Compassion and the 8th

Compassion

Noun. Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I looked up the definition of compassion recently and found myself a little surprised at its mention of sympathetic pity. Not empathy, the word I had expected to see. To my mind, sympathy is something we do at a distance without really seeking to understand or help others.

A little more digging, however, revealed the origins of the word and satisfied my understanding of the word:

Middle English: via Old French from ecclesiastical Latin compassio(n-), from compati ‘suffer with’.

Putting aside the irony of the ecclesiastical origins of a word that is now far removed from the actions of the Catholic Church in Ireland and beyond, the word “compati” stood out.

Suffer with.

Empathy is not a skill we’re born with. We develop it in late childhood when we learn that people around us feel differently that we do, and that that’s ok. It removes us from our focus on our own ego, and helps to make us more social individuals. It helps us to put ourselves in the position of others, to understand their point of view, to recognize that differences are not a bad thing.

Compassion goes one step further. It asks us to feel the negative emotions and experiences of others. It challenges us to accept that their lives are different to ours and to understand the depths of their pain and experience.

This is why the movement to repeal the 8th has arisen from a point of compassion.

Yes for compassion

I look around at campaigners for Together for Yes and I see compassion writ large upon their souls. They are able to recognize the pain that women (and men) have found themselves in as a result of the 8th Amendment.

They, like me, have read and heard stories of utter pain and horror of people trapped in pregnancy in a country that sought to offer them no help but spit them across the water for our neighbours to deal with.

We have heard stories of women whose pregnancies were changed beyond reason because the 8th prohibited them full control of their bodies – think coerced inductions, C-sections, episiotomies.

We have seen women meeting in dark places to trade packages of illicit drugs, not taken for pleasure but for pain. Gut wrenching, awful, unsupervised, secret pain.

And what we hear from the No side?

Murderers

Child killers

Evil

There’s not even a hint of compassion in those words. No attempt to understand whether the person (or child) they are addressed to has suffered a loss, had to travel to protect her health or deliver a much-wanted child who wouldn’t live, has suffered a traumatic birth as a result of forced intervention.

This week we had a newly consecrated Bishop declare that abortion was worse than rape. Where was his compassion? His attempt to understand what he, as a man, could not possibly understand… the feeling of carrying a foetus you do not want as a result of violation that had been forced on you? Where was his willingness to try to suffer with that woman? Is this not an expectation of representatives of the Church? I’ve long since lost my faith in the Church or God, but I do remember the kind, non-judgemental image of a Christ who washed the feet of prostitutes. This doesn’t seem like the type of thing He would say.

From the No side, I’ve seen videos of men shouting at women half their size, of blonde Irish women declaring that non-white Irish women did not matter, of spokespeople again and again and again and again ignoring the plight of the sentient, breathing, living woman pleading for compassion from society. I’ve seen that woman reduced to a soundbite, a number, a hypothetical person who doesn’t deserve our support because they deem her decisions are wrong. It doesn’t matter to them that she’s forced to travel, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to buy illegal pills, it doesn’t matter that she’s forced to ship her child home in a coffin or by courier, it doesn’t matter that she may be forced to carry for month after long month a foetus she never wanted to give her body to because she couldn’t afford to take any other options.

The Yes side has listened. For too long, we have listened to the stories and the pain. For too long, we have begged for compassion, for understanding, for help.

Do you show compassion?

If you intend to vote No, ask yourself this: how would I respond if it was my wife, my daughter, my cousin, my friend, my neighbour asking for access to compassionate abortion care in Ireland? Yes, you’ve been asked this before. Think about it again. Please.

Be honest in your response – if you don’t show compassion here, then at least you’re consistent. (The worst stories I’ve read on In Her Shoes were those where family as well as society let the woman down at her darkest hour.)

But if you find yourself unsure, then let me ask you this, what if she’d been raped? Would you say yes then?

Or what if the foetus had no hope of life? What then?

And if those situations are permissible, then what about if she might lose her home or be unable to feed her other kids? Is that ok?

And if that’s ok, then what if she just doesn’t feel ready or she made a mistake? Will you punish her for that?

If you think compassionate abortion care should be provided as an option in any of those cases, then you should vote Yes, because without a Yes, she will always need to seek care from overseas. She will always be a pariah in our society. And you don’t want that for YOUR loved ones, or any of the other women and pregnant people of Ireland.

Thank you for trying for a moment to suffer with those women. For showing compassion.

Please vote Yes.

My Silver Lining

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

 

 

 

Feeling Alien: First Reflections on Qatar

First confession: Only amateur expat wannabe bloggers fail in style by forgetting their laptop charger in their home country. Mine is somewhere, who knows where, in a small green nation over 5,000km away.

However, for all that this error resulted in itchy fingers and a temptation to start plugging away here on my iPhone, it led to me taking an enforced break from writing here for two weeks, providing time for reflection on all that’s happened in the past two weeks since our arrival in Doha. And reflection has been very much needed!

 

Greetings 

We arrived to a hot, dry Doha. Greeted with open arms by a tired, well prepared expat father who had been working hard to lay the groundwork for our new lives in Qatar. I think the image of our three kids racing across the airport arrivals ahead of my mother, myself and three porters laden down with our massive luggage haul will live with me forever, especially the smiles all around at Alex’s chubby legs carrying him, arms outstretched, for a long overdue hug with his Dad.

reunionWe also arrived just after Pixie was released from customs, so it was a grand family reunion in the car park of Doha Hamad Airport. Kids, check; Pixie, check; driver, check; sanity, check.

First impressions matter. Simon knows from years of travel that arriving in a dusty Dohan suburb would not do. So he had arranged for a drive-through road tour along the Corniche, lit up as it always is against a dark sea and sky, announcing in case of doubt Doha’s ambition to be a city of the world, where success is measured in skyscraper floor totals and grand architectural tricks and illusions. Tantalizing glimpses of Souq and MIA to whet the appetite for exploration and life here.

souq

Feeling green
I will confess now to an arrogance that until two weeks ago I had no idea I possessed. An assumption that I was a seasoned traveller of the world. I had seen continents and sights that would complete many a bucket list or Top 10 travel guide. I was wrong. Totally wrong.

The best introduction to Doha life is not the museums or the scenery, it’s the traffic and the malls. Traffic is traffic, but the cars are larger, roads are faster and the drivers more impatient. The first few roundabouts are navigated with your hands across your eyes — thankfully, I was a passenger and not a driver at that stage!

The malls are where we, as expats, first engage with Qatari culture beyond the immigration desks in the airport. I don’t honestly know what I had expected but it wasn’t what I found. I was an alien in my own skin, feeling weirdly unsure how to walk, behave, even act in this new environment. Qatari men and women are clearly proud of their culture and status and this is evident most of all in their dress. Men wearing the long white shirts called thawbs with headdresses called agals on their heads. They are tall, proud men. The women that initially stood out were a wall of black. It would be wrong to say they all wear abayas – they clearly don’t – but it certainly appeared so at first glance. They also wear headscarves of varying styles, from hijabs more commonly seen in Europe to full veils covering their entire face.

This sea of white and black was hard to see past at first, even while aware of the multitude of other nationalities around us. It took time, nearly two weeks before I could fully stop staring at the newness of it all and start appreciating more in the wider environment. The abayas became less of a black uniform and more diverse. I could appreciate the intricacies in the different fabric choices or embellishments sewn into the material, the glittering sequins on some, the chiffon or lace on others.

If this description makes Doha sound very uniform, I can assure you that it’s far from this. Indeed, I would describe Doha as possibly one of the most diverse places I’ve ever been in. There are people of all nationalities here, and because tourism isn’t yet a huge driver of population shift here, you know most people are living here, trying to shape a life in this rapidly growing and evolving country.

A forest of forms

The first couple of weeks here have been consumed with paperwork, travelling around the city and multiple office visits (often fruitless ones with missing papers, etc.). You’re never 100% sure which website is accurate, what forms are required, whether original documents are needed or just photocopies, and presenting more than required seems to be greeted with derision! However, we’ve got there now – all Residency Permits are approved, my Driving Licence has been received and we’re good to go!

The piece I’ve personally found hardest is dealing with officials, who are as helpful as you would expect from civil servants in any country, but since many are women and also wearing a hijab of some sort, my ability to lipread has been hampered and so conversation is stilted and limited to me head bowing, apologising and repeating shukran (thank you) over and over again. Accents in general are a challenge, whether Indian, Pakistani, African or Filipino, but I’m sure I’ll get there.

Finding the green

MIA ParkWe’ve managed to find some respite from the dust and sand and endless construction sites. Aspire Park and MIA Park have been located and provide the green, however artificial it may be, that we need. I’m not sure I ever realised quite how dependent I was on the clean air and open spaces of Ireland. Give me grass, some water and tranquility and my soul breathes deeply. MIA Park, in particular, will be a spot we will come to relish over the coming years. I haven’t quite picked out our favourite picnic spot yet, but it’s coming!

Next stop – real life

Now real life begins. We’ve been on holiday mode until now. The kids have been off school and I haven’t been working. That all changes this coming week. We’ll start with the 5:30am starts for a 7:30am school day. The girls will start making new friends and joining new activities. We’ll figure out childcare for Alex and I’ll start preparation for work in April (if it happens – paperwork still ongoing for that one).

This is where we need to start getting a genuine routine in place. Finding meals to cook that work for the heat. Creating school lunches where ham and cheese isn’t an option. Adjusting to a world where weekends are different simply by starting on a Friday!

I’d love to hear tips from other expats or you creative folk at home. Activities for home evenings appreciated? Tips for lunchboxes in the heat? Quick and easy meals that stop us visiting the malls for all dinners.

@sineadorourke

 

 

Tribute To My Tribe

Yes, we’re finally in Doha. Safe and sound. All of us. Including Pixie, who has taken to expat pet life like an expat human’s toes to the poolside. There were no toddlers thrown from the plane or seven year olds talked down from the ceilings (no, that was the day AFTER we arrived!).

I am still gathering my thoughts on the mayhem and mania of the past fortnight, from unexpected trips to secure papers for the aforementioned feline to goodbyes, real ones this time with tears and silent gasping hugs.

Now I’m home. Well, I’m in what what should be home. Except it still feels slightly alien. New. Apart from the shopping malls, which are like home but bigger, glossier and inhabited by a populace that looks and feels vastly different. There’s a post in those feelings, but my fingers aren’t yet ready to type it. The fatigue is real. So tonight, in the vein of being still at home, I’d like to pay tribute to my tribe.

0faf745f48eea04dc1092d864b66bf82My tribe

I am aware that there’s no little irony in posting about the importance of a tribe after you move over 5,000km away from them, but actually they become so much more important to you over the course of that journey.

Don’t take your tribe for granted. Look at those in your life and ask who will be there for you and cherish them. My tribe is so much bigger and stronger than I ever realised. 

My own family, without a doubt, were my rock during four months of sole parenting. From grandparent time and care and uncle and aunt babysitting, to sorting, packing and lugging many, many boxes into cars and up and down attic stairs. They also provide tea. Lots of it. I’d have been lost without them.
Equally, I’m blessed with in-laws that I cherish. I know, I know. It’s neither trendy nor cool to say how amazing your in-laws are, but in my case it’s true. From the always there when needed loving support of my parents-in-law, to my sister- and brother-in-law who minded their nieces and nephew through vomiting bugs and loved opening their home to them at a time of massive change in their lives and who dropped everything and ran to help me when A was admitted to hospital with pneumonia. 

Extended family. I have a small but incredibly close extended family. They have all helped in little ways beyond measure to balance me at times of stress, provide a sounding board for my worries and fears and just generally being there if needed.

Friends – you know who you are. The encouragers. The time-out friends who remind you that you have your own identity amidst the chaos. Those who have been there a very long time, and those who are new. 

Colleagues – the ones who say nothing when you come in with food stains on your behind. And your hair not done. Those who take you aside during meltdowns so you can compose and dry your stressed out tears. The ones who buy Eddie Rockets or who simply stop and check in. I worked with one of the best companies in Ireland when it comes to colleagues. 

Broader tribe – I’ve never been great at meeting and socialising with school mums. I’m not great in crowded spots anyway, so school gates aren’t the best for flying conversations for me. So imagine my surprise and gratitude when some of the mothers in B’s class offered to help with a going away party. There was cake, and food, and hands, lots of hands, to help tidy and clean and remove the stress. That’s a tribe I should have engaged with more before. Honestly it was a lesson to me to open up more. Thank you.

Facebook friends. I know some people scoff at online communities, but my sense of tribe includes those who I know only online. That tribe is one that you can often contact when the real world seems too much or too hard. They don’t judge.

They’re my tribe. A vast messy Venn diagram of love and support with me in the centre. I’m lucky to be there. 

I may be far away but I’ll always be just a message, call or email away. Love you all X

Bye bye, bye bye, bye bye… the Irish long goodbye

Anyone who has ever tried to end a phone call with an Irish loved one will know this closing salutation, usually echoed by your counterpart at the other end: “Bye bye, bye bye, bye bye…” (repeat until hanging up). It demonstrates clearly the Irish reluctance to end a connection, to close a conversation, to say goodbye.

Image result for bye bye bye irish

And so it is when one of us is departing to foreign shores. Ireland has a long tradition of emigration and departure – our diaspora are scattered to the furthest corners of the Earth – but it’s still hard to let go of the homeland. It’s harder yet for those left behind to say that final farewell.

I’m experiencing this now. Final meetings with friends and family are never described as such and so I find myself scheduling a further catch up, chat, lunch, tea, coffee, get together. There are leaving parties and goodbyes before final days in school, creche, work. An excuse to postpone the inevitable tough reality of the pain of goodbye.

Last night was one such goodbye night.

A catch up with my two closest friends, to be repeated again tomorrow night, over probably our worst meal out in years but with satisfying accompanying hilarious critique.

The night ended with a session in the Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar, frequented only by tourists, stag parties and maudlin potential Irish expats and their friends (no other Irish people would pay €11 for a spirit and mixer!).

The trip to the (in)famous drinking house allowed me to sing Black Velvet Band, Whiskey in the Jar and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For at the top of my voice alongside the Brits, Canadians, Spanish and Peaky Blinders wannabes.

Because I know those songs will become different when sung on foreign soil, in Irish bars where the antiques are made in China and even the Guinness isn’t real. These songs will become layered with longing and loss.

When my dear friend Catherine played a request for her friend who was emigrating, the long goodbyes and my willing participation in dragging them out suddenly made sense.

I’m not just an expat, I’m an emigrant. I’m joining the diaspora. And it’s hard to say goodbye.