Bernadette's Story - Dr Joanna Howe

Bernadette's Story

Bernadette's Story

During the late 1960’s as a 15-year-old, I was successfully pressured through a covert clandestine roleplay to have an abortion.  

The mother of the father posed as my mother, and signed documentation so the abortionist was protected. Immediately on regaining consciousness, I asked the attendant “Is my baby dead?”. The nurse in obvious dismay tried to convince me unsuccessfully that it wasn’t a baby.  

The solitary grief I experienced was pivotal in my becoming pregnant again within the year. My father threatened he would lose his job if I went ahead and had the child. But the experience of the previous year meant this coercion and intimation ironically, galvanised my resolved to go through with the pregnancy. 

For decades I have kept this humiliating secret of the aborted child from family and friends. This sinister secret bringing with it shame and feelings of unworthiness.  It was my constant companion for over 40 years, feeding like a malignant cancer on my self-esteem and sense of self. 

It was only about a decade ago, that I have been able to put this incident behind me and come to terms with my failure to protect an innocent.   Without overstating the impact this incident has had on my life, I feel I have been unconsciously trying to absolve myself of the guilt of my past.  Finally, three years ago, I approached the organisation, to which my fictious mother belonged, seeking an apology for her involvement in the deception.  They sent me the required apology and admitted her wrongdoing. 

While pregnant with my last child, it was discovered that I had a large ovarian cyst. Two doctors suggested I have an abortion in case it burst. Thankfully, in consultation with a Mercy Maternity Hospital specialist, we decided to continue with the pregnancy while surgically removing the cyst. This child is now a happily married lawyer and father of three babies. I am horrified to think some would have denied his right to exist.  

The common belief that an abortion is simply the removal of a cluster of cells and a legitimate form of family planning is not my experience.  For me, the convenient eradication of a unique human individual, is abhorrent and has had an extraordinary and unanticipated impact on my mental and emotional health.  Just like the miscarriage of a wanted child can be a lonely and isolating experience, an abortion can be a hidden solitary humiliation which can take decades to overcome.