Woman looking out of a taxi window and anti-choice protesters

Deborah

Deborah’s Story

My name is Deborah.  I found out I was pregnant 6 weeks before I was due to fly to Boston to work. I knew immediately that I wanted to have an abortion. I also knew I would have to wait until I arrived in Boston which meant that I was 14 weeks pregnant when I had the abortion.

I will never forget waiting for those 6 weeks. I was extremely stressed and worried that someone would find out. That shame is something I still feel to this day.

“Pro-Life” Protesters

I got a taxi to the clinic. The “pro-life” protesters outside were shouting and roaring; I was terrified. 

Woman looking out of a taxi window and anti-choice protesters

Inside the clinic, I changed my mind 3 times about the sedation which resulted in me having to pay an extra $100. When I was called into the surgery, the first thing I saw was the ultrasound. That was when I started to cry and I thought I would never stop. The doctor couldn’t have been kinder. He told me to look away, that he had to check my womb. I was given the sedation and the next thing I remember is the doctor saying “it’s ok… it’s over, you’re going to be ok.”

All I felt was relief. I don’t think I’ve felt that kind of relief since.

I was allowed go home after a few hours. I walked outside and one of the “pro-life” protesters roared “murderer” at me, shoving a blue baby grow in my hands. I was stunned, just completely stunned. I got into the taxi but at this stage I was in a lot of pain and I had to get the driver to pull over. The closest place I could find was a pub. The toilet was in the basement and I was hanging onto the sink waiting for the pain to pass. I thought I would never get home. But I did and I got through it.

That was 19 years ago. 19 years of shame, of silence, of stigma.  I did nothing wrong. I made a decision based on what was best for me at the time. I don’t regret it for one second and I think about it every day.

Woman looking out of a taxi window and anti-choice protesters

Artist: Aimee Gallagher.

gumcollective.com/Aimee-Gallagher

Audio: Kate Finegan


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Image of 10 Women

Trish (Guest Post)

2017 was the year of realising what bottom of the pile looks like. The view from down here is spectacular, what with the underskirts of society flashed at you and the soles of the government’s fancy shoes in full view, who wouldn’t be feeling dismayed?

It comes in threes for sure.

One: I wasn’t born with a physical disability, in fact, throughout my teenage years I held down two jobs and during college could be seen frequently practicing my 10k around the running track. So, as you can imagine my official crowning as a person with a disability (unable to even use the free travel card) came as a bit of a downer.

Two: It was also the year that marked the 35th anniversary of the eighth amendment. I was under the illusion that up until now I could do as I pleased with my body and that a disabling diagnosis had taken that away. Wrong. When I was almost four years old the government, backed by the people of Ireland cemented into the Irish constitution that the potential being of another had equal status to me, that it was long before illness took root that I could certainly not do as I pleased with my own body. I was just coming up to my fourth birthday when that was decided. In the 38 years of my existence, my country has never granted me the opportunity to vote on this, on the fact that someone whose life has yet to come to fruition has more rights than I do, especially now that I am less able-bodied.

Three: It was also the year that marked the 6th March for choice and, despite the travel card, I couldn’t get on the buses booked for the trip from Cork to Dublin, to be a part of the change I worked tirelessly to campaign for, some times from my bed because I was too weak to get out of it (thank goodness for laptops!). To lie in the Cork University Hospital writhing in pain, watching it’s disappointing (lack of) coverage by the media just doesn’t have quite the same effect. 

It could be worse (people never tire of telling you that): I could be pregnant, like many disabled women in Ireland (who, according to the SAVI Report are at a greater risk of rape, sexual abuse & violence) are left struggling to live on payments that hardly cover food for a week let alone anywhere up to €1000 for traveling to the UK to access reproductive healthcare. I know that even for me, having the money might make little difference as many days I’m bed-bound with movement terrifyingly painful, so an entire trek through airports and bus stations would be impossible. Yes the ban on the right to travel for an abortion has been lifted but I cannot make that journey.

Artist: Val Scott

On the Saturday of the March of Choice I couldn’t leave Cork to have a voice, to use my body to create visibility of the desire this country has for change. Were I also pregnant, I would be forced to continue a pregnancy that meant giving birth to a child I had no hope of parenting. Reading this you might assume family would help, or there are other options like fostering but you would be missing the point; I need to be able to make that choice myself because God knows they are limited enough as it is. Please don’t preach because my hands are tied.   I have no intention of illustrating this blog post with inaccurate information that fuels the flames of moral panic, I am merely presenting it as it happens.

There have been calls for ‘why I support Repeal’ blogs, articles, you name it, the campaign want it. I, like many other women in 2017 had to sit (or in my case stay supine) and watch another opportunity slide past us: The chance to march for our choice.

It scares me that I live in a country that thinks this is Okay. It’s not Okay.

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Girl with her eyes blacked out

Kate

Kate’s Story

 

My name is Kate. I had an abortion at 19. I had no money, no support, and no one to tell. I don’t think I’ve ever even said it out loud.

I’d been pro-choice my whole life and I was terrified of telling people who loved me about a decision that I wholly knew was right for me. I didn’t have any money to travel and I didn’t know any alternatives. I didn’t even know if there was anyone I could talk to for support.

I thought I was just going to die

I spent endless time searching online for ways to have a home abortion. I did all sorts of desperate things to myself, to no avail. I worked evenings after college, and double shifts to save. I cried constantly and couldn’t eat. When I finally had the abortion, I was terrified of the blood. I had agonising pains in a hotel room. I thought I was just going to die. I didn’t even really mind, sadly.

When I got home I went to a clinic. I said I thought something was wrong with me. The doctor scraped me, felt my insides, told me I’d had a miscarriage and should, “be more careful.” I was careful, but that didn’t matter.

I’ve carried that as a burden for years. A sense of shame that I didn’t deserve, that no one does. I read endless posts online about how terrible someone like me must be, how heartless. Sometimes I forget that when I talk about abortion rights, I’m talking about something that shaped me irrevocably. It doesn’t even feel like my story. Ignoring the needs of women like myself doesn’t make the problem go away, and it doesn’t make this country any safer a place to be a woman, or to be a mother.

The 8th Amendment is not just arbitrary linguistics, it affects so many people you know, so many people you love. Irish women deserve more than this; more than being reduced to a sad figure on a website, more than another signifier of Irish shame, more than being disregarded and denied autonomy and respect by people who have never, and will never, know them.

Girl with her eyes blacked out

Artist: Louise Hickey.

www.behance.net/loohicks

Audio: Fiona O’ Connor

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Pink bathtub with blood running down the drain

Caoimhe

Caoimhe’s Story

My name is Caoimhe. I still have no idea how it happened; I was always the responsible one, the organised one, the one who would never have a crisis pregnancy. I had been on the pill since I was a teenager and my boyfriend & I always used condoms… just incase. When the condom broke, I wasn’t worried, because that’s why we always used two forms of contraception. Yet, there I was looking at 4 positive pregnancy tests.

My boyfriend & I took off to a friend’s house in the country where we stayed for two agonisingly long days and nights discussing every possible what if – what if, what if what if. Both of us knew that there was no way we could afford to bring a child into the world, not at this time. We knew what we had to do and we booked an appointment for a surgical abortion in Manchester.

Manchester

When I arrived at the clinic I recognised a woman I had seen crying in the bathroom in Dublin airport – her friend reassuring her that it would be OK, and there was another girl from my flight as well who couldn’t have been more than a teenager. We shared comforting smiles across the waiting room, knowing that each of us had made the same journey from Ireland that morning.

The surgery itself was horrible, but my nurse held my hand through it. As we were leaving, she told me to rest and take my antibiotics that evening. I should expect to bleed heavily over the next few days, but this was normal.

After arriving at the hotel, I tried to sleep, when a sign on the hotel dresser caught my eye: “Soilage Charge: £150.” That was it. I had been so brave until that moment but I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. The hotel, the last minute fights, the transport to and from the airport, the actual surgery … my credit card was maxed out. I couldn’t afford another £150. This would break us. My boyfriend was already asleep in the bed so I made my way into the bathroom, rolled my jacket into a pillow and slept in the bathtub, crying myself to sleep.

Coming Home

When I got home to Ireland the next day I thought it would all be over, but I continued to bleed so heavily that I needed to take the following 2 weeks off work. I was in so much pain that I honestly thought I was going to die on two separate occasions. I was too scared to go to my GP or to A&E, so I just lay and home, bleeding and crying in pain.

Ten Irish women made that trip to England every single day in 2016. I was one of them.

I am sharing my story because abortion happens and will continue to happen in Ireland. We need to ask ourselves are we a nation who has compassion for women who find themselves in incredibly difficult situations or are we a nation that abandons women and forces them to seek care from our UK neighbours?

Pink bathtub with blood running down the drain

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Handing holding a degree scroll

Paula

Paula’s Story

My name is Paula. I am a 40-year-old divorced mother of two teenage girls. Several years ago I became pregnant unexpectedly by an emotionally abusive and manipulative partner. I realised that if I had his baby, he would feel that he owned me and I would never be free of him. I felt that ending the pregnancy was the only way to avoid his anger and escape the relationship.

I had to ask my parents for money to travel to England, as there was no way I could have afforded the trip on my own. I was very lucky to have a good friend who travelled with me, so at least I wasn’t alone. After the abortion I told my partner that I had miscarried. Luckily, I was able to leave the relationship with no further physical or emotional penalty.

There is no question that the abortion made my life better. It was not a decision I made lightly or with little thought, although I felt then (and still do) that it was the only choice I had that would lead to a positive outcome. It was the only way to finally be rid of my abuser and keep him from psychologically damaging my daughters. It was the catalyst that allowed me to get out of a terribly toxic relationship and move forward with my life.

Since that time, I have gone back to college and earned the highest academic accolades from Ireland’s top university. I am pursuing a rewarding career in a field I love, and I am working my way toward being able to support myself and my daughters and be financially independent. I love my life!

I would never have been able to achieve these things if I had continued with the pregnancy. Instead, I would still be financially insecure, dependent on welfare for the foreseeable future, and tied irrevocably to an abusive man who would do his best to make my life difficult, even from a distance. This would affect not only me, but my children as well.

I decided to tell my story because I feel the need to have my voice heard, but the truth is that no pregnant person should have to justify their decision or convince anyone else why their reasons for choosing abortion are “good enough.” The only person who needs to be satisfied with their reasons is the pregnant person. I have never looked back, and have no regrets.

Handing holding a degree scroll

Artist: Louise Hickey.

Audio: Rita Evelyn Smyth

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Two hands holding each other on an aeroplane

Róisín

My name is Róisín. It was 2014. We had 3 children, our youngest was only 8 months old when I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant. At that point , I was physically and mentally drained and I just couldn’t cope with the pressure of another child. My partner & I agreed that we were unable to continue the pregnancy.

I had always thought of myself as “pro-life” but when it came down to it, I had to put the needs of my family first and so my partner & I decided that a medical abortion was the best option for our family. When I was 8 weeks pregnant, we flew to Manchester for a termination. It was a very difficult decision, but it was the right one and I’ve never regretted it.

Abortion is such an abhorred word in this country but people should know that no woman takes that decision lightly.

Two hands holding each other on an aeroplane

Artist: Ciara O’Brien

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A hand will nail marks etched in from clenching your fist so tight

Lucy

In 2015, I was not raped. There was no foetal abnormality. My life was not at risk. I was just a girl who was not ready to be a mother.

I cannot begin to explain the gut-wrenching fear that I felt in the office of my GP that day when I was told that I was in fact, in no uncertain terms, pregnant.

The thought that I could be pregnant had never occurred to me in a million years. I had only had a very brief fling with the father, by no means was it a relationship and it was most certainly over. As I sit in front of my GP, I cannot comprehend what is happening – we had been careful. I was on the pill. I buy four pregnancy tests on the way home, unable to believe what I have just been told. Each little blue line that appears in the test window adds to the panic rising in my chest. I carry on with my day silently, telling only a close friend, who hugs me, again, silently.

My emotions are extremely mixed over the following two weeks, as I decide what I am going to do. I debate whether or not to tell the father, eventually deciding that it would be the best thing for both of us if he knew.

I cannot say that it is easy for me to decide, but ultimately I know that I am too young for motherhood, and nowhere near financially stable enough to provide for a child. I’m not one for gambling, and to take such a risk with another life feels irresponsible.

I decide that I want to have a surgical abortion – I want to just go in, get it done and go home. The earliest appointment that I can get is in late June, and the wait is unbearable. Only three people know about the pregnancy, and carrying my secret around for weeks starts to tear me up. It’s all I think about every day; from the moment I wake up to when I eventually manage to sleep.

I try to act normal around friends and family, attempting to hide my morning sickness so as not to arouse suspicion. At home, surrounded by people, I have never felt more scared or alone. The father and I speak regularly during this period, both of us terrified with our Big Secret. He offers multiple times to go with me to London, but I am adamant I want to go by myself, not feeling that this is an experience I want to share.

When the day of the abortion finally arrives, I tell nobody that I am going. Sitting in Dublin airport on my own, I feel as if the eyes of everyone there are upon me, judging me. I can remember shrinking into my chair as I waited at my gate, terrified that somebody would somehow know what I was going to do. The clinic I go to is in Brixton. A nurse takes me to a private consultation room, where she runs through some medical questions and performs a scan. In the waiting room there are two couples and three other women on their own. One of them is Irish, like me, which I notice as she whispers to the receptionist. It is the only noise in the room, as the rest of us sit in silence, waiting. As the nurse calls my name I dig my nails deeper into the palms of my hands, and they bleed.

The room they lead me into feels very clinical, and it smells like a dentist’s office. I have opted for conscious sedation as I’m flying home that evening. Lying on the bed I begin to feel woozy, but I am fully aware of what’s happening to me. The procedure isn’t pleasant – despite the drugs I find it painful, and extremely invasive. They dilate my cervix manually, and then mash up my insides with a speculum, before hoovering my womb out. I discover that having my womb hoovered feels exactly like you would expect it to. The nurse holds my hand the entire time, reassuring me that it’s almost over. The whole procedure takes about six minutes, although every minute feels like an hour as I wait for the doctor to remove his instruments from inside me. I close my eyes and bite my tongue the entire time, stopping myself from screaming “GET OUT”. I just want everything and everyone to get out of me, and to go home to my own bed. But I am not at home.

Traveling Home

When it’s over I’m taken into a recovery room, where I lie on a reclining chair as I wait for the wooziness to wear off. There’s a lady crying in the chair next to me. I wish I was at home. I wish I was not on my own. When I’m allowed to leave, I precariously make my way to Gatwick airport on public transport. Although upset and sore, I feel relieved, and set about taking my bruised and bloodied womb back across the Irish Sea.

I find the wait at the airport is the worst part of the entire thing. I curl up in a ball as the pain medication starts to wear off. A very kind lady notices me and helps me to the bathroom. She gets me some ibuprofen and a drink. I cry quietly all the way back to Dublin.

By the time I get to arrivals I’m all over the place. I’ve felt myself unravelling the longer I’m away from home. The father involved is collecting me, and relief washes over me when I see him. It finally all feels over. He holds my hand in the taxi, and we say nothing, not knowing what to say. I stay with him for two days and he looks after me as I get back to normal. The pain subdues but lasts for longer than I expected, but my happiness to no longer be pregnant overrides everything. I await the guilt that I’ve been told by society to expect, but it never arrives. In the end, I’m thankful for the choice I made. What’s difficult is how alone my country has made me feel in it.

Moving On

I didn’t talk about my abortion for two months after I had it, and it slowly started to drive me mad. I was so afraid of people finding out, of being judged for allowing myself to get pregnant in the first place; being judged for not wanting my baby. My relationships with family and friends became strained, as I dealt with something that they had no idea about. I broke down in tears in the kitchen one day in September, and told my mother what I’d been terrified she’d find out for months. All she did was hug me, and reassure me that she supported my decision.

The more I talk about my abortion, the lighter I feel. The stigma put upon it in Ireland made the entire situation so much more difficult than it already was, as I felt my unwanted pregnancy was something to be ashamed of. Ireland’s archaic abortion laws mean that thousands of women every year go through a similar ordeal to mine, and many live with it silently for the rest of their lives. Mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends. They’re our bodies, and it’s our choice.

Lucy’s Story appeared in The Circular, 22 March 2016 – Barbara Soares

A hand will nail marks etched in from clenching your fist so tight

Artist: Stephen Lau

Audio: Stephanie Dufresne

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Nurses' scrubs hanging on a hook

Eabha

Eabha’s Story

My name is Eabha. Three weeks after my boyfriend of three and a half years broke up with me I found out I was pregnant. I was living and working as a nurse in the UK at the time, had just been offered a Masters level postgraduate course with work and was in no way financially prepared to have a baby.

My decision was made the moment I took the test. I went to my GP, who took one look at my face when I told her about the pregnancy and simply said “don’t worry, I will help you.”

My appointment was scheduled for a Saturday, which meant asking my boss for a day off at very short notice. I broke down in tears in her office as I explained why I desperately needed it. I would later find out she herself was pregnant too.

One Nurse To Another

The care I received in the BPAS clinic was second to none. As a nurse myself it was wonderful to be treated with such dignity and compassion in a terrible situation. I thanked them and thanked them as I left, so much so that they laughed as I said it one more time before leaving.

I’ll never forget the overwhelming sense of relief when it was over. I had my life back.

I was lucky. An Irish girl who had access to free, safe and legal abortion in the country I was living in. I want the same experience for every woman who needs help. The care and compassion I received from every healthcare professional was outstanding; the thought of women in the same situation as me feeling ostracised and shamed haunts me. For those women, I will join in the fight to give them the rights the are entitled to.

Nurses' scrubs hanging on a hook

Artist: Sofya Mikhaylova

Audio: Fiona O’Connor

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