Tasmanian woman Dianne Lesley shares about how an abortion she had 40 years ago still affects her today.

When first asked to share my story, I was reluctant. My gut reaction was to say no due to a natural instinct to protect myself from being vulnerable in front of others. But here I stand. Not for my own sake but in the hope that my story may be of benefit to someone else. Most of us would have heard the expression “Be who you needed when you were younger”. This is my attempt at that.

I grew up in suburban Sydney. I was around eight years of age when my parents divorced. My dad had serious mental health issues which threatened my physical and emotional wellbeing. As a consequence, I chose not to see him anymore. Instead, I lived with my mum and older sister in an all-female household, even going to an all-girls high school. The lack of a male role model in my life made it hard to navigate my teenage years.

At the age of 18 I suspected that I may be pregnant. I had a boyfriend at the time and had just started a new job. I used to commute to work in the city and I remember seeing an advertisement on the train for a pregnancy help centre. The ad read along the lines of “Pregnant? Lonely? Afraid?” As this seemed to relate to me, and the centre wasn’t far from my home, I decided to make an appointment. At the appointment it was revealed that my birth control had failed and I was pregnant. The counsellor was kind and talked about the way forward.

I had a choice to make but at the time it didn’t feel like a choice at all. I felt I had no option.

Sadly I thought of the pregnancy as a mistake, a mistake that I needed to fix.

Keeping my baby didn’t seem a possibility. My boyfriend didn’t seem to hold the answer and I was reluctant to bring shame upon my family. My mum was a single mum and I felt that I had let her down. My sister was married and pregnant with her first child. And so, not being able to see a way out, I made an appointment at a clinic and went ahead with an abortion.

It remains to this day, 40 years later, my deepest regret.

I ended up marrying my boyfriend a couple of years later but the marriage was short-lived and ended in divorce. I was then faced with a challenging and lonely time as I set up house on my own and tried to gather the pieces of my life back together. I was confronted with the sad truth that I had totally messed up my life. It was during this time that I became a Christian and, as a result, my perspective on life changed dramatically. Not just life as in how we live it out day by day, but the sanctity of life, the preciousness of each individual.

The following year I met my wonderful husband Gerard. We moved from the mainland to Tasmania and our family grew with the arrival of our two amazing children. Life was good.

But underneath my happiness there was another layer, something not yet dealt with which surfaced as the years went on. Something that I feel is summed up in this quote from Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving up the Ghost.

“[Children’s] lives start long before birth, long before conception, and if they are aborted or miscarried or simply fail to materialise at all, they become ghosts in our lives … The unborn, whether they’re named or not, whether or not they’re acknowledged, have a way of insisting: a way of making their presence felt.”

This rang true for me. There was no getting away from that regretful decision so many years ago. I’ve heard abortion referred to as “a woman’s right” and “freedom of choice” as if it’s a positive thing. There’s nothing positive about it and there is no freedom in this choice whatsoever.

Abortion is devastating.

I was hurting with shame and regret and grief and I needed healing in my life.

Forgiveness was to play a huge part in my healing journey. As a Christian, I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of prayer and to be assured that God forgave me. But being able to forgive myself was another matter and proved very difficult for me. And even harder still was seeking forgiveness from my baby for the terrible choice I made all those years ago.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve replayed the scenario in my mind, going over the “if only, if only, if only” in my head. But there is no going back. I can’t relive that day with a different outcome. It’s too late for me to change my mind.

But it may not be too late for others.

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