“It reached a point when I could no longer bear the pains. That was when I thought I was going to die.”
2012 was the year that Christiana was supposed to enter university. “I had already filled in my application form when I realised I was pregnant,” she says.
Now aged 28, Christiana has managed to juggle a career as a primary school teacher with raising her two children, aged 6 and 8. Back in 2012, her children were still babies, and falling pregnant a third time was the last thing she needed.
“This was the time when pregnant women were not allowed into universities and colleges. With so much ambition to pursue my career, I was not ready to give up on my studies for anything. I wanted to end the pregnancy.”
“I went to a backstreet ‘doctor’ and was taken into a room where he performed the procedure using metal instruments I can’t describe.”
A dangerous choice
Abortion is legally restricted in Sierra Leone, but with two young children to support, Christiana had very little money to spare to travel for care. She decided to visit one of her neighbourhood’s ‘pepe doctors’, men with no medical training who offered backstreet abortions for a low price. The man told her he would end her pregnancy if she paid 80,000 Leones, the equivalent of £8.
“The man who carried out the abortion was well known among girls for his work on abortions. When I arrived at his house, I was taken into a room where he performed the procedure using metal instruments I can’t describe. The room was ok, but there was no conversation before or after the abortion of what would happen.”
Although the procedure at first appeared to have been a success, it was only after she returned home that Christiana realised something was wrong. She was bleeding heavily, and was experiencing crippling pains in her lower abdomen. To make matters worse, with abortion legally restricted and highly stigmatised in Sierra Leone, she was determined to keep her abortion a secret from her family.
“Because I did not tell anyone and did not want anyone to know, all night I suffered with the pain in silence. It reached a point when I could no longer bear the pains. That was when I thought I was going to die.”
“…all night I suffered with the pain in silence.”
“It was during this time that I realised contraceptives are the only way for a woman to pursue her dream without the interruption of an unplanned pregnancy.”
Shakily, Christiana climbed on to the family’s motor bike and drove herself to her nearest MSI Sierra Leone clinic. She had heard from adverts on the radio that they could help women in her situation. These services, called post-abortion care, treat the complications caused by unsafe abortion. An MSI Sierra Leone doctor discovered that Christina had a perforated uterus that – left untreated – would have killed her.
Following the treatment, an MSI Sierra Leone nurse talked to Christiana about the different types of contraception available, so that she could choose the best method for her circumstances and greatly reduce the chance she would risk another unsafe abortion in the future. After considering her options, Christiana chose a contraceptive injection that would protect her from further unplanned pregnancy for up to 14 weeks at a time – a method she continues to use today.
Despite coming close to death, Christiana describes what happened to her as a life changing experience. “It was during this time that I realised contraceptives are the only way for a woman to pursue her dream without the interruption of an unplanned pregnancy. Since then I have taken contraception very seriously. I am always protected.”