He was my best friend. We had known each other for at least five years. At that time, both of us were the most senior Ph. D students in the laboratory.
We started an underground relationship without the knowledge of his girlfriend. It was wrong. Yet it felt like there was no way of getting out of the relationship. Both of us were sinking in quicksand, falling deeply in love with each other.
It wasn’t long before a sense of guilt arose within me. I buried myself in research experiments, trying to evade the shame of being a third party in their relationship. All the while, I struggled between letting him go and grasping on to the covert affair.
In January 2010, I received one of the greatest news in my life. I was awarded a prestigious scientific fellowship to continue with my post-doctorate research at Harvard Medical School. This seemed like an answered prayer for a way out of the relationship. I was scheduled to leave for Harvard one year later.
Five months away from my departure date, I discovered I was pregnant. I was filled with elation. It was a special kind of joy that nothing else in this world could give. Awe filled my heart. I was amazed that God had entrusted a baby to me. Inside me, a brand new life was growing, and I had become a mother!
When I broke the news to him, there was a long moment of silence. Then he said, “I don’t want the baby”. A sharp, searing pain went through my heart when I heard those words. Over the next few days, I tried to change his mind, but he was adamant about not keeping our baby. At one point in time, I felt so desperate. I knelt down at his feet and begged him to keep our baby. As a biology student, I knew full well that life began at conception. I could not bear to live with the immense guilt of ending my baby’s life if I were to go for an abortion.
Yet, it felt like I had no other choice. The father did not want the baby. He insisted that I call a clinic to schedule an appointment for the abortion. He threatened to leave me if I continued with the pregnancy. Fear overwhelmed me. I felt helpless. I did not want my baby to grow up without a father. And I could not tell anyone about the pregnancy as I was not supposed to be in a relationship with him. With little savings, I felt I could not possibly bring up my child alone. If I were to go to America as a pregnant woman, I might lose the prestigious fellowship at Harvard. All these fearful thoughts ran through my mind. Finally, I gave up trying to persuade him and gave in to his insistent demands. I went for the abortion.
Upon waking up from general anaesthesia, all I could think about was that my baby was gone. I am a murderer. A deep sense of worthlessness and shame engulfed me. Guilt crippled me. The loss of my baby deeply pained me to the depths even though I was the one who made the decision to end his life.
Five months later, I left for America. He broke up with me the very next month. The news left me in shock for months. Being in a foreign country all by myself, I felt extremely abandoned. All his empty promises replayed in my mind. He had promised me that he would break up with his girlfriend; that we would get married after I returned home a year later; and that we could have another baby in the future. I could neither eat nor sleep. Depression pursued me relentlessly. My world collapsed.
In my desperation, I turned to God. In between tears and sobs, I told a pastor about my abortion. He brought me to a pregnancy crisis centre that provided post-abortion counselling sessions. I met up with a counsellor on a weekly basis for a period of eight months. New friends at church loved and cared for me unconditionally. As I looked back, that year in America was the turning point in my life where God orchestrated the return of a “prodigal daughter”.
I had often looked back at that point when I felt that my ex-boyfriend had driven me up the wall and left me with no choice but to go for an abortion. “Did I really not have a choice?”, I so often wondered to myself. Now that the overwhelming sense of fear was gone, I could think rationally. I realised I had choices. I could have chosen otherwise. I could have faced the consequences with more courage. Buried deep within me was a fierce, protective mother’s love that would have fought for the life of my little one, had it not been for that crippling fear. I could have walked out of his life. I could have explored options such as giving up my fellowship and finding a job to finance the delivery and to bring up my child. I could have taken the chance and gone to America as a pregnant woman. I could have gone to my family for help. I could have given my child up for adoption. I had choices but I believed I had none then.
Life was filled with shame and secrecy after the abortion. I thought I would carry this secret to my grave. After going through a long journey of healing, I did not want to hide it anymore. The desire to break free from the shackles of shame that were controlling my life was stronger than the fear of how family and friends would think of me.
In 2018, after much prayer and consideration, I emailed my sisters to tell them all that I had gone through. My sisters were both residing in different countries at that time. When I pressed the “sent” button, my heart almost leapt out of my mouth. I had intentionally sent the email at midnight knowing that they would be sound asleep. It was one of the longest nights of my life.
The next morning, I received a reply from my second sister. She was sorry for what had happened and apologised for not being there for me. My eldest sister texted me, assuring me that no matter what had happened, she would always love me. I broke down and cried so hard. Those words meant so much to me.
Finally, a heavy burden was lifted off my shoulders and I felt so relieved and released.
I finally realised, after so many years, that the fear of judgement and condemnation from family and friends was just a lie that I kept replaying in my head.
This is me overcoming my fears to share my story publicly. And I hope that my story will encourage and inspire others who are going through the same pain to seek help.
There can be life after abortion.
Yifen Tan is currently serving at Buttons Project Singapore by journeying with women. She also serves at Rachel’s Vineyard in Singapore, a post-abortion retreat, as a facilitator.