Dealing with guilt and shame after three abortions

Felicia, a 35-year-old unmarried consultant, has had three abortions and each time, guilt and shame sent her into a deep funk.

She is among those who have had multiple abortions.

Last year, one in three women who terminated their pregnancies had previous abortions. Some 22 per cent had their second abortion, 7 per cent their third, and 4 per cent, their fourth or more.

The proportion of repeat abortions has remained stable in the past decade.

Felicia (not her real name), a polytechnic diploma holder, had her first abortion when she was 17. She was then a student, could not afford to have a baby and felt that her father would kill her if he found out she was pregnant.

"I felt very lost and hopeless then, and I had no one to talk to," she said. "I thought if I had an abortion, my life could go back to normal."

Afterwards, however, she became depressed but felt too ashamed to confide in anyone.

Two years later, at 19, she found herself pregnant again by another boyfriend.

"I didn't have to struggle as much as I did the first time, to decide on an abortion," she said. "I felt it was the only option for me. So I suppressed my feelings."

But guilt and depression came back to haunt her.

She said her boyfriends did not want to use condoms during sex and she was not comfortable with taking birth control pills.

Besides, she did not think she would be so unlucky as to get pregnant again. This is a common refrain of women who have had multiple abortions, said Ms Jennifer Chee of Alife, a charity which counsels women facing unwanted pregnancies.

More than a decade after her second abortion, Felicia got pregnant again. This time, it happened while she was having an affair with a married colleague. She dreaded the thought of a third abortion, but her lover told her to do it.

As she did not feel confident that she could raise a child alone, she did as he said.

"I hardened my heart," she recalled.

This time, though, the abortion almost sent her over the edge. She suffered from insomnia and depression and had suicidal thoughts.

All her abortions were done at private clinics. She said she received no counselling, but was made to sit through a video about abortion each time.

She said: "There's a great sense of regret. If someone could have told me there were other options, I might have gone through with my last pregnancy. Women don't realise the impact of abortion - no one talks about all the pain, shame and regret."

Theresa Tan