Mother of three Michelle has had THREE abortions. So is it right that she should be trying for another baby
23:05 GMT, 7 June 2012
Torment: Three adored children fill Michelle Underwood's life. But there are also another, hidden, painful three who fill her thoughts. These are the babies Michelle 'lost' through her decision to have terminations
Three adored children fill Michelle Underwood’s life — two boisterous teenage boys on the brink of manhood, and a sweet eight-year-old girl, still with wobbling milk teeth and a room full of Barbie dolls.
But there are another, hidden, painful three who fill her thoughts.
These are the babies Michelle ‘lost’ — not through accident or illness, but through her decision to have terminations.
Her first abortion came when she was 17, following a bitterly regretted drunken encounter with a colleague at an office party.
And although there are many people whose stance on abortion is so resolute they could never condone Michelle’s choice, there are many others who would understand her reasons on this occasion.
Mistakes do happen, after all. Especially drunken teenage ones.
But few could understand how Michelle, now 36, would go on to make two further mistakes, leading to two more abortions, when she should have known better (and admits she did).
Perhaps most shockingly, the third took place when she was in a long-term relationship and already a mother-of-three.
Now, in a move many will view as selfish, Michelle, from Surrey, has decided she wants another baby — although she fears her hopes may be dashed by her medical history.
Michelle knows that by trying for another baby she will attract criticism — and in many ways she understands it.
She often thinks of the abortions and the ‘babies’ that could have been. The guilt, she says, is with her constantly.
‘I don’t know exactly when the birthdays of the babies would be, but I know the oldest would be 18 by now, maybe about to go to university, while the youngest would have just started primary school,’ she says.
Her bold decision to speak out about her abortions comes after it was revealed that the NHS spends more than 50 million a year on repeat terminations.
One third of the 189,000 abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2010 involved women who’d had at least one before. In some cases, a staggering seven abortions had previously been carried out on the same woman.
Family: Michelle Underwood when younger with her children Jason, Matthew and Emily
Anti-abortion campaigners say the figures clearly suggest that some women view terminations as a form of contraception.
And Michelle is the first to admit that she could have been more diligent in her use of birth control.
‘I’ve got no excuses for my unplanned pregnancies,’ she says. ‘I was just stupid with contraception when I should have known better.’
Her abortions span 13 years — with each one taking place in a different decade of her life.
The first one, she says, was when she was a ‘naive’ girl, with very little sexual experience. She got pregnant when she ended up in bed with a 22-year-old colleague called Brian.
Michelle says: ‘I’d liked him for ages and was too shy to speak to him before, but after the party we spent the night together.
‘Although I knew I could get pregnant, we didn’t use contraception. I just didn’t think it would happen to me — and I was devastated when it did.
‘I was still so young and living at home with my mum. Although I knew she was against abortion, I didn’t feel I could burden her by having a baby when she still had my younger brother and sister to look after.
‘I don’t know exactly when the birthdays
of the babies would be, but I know the oldest would be 18 by now, maybe
about to go to university, while the youngest would have just started
– Michelle Underwood
When I told Brian I was pregnant, there was no discussion about keeping the child.
‘He immediately assumed I’d be having an abortion, and offered to pay for it.’
Michelle visited her GP and found out she was entitled to a free NHS abortion at her local hospital.
It was carried out in February 1994 — the month before she turned 18 and when she was nine weeks pregnant.
She recalls: ‘At the hospital I got chatting to a lady in her 30s who told me she was having her fourth abortion. I was very shocked. It was bad enough having one abortion. I could never imagine myself being in a similar situation at the same age.’
Michelle’s termination was carried out under general anaesthetic and she was allowed home the same day. She felt little pain — but huge relief.
Soon afterwards, she and Brian split up. And the relief started to give way to pangs of guilt.
‘I tried to forget about the abortion, but suffered many sleepless nights,’ she says. ‘I started reading the Bible and kept a diary, trying to make sense of my emotions.’
Michelle and Brian were still working in the same office, and grew close again. They reunited after four months and decided to embark on an extraordinary course of action.
‘I became very broody and wanted to have a baby,’ admits Michelle. ‘Brian said he’d like that, too, and that we should have kept the child we aborted.’
/06/07/article-2156163-0C1C0F1300000578-397_634x395.jpg” width=”634″ height=”395″ alt=”Costly: Michelle's bold decision to speak out about her abortions comes after it was revealed that the NHS spends more than 50million a year on repeat terminations” class=”blkBorder” />
Costly: Michelle's bold decision to speak out about her abortions comes after it was revealed that the NHS spends more than 50 million a year on repeat terminations
Michelle and Brian quickly moved into a rented three-bedroom house, and were thrilled when their son, Jason, arrived in August 1995.
Their second son, Matthew, was born 15 months later, in November 1996, and Michelle felt very happy for a while.
Although she still occasionally thought of the abortion, and wondered what sex her child would have been, the boys, plus her part-time office job, kept her mind busy.
But her relationship with Brian began to disintegrate, and they split up in September 1998, when Jason was three and Matthew 22 months.
For the next two years, Michelle struggled as a single mum, and longed to meet someone to settle down with.
Instead, she met John, 35, an Irish soldier stationed at barracks near her home, and they embarked on a three-week fling. It left her with another unplanned, and unwanted, pregnancy. Michelle admits: ‘We did use condoms, but not every time.
‘Another baby was out of the question. It was tough being a single parent already, and I knew I had no future with John. He was back in Ireland when I found out I was pregnant, and he ignored my calls. I eventually had to tell him via answerphone.’
Michelle was once again granted an NHS abortion at nine weeks — this time at a private London clinic, in July 2000. On the way there, she finally reached John by phone.
‘He seemed relieved about the abortion,’ says Michelle. ‘And I must admit that having had one, I did think having the second would be easier.
‘But when I arrived at the clinic and saw all the young girls waiting, I felt foolish and ashamed.
‘They were teenagers and I was in my 20s. It felt so wrong for me to be there but I also felt I had no choice.’
Before the procedure, Michelle had a scan, with the screen turned away from her so she would not see the foetus. She couldn’t help thinking of the joyous moments when she’d seen the scans of the sons she had kept.
‘Afterwards I was given a file to pass to another doctor at the clinic,’ she recalls. ‘As I was waiting to see him, I glanced inside and there was a picture of my scan. I was so shocked.
‘I tried not to look but it was very upsetting, and guilt overwhelmed me. I almost ran from the clinic.’
On her mind: Michelle says she will think about the abortions for the rest of her life
Despite her misgivings, Michelle had the abortion under general anaesthetic. She never saw John again.
Then, a year later, she met her current partner, Paul, at a local pub. They fell in love and eventually set up home together. Michelle says she was open about her abortions, and told Paul, 36 — who is an estates manager — that she didn’t want any more children.
‘I didn’t want my kids to have different dads,’ she explains. ‘But as time passed, and I saw what a good step-father Paul was, I felt it wasn’t fair to deny him the chance to be a father.
He was delighted, and I became pregnant within three months. Our daughter, Emily, arrived in September 2003.’
However, the pregnancy wasn’t easy — Michelle suffered extreme sickness and exhaustion.
Then family life became a strain when Jason started getting into trouble at school for disruptive behaviour, which continued at home.
He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome in 2006. The following year, in July, Michelle was going through a rocky period with Paul when she discovered she was pregnant again.
She says: ‘At the time we were barely speaking, as we were both so stressed out. We hadn’t been intimate for months, but one night relations thawed and we had sex.
‘Until then, we’d been using condoms but this time we didn’t. Although I thought about getting the morning-after pill, I ended up leaving it to chance.’ Michelle says she was stunned to find herself facing yet another unplanned pregnancy.
‘I worried if Paul and I had a future together, and how I’d cope if I became as ill as I did when I was expecting Emily.’
When she told Paul she wanted an abortion, he was aghast. Despite his protests, she didn’t change her mind.
‘I wasn’t trying to hurt him,’ she says. ‘I was just very angry at finding myself in this situation again.’ She avoided raising the subject after that, and because Paul was working long hours they didn’t have a proper discussion about it.
At nine weeks, Michelle was granted a third NHS abortion, at another London clinic.
‘I was 31 and it had been 13 years since my first abortion,’ she says.
‘When I was asked at the clinic how many terminations I’d had before, I lied and said one. I felt too embarrassed to admit I’d had two.’ She agreed to have a surgical abortion without a general anaesthetic but was unprepared for how distressed it would make her feel.
‘I’d never been given the option before,’ she says. ‘But I felt pressurised into it after being told I could leave more quickly if I stayed awake. I found myself lying on a table, my legs in stirrups, and choking back tears.’
The procedure, she says, was quick but painful. Michelle fled from the clinic just half-an-hour later, in shock and still in pain.
Doubts about that abortion crept in straight away, and she vowed she would never terminate another pregnancy.
‘Of all my abortions, this was the most difficult to come to terms with,’ she says.
‘With hindsight, I rushed into it too quickly, and without considering how Paul felt — and perhaps it was too easy because I’d done it twice before. I wish I hadn’t gone through with it.’
During the next couple of years, Paul and Michelle rebuilt their relationship — but couldn’t bring themselves to discuss the abortion.
The guilt, Michelle says, was unbearable, especially when she watched Emily grow up and thought about the brother or sister she could have had.
‘The two boys, who are now 15 and 16, had each other, but Emily had no one, and I felt it would be nice if she had a younger sibling, and a “full one” rather than half. I could see how much she loved babies, too. My sister has a little boy and she adores him.’
The guilt grew into a burning desire to have another baby. Paul also longed for one as much as Michelle did.
The couple have been trying to conceive for more than two years now, but Michelle has so far failed to become pregnant for a seventh time.
Some days she sees it as a punishment for the terminations.
She admits she has never told her parents about her second and third abortions, and has not spoken about any of them with her children.
Her daughter is still too young for such a discussion, but she has told her teenage boys about contraception, urging them to take responsibility when the time comes.
Michelle says: ‘I am often reminded of what I lost when I see someone who is pregnant or has a new baby.
‘But I don’t expect sympathy. I know I’m lucky to have three children when so many people cannot have one, and it’s hard to justify wanting another child when I’ve had three abortions.’
She adds: ‘It’s not the way I wanted things to turn out. While it would have been very difficult for me to continue my pregnancies at 17 and 24, by the time I was 31, with a home and a partner, I know now that I could have worked things out.
‘I will think about those abortions for the rest of my life.’
Brian’s name has been changed.