Carolina, a 27-year-old international student, found herself pregnant and alone in a country foreign to her. When she told her partner about the baby, he told her to terminate the pregnancy.
“At the beginning, I agreed with him. I knew how my family (in South America) would react to this,” she said. “But after
the first scan, I changed my mind.”
The father of the child made it clear he was not going to support her or the baby. “He said, ‘I will leave you and I will
leave New Zealand for good.’ Just to force me to do a termination. I didn’t want to do it. But it looked like my only option,”she said.
The challenges she was going to face to keep her baby were just starting.
Carolina was a cleaner by day and a student by night.Though her uncle, who is in New Zealand, paid for her tuition and was financially supporting her, she worked to pay him back.
As soon as she told her uncle of her pregnancy, he told her to get an abortion.
“I was here in New Zealand with a student’s visa, which was close to finishing. It was October (2018) and my visa was expiring in February this year. I was alone and I was living with my cousin at that time in his (cousin’s) house. My cousin told me I had to leave his house because he was also disappointed with my pregnancy,” she said.
Her family in South America gave her two options: end the pregnancy to have their continued financial support or cut
ties with the family.
“The pressure . . . [is from] everyone and from everywhere. My partner, my family, every single person around me was trying to force me to have an abortion,”Carolina added.
She called the numbers for different pregnancy support services. “Everyone told me the same thing. We can’t help you because you are not from New Zealand and you are just on a student’s visa. If your partner is not with you, you have to be able to afford the full price of pregnancy and maternity,” she recalled.
Pregnancy Help volunteer Hilda Tan-Morais said Carolina’s case is definitely not an exception.
“Overseas students, when they get pregnant, have no one to go to. They don’t know who to look [to] for help. Most of the time, from what we gather from them, when they go to see their GP, the immediate reaction of the GP is to write down details and say go to this place — abortion clinic. Some of the
students were very distraught because that’s not what they wanted,” Mrs Tan-Morais said. “Often, they are afraid of what their parents would say.”
Mrs Tan-Morais branched out into student pregnancy support in 2017. From 2017 to May this year, she was able to reach out to 172 students. Twenty-nine students went on to have their babies, while seven decided to terminate their pregnancies.
The rest worried they might have been pregnant, but were found not to have been so.
“Loneliness is the key issue for these students. This is the reason they fall into unhealthy relationships that end up in
unwanted pregnancy,” Mrs Tan-Morais said. “You have to give them a glimmer of hope. Tell them they are not alone and offer help.”
Mrs Tan-Morais had been going to colleges and universities in Auckland, contacting student pastoral care workers and networking with them to let the students know that help exists.
Carolina was spiralling down to depression. She was crying every night. Her teacher saw her and offered to put her in touch with the institution’s social worker. By this time, though, she wasn’t holding out much hope. She had already
set up an appointment for an abortion.
The following day, the social worker told Carolina to get in touch with Mrs Tan-Morais.
“I had nothing to lose, so I called Hilda that morning. I was thinking maybe she will give me an appointment for next
week. The appointment for my abortion was the next day,” she said.
“She (Hilda) just said, ‘can you come right now? I’m in the office.’ I said, ‘yes, I can.’ And it just changed my life,” Carolina said, her voice breaking. “She saved my life. Maybe if she gave me an appointment three days later, my baby
won’t be here.”
Mrs Tan-Morais arranged for emergency housing with the Association of Latin American Communities (ALAC) after
Carolina was kicked out of her cousin’s house. She (Mrs Tan-Morais ) also looked for a suitable longer-term shelter for the
young woman.She contacted her friend, former Pregnancy Help volunteer Julie Carter, who took Carolina in.
Ms Carter, a single mum with a heart of gold, took Carolina in despite her (Ms Carter’s) daughter’s initial misgivings.
“Carolina stays with me free of charge for everything. That support will continue forever and a day. She knows that,” Ms Carter said. “Everybody can provide for one extra person if they choose [to]. Really, they can.”
Ms Carter, who is fostering three children, is passionate about helping others.
“You can get clothing and the practical stuff. But when ladies are going through this, they need way more than the practical stuff. They need people like me, help in the community, that can embrace them as a family member and just love and nurture them and so they can, in turn, nurture and love their children stress-free,” she said.
She said loving support is shown through little things like driving to a doctor’s appointment or chatting about life late at night.
“I’m just so proud of how courageous Carolina is and how strong and determined she was against everybody who
turned against her,” Ms Carter said.
Ms Carter is hoping that she will be able to help young mums on a bigger scale.
Mrs Tan-Morais said they need more volunteers like Julie and retired Dr Andrew Leong and his wife, Mary, who is a
midwife herself. Dr and Mrs Leong give free consultations to women who come to them.
Financial support is also an urgent need.
“This is what we need: an ongoing chain of support. The Catholic community is so huge. If everybody can do a bit, contribute a bit towards our cause, it would keep us going,” Mrs Tan-Morais said.
Mrs Tan-Morais can be reached at 09 373 2599 or her email: email@example.com