“I didn’t want to give birth. I just felt like I wanted to abort my pregnancy, as I was in school, I was young, and I didn’t know how to take care of a baby.”
Like many girls living in Nairobi’s heavily populated slums, Jane Vika Alfayo was forced to sell her body for survival. She fell pregnant when she was just 14, and decided an unsafe abortion was the only real path open to her.
“In slums sometimes it’s hard to get food, and I needed to do something for my siblings. That’s when I fell pregnant. It wasn’t my first time having sex. My mum is asthmatic and was bedridden at the time, and my dad is a drunk, so we had no other way of getting any money.”
Jane became sexually active in her early teens and was the only income earner in her family. Like many young girls in the slums, being paid for sex seemed like the only way of surviving. But at 14, Jane knew she was incapable of looking after a baby.
Five months into her pregnancy, she decided to seek out an unsafe abortion – and after discussing it with her friends, decided that drinking some concentrated tea leaves was her best option (rather than drinking detergent or boiled Coca-Cola – other locally used methods also thought to induce a miscarriage). In any case, drinking the tea would be cheaper than visiting the local quack doctor, who many local women also visited to get help ending a pregnancy.
More than 25% of the estimated 6.2 million annual abortions in Africa occur among girls aged 15 to 19 years old, most of which would be classified by the World Health Organisation as unsafe.
“I was young and confused, and I didn’t know how to take care of a baby. So I waited until there was no one in our house, and then boiled the tea leaves for 30 minutes. Immediately after I drank the tea, I began vomiting, even vomiting blood. It was risky because there was nobody else at home. After 30 minutes, I started to bleed heavily from my vagina… it was heavy like clots, clots of blood. I was feeling dizzy. Whenever I tried to stand up, I fell down.”
Luckily Jane managed to make her way to the neighbour’s house, but didn’t tell the neighbour what she’d done.
“She knew. Everybody knew. And then one of my friends came and gave me some medicine she’d got from the quack doctor, and then the bleeding stopped, and then I went to the hospital. I was unconscious for two days. When I woke up, I realised where I was.”
Jane’s story isn’t by any means unusual. According to one study, around a quarter of all Kenyan women will experience serious health complications due to unsafe abortions, and have to seek life-saving care in a health facility.
Jane was one of the fortunate ones. She survived her unsafe abortion after receiving the care she needed in one of our clinics . But one of her friends wasn’t so lucky.
“A friend who was advising me was pregnant too, but she went to a quack doctor. They used needles on her – the ones they use to make sweaters. She died from the needles.”
As well as offering safe terminations where we are legally able to do so, our teams in Africa provide life-saving medical care for those suffering complications from unsafe procedures. And by opening up access to contraception, we’re reducing the need for many women to have to resort to an unsafe abortion in the first place.