciding to have an abortion in 2013. She was five weeks pregnant when she was ushered into the rooms of the Hobart abortionist who was in a hurry to catch a plane.
He told Carly that she wasn’t pregnant at all, that she had cysts on her ovaries. A pregnancy test during the appointment that day showed a faint second line but, despite Carly’s queries, the doctor insisted she was not pregnant.
“I fully believe he was rushing that day… but I’m glad that it happened now,” Carly says.
A few weeks later Carly went for a scan to examine the cysts and it was confirmed that she was indeed pregnant.
Carly met her boyfriend Ben through work. They were having fun, nothing serious, considering they were 18 and 20, respectively.
“I was pretty irresponsible, always going out, getting drunk every weekend – I didn’t have any money saved up,” she says.
“I was still living at home, sharing a room with my sister.”
When Carly discovered she was pregnant, she had been with Ben for less than a month.
Shock washed over her like a bucket of ice water.
Then came the questions: What will I do? How would I cope with a baby? Should I tell my family? Could I go through with an abortion? She stood shivering in that lonely and terrifying place.
Ben was decisive and immediately encouraged Carly to have an abortion.
“I thought it was the right thing to do even though I didn’t want to,” she says.
The two made the trip to the Hobart abortion clinic when Carly was five weeks pregnant – a somber trip there and a relieved trip home. But Carly always doubted the abortionist’s prognosis.
“I saw the second line on the test,” she insists, and she was right.
About five weeks later Carly found herself faced with that same thorny decision. “Do I keep this baby?”
Again, Ben was resolute and an appointment was made, this time at the Launceston clinic, which could only fit her in at 13 weeks gestation – technically illegal at the time (legislation in Tasmania has since changed so that women can have an abortion on-demand until 16 weeks).
The days counted down.
Carly was discontent. Her body was making adjustments to carry her baby to term, diligently making room and blissfully unaware of what her head had decided. The tug-of-war put Carly’s heart in turmoil, and people began to notice.
“My sister and mother finally figured it out, because I was acting weird. They were talking to me, giving me support. Mum made me go to the hospital to have a scan,” Carly says.
When she saw the black and white smear of life on that screen, the lub-dub of her baby’s heart and its irrefutable life-filled movements, her mind and body were in agreement again.
“Once I saw my baby on that scan, I couldn’t do it.”
Carly cancelled the appointment at the abortion clinic, took a deep breath, and told her boyfriend that she was going to keep their baby. Strangely, her world did not fall to pieces. Carly’s decision invited many beautiful and unexpected things into her life.
Carly expected to do the pregnancy journey alone. She expected to tread the complexities of motherhood by herself. A single mum. But once the decision was made, Ben courageously rose to the challenge.
“I thought he would leave, but he said to me that was never an option. He said he wanted his baby to grow up with a mother and a father,” Carly explains.
Falling pregnant was the catalyst for so much change in Carly and Ben’s lives. All of their reckless habits were suddenly scrutinised through the prism of parenthood. It was a nine-month fast track to adulthood.
“Things have changed so much for us – we’ve got our acts together, we have a house together, Ben’s got an awesome job and he’s supporting me so I can stay at home and be a mum. Things are going really well.”
Carly isn’t one to sugarcoat her experience. She’s the first to admit that being a young mum is tough.
“Most of the time, through my pregnancy, I was living off two-minute noodles and toast! It got that bad, I couldn’t even afford bread or milk,” she says.
Carly had to give up her job as the heavy lifting required was dangerous during pregnancy. Ben had to leave his own job soon after for health reasons. At one stage, the two (and a half) were living off Carly’s minimal takings as a casual waitress. They relied on being invited to family dinners much of the time – until Carly’s mum found out how dire their situation was, and started supplying their groceries.
“I need to share more,” Carly nods her head, “My family was there for me, they just needed to know.”
She was scared to tell her nearest and dearest, dreading their reaction.
“I was most worried about telling my dad but when I told him, he was more worried that I’d gone through those three months alone. I was worried for nothing.”
These days, Carly is an advocate for including family in those big life decisions.
“The best thing to do is to tell your family because they’re always going to be there for you. They were the best support to me. If it weren’t for them we would’ve gone through with the abortion. I look at Grace and am so grateful.”
Grace is the little person who, but for an abortion specialist distracted by a flight he had to catch, might not be here today. She is now 18 months old. A happy, cheeky, giggly, articulate and fun-loving little girl who is soaking up the world around her.
Grace slept through the night from three weeks, a contented little person who is gentle with others. She has her mum’s long legs and Carly is predicting she will also be a fast runner like her. Apart from that, her facial features are a blend of mum and dad, dark eyes and wispy brown hair that flicks into curls at the ends, with a subtle red hue when it catches sunlight.
She is thriving in the love that radiates from her parents, through the strong nucleus they have formed – against the odds. And Carly is determined to give her a positive childhood entrenched in trust.
“I want her to grow up being able to trust me, knowing she can talk to me about anything, being a good friend as well as her mother,” she says.
“I’d like to think that if she found herself in the same situation later on, she would come to me first. I want that kind of relationship.”
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.
Are you facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy?
Before making a decision, why not check out some of these sites where you’ll find information, understanding and support.
Babymum Australia: for mothers under the age of 21.
Not Born Yet: for women grappling with a tough decision.