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Parenting When You’re Still A Child: These Five Girls In Malta Got Pregnant Before They Turned 18

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Let’s face it: teen pregnancy is a huge issue in Malta. The country has some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe, and last year alone 38 girls under the age of 18 became mothers.

It is perhaps no coincidence that Malta is also the only country with a blanket ban on abortion, meaning that abortions are illegal under any circumstances – even if the mother’s life is at risk.

In fact, a drop in teen birth rates was seen between 2012 and 2014, just when pro-choice NGO Women on Web started providing abortion pills to women and girls in Malta.

Women’s stories about abortion were shared in the recent publication Dear Decision Makers, urging the people in power to listen to women’s voices and rethink the controversial abortion ban.

The following stories are those of girls who were pregnant before even reaching the adult age of 18. They were just children when they were expected to be a parent.

Whether they opted for an abortion, miscarried or were forced to give birth – with proper sexual health care and education, these heart-breaking experiences could have been prevented.

“I had to run away from home at 17 years old to have an abortion abroad, alone”

Malta’s blanket ban on abortion meant that Michelle* from Lija had to run away from home at 17 years old, alone. She went to the airport at 5am to hop on a flight so she could get an abortion abroad.

When she got pregnant as a result of failed contraception, her parents refused to help her terminate the pregnancy.

“Instead, they started planning for the baby’s arrival as if I didn’t exist or have a say, no matter how many times I said I didn’t want that life for myself. I’ve never wanted to be a mother, especially not at 17.”

Michelle wanted to finish school and go to university. Before she went abroad, she tried many at-home ‘methods’: “I mixed drugs and alcohol, and tried to hurt myself to induce a miscarriage. I was extremely depressed and ready to jump in front of moving traffic just to dislodge it from my uterus, or at least end it all.”

But eventually, she managed to get the money together and she booked an appointment abroad, without telling anyone. “I was 17 and going through this completely alone in a foreign country because I couldn’t find the help I needed in my own country, or from my own family.”

The months that followed were hard because there was “absolutely no mental and emotional support or aftercare I could get because of the situation in Malta”. Michelle’s family was angry, and she was afraid to tell her friends because of the stigma around the topic.

But she never regretted her decision. “I felt so thankful to the foreign doctors for supporting me and not judging me at their clinic, and so much anger at my own country and society for treating women like they don’t get a say in what happens to their own body.”

It even got to the point that Michelle wants to move abroad. “This is one of the top reasons I want to emigrate from Malta soon—I cannot stomach living in a country like this anymore, where you have to run away from work and family to access what everyone else in the world has.”

“How can you force someone to have a baby and then take it away?”

Alice* was only 17 years old when she was forced to give birth. She was working as a waitress and living with her abusive mother and became pregnant after a one-night stand.

“My life was a wreck, and I took to drugs and alcohol to cope.”

As her church school had suppressed any form of information with regards to sex and different birth control methods and her parents didn’t educate her either, she was clueless. “It may sound stupid to you, but I simply did not know how easy it was to get pregnant.”

Her social worker told her she had to stop her ADHD medications cold turkey, and the following months became a blur. “I was locked up for nine months and my family was far from supportive. I broke everything in my room. I didn’t shower. I didn’t eat. The withdrawals from my medication made me hallucinate.”

Her doctor told her that if her mental health didn’t improve, they would take away her baby. “How can you force someone to have a baby and then take it away?”

Upon turning 18, her mental health had improved and she had started going to Servizz Għożża, a group for teenage mothers. Soon after, she gave birth to a baby boy.

“I remember giving birth alone. The midwife told me I could have two people in the delivery room given that I was young and was in a rough mental state. I told her I had no one. She looked at me in shock and apologised. She then brought in five additional midwives for support.”

The day after Alice gave birth, she started taking her medication again. Though she was given adoption papers to sign, she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She decided to keep her child and to carry the burden it came with.

“I had to make peace with the fact that I had to sacrifice my entire life for this new human, and I was forced to be okay with it. If I had had the choice of aborting that pregnancy, I would have done it in a heartbeat.”

Now, she has accepted and is grateful for the life she has been given, even though it isn’t what she wanted.

“Thanks to my son, I am a better person and I’ve been clean ever since I gave birth. But even though he saved me, this was not the life I chose. I am so grateful, regardless, for having him. He makes my life worth living.”

She ends her story: “Women and GIRLS in Malta need options. We need support.”

“At 17 years old, I lost my virginity to rape”

Nicole* lost her virginity to rape at the age of 17. She was studying with her boyfriend, and studying soon turned into kissing – even though she wasn’t ready.

“His desire quickly took over and no matter how much I tried to push him off, he pulled down my pants and forcefully penetrated me. It hurt a hell of a lot, but I couldn’t get out from under him.”

“He was too heavy and strong, and I also felt like I deserved this “punishment” for leading him on. Once the deed was done, he was more concerned that the bloodstain was going to give him away than he was about me. I couldn’t stop the bleeding.”

In an attempt not to get pregnant, Nicole made sure to under-eat and over-exercise – “so I wouldn’t ovulate. Or so I thought.”

Then, a pregnancy test turned positive. After testing several times, she went out on her bicycle, hoping the bumpy ride would help her miscarry. “I binged on alcohol and swallowed some painkillers. This was the pre-internet information age… I couldn’t look up this stuff.”

She got cramps, which turned more horrifying over time. Eventually, those heavy cramps came with a loss of blood, and Nicole miscarried.

“I was 17, reserved, shy, and brainwashed into thinking that virginity was to be prized. I just wanted to leave it all behind.”

“If I don’t miscarry by four months, I will jump and kill myself”

Jill* was only 16 years old when she was raped by someone who knew she was a virgin. She wasn’t on any kind of contraceptive protection, because as a 16-year-old virgin, there was no need to.

Shortly afterwards, Jill realised she was pregnant. “The shock of that realisation is something I can still remember. The world for me had ended. I was pregnant with a baby after being raped.”

She would have to give up her education and her future. “No one knew. I kept it that way. I tried every myth in the book to miscarry, and nothing worked.”

So she proceeded to take more drastic measures. “I started walking to a suicide hotspot every single day, and I even gave myself a deadline: “If I don’t miscarry by four months, I will jump and kill myself.” Still, no one knew.”

One morning, she started getting very bad stomach aches. “I didn’t know what they were until I went to the bathroom and miscarried, right there in the toilet. It looked like nothing more than a clump. I flushed the toilet and walked out.”

She was met with an overwhelming sense of relief. “I realised I had my life back. I didn’t go for postnatal checks, I still didn’t confide in anyone, but I was happy again. Suicide was no longer an option I contemplated.”

“If I had other options, believe me, I would have left in a heartbeat. My experience of rape was traumatic enough; having to bear a child through that was too much to handle.”

“It took me two years of therapy to get over the rape trauma, but through it all, losing the baby was a huge relief, and I have never had regrets or guilty feelings about it. If you don’t agree with abortion, it’s simple: don’t have one. But don’t impose your opinions on others, because you have no idea what they’re going through.”

“I was only a child”

When Abby* was 15, she lost her virginity. “The relationship was toxic and I was coerced into having sex.”

She didn’t get her period for five months after, and she was convinced she was pregnant. “Every night I would fall asleep hoping to get my period, and I would regularly punch myself in the abdomen.”

She researched active ingredients in pills that could possibly abort a foetus that she could buy over the counter. “I found some medicine for stomach ulcers that the trusty internet claimed would abort the foetus, and I tried to buy it, claiming it was for my ill father. They didn’t have it and I was so terrified I didn’t ask again.”

Abby was anxious for months, constantly having panic attacks and always being on the verge of tears.

“I eventually got my period. I haven’t forgotten the feeling of absolute helplessness and shame.”

“I was 15, it was the summer after O-levels, and I was terrified that one mistake was about to dictate the rest of my life. I was only a child.”

There’s no denying: we need safe access to reproductive health care. Whether it is to save women who were raped from their trauma or young girls who are still children themselves from growing up too fast, there are situations in which abortion is crucial for the woman’s well-being.

With a full ban on abortion, Malta denies women of their own responsibility. The state doesn’t trust women to be able to decide over their own bodies and thereby over their lives. If contraception fails, if sex is had unwillingly, or if there are life-threatening circumstances, women need the possibility to choose.

If you don’t agree with abortion, don’t have one. But we cannot deny young girls and women from the choice of deciding the course of their own lives.

*These women’s names have been changed to protect their anonymity.

Do you think Malta needs to provide girls and women with safe reproductive health care?

READ NEXT: Voice For Choice Urges Political Parties To ‘Stop Burying Their Heads In The Sand’ After Free Contraception Criticism

Belle dives deep into seas and stories. She’s passionate about mental health, environmental sustainability and social justice. When she’s not out and about with her dog, she’s more than happy to hear from you on Instagram @belledejong or at [email protected]

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