CHRISTINE woke up to the sound of chatter in the abortion clinic kitchen.
The nurses were filling up on lunch while Christine felt empty.
“My heart was grieving as soon as I woke up,” she said of her abortion experience.
She was only 16.
Christine Tofaeono, now 22 and mother to a three-year-old daughter, is sharing her story in a bid to put pressure on politicians pushing to pass a bill that could make abortion up to nine months legal.
It was pressure that pushed her into the decision to terminate her first child at just eight weeks.
The decision did not happen overnight.
“I was actually sitting in the toilet in the house where I was residing in and I remember glaring down at the pregnancy test and I was actually really happy,” Christine said.
“My partner was just across the room next to me, I opened the door and walked in and I said, ‘Look, I’m pregnant’.
“We were both excited.”
But her housemates, who Christine had turned to when kicked out of home at 14, didn’t share the excitement.
They suggested the pregnant teenager book into a clinic.
“I said, ‘What’s a clinic?’,” Christine said.
“So I went to the doctor and said I needed to book into a clinic, I’m pregnant.
“The doctor just signed this piece of paper and gave me this piece of paper and I was on my way.
“I wasn’t given an option.”
Christine said she had no idea the doctor had referred her to an abortion clinic.
She was also given the number for a Brisbane-based non-profit organisation, Children by Choice, which advocates for abortions.
“When I spoke to them (over the phone) I didn’t feel like I had a choice,” she said.
Lost and confused, the teenager turned to counselling, “seeking someone to tell me that there was some sort of support that would outweigh every voice I was hearing”.
She said three different counsellors told her the pregnancy would make her fat, destroy a chance of finishing high school and starting a career, and leave her a single mother.
At eight weeks pregnant, Christine walked through the abortion clinic, nervous and alone.
A girl broke down crying in her partner’s arms.
“The room, from what I can recall, was really gloomy and just really dark,” Christine said.
“Like, there was no hope, there was literally no hope in that place.”
She proceeded to sign her consent forms where “they just grabbed the payment” and ushered her in to see a counsellor before the surgery.
Christine remembers asking one question while watching an ultrasound of her baby.
“I remember when she was doing the ultrasound, I asked one specific question, ‘Is this going to hurt the child?’,” she said.
“And she said they don’t feel anything, and that was it.”
Christine didn’t realise her baby had webbed fingers and toes, developing lungs, lips, nose and eyelids, and a heartbeat of 150 times per minute.
“The counsellor told me I’d feel relieved,” she said.
But nothing, not even the perseverance from a childhood marked by sexual abuse, rape and being molested at a young age, prepared her for the “horror” of her post-abortion experience.
“I didn’t feel relieved at all, I felt really empty,” she said.
“I felt like a part of me was ripped out of me and, I don’t know … for your mind to try and comprehend that you were just pregnant a couple of hours ago and not to be pregnant is really huge.
“I wasn’t the same.
“I couldn’t stop crying and I just wanted to be alone.
“We specifically got black curtains to draw from the light because I just wanted to be alone in the dark and not talk.
“It was a really lonely time for me.”
Christine’s body also suffered, developing an irregular menstrual cycle lasting months.
She was constantly vomiting and had trouble keeping food down.
Grief and anger also struck her partner, who “lost his way” and ended up in jail.
“I’d say he’s still grieving,” she said.
It took nearly a year for Christine to draw back the black curtains.
She went on to finish high school while pregnant with her second child, despite a lack of confidence from some school staff.
“I ended up graduating at thirty-nine weeks and two days pregnant and gave birth on my formal night so I didn’t make it to my formal night,” Christine said.
She completed a Diploma of Justice while nursing her daughter and is now studying a Bachelor of Psychology and Justice with her heart set on studying Law.
When she graduates, she wants to work towards putting a proposal to legislate the definition of the beginning of life – “just to see a definition of life to be legislated, because there’s always that argument that it’s just a clump of cells, it’s not a baby just a foetus – just to define that life begins at conception and it’s been scientifically proven and we have all the facilities to show for”.
For now, she’ll work on making her story public to protect her fellow Queensland women and children from the harms of abortion.
“I am concerned the bill will shut women’s voices down altogether,” she said.
“In the future, my goal is to see abortion not be the norm in Australia.
“I know the adoption laws are really hard at the moment, but for young people and women of any age, and men, to think it’s normal to turn to pregnancy help centres and have the options of adoption be more readily available rather than abortion being the first point of contact.
“Because if, like, someone showed me or educated me during that counselling session I don’t think I would have gone through with the termination at all.”
By Emilie Ng