When Leslie found out she was pregnant at 41, she was still breastfeeding her second child. With a husband who traveled extensively for work and no family nearby for support, she felt she did not have the financial or practical means to grow their household. Seventeen years later, Leslie has since successfully raised her small, loving family — and always remembers the choice she made. She has chosen to remain anonymous, but shares her story in her own words.
Women's Choices, Women's Voices

In 2002, when my son was just 10 months old, I fainted. I ended up in the emergency room, where I was told my potassium level was low and I was dehydrated. I was kept for several hours and was sent home.

Two weeks later I still felt very sick, so I called my doctor’s office. I heard the tapping of the computer and was told, “Oh, it must be the pregnancy.” Turns out while I was in the ER they gave me a pregnancy test, which was positive — but they didn’t tell me about it because of some mix-up with the paperwork.

It was a shock, to say the least.

My husband and I had a difficult time getting pregnant again after our daughter was born in 1997. We wanted a second child so badly, and it took quite a bit of trying. But I finally got pregnant and had my son. I nursed him for 14 months, during which time I was not menstruating. I never thought I would get pregnant again without trying.

So when I found out, it was devastating. My husband and I are not from this country — I came here from Turkey in 1978 and became a citizen five years later — but we had no support system here, no family. And my husband traveled a lot for work. So I was home with a 5-year-old and an infant, with my husband away for weeks at a time. It was really a struggle. And we didn’t have the funds to hire help, either. It was quite clear that we couldn’t sustain the family with a third child, neither financially nor practically. We simply did not have the means.

We made the decision to have an abortion. It was particularly difficult because I had always wanted kids, and I finally had the second one that we had tried so hard for. And having just had that pregnancy — and I am one of the few people who really loved being pregnant, I loved the feeling of the baby inside — I was hyperconscious of what I was losing.

I had to have an ultrasound first to determine how far along I was. I remembered, it hadn’t quite been a year since I’d been having the ultrasounds with my son so I was very familiar with the process. When the technician started saying, “Oh, here’s the heartbeat, here’s the head,” I just started crying. She instantly stopped.

After that I was really very upset. My husband asked if we should consider keeping it. He has two children from his first marriage, so at that point we had four kids. The other two kids were living in another country, but we were supporting four kids. We really didn’t have the financial means to do it at all.

We had the abortion at a private clinic outside of Boston. It was a quiet building, and there were no protestors. It was a very matter-of-fact thing. I remember very well I was one of the older people there. I had my son at age 40. So at that point I was 41 years old. While waiting for the abortion, everybody else was much younger than me. I was feeling very upset and very conscious of what I was losing because I had two children at home — and one was a little baby. And I remember looking at the other people, who looked like kids to me in their 20s and 30s, and thinking, they probably don’t know what they’re losing.

Guttmacher Institute
Credit: Guttmacher Institute

After the procedure I did not tell many people. In fact, I just told my 21-year-old daughter last week while trying to decide whether to share my story with PEOPLE. And she was very supportive of this conversation and having it go public. She was surprised that I had not told her, but she was supportive of my choice, and my decision to speak widely about it.

Of course, there was some sadness because we are a small family. If I had had the means or possibility, I would have wanted to have three or four children. But I don’t have regrets in that there was no possible way to afford it. And I was at the end of my rope with two kids completely alone at home. So I know we couldn’t have done it. But I’ve never forgotten it.

I have two little boxes, one for each of my kids, with photos of their ultrasounds and first items of clothing and baby toys. And I also keep the ultrasound of that pregnancy. For whatever reason, I still have it in a drawer.

  • As told to Stephanie Emma Pfeffer
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