OK, first my apologies. I haven’t blogged for a while. I stopped when the blockade happened, and I honestly got scared to write about how I was feeling or how (temporarily) it felt like our world had turned upside down.
But in the year while I’ve been away from this site, those of you who know me will know I’ve spent a LOT of time talking about the 8th Amendment and why it needs to be repealed. I’ve written before about my journey to pro-choice, and I mean unapologetically free, safe, legal no restrictions abortion (that’s another post, but sure, get cross if you want to but you might just want to read up on post-viability abortions and the reality of this first).
I’ve been struck by the bravery, the massive, immense, unimaginable bravery of women from across Ireland who have shared their stories through In Her Shoes – Women of the Eighth. But there’s still a part of me that believes that some people regard women who have crisis pregnancies as ‘uneducated durty young wans who can’t keep their legs closed’. And who genuinely think they don’t know anyone who has been in a crisis pregnancy or found themselves needing an abortion.
So… I want to help shatter that perception, that belief that it’s always someone you don’t know, or who perhaps deserves it. This is my story. Not one of choosing abortion, but one of finding yourself in a situation where it might have been needed. Life and fate ended up intervening to prevent me realising my choices were limited, but the 8th was there – staring at me, even when I didn’t realise it.
My Silver Lining
I can remember clearly the moment I realised I was pregnant.
I wasn’t someone who you would have pictured getting pregnant at 20, in the middle of a degree. I was good and quiet, not quite as studious as I should have been, but never been one for trouble or drama. I was exactly that girl down the road, who you think you knew but probably don’t. But I was immature and naive to the world, had barely been in what could be termed a “relationship”. My screwed up relationship with the opposite sex took place through the all-too-potent prism of alcohol and foolishly seeking affirmation that I was attractive and worthwhile. So I made mistakes, not many, but those I took were risky foolish mistakes.
It was the run up to Christmas. All I had been worried about was Christmas parties, concerts and presents for my closest family. My breasts had been feeling really strange and sore and for some reason, while I knew very little, I knew this wasn’t right. I sat in my bedroom in my parents’ house and checked my diary, looked back at my period dates and my strange one-day only period the previous month. I weirdly knew straight away what the pregnancy test would say, even before I took it the next day, huddled in a bathroom at the back of the shop where I worked.
I staggered home, in a haze of confusion, dropped an atomic bomb of life altering intensity on my devastated parents, and then proceeded to go out and get absolutely paralytically drunk.
The next morning, while I was desperately upset, the thought of ending it didn’t occur to me. I had no concept of life beyond my parents’ house, and romantic ideas of a baby were already deep in my consciousness. I had never seen someone struggling to raise a child alone.
I think my father might have mentioned options, but I brushed them aside, oblivious to the reality that lay ahead. Oblivious to questions of how I would support a child? Finish my degree? Get a job?
In town that day, fate intervened. I started to bleed. The bleeding didn’t stop. I went home.
My parents cared for me when I had just turned their lives upside down. Like a sick toddler, I was tucked up in their double bed. My mum gave me painkillers and brought me the next day to the GP, who confirmed I had been pregnant and was likely now miscarrying. I went to the Rotunda and sat among the heavily pregnant women, experienced a scan of an empty uterus, stunned by the sudden reality I was facing and shocked into confronting the reality and the loss.
It was the loss that won back then. I grieved for that child that never was. I cried through Christmas Mass and struggled for a long time afterward with depression.
In all of that chaos of those two life-shaping days, there were some words I can still remember, gently stated by my Mum and resented by me for many years after: “It was a silver lining.”
She knew. She knew what I didn’t. She knew what world lay ahead for me if I’d remained pregnant, unable then to fathom the realities of raising myself, never mind a child. She wanted for me what I subsequently got – a career, a partner, a family at a time of my choosing, a life that was easier. And what I thought for years when I reflected on those five words was that she was wrong; I could have done what so many other strong women do, done it all as a single mum. And I could have, but I’m glad I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for that.
Why am I sharing something so deeply personal? Why is it relevant to now?
I held my pro-life views so dearly for so many years that it clouded my reality on everything. I had counted through the weeks of pregnancy that would have been but never were. I see it now in the posters, the social media posts, the media coverage. I see the same things I would have said. I see now the constant focus on the foetus and not the mother. I didn’t value my life as I should have back then. As I do now.
I’ve now lived longer since the pregnancy than before it. That foetus that never became a child would have been 20 this year had it been born. It’s only recently that I realise what a lucky escape I had. When I look back, I now wonder whether a week later, two weeks later, when I stopped being in shock and started realizing what was happening (assuming I did), what would I have done? At the time, I would have had the right to travel for an abortion, but that was all. I couldn’t have chosen to end the pregnancy in Ireland had I realised that that was what I wanted. At that stage, abortion pills weren’t available. I was lucky though, I’m sure my parents would have travelled with me and funded it, had I wanted to. I am sure I had that luxury of their support. Many don’t.
I didn’t have to make a choice, or to realise that there was none really available to me. But I know now, and am furious, that my choices at the time would have been limited by the State. By the 8th Amendment. Rules introduced by people who would have put me in a Laundry two decades earlier, who fought against my right to use contraception, who fought against my right for information, who fought against my right to travel and who are now fighting to retain a law that makes me and any other potential child-bearing person, a prisoner in their own body.
To be clear, I don’t regret the grief I had at the time for the loss of my pregnancy, but I also recognize that that grief was for some romantic vision that would never have happened for me at that time. I wasn’t grieving a reality; I was grieving a fairy tale. I wasn’t prepared for the changes that would have come, and that the miscarriage, while it hurt like hell for a long time, was right for me. It saved me.
It took me years to allow myself to recognize that it was OK to feel relieved at how things worked out. It was OK to take a moment each year to think “What if…”, to mark a birthday that never was, but to not regret that I never carried that pregnancy to term. I’m glad I didn’t need to confront my situation, that my control was wrested from me by my body.
It’s now 20 years later. I have two daughters. I know that neither they nor anyone else can control the things life puts in their path, whether it’s crisis pregnancies, fatal foetal abnormalities, or something threatening their lives or health if they are pregnant.
If those things happen, I want to be able to support them and offer them choices. I don’t mean the type of choices that involve planes, boats or smuggled pills. I mean choices, real choices, close to home. In a country where they don’t have to hide behind anonymity. Where they, and only they, can control their bodies. And for that, that means the Constitution needs to change. It needs to put my daughters first over their pregnancy. I want them to have choices so I can hold their hands and bring them tea and support, when they need it, as they need it. Where I can tell them about the wisdom of their grandmother, the endless potential of their lives and the silver linings behind every cloud.
Please show compassion for every person who has found themselves living in a moment they never imagined. Repeal the 8th on March 25th. Vote YES.
Photo credit: Lady Dragonfly via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladydragonflyherworld/4893579259