If you had decided your family was finished and you definitely didn’t want more children, what would you do if you accidentally fell pregnant?
Having a child at any stage of your life is an insane amount of beautiful turmoil, but unlike 50 years ago, women and their partners in Australia are now able to choose as to whether they bring another child into their family.
For some people the decision whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy is, while not exactly simple, very clear. For others, life is not so black and white, and the decision requires a deep amount of soul searching.
After a missed pill, Sally Pearce,* started to feel that deep wave of nausea.
“I thought it was a virus. Never once did it occur to me that I might be pregnant - I was done having kids,” she says.
A simple wee on a stick changed everything in a heartbeat.
“I felt as if I had ruined everything. Termination felt like the wrong thing to do, but I also didn’t feel that that we could cope – physically, emotionally or financially.”
Stretching financial resources to fit another child was a primary concern for Sally. She knew the concerns would go beyond food and clothing; they needed to consider housing, vehicles and your other children’s needs.
Eventually, Sally chose to terminate her pregnancy, but felt crippled by shame. She was unable to discuss it even with her closest friends.
“My friends were trying desperately to get pregnant. I felt ashamed that I had allowed this to happen,” she says.
A mum of two girls, Kirsty Shannahan* was surprised to learn about another pregnancy at 26. Life was hectic, and her relationship had been tumultuous. She chose to terminate the pregnancy.
“I don't feel ashamed about my termination,” Kirsty admits. “There is regret, but I think I made the best decision I could have at that time in my life.”
Although termination is legal in Australia (however laws do vary between all states and territories), there is still a great amount of stigma surrounding aborting a pregnancy. But Kirsty says we need to let each woman make her own decision without judgment.
“People shouldn’t judge a woman who goes through this before understanding the situation she’s in,” she says. “For me it was a very conscious decision, thinking of how it would affect me, and the child, in long term if I chose to have it.”
Then there’s another option some people consider, and it allows more time to come to the decision: adopting the baby out.
With four children between them, Emma Blacklock* and her partner knew they didn’t want any more. When Emma accidentally fell pregnant, she felt that she couldn’t abort the baby, so they decided they would put the baby up for adoption.
But after vetting prospective families, Emma realised that she would be unable to give the child up.
“I kept up the story until he was born, but I just knew I couldn’t give him up. I thought if I had to, I’d raise him on my own,” she says.
“But I have never regretted keeping him. Ever.”
Of course, not all surprise pregnancies carry such emotional turmoil - sometimes it is more of a ‘happy accident’, as was the case for Elane Archer*.
After struggling to conceive her two grown children, the 49-year-old hadn't used contraception in 20 years. She was looking forward to being a grandmother, but some odd symptoms had her heading to the doctor for tests.
"When the doctor came into the room with my positive pregnancy test results he asked what I was going to do," she says. "I said without flinching 'I'm going to have a baby!’"
According to Dr Deborah Bateson, Medical Director of Family Planning NSW, women can underestimate their chances of falling pregnant in their late 30s, 40s and even early 50s.
According to the Better Health Channel, 60 per cent of unplanned pregnancies occur when the couple were using at least one form of contraception, and one in five of those were using more than one method.
Of those unplanned pregnancies, 43 per cent of the women were on the pill, and 22 per cent were using condoms with their partners.
But there are many methods of contraception suitable for women at every age, Dr Bateson says.
“The key to preventing a ‘surprise’ pregnancy is choosing the most appropriate contraception to suit personal as well as medical circumstances,” she says.
“Visiting your GP or Family Planning clinic is invaluable to talk through all the options for preventing pregnancy and, if necessary, STIs.”
*Names have been changed