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Seeing my husband, Rob, walk towards me hand in hand with our four-year-old, Lucy, I wondered what he was thinking bringing our daughter in here.
I was sitting on the hospital bed where I’d spent the past few hours recovering from surgery to abort what would have been her baby brother or sister.
Seeing Lucy’s face break into a smile as she caught sight of me, her pace speeding up to a happy skip, I felt a sharp pang of guilt — the strongest I’d experienced since deciding to end a pregnancy that had been unwanted from the start.
In that moment, I felt as if I’d taken something from Lucy; that I’d robbed her of a significant relationship she was unlikely to ever know might have been.
Clare Simpson, who had an abortion at age 42, shared the reason behind her decision, as it’s revealed there has been an increase in women having abortions in their 40s (file image)
I doubt I’m the only woman in her 40s — I was 42 then — to have that kind of thought when looking at the child she chose to keep while thinking of the one she let go. And while I never imagined I’d have a termination so late in life, the new figures that show an increase in women having abortions in their 40s certainly don’t surprise me.
Among women in their 40s, 30 per cent of pregnancies ended in abortion in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics. While just 20 per cent of all pregnancies ended in abortion ten years ago, by 2019 more than a quarter of pregnant women chose a termination, with increases in every age group.
I got caught out because I wrongly presumed I was too old to get pregnant, which I would expect to be the case for many others — women who, like me, will have had a long list of reasons why a baby at that time in their life felt like a disaster.
I was married when I had my abortion, but I know plenty of women who are divorced or long-term single and dating in their 40s, which is becoming more common. If they should fall pregnant in those circumstances, I can see how that would sway their decision, too.
As I hadn’t said anything to Rob about bringing Lucy with him to collect me from the hospital, I did wonder about his motives.
Was it done to subtly prick my conscience because he hadn’t dared directly to question a decision he might have felt railroaded into agreeing with?
But then, from the minute I’d told Rob I was pregnant, he seemed to completely accept I wouldn’t be staying that way a minute longer than I had to.
There were many reasons why having this baby was a terrible idea, after all.
For starters, my age meant I was struggling to find the endless energy it took to raise the two small children we already had. Our daughter Jess was then seven.
Clare said the biggest factor in her wanting an abortion was the fragility of her relationship with husband Rob at that time (file image)
However much I love our girls, I didn’t love the endless merry-go-round of getting them up, dressed and fed, only to have to do it all again in reverse at the end of every day.
But they were older now, able to do more for themselves, and that would only improve. No wonder the thought of having to deal with a three-year-old’s temper tantrums at 46, or having to parent a stroppy teenager in my late 50s, was horrifying. Having a third child would surely break me.
Also, Lucy had just joined Jess at primary school and, for the first time since we started our family, a huge chunk of my wages as a self-employed accountant wasn’t being swallowed up in nursery fees.
We could afford a holiday again. I’d stopped having to tot up the weekly shop in my head as I put each item in the trolley, scared of going over budget. And we weren’t nudging our overdraft limit each month.
Before we had the girls, Rob and I spent everything we had on expensive holidays, nice clothes and meals out. We had rented up until having Jess, and buying a house at the same time as losing my full-time wage hit our finances hard.
Now things were getting easier in that respect, and I didn’t want to have to take unpaid maternity leave again. I knew that after it, I’d only go back to feeling I had to pay through the nose for the privilege of being a working mother every time the nursery bill was due.
At our age — Rob was also 42 — surely we were entitled to a bit more cash to call our own?
Clare admits she was worried about how she would be able to afford being a single mother of three children if her reconciliation with Rob didn’t work out (file image)
But the biggest factor in my wanting an abortion was the fragility of my relationship with Rob at that time.
He had only recently moved back into the family home after six weeks in his brother’s spare room, and it still felt as if our 12-year marriage was on probation. If I kept this baby and the reconciliation didn’t work out, then I’d be the single mother of three children. How the hell would I afford that, financially or emotionally?
What’s more, I wanted my marriage to survive on the basis that Rob and I wished to be together, not because we felt obliged to stick it out because I’d got pregnant again.
Parenthood hadn’t exactly brought out the best in our relationship. Endless rows over how we raised the girls — he thought I spoiled them, while I fought his stricter, no-nonsense approach — combined with mutual resentment at how the other spent their days, had inflicted serious damage.
Rob and I met in our late 20s when we worked at the same Manchester accountancy firm. We waited until our mid-30s to try for a family. Luckily, I got pregnant almost as soon as we started trying.
After Jess was born, I went freelance so I could spend more time with her — which was great at first. But over the years, especially after Lucy came along, I began to feel increasingly put upon.
My job had to fit in around the kids’ day-to-day needs by default. It was down to me to ferry them to playdates and gym classes, no matter how busy work became.
Clare said she and Rob thought the withdrawal method would be safe enough, as she was now too old to get pregnant (file image)
If one of them was sick, and during school holidays, the assumption was always that I would look after them.
With growing resentment, I would watch my husband leave the house each morning, able to focus solely on work for the rest of the day. When he moaned about being exhausted, I’d tell him he didn’t know the meaning of tired.
‘Try working and looking after two kids,’ I’d snap.
Rob thought I should be far more grateful for all the time I got to spend with the girls, seeing flexibility and fun rather than the relentless juggling act I found motherhood to be.
He often complained about the long hours he spent out of the house to provide the security my freelance work could never bring. He said he didn’t feel appreciated for any of it.
By the time he suggested moving out to give us both some breathing space, our relationship had been reduced to a contest over whose life was the hardest. We were barely speaking and hadn’t had sex for the best part of a year.
But the separation was horrible. I got a taste of what being a single mum really would be like — if I felt put upon before, it was nothing compared with doing it alone.
Then, when Rob spent time on his own with the girls instead of enjoying the break, I obsessed over how awful it would be when he got together with someone else and I’d have to share my children with another woman.
Also, I missed Rob and felt lonely without him. In the absence of the arguments, I was able to consider his feelings and realised his grudges were as valid as mine.
Clare said she began treating being pregnant as if it were an illness that would be cured on a set date once her procedure was booked (file image)
We started talking, without recrimination, about how we could help each other feel valued in the relationship again. Rob moved back in, things improved between us and our sex life got a reboot.
And that’s how I got pregnant. When things were bad I’d had my coil removed, loath to have extra hormones released into my body when we weren’t even having sex.
Then, when Rob came home and we began making love again, we thought using the withdrawal method would be safe enough, as I was now too old to get pregnant. Boy, we got that wrong.
Two months later, I had the same rock-hard, sore breasts and strange metallic taste that were the first symptoms in my previous pregnancies and quietly did a test. When it was positive I felt furious: at myself, at Rob, at our stupidity for getting pregnant by accident. This surely was a mistake made by naive young girls, not middle-aged married couples.
‘Many simply can’t afford to have another’
Jonathan Lord is co-chair of the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, medical director of MSI Reproductive Choices and a consultant NHS gynaecologist. He says:
There is a preconception that women seeking abortions fit into a particular type and age bracket: young, naive and irresponsible. Anyone working in this sector knows that simply isn’t true.
We see many women in their 30s and 40s (far more than in their teens) who desperately don’t want to be pregnant again.
People might be surprised to know that the majority already have at least one child. Last year, 58 per cent of women seeking abortion were mothers, a steady rise from the 47 per cent 15 years ago. We find many in that group are making the decision not just for themselves but because it is the best thing for their whole family.
After all, having children has become very expensive, meaning some women simply can’t afford to have another baby. Childcare bills alone are often crippling.
We also see women in a bad place with their relationship — either it is breaking down, has ended, or their partner is abusive and so they just don’t want to have this baby with that father.
Contraception failure is a major factor in unwanted pregnancies — it is rare for women needing an abortion not to have used contraception, but even the best can fail. The Pill has a 9 per cent failure rate and even sterilisation is not 100 per cent effective — so for the unlucky, abortion is a vital backstop.
We know that women are choosing smaller families and delaying having children, so it is inevitable that we will see more women in older age groups with contraceptive failures.
But whatever makes a woman choose an abortion, it is not an option most take lightly. Afterwards, the word we hear most from patients about how they feel is ‘relief’.
I am often asked if my job is demoralising but the opposite is true. I find it fulfilling to help someone in an incredibly distressing situation to find a safe medical solution that will let her move forwards.
Everything about it felt wrong. Discovering we were having the girls — both planned — had been lovely, shared experiences: we had watched the tests turn positive together, hugging and kissing, full of excitement at the enormous experience to come.
This time, when Rob walked into the kitchen as I unloaded the dishwasher, I just looked up, my face stained with a day’s tears, and said: ‘I’m pregnant.’
The girls were watching TV in the next room. Rob paused briefly, then came over and hugged me.
‘We’ll do whatever you want,’ he said, then listened quietly as I told him there was no way I could go ahead with having this child. I’ve felt so grateful to him for handling it like that ever since.
He didn’t even question that I had arranged a doctor’s appointment to discuss options for the next day.
I wonder now whether he was so accepting because he was as reluctant to have another baby as I was. Or maybe he didn’t feel he had any rights in this incredibly sad scenario. Either way, I never asked him how he felt about any of it.
I think I didn’t want to risk him saying something that might make this wretched decision any harder for me — if he had questioned it, even once, I would have felt more guilty but no less determined to go ahead with it. That might have been the end of us.
Instead, he sat quietly next to me while I told our GP how devastating to my mental health keeping this baby — I was about nine weeks pregnant — would be.
‘There’s no shame in doing what’s right for you and your family,’ she insisted, as she referred me to a local hospital.
Once we had a date for the procedure, nearly two weeks later, I longed for it to come, desperate for the nausea and insomnia the pregnancy hormones were causing to lift. I began treating being pregnant as if it were an illness that would be cured on a set date. Now I wonder if that was all a coping mechanism, to stop me allowing myself to sink into a pit of guilt.
On the day, a friend took the girls to school and Rob took me to hospital. He stayed until I was taken to the ward for surgery — we talked about the weather, about the girls’ tea, but not about what was happening.
On the ward, I had the same sort of health checks and conversations with the anaesthetist you’d have for any minor operation.
I kept waiting for someone to be horrible to me; for some snide remark that would make me feel I was selfishly abusing precious NHS resources. But no one did.
I fell asleep with a nurse holding my hand and woke with another doing the same, while assuring me everything was all right.
I spent the afternoon on a ward with three other women who I presume had also terminated their pregnancies. None of us spoke to one another.
Instead, we just lay there, our stomachs cramping, quietly waiting to be told we could go home.
I was the last to leave, glad to no longer feel pregnant while wondering if little Lucy, now holding my hand, would ever go through this experience herself. And if so, whether she’d tell me — I certainly had no intention of telling my mum.
Again, I didn’t want to risk sensing her disapproval in case it made me question what I’d done.
I know many people will be appalled that I aborted my baby — some believe all abortion is terribly wrong. But I don’t. I think my reasons were valid and right for me and my family at that time.
Clare said the only proper conversation she and Rob have had about the abortion was on the night itself, after their daughters went to bed (file image)
That said, now, seven years on, I do have the occasional regret.
The thing is, Rob and I did stay together. That time apart, and the realisation that we needed to work harder at our relationship, made us much stronger and happier as a couple.
Sometimes I do catch myself wondering ‘what if’, especially as regards depriving Jess and Lucy of a younger sibling. Would they look at me differently, call me a killer, ask why I kept them and not the other baby, if I confessed?
Of course, my age means that really was our last chance for another child. Had we gone ahead with the pregnancy, I know the baby would have been loved as deeply as the girls are.
We have had some great holidays since my abortion, but it has occurred to me that no amount of financial security can match the love you feel for your child.
Knowing we aborted our baby feels like an unspoken secret between Rob and me. I told two of my closest friends, but that’s all.
Our GP offered counselling but we didn’t take it. It’s not something Rob and I have ever really talked about since. The only proper conversation we had about the abortion was on the night itself, after the girls went to bed.
I asked Rob if he had brought Lucy to the hospital to somehow punish me. He was adamant that wasn’t the case — that Lucy had kicked up such a fuss when he’d tried to leave her at his mum’s, he had simply given in.
I believed him and was glad when he then told me he felt only enormous relief once it was over. In the end, despite the inevitable sadness and guilt, that was also my overriding emotion.
I just hope the other women in their 40s having abortions feel that way, too. Sometimes, it just feels like the only right thing to do.
Names have been changed to protect identities.