Feature Articles

Unplanned Pregnancy

Ref Number: YH060215

  • Date15 Feb 2006
  • Category Articles
  • TargetsN/A
  • AuthorPAK Ling, Nora  YHCC counsellor
  • Topic Sexual Behavior

Pregnancy should be a joyful experience that brings new life to the world. Unplanned pregnancy, however, is fraught with uncertainty, anxiety and difficult decision-making. This is a true story about a client I encountered during the course of my counselling career.

Ivy [pseudonym], a 21-year-old second-year university student, had been dating her boyfriend of the same age for one year. When she first came to the Youth Health Care Centre (YHCC) of the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong, she was already pregnant. At the first counselling session, she described her feelings when she discovered that she was pregnant. “At that moment there was no reaction at all, because I didn’t know how to react,” she said. “Then I asked myself what I should do next. I gathered my wits and searched for helpful information. It was not until I had figured things out that I finally sat down and cried, because I knew that I couldn’t keep the baby. I was so unhappy.”

When Ivy told her boyfriend the news, “he was stunned, ” she recalled. “We were both so confused and didn’t know what to do.” Ivy and her boyfriend were stricken, both physically and psychologically, by the unplanned pregnancy. “We each had our own concerns and worries,” Ivy confessed. “After all, men and women are different. I was the one who was pregnant, he couldn’t really understand my situation. On the other hand he would probably think, ‘the baby is in your body, what can I do for you? I can neither take your place to carry the baby nor undergo the operation to terminate the pregnancy. All I can do is to stand by your side…’ This was my first pregnancy and my health wasn’t very good, so I felt really uncomfortable. I had gastroenteritis and went to see the doctor; he said he couldn’t prescribe medicine for me since it could affect the foetus that I might later change my mind and want to keep. I suffered through the sickness for days until recovery. My boyfriend couldn’t help me, neither could I support him. We both felt helpless and so distressed.”

Ivy continued, “I always heard that people went to the FPA [Family Planning Association] if they got accidentally pregnant.” Hence, she came to the YHCC for help. “At first I thought I would just have an operation straightaway, because that was what a private doctor told me. But after seeing the Counselor, I realized that I felt abortion was a very cruel act. To ‘scrape off’ the fetus from the womb sounded so painful.” Then Ivy started to consider the possibility of keeping the baby. “In the beginning I just felt regretful and sad, that I had done something wrong and wanted to get rid of it. But after counseling I realized that I must face the problem positively and not feel as if nothing has happened once the problem is solved.” The process of counseling helped Ivy think more deeply. “I felt that life is something real and tangible, not just the simple mechanical merging of two cells.”

As Ivy pondered over the feasibility of keeping the baby, she faced a dilemma. “If I had already graduated and was working, I would keep the baby without hesitation. But now I don’t want to give up my university education.” Ivy also considered the responsibility of being a parent. “Bringing up a child is not just a matter of money. How could I take care of my child when I couldn’t even take good care of myself? This was my biggest worry, and might be related to my childhood background. My parents never paid much attention to me and my siblings, they let us grow up ourselves. They gave us money when it was available, but we had to earn our own as well. Yet I believe the responsibilities of being a parent should be more than just providing financial support. If I could, I really wanted to give more care and attention to my child. But I couldn’t afford even the basic necessities, how could I keep the baby?” Recollecting her childhood experience enabled Ivy to relieve her emotional tension. She also contemplated other factors such as whether the relationship with her boyfriend was mature enough for marriage and whether her family and friends would accept her out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

After carefully assessing the consequences of either keeping the pregnancy or having an abortion, Ivy decided to terminate the pregnancy in a follow-up counselling session. She was psychologically prepared for the operation that would take away her baby, and her boyfriend would accompany her throughout. She opted for general anesthesia in a private hospital to minimize the psychological after-effect. Soon after the operation, Ivy requested a counseling session to relieve her emotional stress. She recalled the scene after the operation. “After I returned to the ward, the nurse asked me to rest and call her if I wanted to get up. At that moment I started to cry, I felt so guilty. It’s not as simple as a “goodbye”; I had ended a life. I should have no right to do so, yet I made that decision. I was selfish. It was because of my boyfriend and my selfishness that the baby had no choice or rights over its life. Shame on me!”

Ivy continued to recall, “When I was discharged, I asked for the ‘specimen’ back. I didn’t want to call it a ‘specimen’, and I didn’t know how to face the fact that it was my baby, I felt so sorrowful. Eventually I buried it at Bride’s Pool. I didn’t want to just throw it away. I had already made a mistake in my life, I couldn’t and didn’t want to dump it into a trash bin.”

Self-blame greatly affected her life thereafter. “When I heard people talking about abortion with complete indifference, I felt very emotional. It’s their own fault, but they rationalize their subsequent act of abortion. This isn’t right! I couldn’t accept myself as a murderer nor handle my emotion. I needed help but I didn’t dare let people around me know what I had done. It was torturous…I tried to hide, even though I felt there was so much I should do. My thinking was distorted…” Ivy tried to drown herself in work. “Frankly speaking, I didn’t know what I was doing,” she confessed. She moved in with her elder sister to escape from reality. Eventually Ivy’s friends noticed there was something wrong and offered her all sorts of advice, such as gulping down a tall glass of water when she felt depressed, but none of those advice brought relief.

Ivy decided that further counseling in the FPA would be best for her. “I trust FPA, it helped me deal with the matter. I feel a sense of security discussing my past here. To talk about the whole incident here reminded me to accept the fact that things are over now, I shouldn’t keep blaming myself. I have to forgive and accept myself, and move on to live my life.” Counseling not only helped Ivy to accept herself, during the process she also re-considered the relationship with her boyfriend. “What happened made us both very unhappy, how could I continue dating him when I couldn’t even accept myself? Whenever I see him he reminded me of the baby. I wanted to separate from him but he didn’t. Ultimately we broke up because the incident had severely and irrevocably undermined our romance.

In follow-up counseling sessions, Ivy reflected more deeply and learned to accept herself again. “I gradually came to understand that everyone makes mistakes; we have to tell ourselves not to dwell on the past as it will just make things worse. We can correct our wrongs and atone a little for our mistakes.” When she thought of the baby she had lost, she said “I learned how to preserve the relationship with this baby. I won’t try to forget this incident. I’ll remember it happened and maybe one day tell my future children about it. I won’t let go of this relationship,” she insisted, “it’s just like the relationship between my mum and I, a normal kinship.” Ivy also viewed the future more positively. “The baby taught me to have a positive attitude, to take care of myself and be independent, to grow up and to cherish myself.”

As for pre-marital sex and unplanned pregnancy, Ivy advised fellow youngsters, “Learn from my mistake. Don’t over-simplify a sexual relationship, it involves a lot of responsibility. Don’t take it too lightly as undesirable things can easily happen.” On responsible sexual relations, Ivy said “I remind myself not to have casual sex, we must be responsible and not just do as we like. This is how we should behave in life too.” Ivy added that she finally understood why people used to disapprove of pre-marital sex. “I thought it was only a moral concern and people were just afraid of getting pregnant. But now I believe sex is most appropriate when it is between husband and wife, it will then be guilt-free. Sex is the perfect ingredient for intimate harmony between married couples. It is not such a good thing to have sex out of wedlock.”

Text translated from Chinese by Helen Wong