“Congratulations, you are pregnant!” The words over the phone from the hospital nurse were like a death knell to single teenager Sharon Clayton in the summer of 1974
"What could I do?" she writes in her autobiographical book, Reconcile Me: from Abortion's Chains "Dad would reject me, and my family would have to bear the shame. My whole life was ahead of me with so much I still wanted to do, and I wasn't even nineteen yet!"
Abortion seemed to be the only sensible option.
However, lying in the doctor's office feeling as cold and detached as the instruments that were being pushed deep inside her, Sharon began to realise this thoughtless decision might have ongoing ripple effects throughout her life.
"At home the guilt and pain washed over me in waves. I reflected on how I hated myself. How had I got myself into this predicament? I was an attractive young woman to look at from the outside, but inside I was broken."
Sharon had known that sleeping around was wrong and she knew the abortion was just an attempt to "get rid of the evidence of my immoral conduct".
Years before, in Grade 7, she and her sister Rose had tearfully rushed forward at a Billy Graham Christian evangelical crusade to make a decision to give their lives to Jesus Christ.
For a year afterwards, Sharon had done Bible study lessons and knew about sin and how it separates us from God, and how Jesus died on the cross to reconcile us back to God by paying for all our wrongdoing. However, after her mother abandoned the family and her father remarried and had other children, Sharon had such a deep desire to feel loved and to belong that, despite what she knew was right, her poor boundaries and low self-esteem led her into foolish behaviour.
I couldn’t do it in my own strength, and I wasn’t meant to"You will regret having an abortion one day, you know," Rose told her prophetically when she heard the news. But, flushing the jelly-like mass of the lifeless embryo down the toilet shortly afterwards, Sharon was determined never to look back.
Through the years that followed, Sharon travelled widely around Australia and continued looking for love in sexual relationships, eventually deciding that since her looks were her greatest asset, she would go to the mining town of Kalgoorlie and become a prostitute.
"Oh how foolish my thinking was! I was 20 years old, insecure, believing I was 'left on the shelf'. I needed love so desperately," she remembers. At that time the God she had ignored for so long stepped into her life by introducing her to Peter McFee, the man she was to marry, just before her planned trip to Kalgoorlie.
"God knew my past, and He knew my brokenness, yet He still loved me and knew exactly what I needed. I had an unstable background, and Peter's was rock solid ... I needed Peter's strength and stability," Sharon admits.
They were married the following year, just after Sharon was 21, and went on to have three sons and – after eight years, a reverse vasectomy and much prayer – two daughters.
At 23 Sharon got more serious about her faith and started reading the Bible daily and repenting of the wrong things she had done; even making things right where possible – like paying for a purse she had stolen five years earlier.
Initially she thought being a Christian involved following a lot of rules and doing everything "perfectly" but one day as she was studying the Bible it came to her suddenly that: "I couldn't do it in my own strength, and I wasn't meant to".
"Jesus Christ had already done it for me, and when God looks at me He sees Christ, in spite of all my imperfections," she explains. "It is hard for us to receive the free gift of eternal life because we feel that somehow we have to earn it. We're deceived into believing the lie that we have to work for our salvation."
Eventually, 25 years after her abortion, Sharon was brought to place in counselling where she could deal with the profound grief and guilt of taking her child's life. She was able to forgive herself and the doctor who had performed the operation.
"All the guilt and pain and denial came pouring out like pus bursting out of an infected wound. It felt like it had been buried in the pit of my stomach all this time. I cried and cried and cried," she writes.
But her book ends with hope.
"God cares and is in the business of restoring lives. Jesus Christ is the only way. One encounter with Christ will change your life – you will never be the same."•
*Read Sharon McFee's full story in her book Reconcile Me: from Abortion's Chains available from her website www.refugeofgrace.com.au