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

 

 

 

All I learned about motherhood, I learned from you, Mum

On this strange Mother’s Day, where my inner calendar is set on Irish time and Qatar celebrated it last Thursday (yup, it is as strange as it sounds), I want to say Thank You to my own wonderful mother, who taught me all I need to know about motherhood.

I have two girls upstairs who are plotting breakfast in bed for me tomorrow morning. I know them, I’ll get it, perhaps with a splash of milk on the duvet, or cereal spilled on the tray, but it’s delivered with love and the best open hearts. I can remember doing the same as a child, and my heart fills with gratitude that my own girls are taking this and running with it.

We say we become mothers when we give birth or welcome a child into our lives, but actually that’s not true. It happens when a woman enters our lives and starts shaping for us that image of what motherhood is: unconditional love, kindness, gentle steering in the right directions for life. Many of us, myself included, are lucky that this woman takes the shape of our mothers. I know I started learning how to be a mother when my knee was kissed better after a fall; when I was shown how to care for and respect my granny; when I saw her juggling work, housework, kids; when I saw her deal with the struggles life handed her, and the joys too, with grace, dignity and creative embrace. She handed me poems about beloved departed budgies, offered tea when teenage hormones got too much and stood back when I muddled my way through early adulthood.

She was the one who welcomed my early tears of motherhood. Who laughed when I couldn’t stop talking about those first windy smiles. Who advised gently when I didn’t know which way was up from exhaustion, hormones and general muddled-ness. Who took my kids, one by one as the brood grew, and minded them every Friday, and more. Who loves them unconditionally.

So here she is with me now in Qatar. Again helping me — us — on another journey into the unknown. A source of immense support and wisdom as I, and my family, try to shape a new life. She is putting us first at a time that I know must be difficult for her. We’re creating a new distance but I know the relationship will remain as integral to my life as it always has been.

She is joined by so many other mothers as the rocks of my life — aunts, mothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, friends. All mothers with their own strength and wisdom. All women who have shared their experience with me and helped make me the mother I am today.

So on this day when we in Ireland celebrate our mothers, I say Thank You Mum. For being my Mum, my rock, the much loved Nana of my children. For teaching me, and my girls, how to be a mum.

mum.jpg

I love you.

Sinéad

xx

@sineadorourke