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MALTATODAY 15 August 2021

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13 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 15 AUGUST 2021 tal or the police. The next day I tried to go to the police station, but as I was crossing the road towards it, there he was. He threatened me, saying if I didn't leave with him there and then, he would do something worse (which to my naive and shocked mind meant he would kill me). That day he proceeded to put a knife to my throat, and he raped me again. This was during my O-levels. I left the house only to go to my exams, with my mum driving and picking me up. No one knew what was going on. Shortly after I finished my ex- ams, I realised I was pregnant. The shock of that realisation is something I can still remember. The world for me had ended. I was pregnant with a baby after being raped. I would have to give up my education, my future. Still, no one knew. I kept it that way. I tried every myth in the book to miscarry, and nothing worked. I started walking to a suicide hot- spot every single day, and I even gave myself a deadline: "If I don't miscarry by 4 months, I will jump and kill myself." Still, no one knew. Now I am in a very good place career wise, happily married and God has blessed me with three beautiful kids, who I love to death. I just wanted to share my experience. I am forever grateful to my friend, as without her it would have been too overwhelm- ing to go through with it my own. Women have the right to make their own choices. AGE OF EXPERIENCE: 24 YEAR: 2015 LOCALITY: Mellieha I have always practiced safe sex. I had a difficult childhood as my parents were too young and im- mature to raise me properly, and the last thing I ever wanted was to continue that cycle. As a result of a traumatic upbringing and my own emotionally sensitive nature, I struggle with Borderline Personality Disorder, and the suicidal inclinations that come along with it. I became pregnant at 23. The man I was dating did not bother to tell me there had been an acci- dent with the condom until after I told him I was pregnant. What else was I supposed to have done to avoid this? Even if he had been a decent human being and told me, the morning after pill was not even available in Malta at the time. Though I wasn't in favour of abortion back then, I knew I would be bringing a child into an unstable environment. This also had serious implica- tions for my already poor mental health, and the suicidal thoughts slowly started. I also knew that I wouldn't have made a good mother at the time; I was emo- tionally unstable, and I regularly lashed out at people as a result of my illness. After consulting my family and receiving no support, the first thing I did was try to miscarry by drinking a lot, taking class A drugs, and punching myself in the uterus whenever I had the chance. This did not work. It was a horrible experience. I then made the decision to use all of my savings to terminate something I had tried my best to avoid. I flew to the UK, alone, as I had already lived there in the past and had an NHS number. I made jokes in the clinic wait- ing room with the staff, to hide how much agony I was in; I feel bad for the other women in that room to this day, as it must have seemed insensitive and they were suffering too. You could see it in everyone's eyes—we all knew how serious this was. AGE OF EXPERIENCE: 37 YEAR: 2019 LOCALITY: Hamrun I was told that I couldn't have children, that it was impossible. My gynaecologist told me so, years back. So, I stopped using protection with regular part- ners. And yet I got pregnant last year. It was a complete and total shock, which shook me to my core. I knew my partner at the time would not have been able to step up and be a parent. He is not Maltese, and he moves country according to his job, so I knew from the onset that I would have to go through this alone, whatev- er my decision. But really, there was no decision to be made. I knew immediately that I had to terminate the pregnancy. I was brought up by one parent. I would never want to do that to a child; I would never want to have to explain why "Daddy isn't here", or even where he could be. So, I contacted the Abortion Support Network, because I was scared and desperate, and that was literally the only support that I knew existed at the time. I felt like I had to keep this huge secret to myself, and that the re- percussions would be detrimen- tal if anyone were to find out. It took me three weeks to coordi- nate everything. I was scared that I wouldn't be given an appoint- ment with BPAS in time, as I wanted to have the termination under 10 weeks, so I ordered the pills online too, fully prepared to do it alone. I was petrified that the pills would arrive and some- one would notice what was in- side the envelope. The pills came the day my appointment was confirmed. I had four days to coordinate flights, accommodation and transport. I was distraught. And again, I had to make all the ar- rangements alone. Once in the UK, everything moved pretty smoothly. My mum met me there, so, thank- fully, I didn't have to endure the experience alone. AGE: 17 YEAR: 2015 LOCALITY: Lija Malta's blanket ban on abor- tion meant that I had to run away from home at 17 years old, at 5am, to go to the airport and get a flight so that I could get an abortion abroad, alone. My parents are staunch Catho- lics and refused to help me ter- minate the pregnancy; instead, they started planning for the ba- by's arrival as if I didn't exist or have a say, no matter how many times I said I didn't want that life for myself. I've never wanted to be a moth- er, especially at 17, and my preg- nancy happened as a result of failed contraception. I just want- ed to be a normal teenager, fin- ish school and go to university. Before going abroad, I tried so many at home "methods": mix- ing drugs and alcohol, and trying to hurt myself to induce a mis- carriage (I did not know about online pill services at the time). I was extremely depressed and ready to jump in front of moving traffic just to dislodge it from my uterus, or at least end it all. I finally managed to get the money together, and I booked an appointment abroad with- out telling anyone. I was 17 and going through this completely alone in a foreign country be- cause I couldn't find the help I needed in my own country, or from my own family. I have never regretted my decision, in all these years, but the months that followed were hard because there was absolutely no mental and emotional support or after- care I could get because of the situation in Malta. My family was angry and I was afraid to tell my friends because of the stigma in this country. AGE OF EXPERIENCE: 25 YEAR: 2015 LOCALITY: Zebbug I had to have an abortion after I found out I was pregnant. I was not in a relationship. I worked as a teacher in a Catholic school, and being a single parent was frowned upon. I looked up op- tions on the internet and found Women on the Web. I purchased the pills and waited. After a cou- ple of days, the package arrived... open. One of the pills was miss- ing but I took what was there anyway. I was home alone as my parents were abroad, and it was a nightmare to say the least. The pain was unbearable; the blood lost was horrid. I think I was about 8 weeks pregnant. I had a fever for a cou- ple of days but I did not want to go to hospital. I felt better after a couple of days. I went to a gy- nae a few months later to check that everything was okay, and they found lesions in my uter- us and a number of water cysts. Intercourse was painful until they shrunk. It was a nightmare, a horrible experience; I am still traumatised to this day and I have no one to talk to about it. of tears. I eventually got my period. I haven't forgotten the feeling of absolute helplessness and shame. I was 15, it was the summer after O-levels, and I was terrified that one mistake was about to dictate the rest of my life. I was only a child. AGE OF EXPERIENCE: N/A YEAR: 2021 LOCALITY: N/A I became pregnant with my long-term boyfriend. We could have essentially had a child at that point in our lives, but we knew that it was not what we had planned or wanted for ourselves or our children. We made the de- cision together. I was very lucky to have a supportive partner who reassured me that ultimately it is my body, and that he would sup- port me in whatever I chose. We went to the gynaecologist together and were met with hos- tility when we explained our sit- uation. I prefaced our decision to abort with an explanation that I un- derstood if they could not assist me personally, but asked if they could at least point me in a safe direction to receive help. This was met with comments of, "No, I cannot. If you wish to book a follow up appointment for your baby, you can book it now. Also take these prenatal vitamins to ensure the health of your baby." This emotional trauma has stuck with my boyfriend and I, especially through the uncertain- ty of ordering pills online and going through the process alone without any medical advice or help. The abortion itself was extremely painful for me, and I was so unprepared. We were so scared in those moments: scared of having to contact health pro- fessionals, as what we were doing is illegal in Malta. It was an all-round traumatic experience, but neither of us re- gret our decision. It is what was right for us at the time. I just wish that I had more guidance, because although we managed to abort, it was not in a safe en- vironment. After my contraception failed, I found out that I was pregnant. As I wasn't in an emotional or financial state to continue the pregnancy and raise a child, ter- mination was the only option, so I asked a family member to bring me abortion pills from abroad. The abortion was suc- cessful in the 6th gestational week. AGE OF EXPERIENCE: 32 YEAR: 2014 LOCALITY: Birzebbugia I was in a relationship with a man who had a child from a pre- vious relationship. This was also my first sexual experience. After a few months, the relationship broke down. We'd had unpro- tected sex a few times, and he always made sure to ejaculate outside of my body. Nonetheless, I got pregnant. At the time, I had only been in full-time employment for a few months. I had a car loan, I was not in a steady relationship, and my mother had physical health issues. I therefore knew that having the baby would have serious implications for my ca- reer, finances and personal life. Adoption was discussed but I knew that, when it came to it, I wouldn't be able to give the child up. So, I made the difficult deci- sion to have an abortion. I also see the effects on those women who have not managed to get an abortion. They might struggle financially, or worse, emotionally. I'd really like to see abortion care being included as part of essential healthcare to women in Malta.

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