Should I tell my husband about our daughter’s devastating secret?
This true-life situation is from the UK but very relevant to Nigerian society, as we have heard so many similar stories over the years. The situation also raises a number of topical issues, it will be great to hear what BN readers have to say about this.
From the UK Daily Mail
By Clare Campbell
Three months ago, Louise Johnson, a 45-year-old health administrator, discovered her 15-year-old daughter, Chloe, was pregnant. Chloe begged her mother to help and made her promise not to tell her father, Richard, a solicitor. Louise agreed and arranged a termination.
Now her daughter is struggling with the consequences, while Louise remains unable to tell her husband what’s wrong. Here, Louise – who lives in South-West London – tells her disturbing story…
The blue and white box from the pregnancy test was what gave my daughter away. I saw it lying on the floor under Chloe’s bed when I went in to tidy her bedroom one Saturday morning at the start of January. I’m mildly asthmatic, and I felt my chest go tight with shock, fighting for breath as I bent down to pick it up.
I knew what it was straight away. Ironically, it was exactly the same kind of test I’d used myself when I found out I was pregnant with Chloe’s younger sister Felicity, who’s 12.
Louise didn’t tell her husband she was helping her daughter have an abortion, and now feels she can’t tell him the truth (posed by models)
The box was empty. My heart thudded with anxiety. I knew the test had to belong to Chloe. Was my daughter pregnant or not? I had to find out as soon as possible.
I could hear Chloe talking on her mobile downstairs, arranging to meet her friend for lunch at the local shopping centre. I called out to my daughter to come upstairs immediately. Starting to feel angry now as well as worried, I kept thinking: ‘How could she do this to me?’
As she walked into the room and saw the box in my hand, Chloe’s face changed. Realising I’d discovered her secret, she broke down, wailing ‘Oh, Mum!’ as she fell into my arms, sobbing like a five-year-old.
I knew I had my answer. My beautiful, clever 15-year-old daughter, whose private school teachers were already predicting a very bright future for her, was pregnant. I didn’t have to tell her what a disaster this was. Seeing her distress, my anger drained away immediately.
Holding my daughter tight in my arms, I promised her: ‘It will be all right, darling. We’ll make it all right.’
I felt fiercely protective, cursing myself for not policing her more strictly when she went out with her 18-year-old boyfriend, Josh, who goes to a local boys’ public school nearby. They’d met at a disco two months earlier, and I recalled Chloe joking that it was like Romeo meeting Juliet – she was studying the play for GCSE – when Josh had first seen her.
Now, I wondered how I could have been so naive as to trust them together alone when they had stayed in at his house or ours sometimes when we were out. She told me that she had lost her virginity to him, and used a condom which had split.
I dreaded the thought of telling Richard, my husband, who’s 52. Although he adores both his daughters, like a lot of old-fashioned men, he finds it difficult to communicate with them at the best of times. I knew his first impulse would be to go straight over to see Josh’s parents, to blame them for what had happened.
As a mother, I felt my first consideration had to be Chloe. The important thing now was to support her through this crisis. Whatever she wanted, I would help her to do, even – though my heart sank at the prospect – if it was to have her child and bring it up myself while she went to university.
It was then that Chloe, looking up at me with a pale, tear-stained face, suddenly pleaded: ‘Mum, please, please, don’t tell Dad?’
I didn’t know what to do. I knew I should tell Chloe straight away that I had to tell her father, that there was no way I could keep her pregnancy secret from my own husband.
But then I looked back at her, and seeing how upset she was, I just told her: ‘Sssh – don’t talk about that now. How many weeks pregnant are you? Have you thought about what you want to do?’
Without a moment’s hesitation she answered: ‘Yes, Mum. I’ve already talked to one of those teenage pregnancy helplines. I think I’m about eight weeks. The woman said it was very straightforward if you did it this early. I’ve told Josh, too, but he hasn’t told his parents.
‘I want to have a termination as soon as I can, so I don’t have time to think about there being a baby inside me.’
I feel so guilty now, two months later, for not paying more attention to my daughter’s words. I should have realised that allowing Chloe to block off her feelings about her pregnancy was not a healthy way to deal with such a traumatic experience.
But at the time, I admit to feeling relieved that she didn’t want to keep her baby.
Knowing so much about the physical, emotional and financial cost of raising a child, I feared that my daughter might ruin her life if she made the wrong decision.
What I didn’t realise was how terrible she was going to feel after her child had been taken from her. I had never had an abortion and I didn’t feel strongly for or against them – but then I’d never had someone so close to me in that position.
After sitting and talking in Chloe’s room for what seemed like hours, I agreed to make an appointment for her to see a doctor at a private clinic in Central London the following week. Fortunately, neither my husband, who had gone into the office to catch up on some work, or Felicity, who was having a sleepover at a friend’s house, were at home that day.
Planning it all out in detail, Chloe and I agreed that I would tell her school that she had a dental appointment. I promised her I would go with her, and that for the time being at least I would not tell her father what we were doing.
Then I told her to go off and meet her friend, and try, for at least a few hours, to forget her troubles.
After Chloe had gone out, I made a cup of coffee for myself and sat down and wept. What had Richard and I been doing to let Chloe and Josh go out together alone? I’d trusted my daughter not to ‘do anything silly’. I’d believed that she understood how serious it was to risk an unwanted pregnancy.
For a moment, I considered talking to Josh myself. But then I decided that the important person here was Chloe. My first priority must be to protect my daughter. I thought that if I could save her from the consequences of her mistake, everything would be as it was before.
Only now, nearly three months later, when I am witnessing the aftermath of what she went through, do I see how wrong I was.
It is not possible – as my daughter and I are both discovering to our cost – to pretend that a life has never existed, even if it was for only a few weeks. But, at the time, I genuinely believed I was acting for the best.
The rest of that weekend was incredibly stressful. Chloe tried to act normally, while I continually watched her, looking out for signs such as sickness, or fatigue, that might lead the others to guess something was wrong.
On Monday, as soon as Richard had left for work and the girls had gone to school, I called the London branch of a pregnancy advisory service and made an appointment for Chloe for the following day. I kept telling myself that I would tell Richard after we’d been to the clinic, when I had got more information.
That night, I hardly slept for worry. But when Richard asked me what was wrong, I told him I was just stressed about my job as a health administrator.
The more concerned and kind he was, the guiltier I became. Yet still I was unable to tell him the truth – just in case he tried to intervene and make Chloe even more upset than she was already.
It felt so wrong to be getting on a train the next morning to go and see a doctor about Chloe’s pregnancy. Usually, when my daughter and I went on a day out together, it was to visit Topshop or Miss Selfridge and we would have been chatting away happily. But that day we were both silent and sad.
By the time we reached the clinic, which was about an hour from our home, Chloe was looking strained and frightened. After going in to see a counsellor, Chloe came out and told me she was more determined than ever to go ahead with the operation.
She was then examined by a woman doctor, who confirmed that as Chloe was possibly as much as ten weeks’ pregnant – much more than she had thought – she would have to undergo a surgical termination, rather than take an abortion pill, which is the standard procedure for a pregnancy in the first few weeks.
Having explained how the termination would be performed under general anaesthetic, the doctor then told us that the operation could be done the following week if I could be available to collect Chloe and take her home afterwards.
Chloe then had to see a second doctor to sign the consent form before returning to see the counsellor once more.
Then, handing over my credit card as if we were in a department store, I paid more than £600 from my own account for the termination of my grandchild. And although I’d
promised myself I would tell my husband after we’d been to the clinic, I didn’t do so. I felt I couldn’t now – not after we’d arranged for the operation and the money had been paid.
I suppose, at the back of my mind, I suspected that Richard might not have wanted Chloe to go through with it. Although he’s not antiabortion on religious grounds, I couldn’t predict how he’d feel about his own daughter having one.
I know what I was doing was very wrong, and I did feel incredibly torn between loyalty to my husband, and my promise to my daughter.
But knowing Richard would have asked why I hadn’t told him when I’d first found out, and with Chloe still begging me to keep her secret, it felt easier, and less of a betrayal of my daughter, to remain silent.
Just one week later, I drove my daughter to a small hospital in South London, where I left her with a bag containing a nightdress, flannel, soap and toothbrush as if she were just going to stay with a friend.
Later that day, when I went back to collect her, she was white and shaking. She looked at least ten years older than when she’d got up that morning.
Although I had been warned by the doctor that she might be very tearful, emotional and tired in the first few hours and days after the termination, I didn’t expect that Chloe would seem quite so different.
She didn’t cry at all. She hardly spoke, picking at her food and spending most of her time upstairs in her bedroom alone. I began to feel more and more worried about her.
After taking her back to the clinic three weeks later for a post operative check-up, Chloe was told she was physically recovered.
But in herself she didn’t seem well to me at all. Always an outgoing, talkative girl, she seemed to have turned in on herself, staring silently out of the car window on the way to school, and refusing to take phone calls from her friends.
When I asked her what she’d told Josh, she just said: ‘I told him I had a miscarriage. It’s easier than explaining. I’m not seeing him any more anyway.’
Trying to give her every opportunity to talk about how she was feeling, I went in to see her each night after she went to bed. But she just turned her back to the wall and pretended to be asleep.
About a month after the termination, Chloe received an invitation to go to a Valentine’s disco. Usually my daughter would have been the first to buy a ticket, but she just threw the card in the bin. And when I tentatively asked her about using contraception in any future relationships she might have, she told me: ‘Look, Mum, I don’t intend to have sex with anyone, ever again.’
Now becoming really concerned about my daughter, I telephoned the clinic and spoke to a doctor, who suggested that I bring Chloe back to talk to a counsellor.
At first, when I mentioned this to Chloe, she told me she was OK. Then one night, as I was leaving her room, she called me back. Crying her pillow, she finally confessed to how she was feeling terribly guilty about the termination, and ashamed of herself for having ‘killed a baby as a result of having sex’.
Listening to my daughter talking like this, her loss of innocence and the intensely adult emotions she was struggling with, made me feel terribly sad, too. I felt powerless to help her, but promised I would take her back to see a counsellor who would be professionally trained to help.
When I came downstairs, Richard was sitting in his armchair with a thoughtful expression. ‘What’s wrong with Chloe, Louise?’ he asked. ‘Is it boyfriend trouble again? I’ve noticed she’s been very low these past few weeks.’
I have never wanted to confess anything to my husband as much as I longed to tell him the truth. But I just couldn’t bring myself to say it. How could I now tell him that his 15-year-old daughter had just had an abortion – and that I, her mother, had helped her to arrange it? I wondered if he would ever forgive me for the lies and deceit I’ve been responsible for.
In the weeks since then, Chloe has continued to struggle with anxiety and depression as a result of the termination. Her schoolwork is suffering, too.
Our GP is trying to avoid putting her on any kind of medication and hoping that time, and the counselling she is still receiving at the clinic, will help her to recover.
Richard is very aware that there’s something wrong – but he simply doesn’t know what it is.
I feel terrible about Chloe, about the termination, and about lying to my husband. Even though I was only trying to do the best for everyone, I seem to have made an incredibly painful mess of everything.
I think it’s inevitable that the truth will come out at some stage, and I’m dreading what my husband will say about my part in all this.
I just wish I’d been honest with him from the beginning. But it’s too late for that now.
Names have been changed to protect Chloe’s identity