I have wanted children from the furthest back I can remember. As a small child I planned to have ten! Five boys and five girls and I had their names all planned out (all with a distinctly 80s flavour). Whilst endlessly single, in my mid twenties, I genuinely started investigating options and finances for IVF if I was inevitably still single once I hit my thirties.
Thankfully by the time I hit thirty I was married to a very lovely man and was seven months pregnant with my first child. We went through the standard screening procedures offered in this country looking at risk factors for genetic disorders. Prior to having these tests, and getting back the letter telling us we were low risk, we had already discussed and decided that whatever the results of that letter I would not consent to further invasive tests, and we would definitely continue with the pregnancy. Receiving the low risk letter felt strange, it didn’t reasssure me at all, I had heard too many stories of people being told they were low risk and going on to have a child with Down’s syndrome. The whole thing just felt kind of unpleasant. Again we had the twenty week anomaly scan, with the understanding that it might help us prepare for any issues that might arise, and maybe start any necessary planning to deal with any abnormality that was found, but still certain we would continue with the pregnancy regardless. Again the twenty week scan returned with an all clear.
I was totally naive. I know that now. Having had my first child and being thrown into a pit of completely not coping with motherhood but somehow surviving, I cannot begin to imagine how much harder it would have been to throw in serious disease or disability. And yet I stand by that choice. Before medical school I worked with children with severe disability. I saw, from my rather cosier view point, the level of care those children needed, and with my naive brain, the impact it had on their parents. I work in the health service now and see on a daily basis the effect that our medical interventions have on people, and believe very strongly that often the treatments we encourage these people to endure are really not in their best interests. We continue to inflict painful interventions with unpleasant side effects on people who are quite clearly dying. As a health service I feel we should get much better at saying, no, this is enough. And yet, for my child, growing inside my body, well whatever those screening tests had shown I wanted to at least give them the chance to live.
In the second pregnancy after long discussion we decided to refuse all early screening tests. We had the twenty week anomaly scan but again, with certainty that we would continue the pregnancy regardless of the findings.
These were my choices though, in discussion with my husband. They were the ones I felt were right for us. Since having children I understand far more clearly the enormous physical, mental and emotional toll they bring. I understand how they impact on every single aspect of your life, career, finances, relationships, interests, prospects, wider family and social status. I have sat there in the middle of the night having not slept for days, with a snotty, miserable child and dreamt of my old life and questioned my life choices. I’ve had moments where if I could wish them away I quite happily would.
And these are my desperately longed for children. I have always been in favour of easily accessible abortion for all women. Since having my fabulous, exhausting and much loved children I believe in it even more fervently. Absolutely no woman should be forced to have a child they do not want, a child that they do not feel they have the resources to look after. Losing that power of choice has enormous implications for not only their lives, but that child, and if they have them, their partner, other children and family. Surely if we talk about high impact healthcare, providing safe access to abortion, alongside good counselling services, for all women is right up there in terms of quality of life indicators.
Of course, preventing unwanted pregnancy to start with is even more crucial. In a world where sex sells, where the majority of young teenagers have seen internet pornography, and where arguably the most powerful man on the planet feels that ‘pussy grabbing’ is acceptable, then anything which limits women’s ability to access expert advice on contraception is frankly ludicrous and surely hypocrisy of the highest order.
Despite everything I have written I found myself in the position,many years ago, of taking the morning after pill. I completely stand by that choice also and do not regret it for a single second. It is my body and ultimately I get to choose.
None of us can control everything that happens to our bodies, nature has a way of surprising us at every turn, but within those constraints we should always be allowed to make informed choices about how we deal with that. It is terribly sad that there are many women in the world today who are not educated about their bodies or their contraceptive options, and are denied access to safe abortion. What I find utterly disgusting is that powerful men in one of the richest countries in the world, go out of their way to make it even harder for these women. I cannot help but believe that if the burden of pregnancy, birth and childcare fell upon those men, that things would be very different.
So while my choices may not be right for everyone I am so thankful that I had the ability to make them for myself, and I will always support the rights of other women to do the same.