by Damian Arnold
I am led down a basement in a central London office near Edgeware Road. It is the most unprepossessing of places. The first thing to hit is the sound of babies crying, not just crying, but opening their mouths and bellowing. With life.
Allesandra is 28 year old from Romania who has been living in the UK for three years. She came to Britain “for a better life”. One day she found out she was pregnant. At the time of writing her little girl was due in five weeks.
I had an appointment for an abortion (at a Central London clinic) and one of the members of the GCN was there and they told me they could offer me help if I want to keep the baby. I said yes right away. I didn’t think twice. The person told me they could help me if I want to keep pregnancy and I said what kind of help can you give me and they told me just come and see and I said OK.
The first time I talk with Ronnie, she asked me about my situation where I am what I am doing here and she offered me help. From the start it was difficult in this situation to believe that you can really get help. I thought it was a joke but its real… yes, its real. But I didn’t believe it at all. When they offered me the accommodation I thought it’s real.
My situation was very difficult. Where I was working as a nanny at first they pretended that everything was ok and said they were very happy for me but then they said I had to leave. They kicked me out with nowhere to go. They didn’t give me any time. I was five months pregnant. I called the Good Counsel and I told them what was happening they offered me accommodation and I said OK.
What about the father of the child?
When I told the father of the baby I was pregnant he didn’t want to know about it and he told me to have an abortion and that if I decided to keep it I would be a single mother. I don’t see him now. I just say thank you thank you for the baby I don’t regret it I’m going to see this baby growing and smiling what you are going to miss a lot. He will think about it.
Once you go with a woman you can’t just say ‘have an abortion or a pill or something like that and it will be fine’, treating abortion as if you are ill – you take medicine and it goes away. It’s not like that but to some of them it’s like a piece of meat – just go and take it out.
And your family?
My family don’t know my real situation. They know I’m pregnant but I’m really ashamed to tell them what is happening. I’m not ashamed about the baby because I’m very happy about the baby, but, I don’t want to tell them that I’ve been kicked out of my job. I’m just waiting for my situation to be better and to have a job again and then I will tell them the truth. I want to work.
What are your ambitions now?
I would like to work in a hospital; I like helping people. I’m very sociable and I just can’t stay in one place behind a desk. I want to study I don’t want to stop.
After I found out I was pregnant I went into shock. I was happy at the same time and sad. I went to my GP and told them that I can’t have an abortion. Then I worried about the family who kicked me out and I worried for myself what I’m going to do the father is not around. Then I thought ok I will have an abortion. I made an appointment and I hadn’t even gone inside when the girl approached me from the centre and told me I could get help. Then I went back here and I didn’t believe it. Then I made another appointment with the abortion centre because it is quite difficult to believe that someone from the street can help you in this situation. I was suspicious. Yes, oh my God, I didn’t believe people like this help other people like me. But because of them, I’ll have my baby and I’m happy. I wanted the baby from the start I didn’t think about having an abortion but everything here is only about the money. I just need a little bit of help and then I can do it myself.
Was it an issue for you that the Good Counsel Network is a religious/Catholic organisation?
Religion doesn’t matter. I don’t have a problem with that. We all believe in the same god isn’t it? I’m orthodox.
A lot of people would say that the prolife street counsellors are harassing women. What do you say to that?
No. Look, a lot of people who go to the clinic are women who really want to have an abortion and are in a good situation. They have money, a husband or a boyfriend who they are living with. They want to have an abortion. The person from the centre offers you help and you listen because you might need help but it is not harassment; it is just help. It’s your choice if you want to listen or not, to come here or not, to keep the baby or not. I’m sure if you go now on the street and ask women why they are having an abortion what was the reason, I’m sure the answer from most of them would be because they didn’t have support or help.
Some of my friends said ‘are you ready for this’, you will have to give up your life. Then someone came to me and said that if you want to keep the baby then we can help you. I would say I am lucky; not all people are lucky.
I was crying all the way on the tube. I said no please God give me a sign I don’t want to do this. I just heard that word ‘help’ and just thought oh thank you God. I just took her hand and said let’s go now. Please, let’s go. At that time, I didn’t want to have an abortion because I know I couldn’t live with that. Now when I feel my baby moving I say ‘thank you for that’. I could not live without it and I keep thinking about it.
I think every woman who has an abortion will think about it, especially when she has her first baby. I can’t believe they don’t think about it. It’s impossible just to erase it.
They (GCN) are really struggling for us. With any issue or problem we have, they will try to talk with you advise you. There are a lot of us in the house and we all have our moods because we are pregnant. They are still nice with us and still help us and I will never believe that, never. They are really good people.
I’m not going to be independent again immediately. It’s going to be a few months. It will take time, I don’t want to make big mistake. But I know if I need some help they will be there supporting me and I know they will help me if I need it. I know that.
Can you describe what it felt like when they told you can keep your baby?
I don’t think I have words for that. It was just like a miracle – that’s all. I couldn’t believe it. I said ok I’m going to have this baby it’s going to live. I’m going to see it and I’m not going to kill it. Joy? Hmm, it was a miracle, yes.
How hard has it been over the last few months?
It is hard. I didn’t expect it to be easy and my life has change a lot. Sometimes I have my moments when I see my friends with a free life and no responsibilities and I say ‘ok I could be with them all having fun, but then I say what’s the point, I’m going to give life. It’s hard and it’s not easy, but nothing in this life is easy. You can’t just say it’s going to be too difficult and I’m going to get rid of it. Find a home for it – that’s all.
You must miss some of the freedoms that you had before being able to socialise with some of your friends?
O yes, I used to go out drinking and to clubs. I even talk with some of the friends I used to socialise with. I go and visit them. But I can tell you that most of my friends are so jealous. One of my friends had an abortion when she was quite young now she can’t have children anymore and another one has the same thing she had more than one abortion.
What advice would you give to another young woman who is in this situation who feels isolated and without much help or any help what advice would you give them?
Ask around people who can help you and don’t take no for answer all the time. There is always a way for everything and if you really want to do it and keep it you will always find a way – you just have to ask. If you really want it then you are going to have it – you just have to hope.
If you had the power what services for young women who become pregnant in this position what services should there be for them provided by the state?
I went to my GP and asked for a form for my abortion. She didn’t ask me do you want it or not or do you want me to help? No, she just filled out the form. waved her hand and said go and have the abortion. There was nothing there like we can help pregnant woman in this difficult situation, nothing. It’s not harassing, it’s just a question. They give you form to fill out. They should give you another option – abortion or help. Nobody said do you want to keep the baby? Most of them go to the GP because it’s free to have an abortion in this country. But they should give you a options. Some of them feel bad about asking if you want to keep the baby or not.
Is there anything else you want to say?
When you get in relationship and get pregnant and he’s say no, that is the main reason why a lot of women have the abortion because they feel under pressure. My advice is just go and have it.
If you want to keep your baby, keep it.
Susan is 29 years old and from the Philippines and has lived in the UK for four years. I was a student studying hotel and tourism management when she became pregnant. She stopped when she gave birth and now has a three month old baby girl.
How did you feel when you first found out that you were pregnant?
I planned to terminate the baby and I made an appointment with the medical centre. On the day of the appointment, I prayed that God would give me a sign to keep the baby or just go on. The sign I wanted came when one of the staff approached me here. At that time I was rushing because it was already time for my appointment. I didn’t bother to entertain the man who approach me from GCN but when he mentioned that they could help me I did think twice, so he brought me here to their office.
Did you believe them when they said they could help you?
Not at first. They explain how they could help me and they showed me some movies. At that time I still didn’t believe them until I told them that night that I was going to have the abortion. In the morning I thought ‘why not?’ they have offered to help me so I decided to call them and I asked them about accommodation. I came to speak to some of the mothers at the accommodation to see how they had been helped.
When you first realised that you were expecting a baby what was your first reaction?
I was shocked and I thought that I am not ready, especially being here in England.
Were you aware that you could get some help?
No, not until I was approached by the GCN.
What about the father of the baby was he supportive towards you?
One of their staff helped me to contact the father. He doesn’t want to see the baby but his family is willing to see the baby.
How did you feel when you realised you could keep the baby and didn’t have to have the abortion?
I realised that I am one of the few women who were saved that time.
How would you describe the care and the support that you have had here at GCN?
I was lucky that I met them. They really helped me, until I can stand on my own feet. I owe the life of my baby to them
What advice would you give to any other girl who finds herself pregnant unexpectedly and is shocked and scared and feels under pressure to have an abortion?
That you should think many times before having an abortion because there is another opportunity. I think there is a reason why God gave me this one. I can’t imagine not having him. That you should try counselling; it works, it really helps
What about your family back home?
I have plans to go back there for a holiday.
Do you still hope to work again?
Yes, I hope to work but not full time.
Will you finish the course you started?
No, I will do something else.
One of the things that the people on the other side of the debate say about GCN counselling outside the clinics to people such as yourself is that they are harassing vulnerable women. What is your opinion of that?
I think they should give a chance – because maybe they don’t know the reality after having that abortion – they should give a chance –
When you first had an encounter with the street counsellor, what were they like?
I didn’t feel under pressure, it was ok. I think it is up to you if you want to listen to them or not. Everybody still has a choice about what they want to do. You listen to them and it’s up to you if you want to keep it or not. I was lucky that I decided to keep it you know.
What do you think should happen to make young women more aware of the fact that there is help out there if they want to keep their babies if they become pregnant?
I think this counsel should advertise or more leaflet so that the people will see
Did you have contact with the GP when you knew you were pregnant?
Yes, they just give me form for the clinic and they didn’t tell me anything about other help or advice
Do you think they should have done?
They should ask you if you want to keep the baby or not? They should tell you that there is help available. They just gave me the letter. They didn’t ask me if I wanted any counselling.
Did you feel at the time as though you were under pressure to have the abortion?
I was working and studying at the time. I was working with older people in a care home and living in Willesden. I am still there. It is ok for me to live there for the meantime.
Do you have a visa to stay here?
I am just a student but yes, maybe because the father is English and he will help me to stay here because his family are pushing him to help me
Do you enjoy being a mum?
I enjoy being a single mum.
What do you like about motherhood?
Watching her grow
When do you think you will return to work?
In September or next year
Has it been hard?
I’m used to taking care of people for my job but this is not the same. But now I’m happy.
Do you miss the life you had before you had your baby?
Yes, but I prioritise my baby
Did you have a very active social life?
No not that much but I still meet friends
How have your friends responded to you with the new baby?
They wanted to see the baby and they are excited if I say I am coming to visit there
Will the relationship with the GCN carry on?
Yes because they still have a monthly meeting for mothers. I made some friends as well in the house.
Gabrielle is 32 and from Bolivia. She has worked as a nanny in South West London for five years. In November 2011 she had an abortion.
How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?
When I knew that I was pregnant I was scared and I started crying because it was unexpected it wasn’t planned.
The person I had the relationship with wasn’t my partner. We were just flatmates and he took advantage of me. He didn’t want the baby because we didn’t want any relationship. So when I knew it I was in shock and I didn’t know what to do. When I told him I was pregnant he said ‘who is the father?’. I was so upset with him. He said that I must have an abortion because a baby would ruin our lives. I had a talk with a very close friend and she recommend that I have the abortion. She said that it would be so stupid of me to have a baby here in London as an immigrant and while the father didn’t want to know about me or the baby. At that time my economic situation wasn’t good and I was upset with my family back home because they were spending all my savings from my bank back in Bolivia so I wasn’t in contact with my family. Everything pointed to having the abortion but I felt something inside me say ‘don’t do it’ and I tried to find another any institution that could help me but unfortunately the Latin institution I went to said they didn’t offer that kind of help.
When I knew that I was pregnant I was crying and crying and the doctor told me I was pregnant and I just started crying and said I can’t have the baby. The doctor then told me about BPAS and said that they could do the abortion for me. When I came home, the father, who was also my landlord, told me that I have to leave the room in two weeks because his parents were coming back.
I felt so lost and so scared and so confused and I could barely talk. I was just crying and crying because I don’t understand how I was in that situation.
What did you do then?
It seemed at that point that all the walls were coming down on me and I couldn’t handle it and I didn’t find any help. Everyone was telling me to have the abortion. I made my appointment with BPAS and everything happened very fast. They asked me for my details and they gave me a form to fill in and they also gave to me three leaflets with information about the kind of abortion that they do. When I asked them to help me to decide which of the methods is the best for me they told me that all of them are effective and that you just need to choose the best for you. I was just three weeks pregnant so I decided that the least terrifying was to take the pills.
So they booked me in for two days to come in on Friday and Saturday. When I went to BPAS to have the abortion there was a lady with the leaflet from the centre. When I went home I just started to read and it said they help ladies who don’t want an abortion. So I called them and booked an appointment and I also mentioned that I had had an abortion. That was in November.
When you first went to BPAS you had met a counsellor?
The first time I went to BPAS I didn’t see the street counsellor. The day I had the abortion there was a lady on the door. She was like an angel on the door waiting for me. But when I met her I had already taken the pill. Physically the abortion was quite straightforward it was very quick – I had the abortion in 2009 – November
I had another call in January from the Good Counsel Network and they offered me counselling and I accepted the counselling because I felt like I really need it my life was a nightmare. My days felt mechanic. I felt so empty. I didn’t know why I’m here what I’m doing here. Before I took the decision, I thought that I would continue my life as normal because everybody said that the baby would be an obstacle. There wasn’t an obstacle anymore but there wasn’t a reason to be alive as well. Nothing could make me happy. I was just waking up in the morning, having my breakfast, going to work, coming home and going to bed. In the night I would have nightmares and would scream before waking up. Then I would realise it is the day, have breakfast and head to work. My life was so miserable and I really didn’t have the wish to be alive although I never tried to do anything to myself. I would ask myself ‘what am I doing here’? I don’t want this life, this is no life. Even though I tried to think back to my memories of life before I had the abortion, it doesn’t seem like anything to me now. I really wanted to be healthy and when I asked the counsellor what is my reason of life? She just told me to be patient and patient. I was desperate. I was so lonely.
How do you feel now?
I feel stronger. I’m still alive and I realise that I have to start to love myself
You felt in your heart that you didn’t want to have the abortion?
Maybe in my heart but at that time my mind was so confused. I was so upset with my family and with this guy and my friends advised me to do it. I couldn’t think properly and I was so scared. It was like my world was ending and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I couldn’t stop crying and I was thinking what is going to happen if I had a baby? What my family is going to say? How am I going to raise the baby? I was also worrying about how I would work because I’m a nanny and I care for babies and if I go to work who is going to care for my baby? So many thoughts were flashing through my mind and the endings were not good.
Straight after the abortion
I hated myself a lot I just couldn’t believe that I did it I even felt like a criminal I think it’s just six months ago that I was starting to look with my eyes up because after I had the abortion I have a dream with my baby and my dream so – I saw my ababy and the face a fleeting moment – it breaks my neck. At work I was looking at floor couldn’t look up I feel so guilty I couldn’t even see people face to face I feel like a criminal and avoiding friends because I was so upset with them.
What were you asking?
I was confused about the scan because I was just three weeks pregnant and when I had the scan it showed that I was six weeks or more and I said that it would be impossible. I tried to have a conversation with them and they didn’t want to listen to me. They sent me to a waiting room and I felt so upset. They didn’t want to talk about it they weren’t open with me. My counsellor told me that BPAS offers help for ladies who don’t want to have a baby but when you are there they don’t tell you about that. For me it was just institution for abortion.
They didn’t offer me any help or counselling. They gave me an emergency number in case I had any problems during the abortion that’s all. They gave me condoms as well and the morning after pill
Even when I was there in BPAS I felt like a human guinea pig. I felt like a number of the ladies been there and my baby was a number of babies that have been aborted so I was a guinea pig and my baby a number I don’t feel that there is any humanity there even the way they treat us just come in and come out
The only lady that I saw smiling was the receptionist. The other ladies seemed upset to be doing that. They didn’t want to give more explanations when I asked them they just looked at me angry as if to say ‘you came for this so why are you asking’.
How has the counselling been?
It has helped me a lot. I was so desperate in the first months after the abortion because I didn’t feel any improvement. I felt the same but just talking it helps me because I didn’t have anyone to talk to – my family didn’t know and I didn’t have contact with the father anymore after those two weeks he disappeared as well – he knew I had had the abortion because I told him on the day – I didn’t want to know about anybody I wanted to be on my own I feel safe – a year of nightmares I don’t remember a night when go to sleep nightmare screaming crying
I have the wish now to be alive because before I didn’t it was like praying to please end my life this is not a life this is but now I accept that I’m still alive I’m not dying I need to continue and do something
Many, many things changed a lot. I don’t talk about money with my family anymore. It feels stupid. I just call them and I tell them that I love them.
Have you told your family about the abortion?
No. I might tell them, maybe my mother, at least. I tried to tell her many times, but I can’t find the right moment when I’m talking with them.
What advice would you give to any young woman who finds themselves in your position?
I say to them to love yourself and really, really care about yourself because when you go through an abortion it hits your body. People may think it’s not a baby yet, but it’s inside your body. Think about that what you are going to do because it might have a sad ending. When you go to BPAS, they tell you about the physical risks and that only 3 per cent of the woman have problems. Please listen to that because sometimes we feel untouchable – I’m part of the 3 per cent of the woman that they said had been affected. 97 per cent successful but with life problems maybe they should say – be strong and care about yourself and don’t allow others to decide what is best for you and your body.
How are you now?
I’m not in counselling any more. I had weekly counselling for four months and then we met once a month after that. Now I can come any time I call her.
I think about the baby and I strongly think about that every November because it was the month I had the abortion – I think about him – just three weeks but strange connection that it was a boy I even close my eyes and I imagine myself with him and the age that he will be now.
What services should there be for women who find out they are pregnant?
Most women would go to their GP first. I think GPs should be more open about the different options. Of course they are going to see someone scared and crying but that doesn’t mean that want an abortion. After seeing the GP, I went to Boots to have a test for myself. Maybe on the test packaging they should have information about help and counselling.
What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I’m still making that decision. I’m still with the same family working as a nanny and they have been really helpful. They noticed my change and they have been really helpful. I talked to them but I didn’t talk about the abortion. I was scared to tell them, but I talked to them about my problems. I’ve worked for them for three years – they have a 3 year old child